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Bill Hader Breaks Down ‘Barry’ Season 3 Episode 4: ‘You’re Watching Trauma’

The co-showrunner/star tells TheWrap about the storyline that was met with ”some dissent“ in the writers room

Note: Spoilers follow below for “Barry” Season 3 Episode 4.

At the halfway mark of “Barry” Season 3, things are getting increasingly dark for our titular hitman/aspiring actor. Episode 4 opens with a callback to the very first episode of the series, in which Barry (Bill Hader) killed a man and went about his day. But now, we see that the man had a wife and a child who loved him dearly, and now they’re being turned on Barry by Fuches (Stephen Root) in a revenge plot that takes inspiration from Barry’s former handler completely missing the point of a fable.

“On the very first day of writing, there was a number of things we talked about,” Hader told TheWrap in our latest episodic breakdown of the new season, adding that he and writer Liz Sarnoff offered up some blue sky ideas for what would be interesting in Season 3. “One was Barry knows that Cousineau knows and Cousineau ends up in a trunk, and then Sally has her own show, and then one of them was this idea of Fuches is putting together a vengeance army or weaponizing the families of Barry’s victims.”

Hader latched onto this idea because it was personal for Barry and in keeping with the show’s throughline. “It was more to the theme of the show about how do you forgive someone when you’ve destroyed all these other lives? And then also how love can turn good people violent.”

Not everyone in the writers’ room was sold, however. “We had some pushback in the writers’ room of this idea of normal people being violent or their love turned into violence or, in some cases, just people being pushed to violence,” Hader admitted. “And there was some dissent of feeling like that’s a very cynical way of looking at people and people feeling that that’s not what they’ve seen in life. And I understand that to a degree, but I personally feel like you’ve seen that through history.”

With a laugh, Hader – a genuine cinephile – pointed to the opening scene in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” as an example.

“This ape hits that ape, and now these apes are mad at that ape because they love that ape, and now he’s gone. It’s a thing that you’ve seen, I think, and it’s a cycle you’ll probably see forever. But that’s my point of view on it and I think it is a thing that irked some of the people in the writers room.”

Hader also acknowledged not everyone would immediately turn to violence to avenge the deaths of those they love, but noted the final scene of the episode drills down the emotional approach to this storyline versus approaching it from a genre perspective: “You’re watching trauma.”

Read our full episodic interview to find out how reshoots helped shape Episode 4, how the casting of Fred Melamed and Joe Mantegna came about, the original version of Sally’s big premiere scene and how the idea of Sally breaking up with Barry at the end of the episode had a ripple effect on the writing of the previous episodes.

As always, check back next week for another deep-dive interview with Hader.

So when did this revenge plot of Fuches’ come into view?

On the very first day of writing, there were a number of things we talked about — mainly me and Liz Sarnoff talking about, “Well here this would be so great in the season” – and one was Barry knows that Cousineau knows and Cousineau ends up in a trunk, and then Sally has her own show, and then one of them was this idea of Fuches is putting together a vengeance army or weaponizing the families of Barry’s victims. I liked it because it wasn’t the typical “we’re sending badass bodyguard killers out to find Barry.” It was more to the theme of the show about how do you forgive someone when you’ve destroyed all these other lives? And then also how love can turn good people violent.

So the first thing we talked about was what if that guy that was dead in the very first shot of the show, like that guy is just a body in a TV show and you’ve seen that 100 times, but what if you found out that he had a loving wife and son? And what if Fuches went to them and used their love and pain to enact his revenge, and then his hands are clean? One of the things that came up was, “Well why doesn’t Fuches just kill Barry?” And it was like, “Well, he can’t kill anybody, you saw at the end of Season 2 he had a gun up to Cousineau’s head and he couldn’t do it. And if he could kill people, why would he need Barry in the first place?” His thing is manipulating people into doing this job. So it was like what if you take what he does to Cousineau at the end of Season 2 saying “Barry Berkman did this” and what if that’s his story for Season 3? He’s doing that to everybody.

Oh that’s interesting that it came out of that.

Yeah, he’s going to all the victims and whispering in their ears, “This is what Barry Berkman did.” So that’s where that came from.

