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[This story contains spoilers for Barry season four, episode four, “It Takes a Psycho.”]
For Sally Reed, it’s all or nothing.
Now that the first half of Barry’s final season is in the books, Sarah Goldberg is looking back on the events that led to Sally’s shocking decision to go on the run with Barry, who’s now a fugitive and prison escapee. On the heels of her abusive viral video and the world now knowing that she dated a contract killer, Sally’s acting dreams have flatlined. So, rather than having a showbiz-adjacent career as an acting coach, or as the host and star of a podcast and reality show that exploit the true crime she was peripheral to, Sally chose Barry and the pedestal he would still put her on, sans judgment. Right now, anything is better than standing on the sidelines of Hollywood as a spectator.
“Barry is the one place she can go where she’s going to feel seen, loved, heard and free of all of this humiliation and trauma,” Goldberg tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She wanted to be Meryl Streep. She wanted to be an actress who was taken seriously, and anything else can’t play substitute. She’d rather run away with Barry, which is so sad.”
Directed by Bill Hader and written by Taofik Kolade, the fourth episode of Barry’s final season ends with a paradigm shift, a time jump to a double-wide mobile home in the middle of nowhere. An older Barry and Sally appear to be living off the grid with a young boy, who Goldberg confirms is their son.
“They do have a son, and the brief interaction that you see with the three of them, I would say that it’s not a portrait of a happy family,” Goldberg shares. “Even what’s in the fridge — wine, beer and half a donut — give you some clues and ideas of where this not-so-love-story love story is heading.”
Thanks to her breakout role on Barry, Goldberg is currently living the very dream her character has wanted throughout the course of the series. So, when it came time to wrap the show, Goldberg, understandably, had a hard time saying goodbye.
“For my final day, there was snow on set, and it was like walking into a dreamscape. It felt like being in a snow globe, and it was very surreal. I couldn’t lean into the emotion that I was feeling about finishing because it wouldn’t make sense for the scene,” she shares. “And once I had my final take, I asked Bill, ‘Do you need another one?’ And he was like, ‘I think we got it.’ And I was like, ‘Well, we could do another one.’ And he was like, ‘No, I think we got it.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, we got it.’ So, that was it … I don’t think we’ve even processed that we’re finished.”
Below, during a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Goldberg also discusses her dramatic prison scene with Hader in the second episode and what Sally’s “I feel safe with you” line actually meant at the time.
So, when you walked off the set of season three, did you already know that season four would be the last?
I didn’t know for sure, but there were rumblings. I knew there was a push to get season four shot quite quickly. We usually had long breaks between seasons, but obviously, we’d had such a long break with COVID and they’d been writing season four during the pandemic. So we had an idea, and then it was officially confirmed right before we started shooting. So, that’s when we knew, and we were getting the scripts in pieces as we sort of put together the ending.
After arriving back home in Missouri, Sally has a panic attack in regard to Barry’s arrest for Janice’s murder (Paula Newsome), and her mom was completely unfazed. Did you understand Sally a lot more after seeing what her parents are like?
Well, the hope is that the audience will understand her a lot more. We had definitely made a decision a long time ago that Sally didn’t necessarily have a great upbringing, but that was one of our little private nuggets. So it wasn’t a surprise to me that that was where we went with the story. But I thought it was really useful in terms of explaining why people behave the way they behave. Once you see her in this setting where there’s no nurture and nobody’s listening to her, suddenly, somebody who is verbose to the point of belligerence at times makes a lot more sense. So I think those scenes were important in fleshing out who Sally is.
Romy Rosemont, who played Sally’s mom, is a dear friend of mine, and she was just brilliant. There’s one scene where I don’t think her face moves. (Laughs.) The coldness is so intense. So it was very useful for setting up the season and getting to know why Sally behaves the way she does.
In the second episode of this season, she quickly returned to Los Angeles and visited Barry in prison. She spoke in code at the start of the conversation to see if Barry disposed of the biker she killed in season three’s finale. Was self-preservation the only reason why she showed up?
I think that’s what she’s telling herself. She needs the facts, so she can know that all the tracks are covered and that she is safe in that way. “Am I safe?” is kind of her mantra in the beginning of this season. And when she went home for some safety and security, she didn’t find it. So, going back to see Barry is actually more about feeling safe again, being with the person who was there, who bore witness to her terrible moment and was in the mud and this crime with her.
And so this bond was formed in blood, literally. She feels safe with the one person who was present and has chosen to love her anyway. She’s not really admitting that to herself until she’s there in the room, but I think it’s a huge part of it. She wants the facts about where the body is, but she also wants to connect to the person who was there in the hope that maybe she can work through it. Maybe she can wash it off, somehow. Maybe the horror will go away. But obviously, it only escalates. (Laughs.)
She uttered the line, “I feel safe with you,” without elaborating, and those five words seemed to give Barry hope for a potential reconciliation. Was that her intention?
Well, that line was a later addition. We were trying to track Sally’s emotional reasoning behind going to see Barry. But I don’t think she’s thinking clearly in that moment, so I don’t think she’s looking to give him hope at all. She has a realization in real time, and she answers him, honestly. This guy who she killed has been haunting her, and when Barry is present, that voice and those noises disappear. And she feels safe, which is alarming. (Laughs.)
Sally eventually encounters CODA director Sian Heder on the movie set of one of her acting students (Ellyn Jameson), and she ends up giving Sian, the director of the fictional Mega Girls, a last-ditch, impromptu audition that, while impressive, goes nowhere. Her acting student’s rep then offers her a steady coaching gig, but she opts to flee with Barry instead. In her mind, is that a better scenario than watching other people live her dream?
