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An Arnold Schwarzenegger movie accidentally got Bill Hader into acting

Bill Hader in HBO's
Bill Hader in HBO's "Barry"
Photo credit: John P. Johnson
Bill Hader in HBO's
Alec Berg and Bill Hader on set of HBO's "Barry".
Photo credit: John P. Johnson
Bill Hader in HBO's
Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in HBO's "Barry."
Photo credit: John P. Johnson
Bill Hader in HBO's
Henry Winkler and Bill Hader in HBO's "Barry."
Photo credit: John P. Johnson
Bill Hader in HBO's
Alec Berg and Bill Hader, co-creators of HBO comedy "Barry" on set.
Photo credit: John P. Johnson

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When Bill Hader first moved to Los Angeles in 1999 he was looking to start a career as a director, but he inadvertently got into acting instead. For his latest project, he gets to do both.

Hader stars in the upcoming HBO comedy, “Barry," which he co-created with Alec Berg, a writer and executive producer on another HBO show, “Silicon Valley.” Hader also directs the first three episodes.

In the series, Hader plays a professional hitman who stumbles into an acting class, led by a very "method-y" teacher (Henry Winkler).

Even though he’s pretty good at being a hit man, Barry is unhappy and lonely. When he accidentally walks into that acting class, a whole new world opens up for him. 

In a way, that same thing happened when Hader began taking improv classes early in his career while he was working as a production assistant on movies.  

Moving out to L.A., I wanted to write and direct. And acting was never a thing on my radar. Then I started taking classes at Second City L.A. because I just needed to do something creative. You come out here and then you're like, Wow, I came out here to be creative and I haven't done a single creative thing because I've gotta pay the bills. I took those classes out of frustration really, just to do something. And then it led to me getting "Saturday Night Live," which was never a thing that I thought of. So the fact that it's taken this weird, circuitous way of getting to the thing that I wanted to do in the first place is great. 

When Hader recently met with The Frame host John Horn, he talked about getting to both direct and act in "Barry," and he looked back on his early life in L.A.

Interview highlights: 

On the appeal of pairing the hitman profession with acting:

What we liked about it was, being a hitman, you have to live in the shadows. The whole thing is you're anonymous. And the acting world is wanting to be in the spotlight and being known. And then what we liked about it was that the stakes of that was life — if [Barry] is good at his job of acting, he's risking his life. And that's always good when the stakes are that high for something so stupid. But then the reason he's doing it is an emotional thing of trying to, on some level, atone for all the bad things that he's done and try to understand how to be a human, how to elicit some sort of emotion. And then the irony is that all the acting students are in there drawing on all these kind of awful things that they've done, but if Barry did that it would unlock some terrible crazy stuff that then could implicate them, and now their lives are at stake. And the more we talked about it we're like, Oh gosh, there's a lot of stakes here.

On how he fell into acting when he was he was a production assistant on the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, "Collateral Damage"

They just said, We need a pilot and you fit the pilot outfit. So I was just an extra. And then Andrew Davis, the director, said to [actor] Elias Koteas, Elias, why don't you ask the pilot how long we've got. And pilot, just say "Three or four hours depending on the weather." And I was next to a guy who was an actual extra and he's looking at me like You son of a b----.  And It didn't end up in the movie, but that's how I got into SAG.

On what he likes in a director:

To be honest, the best directions as an actor are like, Faster or Slower or, Could you move this way and just a little faster? But when people come up and [say], I think what he's going through is...' my eyes glaze over. Or active things — that's helpful. Greg Mottola, when we were doing "Superbad," there was this scene where I'm supposed to yell at [Christopher Mintz-Plasse's character] McLovin. He's in bed with this girl and he's run out on me and I'm mad at him and I'm screaming at him and I was doing it really broad, like, Oh, this is what'll be funny. And it wasn't working. And Greg came over and all he said was, "Hey man, that's your best friend." And that's all I needed, that was it. So in the next take [I said], "Hey man, why'd you do that?" And everyone was laughing 'cause it was real.

On several women having leadership positions on "Barry": 

It wasn't a thing of, Oh god, we need to get women on the show ... All these people were people that I met and they just got it. And I've been in the [writers'] room where it is a bunch of white guys, and you kind of create the same thing every time. And when you have women or any diversity in the room, it just makes things better. I learned that at SNL.

On how his character in "Barry" is an ex-Marine who finds a new kind of community in an acting class.

There was one Marine that I talked to and he said the best thing about being in the Marines is you have a community. And a lot of these guys, when they get out, they lose a community and they lose their identity. When they're in the Marines they are a private, a sergeant, a lieutenant. And then they get out and they're just "Mike." And so it's [about Barry] finding an identity and finding a community. And that's why in the first episode he changes his name to a stage name and he finds a community so he can live this new identity.

"Barry" premieres March 25 on HBO.

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