The construction of that opening shot and sequence is really striking, and at the end of it everything clicks into place and you’re like, “Oh this is what the rest of the season is about.”

Yeah, or at least Fuches’ story. It all kind of folds under the bigger theme of forgiveness and like, “Oh you wanna be forgiven? Well how about these people? Their lives are ruined.” And we had some pushback in the writers’ room of this idea of normal people being violent or their love turned into violence or, in some cases, just people being pushed to violence. And there was some dissent of feeling like that’s a very cynical way of looking at people and people feeling that that’s not what they’ve seen in life. And I understand that to a degree, but I personally feel like you’ve seen that through history.

Right, and January 6 happened.

Yeah then January 6 happens or just, outside of that, “You kill my people, so now I have to go kill your people.” It’s the beginning of “2001” (laughs). This ape hits that ape, and now these apes are mad at that ape because they love that ape, and now he’s gone. It’s a thing that you’ve seen, I think, and it’s a cycle you’ll probably see forever. But that’s my point of view on it and I think it is a thing that irked some of the people in the writers room.

It’s also in like every true crime show, where love turns to violence.

See, I watch true crime shows and you see people so hurt, like victims so angry, and you see some people who can be forgiving. It’s not all of humanity. I remember after September 11 being furious and so angry, and then seeing the father of one of the victims saying, “I forgive everybody. I’m Christian, and this is how my daughter believed and this is how I believe, and this is the way I live my life,” and thinking wow, that’s really powerful. I don’t know how you do that. So I think that does exist. But in this case, I think when I pitched initially people thought, “Oh, it’s going to be people all looking like bad asses.” They thought it was gonna be genre.

No, and I think the ending of the episode puts the perfect button on it.

Yeah, “If we do this, we won’t be in pain anymore.” This will get rid of the pain, and they’re hyper-conflicted. And she’s worried about her son. You’re watching trauma. That was always important. Don’t play genre, play the trauma.

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Elsie Fisher and Sarah Goldberg in “Barry” Season 3 Episode 4 (HBO)

On a lighter note, this episode introduces Fred Melamed as Gene’s agent and he’s incredible. How did that casting and bringing Gene’s agent into the picture come about?

We thought it’d be interesting if Barry’s dumb plan worked in a weird way. So Gene’s outburst on “Laws of Humanity” is received as great acting and improving a small part and then a Variety article comes out reprinting what Barry said in his audition. You know, that he saved this guy’s life and now for the first time ever, as his agent says, it’s the industry-wide amnesia we always hoped for. So he’s been given a second chance, but it’s a deal with the devil.

So when we were talking about that, we thought, well it’d be great to see his agent. And then Fred Melamed came from Sherry Thomas, our casting director. Some really great people read for it, and then she said, “What about Fred Melamed?” and I said, “Well I think he’s one of the funniest people on the planet from ‘A Serious Man’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’” and Alec [Berg] had a relationship with him.

That was a part of the reshoots as well. Initially, that scene where he’s listing everything off was in Cousineau’s house and it just felt like they were stagnant in the house. We felt they needed to be on the move. He needs to be getting his suitcase, getting out of town, and then the town and his past are like – he’s now going against the tide of positive feedback. So it’s this irony that it’s this giant positive wave that’s pushing him back to Los Angeles.

And then he literally runs into Joe Mantegna.

He runs into Joe Mantegna, and I like that he’s doing it because he loves his son and grandson. He doesn’t want anything to happen to them. It’s like, “F—k them.” Not them but Hollywood and all this. “There’s a madman who I’ve now provoked who’s going to kill my family.” When he tells his son and the agent, “I said something to the wrong guy,” that’s right on brand with Gene. It’s like yeah of course you did.

And then getting Joe Mantegna was really exciting. We had, again, other people that we had kind of had feelers out and he was on the shortlist of people. And then again, Sherry Thomas said, “What about Joe Mantegna? I think he’d be really great in this.” He agreed to do it and he is the loveliest guy and was so much fun. He added the challenge coin and semper fi, that was all him. He’s just a great guy.

