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[This story contains spoilers for the season one finale of Barry, “Chapter Eight: Know Your Truth.”]
Season one of HBO’s latest, greatest comedy, Barry — starring Bill Hader as an ex-Marine turned hitman who comes to L.A. for a contract and discovers his true calling: acting — is officially in the books.
In last week’s penultimate episode, and the first half of the finale, it seems like Barry might be in the clear. After he makes the agonizing decision to kill Chris (Chris Marquette) to prevent him from going to the police, Detectives Moss (Paula Newsome) and Loach (John Pirruccello) come to the conclusion that Ryan (Tyler Jacob Moore), the actor whose dalliances with Chechen mobster Goran Pazar’s wife brought Barry to L.A. in the first place, is the one responsible for all Barry’s crimes. And his one-line performance as Seyton in Macbeth — feeding off the emotional devastation of having taken Chris from his wife and son — wins over both Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Goran (Glenn Fleshler) is dead; Fuches (Stephen Root), while not gone, exactly, was at least dropped off at Burbank Airport with enough money to return to Cleveland 100 times over; and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal (Michael Irby) appear to have ended their gang war, with more important things to do that come after him. But alas, Barry’s dreams of going legit are once again deferred.
Here, creators Hader and Alec Berg talk to THR about what’s in store for season two, the first season’s most agonizing death, for them (maybe not who you think), and, uh, Akira Kurosawa’s lone-samurai classic Yojimbo.
Berg, additionally the co-creator/executive producer of Silicon Valley, Barry‘s HBO Sunday cohort, along with Mike Judge, also spoke briefly about the comedy’s upcoming sixth season, and whether it might be the last.
I’ve been struggling to think about a show where at the end of season one the main character is in as deep of a hole as Barry is. Would you agree with that statement? Was that always the plan?
ALEC BERG The plan was just to follow the story where it led. We talked a little bit about where we might be heading as we were writing it, but really you sort of back out and you have big-picture conversations and then you just start at the beginning and play the cards as they’re dealt and what would happen, what would happen, what would happen? We just kind of logically got to this place.
BILL HADER Moss is a good police officer, and in [episode] seven, she had at one point suspected Barry. So her ear would always be up. We got them to the cabin, and we always kinda wanted that to feel a bit like one of Barry’s daydreams, you know? There is a feeling of like, is this really happening or not? But he is living his dream. His daydreams have come true. He and Sally are together, he’s an actor, everything is perfect. And then we just kind of said, well gosh, everything is tied up, I wonder what’s gonna happen? And then it was like, oh yeah! In the pilot, he confessed to Cousineau! (Laughs.) Kind of one of those nice moments in writing where you’re like, oh, go right back to the first episode and bring that back.
What should the audience think of Barry now? Obviously his arc, he starts out killing bad people and then at the end I’m sitting there thinking, “Well, I still like Barry and I’m still rooting for him, but he has orphaned a child and murdered a cop in the last two episodes —”
HADER He orphaned a child in the third episode! He has always killed good people. There is no good and bad. I mean it’s in the pilot, you know? Like Ryan, [Fuches] says, “You kill the bad guys,” and [Barry] goes, “But Ryan is not a bad guy.” This whole idea of “You just kill the bad guys” is total bullshit. You’re just killing people. Even the guy in the stash house [in episode five] holding the grocery bag, he’s not doing anything, he’s just coming in with his groceries! (Laughs.) Those guys are just sitting there, watching TV, and [Barry and Taylor] just exterminate them. I think the difference is, is he’s killing people, with Chris and Moss, who he’s not paid to. He’s now just killed two people who were in the way of him having the life that he wants, which is a very simple life.
BERG Yeah. Barry’s arc is, at the beginning of the show he is kind of miserable and dissatisfied, but he is also utterly ignorant to the morality of what he’s doing. And in a weird way, ignorance is bliss. Then you see in episode two, when he sees Ryan’s dad’s reaction to Ryan being killed, he says, “I’ve never been around for that part of it,” right? So his whole journey is, this is a guy who is trying to go from being a bad guy to being a good guy, but that journey exposes him to all of the morality of all the stuff that he has done in his past. And he is gonna have to fucking process all of that stuff. And the more he tries to be a good guy the more good people around him end up getting killed. So at a certain point, if he had just decided to remain utterly miserable, a lot of people would’ve been a lot better off.
HADER Yeah, if he’d just stayed in his apartment in Cleveland none of this shit would’ve happened. But he had to go out and try to make himself happy (laughs) and have a life.
After the events in the finale, is Barry more determined to stay in a L.A. pursuing acting?
BERG I think he is in for a penny in for a pound at this point, right? He’s gotta justify all of what has happened in season one, [which] was in aid of him going from the dark to the light, and if he quits now all of that will have been in vain.
HADER Yeah, he says “Starting … now!” but it’s kind of the futility of that, you know? We just screened that episode at the For Your Consideration event and the very last line of the episode and of the season, “Starting … now!” got a laugh. Because people were just like, “Yeah, no way.” (Laughs.) But for him, he’s gonna try.
I really liked the scene where during the press conference, the cop goes off on this riff in the background about Yojimbo. Was Yojimbo something that actually factored in as an influence or a reference on the first season?
HADER Well, I’m a giant Kurosawa fan. And I think, in the writers room, said as a joke, not thinking that we’d do it, that this is Yojimbo. (Laughs.) And kind of in retrospect going, “Oh, we kinda just did Yojimbo.” And then Alec almost as a gift to me, unbeknownst to me, went and wrote that entire thing and then he said, “Oh, did you see the dailies?” Cause I wasn’t there when we shot that. And so when I watched it, I fell over laughing. That whole riff is Alec. My favorite part, which I don’t know if you can hear, is a reporter asks, “Where can we rent these movies?” And Gary Kraus says, “I don’t have that information in front of me, but I’m gonna say you could watch it on, you could stream it on Netflix or your Amazon.”