That moment comes after what we’ve seen so far of season four, but also the three seasons prior and everything that Sally’s been through, from a destructive childhood to a terrible, abusive marriage, to one humiliation after the other in Hollywood, to having her dreams come true and then being ripped away. When we see her on the Mega Girls set, she’s so close to the thing that she wanted. She can literally smell the air and touch the ground. It’s there, but it’s also so far away.
And when she starts that monologue, she’s genuinely trying to help Kristen [Ellyn Jameson]. And then she has this epiphany of, “I can win here; I can win with my talent.” So, this old ambitious Sally comes through, and she literally eclipses the other actress by blocking her from the vision of the director, giving what she thinks is the performance of her life. And for a brief moment, she thinks, “Maybe I can have it all back.” And obviously, the answer is so brutal and humiliating. It’s just the final nail in the coffin.
And then she gets the offer for the coaching gig, and it’s all too much. So, when she finds out that Barry has escaped, she sees an exit strategy. A trap door opens up on the stage and she’s got a way out. It’s not an advisable route, but she takes it. It connects to what she says in the prison. That’s what we were also trying to set up, which is, “I feel safe with you.” Barry is the one place she can go where she’s going to feel seen, loved, heard and free of all of this humiliation and trauma. She’s literally out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I certainly don’t think that running off with Barry is best for her, but I admire the fact that she respects her own acting dreams to such a degree that it’s all or nothing. A reality show, a podcast and coaching are no substitute for her. Is it weird that I think highly of her for that?
I think that’s such a great, hopeful, loving way to look at it. I never even thought about it that way. (Laughs.) Team Sally! There’s something about her that, despite all of her more barnacle qualities that we’ve experienced over the seasons, there’s a true, passionate artist in there. Misguided? Sure. Executes things in a destructive way? Sure. But at her core, she just wants to be an actress and she wants it more than anything. And yeah, all of these substitutes aren’t going to work.
There’s a more cynical version of Sally that we could have explored. We could have made her a social media star. She could have had a podcast, a reality show and all the things, but no, she wanted to be Meryl Streep. She wanted to be an actress who was taken seriously, and anything else can’t play substitute. She’d rather run away with Barry, which is so sad. Just have a podcast, Sally! (Laughs.) A nice chat would be great for her, but I don’t know what she would talk about on her podcast.
From there, the show seemingly does a time jump to an older Barry and Sally, and they’re living in the middle of nowhere with a son-like character. So, what morsels of clarity can you offer?
Oh goodness. Without giving away episode five, we’ve got Barry and Sally living in a place we haven’t seen. The landscape has changed wildly. They do have a son, and the brief interaction that you see with the three of them, I would say that it’s not a portrait of a happy family. (Laughs.) Even what’s in the fridge — wine, beer and half a donut — give you some clues and ideas of where this not-so-love-story love story is heading.
I wonder why her hair is wrapped that way!
(Laughs.) There’s a reason!
We talked earlier about how Sally is handling the murder she committed, but on a personal level, did that violent scene in the season three finale take a minute for you to rinse off, so to speak?
I was okay. I’m not really a Method actor. I don’t really subscribe to that. I try to keep it all between action and cut. It was physically demanding, and we had a big stunt rehearsal the day before, so I was really grateful for that. Wade Allen, our stunt choreographer, is a genius and such a kind, sensitive person. And Anthony Molinari, who was in the scene, is just brilliant and so talented. He was choking me like that, but I didn’t feel a thing. I don’t even know how he did it, technically. So we were really prepared, and we prepared it like a dance, physically. And on the day, we just went for it a number of times, but not too many. And then we got it. We didn’t talk about it too much; we just went for it.
And the sequence between me and Bill on the floor where we’re repeating each other, that wasn’t scripted. We just sort of found that in the moment. And once we got it, we moved on. So I tried to really shake it off. That was actually our final day shooting season three, and our amazing producer, Aida Rogers, got a burger truck and a cocktail truck. So I had a burger and a martini immediately after, and that was a good leave-it-at-stage-door ritual. (Laughs.)
Did you give the Barry writers any of your own early career stories to use for Sally?
Honestly, I didn’t. They had plenty to go on from their own experiences and things they’ve witnessed. There are parallel experiences that I’ve had that are similar to some of Sally’s, but no, they’re all fiction from their magical brains.
Lastly, was the day you wrapped the series as emotional as you were expecting?
The day I wrapped didn’t feel as emotional for me. I was at the monitor when Stephen [Root] wrapped and Anthony [Carrigan] wrapped, but I couldn’t be at the monitor when Henry [Winkler] wrapped because they were away on location. But watching [Stephen and Anthony] wrap was so tough. It was surreal. As their friends, it was sad seeing them finish this job. And as a fan of their performances and their characters, it was sad seeing the ending of these characters. No spoilers! I don’t know what happens to any of them; I just mean the ending of the show. (Laughs.)
For my final day, there was snow on set, and it was like walking into a dreamscape. It felt like being in a snow globe, and it was very surreal. I couldn’t lean into the emotion that I was feeling about finishing because it wouldn’t make sense for the scene. So I just had to buck up and take my last takes. And once I had my final take, I asked Bill, “Do you need another one?” And he was like, “I think we got it.” And I was like, “Well, we could do another one.” (Laughs. ) And he was like, “No, I think we got it.” And I was like, “Okay, we got it.” So, that was it, and it was surreal. I don’t think we’ve even processed that we’re finished. It still feels like we’ll all be showing up next year for another round, but I think we all relished this season. We didn’t take it for granted. We really lived in these characters and had our last waltz.
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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