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[This story contains spoilers for Barry season four, episode five, “Tricky Legacies.”]
Barry star Bill Hader didn’t care how Barry and Sally got to where they were going; his only concern was that they were there.
Written and directed by Hader, the fifth episode of Barry’s final season confirms that the ending of episode four was anything but fantasy. It’s now been eight years since Barry and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) decided to run away together and the couple, who are now known as Clark and Emily, are living with their son, John (Zachary Golinger), in the middle of nowhere. Barry is suddenly a man of faith who perpetually stays at home to school his son and shelter him from the truth of who his parents actually are. Meanwhile, a wig-donning Sally is working as a server at a diner, and she routinely drowns her sorrows in a bottle to get through the days. She may have had dreams of being a working actor, but her real-life role as Emily is a nightmare in every way.
In an era where so many stories obsessively show their work and over-explain every last detail, Hader was indifferent to the idea of spelling out how Barry and Sally evaded what was likely a nationwide manhunt for the hitman-turned-fugitive, as well as how they set up their new identities and residence.
“I didn’t find [watching them be on the run in real time] very interesting. In season one, he has a daydream about he and Sally and a boy taking a family picture, and so I was like, ‘Well, maybe that’s what he wants,’” Hader tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, it was more about them being there. It’s been eight years, and this is where they’re at. That was just more interesting to me.”
When Hader was originally looking to write the show that would become Barry, he needed a crash course in how to write a specific brand of television. So, as a huge Breaking Bad fan, he visited the writers room of its spinoff, Better Call Saul, and watched them work for a day. He also spent some additional time with Bad creator and Saul co-creator, Vince Gilligan. Eventually, Barry season one received enough comparisons to Breaking Bad that Hader actually apologized to Gilligan at an event.
“I saw [Gilligan] and the writers at a thing and said, ‘Man, I really feel like I owe you a check.’ And especially for season one. There was a joke that people were calling [Barry] Breaking Good,” Hader says. “On a personal level, I visited the Better Call Saul writers room way early just to be like, ‘How do you guys do this?’ And so I just watched them hang out for a day. I also hung out with Vince off and on for a couple weeks, and we got along really well. I never watched a lot of television, but I did watch Breaking Bad pretty religiously. So, I was a little self-conscious about [the Breaking Bad comparisons], but I also think that as the show has progressed, it’s become its own thing.”
Below, during a conversation with THR that was conducted last month and before the May 2 writers strike, Hader also discusses why he had reservations about a Barry Berkman biopic being the story point to lure Barry back out of hiding. Then he looks ahead to his post-Barry filmmaking career that includes three different potential films, one of which is a horror movie.
So, we pick up where episode four left off. It’s eight years later, and Barry, Sally and their son, John (Zachary Golinger), are living in the middle of nowhere. What was the discussion behind this massive time jump from Sally’s apartment to this disorienting place?
When we were writing the season and Barry gets out of prison, we just thought, “We have two choices here. We can watch them be on the run in real time…” But I didn’t find that very interesting. In season one, he has a daydream about he and Sally and a boy taking a family picture, and so I was like, “Well, maybe that’s what he wants.” And then I said, “What if we jumped ahead eight years and they’re living on the lam, in this house out in the middle of nowhere?” It reflects the way Barry used to live [as a kid]; it almost looks like they’re on the surface of another planet. And then Liz Sarnoff, one of the writers, said, “Eventually, we can see how all the characters are much more into these versions of themselves and how they’re lying to themselves … They’re all playing a character.” And that gave me the idea that they should all look very different, almost like they’re wearing costumes. So, it all stemmed from that.
Initially, you were gonna see all the characters in episode five, and then, while we were prepping the first two episodes, I went on a walk with [writer] Duffy Boudreau. And as we were talking about episode five, we had more ideas for Sally and Barry than we did for the other characters in terms of where they’ve been. There was a whole moment where we were gonna show Cousineau [Henry Winkler] in Israel and his journey, but then I said, “What if this was just a quiet episode about Barry, Sally and their kid?” So, that immediately made us really excited, and then we called Liz Sarnoff, who also got excited about it. And then I just went away and wrote it, and in writing it, the idea of Barry becoming religious just kind of came out. He wanted to show his kid this version of himself that he always wanted to be. It was always very important that Barry, for this child, be the guy that he wishes he was, so that gave him a very strong thing to protect for the rest of the show.
The show didn’t address how Barry and Sally got past Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom). There also wasn’t a Robert Forster-type character to set them up with new identities and a new place to live. Did you still come up with those explanations for yourselves at least?
No, I didn’t care. (Laughs.) For me, once I get into that, it turns into this kind of a genre thing, and as the show progressed, I became more, like, “Well, where are they at?” So, I’m just not interested in that, and maybe that’s not good. With the Moss thing, I remember [the writers] went, “Well, how’d they get past Moss?” And I was like, “They waited a couple of days before they left.” (Laughs.) And Moss, if you watch that scene, he’s leaving. Sally gets out alone, and he goes, “Damn.” And then he goes to start his car and leaves. So, it was more about them being there. It’s been eight years, and this is where they’re at. That was just more interesting to me. They also had a kid that they were lying to, and this poor kid has no idea. He just knows there’s something up. There’s something off, but he can’t say anything.
Barry and Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad had the same challenge in that you had to disappear people who were already some degree of famous. So, to have these characters exist somewhere without being made, was that one of the most difficult aspects to figure out?