And that was another reshoot. Initially that was just Cousineau and Joe Mantegna in the luggage store, and then to give it some energy we put Fred in it in the reshoots. And also it’s nice, writing-wise, to have Fred there to say, “It’s Joe Mantegna! He hates you!” (laughs). You want someone to be giving that information instead of having clunky dialogue.

Everything would be improved by adding Fred Melamed to it.

Yes I think so. 100%.

I know Hank’s storyline was all significantly altered in reshoots in Episode 3. In this episode, Hank finally finds a reason to call Barry and he wants Barry to use this bomb. Was that the original plan or was that born out of the reshoots?

That was the original plan, so that is pretty much intact. The stuff that was reshot was was for some reason we had Cristobal coming back to the house during the day, after the bomb was underneath it. And then there was a time jump to Sally’s premiere and then you came back and it was night. So that scene between Miguel Sandoval and Michael Irby inside the house was this longer conversation and it just made no sense. And it wasn’t until we were editing that I said, shouldn’t he be coming home at night? (laughs)

It was like, “Oh yeah if he’s coming home at night, then it would just be a quick conversation.” So that scene inside the house with Miguel Sandoval and Michael Irby coming in was all reshot, and then and then the stuff of me in the car on the phone with the detonate people was all reshot. And the operator for the denotate app is our editor, Ali Greer, and she did that as a temp. The editors will temp in dialogue and then you hire someone to re-record it. Ali’s temp was so funny that we left it in. She’s a very sweet, incredibly talented person from Minnesota.

She was very helpful in this episode of us looking at it before reshoots and saying, “I think you might need a little bit more attention here.” She was really helpful in saying, “I don’t think there’s a ticking clock right now of Barry’s at the house and he’s wanting to be at the premiere, and I wish there was a ticking clock of ‘I gotta get there.’” Initially you just heard him talking on the phone with Sally and he said, “I’ll be there in a little bit!” and then hung up and then you saw her arriving. So in reshoots, we shot the scene of her hanging up and then getting in her car, and that was to just see that she’s nervous and to put the tension on it of, “Oh man he’s got to make it there. She’s already leaving and his bomb’s not working.” And that that came from Ali.

And then D’Arcy Carden just being left out on the street.

D’Arcy and Sarah just played that perfectly. And that’s our wardrobe office. That’s how quick those reshoots were. That’s where everybody goes at Sony to get their fittings done, and we just shot it right there. So we shot the scene of D’Arcy and Sarah when she’s changing, and D’Arcy does the whole “Thweetie.” And then right outside the door was where the limousine was. So that was all shot in like an hour and a half (laughs). We were moving really fast.

All of this discussion of reshoots and stuff, I find it fascinating in learning about the filmmaking process, but I also find it fascinating that it’s so seamless in the show. If you hadn’t told me, I would have had no idea about any of them.

Yeah you’re cutting between me in August or September [of 2021] and then us in February [of 2022] in that scene. So when the house blows up that is the original shoot, me driving off is the original shoot. But everything leading up to it was shot in February.

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Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in “Barry” Season 3 Episode 4 (HBO)

Sally’s premiere is this huge moment for her and it’s this really emotional and funny sequence. Tell me about putting that together and Sarah’s performance on stage there.

That was another thing we reshot. Her initial speech was similar but she went after the show “Pam!” I thought it would be funny if she went after the show “Pam!” and her kind of magnanimous feeling went away and she just became really petty. I thought it was funny. Sarah did it and it was amazing. It was almost like she was channeling Chris Rock or something where she’s just going off and pacing the stage and it was incredibly funny. And then Amy Gravitt at HBO said, “You know, I really feel like she should do everything right, and everything goes right. It just seems like by her doing this, it kind of cheapens everything that she’s done before it.” And I thought that was an interesting note, and I thought about it and then I talked to Sarah about it and we both kind of eventually saw the point being made and then wrote it to be what you see now.