BERG “Perhaps Hulu.” (Laughs.)
HADER “Perhaps Hulu.” But “I don’t have the information in front of me” made me laugh so hard.
BERG But it’s one of these things where a lot of times when there are two or three different things going on at the same time — like there’s a conversation between Cousineau and Moss going on, and you just need something in the background. So a lot of times you write, sort of, filler. So that was all the filler. (Laughs.)
Since you mentioned Janice and Gene, I think my favorite scene in season one was the dinner between Henry Winkler and Paula Newsome where she’s interviewing him. Not really a question, but I’d love to hear anything you can tell me about writing that scene, establishing that relationship, the actors.
HADER Maggie Carey directed that episode, and I thought she did a really great job of getting those performances from those actors. She shot it very simply, but just really let Henry and Paula play around. And that was also Paula’s audition scene. So watching her play that scene was what got her the job.
BERG The fun thing about Cousineau as a character is he is both smart and stupid. He’s self-aware and utterly oblivious. He’s a buffoon but he’s also incredibly insightful. And that was one of those nights, confluences of all that stuff where you just think he’s a clown, and then he says something to her about, “Who are you going home to?” and he knows exactly who she is and exactly what she’s going through. And that endears him to her. As an acting teacher, he is a student of the human condition. He may not be able to zero in on his own demons but boy, he can look into people’s eyes and know exactly who they are.
HADER Yeah, that’s kind of his superpower. That and being able to cry at any moment.
One of the things I really like about the show is this meta narrative of good actors playing bad actors learning to act. I’ve never taken an acting class, but watching those scenes I was continually struck by like, “Oh this all makes sense to me on an intuitive level of the process of becoming an actor.” How much of that, the acting class, the learning to act, is drawn, Bill, from your experience? Is Cousineau based on someone? Was there a point where you actually had to perform the Blake monologue from Glengarry Glen Ross?
HADER No, never. I did improv. I never did any of that stuff.
BERG We went and sat in on some acting classes and just sat in the back and spied on people. And so much of what’s in the show that depicts the acting classes is right out of what we saw.
HADER Also you kind of realize that acting classes are like group therapy and that kind of helped us, where it’s like, “Oh, you have to talk about your emotions.” I really have to run to the restroom. If you wanna ask Alec about Silicon Valley or something?
Yes, actually! I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the next season of Silicon Valley being the final season? I guess you guys had talked about it being a six-season show, but then recently [fellow creator/EP] Mike Judge said he could see it going longer?
BERG I honestly don’t think we’ve decided yet. We have all these conversations about, like, “What is the show?” Is the show about a group of people who live and work together out of a house? And then you go, “Well wait, isn’t it about time they would get office space?” And then it’s like, “Yeah, but is that the show? Does it become a different show?” And that’s always the concern, is how much can you change it before it becomes a different thing? But I think what we found this season is that there is a new energy. And T.J. [Miller] leaving the show kind of just made it feel different. But them working in a different place, all of a sudden there’s new stories to tell, and there’s new people that work in the office who can bring their own stuff in. So that’s a very long-winded way of saying if you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve told you that we were definitely gonna end after six. Because I do feel like if you stick around too long it kind of retroactively pees on everything. And you sort of feel like, “Oh, the whole thing ended on an off note,” and it does retroactively tarnish your work. So again, I don’t know that we’ve made a decision yet but I feel like there’s more of a chance of more [seasons] now than there was a year ago.
If Bill’s not back I do have a fanboy-type comment, if you don’t mind. In the scene where the guys all leave the restaurant to go play Fortnite, I was thinking, like, there’s gotta be a Fortnite episode because I don’t understand how Dinesh and Gilfoyle are going to be engaged in that activity without murdering each other, you know?
BERG Yeah, well that may happen. That may be a season six type thing. Bill has returned, by the way. If you’ve got more for us.
I guess I will just ask, now that we were just talking about Silicon Valley, but do you have any idea of an arc, how many seasons you see Barry lasting, at this point?
BERG No. You kind of do this math of like you don’t wanna do stuff in a season two that means that seasons three, four, et cetera, are impossible. Like you wanna be looking a little bit ahead, but you also can’t worry too much about it ’cause you just have to do what’s right.
HADER You have to do what’s right for the characters.
BERG Like Goran getting killed, that was a thing where Glenn [Fleshler] is fucking awesome, we loved his performance. And we literally spent days in the writers room going, “How can we keep Goran alive?”
HADER That was the one we agonized over the most, but every way we looked at it, and we did for days, it just all came back to Barry cannot move on if Goran is alive. And I get Barry there just going, like, NoHo Hank calls him and says, “Look, these guys are gonna come after you, you better run.” And Barry’s like, no, these guys are always gonna be coming after me, fuck this, I’m gonna go and get rid of the problem so I don’t have to think about this anymore.
Yeah. Similarly, in your mind, Moss is, like, 100 percent dead, or … ?
HADER I mean the first day of writing season two I think we all went, “Well, what’s going on? What happened to Moss?”
BERG “Yeah, what are we thinking? What exactly happened?”
HADER Yeah, that was the first day.
BERG So …
HADER And we’re not tellin’ you.
BERG No! (Laughter.)
I have to ask. She’s my favorite character, I think. it’s hard to pick.
HADER Oh, thanks man. We’re glad you like it and we’re excited to — we’re writing season two. They’re in the next room. So we have to figure out what the hell we’re doing. (Laughter.)
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