Yeah, it was like, “It should be someplace that’s out in the middle of nowhere, and no one knows who they are.” But it was a chance, especially for the Sally character, to play a part. She has an accent, she’s wearing a wig and she’s doing all these things. But Duffy pointed out to me that Whitey Bulger was in Santa Monica when they caught him. He was living like four doors down from where Duffy lives. (Laughs.) So, maybe it didn’t need to be as extreme [as the middle of nowhere], but the idea of that landscape and what it was saying about them and where they were at made it more of a thematic thing than a pragmatic plot thing. There are people who can disappear and stuff, but for us, it was interesting if it was weirdly dreamlike.
All things considered, Barry seems to enjoy Clark’s stay-at-home-dad lifestyle, but Sally isn’t taking to her role as Emily the server, whatsoever. How do you view their markedly different frames of mind at the moment?
Well, Barry very much likes it because it’s his choice. They’re living the life he wants, and Sally feels safe with him. She also feels like she has nothing else to really give the world, so she’s just doing what she’s supposed to do. At the beginning of the season, Sally’s mom says, “You never worked at a bank. You don’t have a kid,” and that was all very purposely in there to set up that, later, she’s actually gonna be lower than that. So, she’s having that experience, but she’s living his life and she’s still grappling with the way she’s been treated, especially by men. That’s why I wrote in the character of Bevel and their exchanges, where she’s being wanted by this moron who wants to be tough and wants to be like, “Yeah, I’m a badass.” And she’s like, “Oh, you’re a bad-boy God?”
And then they have that scene in the bathroom together, and I love the work they’re doing in that. Everybody worked so well, making it one shot and everything. That was the first day those two actors [Sarah Goldberg and Spenser Granese] worked together. (Laughs.) We did do a rehearsal, so they met at the rehearsal. But Spenser, who played Bevel, is one of the nicest guys on the planet. It was like, “Hey, this is Spenser, everybody! Alright, let’s do the scene.” (Laughs.)
At the family dinner table, Barry talks about the “tricky legacies” of Abraham Lincoln, Saint Augustine and Gandhi. Was he trying to cushion the blow for whenever John discovers the truth about his own legacy? We already know he likes to manipulate his son as a way to protect themselves.
No, I don’t think so. I think he’s doing it as a way of living with himself. To me, if you find out you have rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll go online and search, “What celebrities have rheumatoid arthritis?” so you can connect with them. In his mind, he’s like, “I’m like Abraham Lincoln. I’m a good person, but I also did some terrible things. I have a tricky legacy, but these people are all remembered for being great people.” So that’s what he’s wanting, and he is very concerned about how his son sees him and how his son will remember him.
In the end, a Hollywood Reporter story about a Barry Berkman movie threatens this pocket universe that Barry and Sally have created for their family. Of course, I love your choice of publication, but I also appreciate that you found a showbiz-related conflict to lure Barry back out of hiding. That’s just so true to the show. Was the biopic idea a eureka moment in the writers room?
The biopic idea was something that we’ve been thinking of since very early on. A thing that I talked about early was that the show is kind of a true crime story in Vanity Fair or something like that. It’s a too-crazy-to-be-true kind of true crime story, and so that was always very important to us. At some point, the reality is that they would want to make a movie about everyone if they escaped and had been gone this long. And so it had to be that. The only thing that would lure everybody out, especially Cousineau, is if he found out that they were making a movie about him.
For Barry, the movie would threaten what you’ve watched him do all through [episode] five, which is paint himself out to be this bullshit version of himself to his kid. But it’s this false version of himself that he can live with and wants to be seen as. So, the movie threatens that, and for Cousineau, it threatens his new way of living his life. These characters that we’ve been watching have been hoping that they can break in and be famous, but now they have a movie being made about them and it’s ruining their lives. So, that just seemed like a realistic thing, but I was actually worried about it, initially. I was like, “Is this corny? Is it too obvious?” But we all talked about it, and that’s what would happen.
The show has become its own thing, but is it true that you once apologized to [Breaking Bad creator, Better Call Saul co-creator] Vince Gilligan in the early days of Barry?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I saw him and the writers at a thing and said, “Man, I really feel like I owe you a check.” (Laughs.) And especially for season one. There was a joke that people were calling it Breaking Good and stuff like that. But it is true. On a personal level, I visited the Better Call Saul writers room way early just to be like, “How do you guys do this?” And so I just watched them hang out for a day. I also hung out with Vince off and on for a couple weeks, and we got along really well. I never watched a lot of television, but I did watch Breaking Bad pretty religiously. I was just impressed because of the propulsive narrative of that story.
So, when I started making this show with Alec [Berg], he hadn’t seen Breaking Bad, but we talked about the idea of a guy between two worlds and that propulsive narrative thing. There were also shots of us in the desert, and that kind of topography was in Breaking Bad. So, I was a little self-conscious about it, but I also think that as the show has progressed, it’s become its own thing. By the time we hit “Ronny/Lily” in season two, it started to become its own weird thing.
So, how confident are you feeling as a director moving forward? What route would you like to take?
I really like people, like the Coen Brothers, who have their own corner of the sandbox, and are able to make really interesting stories where no one loses their shirt. I like that kind of a feeling. But I have three films that I’ve written or are in various stages of writing. One that I wrote with Duffy Boudreau is kind of done, and we’re trying to figure that out. And for the two other ones, I wouldn’t be in one, but I would be in the other. It’s kind of like Barry, but instead of crime, it’s a horror movie. So, there’s things I’m just trying to play around with and see how they work, but right now, my girlfriend was like, “You haven’t had a vacation in 10 years. I think you need to get some sleep.” (Laughs.)
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Barry’s eight-episode final season releases Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max.
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