And then Sarah Goldberg’s just an amazing actor, so she just did it a wide variety of ways. All of them were good. And then I gave her one note which is, “Hey in the middle of it why don’t you just have a real private moment?” And she did that thing where she has kind of a mental breakdown up on stage, and that is all her. That is what great actors do. You don’t say “Hey, do this.” You just throw out a suggestion and they run with it and make it incredibly unique and their own thing. It was really something to watch her do that. I was knocked out by that.

Then just for the tone of the show to also get away with her getting played off. I mean, that’s almost like a Zucker brothers joke. But you try it and you see if it works and you get in the edit bay and everybody laughs and you go, “Okay, I guess this works” (laughs). People always talk about the tone of the show, and that’s the thing where you go, “Well can we try this at the end of one take? Just to see?” And she played it perfectly. But what Sarah’s really good at, and all the actors are very good at, is they don’t miss what the prime emotion is. They don’t sell out the emotion for a big laugh or something. So she’s always being funny in a very human way within the emotion she’s experiencing, and that’s very hard to do.

When did you guys hit upon the notion that Sally would break up with Barry? Because I like how it all happens naturally and quickly after Elsie Fisher’s character confronts her. It’s not drawn out through the season.

The Elsie Fisher thing was a reshoot because initially when Barry yelled at Sally in Episode 2, I had written that you saw him being mean to her in various ways, and it just did not make sense. It was the same scene over and over again, and you just saw Elsie Fisher watching it happen and she wasn’t doing anything. So once we figured out, “Oh, she sees Barry go off in Episode 2, she says ‘We have to do something’ and is told she can’t do anything, so then Episode 3 she confides in D’Arcy Carden’s character and she essentially makes a massive excuse for him (laughs).

“He yells at everybody.”

Yeah, “He yells at everybody” and “He fought in some war,” which was her line which made me laugh. Elsie’s character then kind of accepts, “Well, this is the way things go. So when I’m interviewed, I’m gonna say he’s great with a big smile because I don’t want to lose my job, I don’t wanna piss anybody off.” So then it was like, “Oh, when she watches Sally thank Barry on stage she just can’t live with herself unless she says something.”

Elsie Fisher, to give credit where credit’s due, I initially saw that as a very strong moment for the Katie character and Elsie Fisher said, “I think I should play this incredibly nervous. Because if you told somebody something that’s the truth and you’re afraid they’re never going to speak to you again, you’re really nervous.” And I went, “You are 100% right” and we just had her do that, and she was fantastic.

So it was by Sally seeing Katie tell her that then she realizes she’s right and that she’s repeating the pattern. Her breaking up with Barry was not a decision that I think was made early. I feel like it was something that came just through the writing, if I can remember it right. I remember Jason Kim, one of our writers, going, “If he misses this premiere, she would break up with him on the red carpet afterwards.” We just loved that idea that it’s all being stowed away, their relationship and all this, to not hit it too hard. My memory of it is it was Jason Kim that pitched, “What if she broke up with him?” And then you react to it in the other episodes.

It comes right after Barry has this seemingly nice moment with Gene where he finally apologizes earnestly, and then he’s just flummoxed as to why Sally broke up with him.

Yeah he doesn’t understand, like in his mind he just gave Cristobal back to Noho Hank, and Barry did that genuinely. He’s not trying to manipulate Noho, he didn’t know Cristobal was in there when the bomb went off and he feels terrible. Then he takes that money and you realize, “Oh, when Cousineau hit him at the end of Episode 3 and Barry’s in his trailer thinking, he’s not thinking ‘I have to go back to killing people.’ He’s thinking, ‘How do I make make this up to him?’”

So you realize that’s why he did the job for Hank, and in Barry’s mind he’s been very virtuous, and he’s been forgiven. So that when Sally breaks up with him, he legitimately, I think, doesn’t understand why. That’s why he says, “Why cause I was late?” She says, “No, the way you spoke to me,” and he says, “I was having a day,” which she also says earlier, so she tells herself that as well.

I think it’s good that she realizes, “I don’t need that in my life.” Sally is the smart one in that relationship to finally go – why she keeps him around is what D’Arcy Carden’s character says, is he treats her like a star. But now because of the success but also belief in herself, she doesn’t need that.

“Barry” Season 3 airs Sunday nights on HBO.

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