Warning: Spoilers follow below for “Barry” Season 3, Episode 1
It’s been almost exactly three years since the last episode of HBO’s “Barry” aired, but from the opening shot of Season 3, it’s clear the series hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, in true “Barry” fashion, the new season moves the story and characters forward in exciting and bold ways, setting the table for a season that’s darker than what came before, with even higher stakes.
The idea to end the first episode of Season 3, titled “forgiving Jeff,” with Barry (Bill Hader) and Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) confronting one another was Hader’s idea early on in the writers room. “I was like, I think the episode should end with Cousineau knowing and Barry knowing that Cousteau knows,” the star, co-creator, co-showrunner, writer and director of the HBO series told TheWrap in a recent interview.
The acting class is gone, and Barry’s got Cousineau in his trunk, destined to earn forgiveness for killing Cousineau’s girlfriend in Season 1 (a fact Cousineau learned in the shocking Season 2 finale). But by ditching the structural bones on which the series was built in its first two seasons, it forced Hader and the writers to think about the characters in different ways. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) has her dream job running a TV show of her own. Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is in a secret relationship with Cristobal (Michael Irby). And Fuches (Stephen Root) is in Chechnya.
To drill down the responsibility of Sally’s new position, her role as a showrunner and TV star is elucidated in a stunning single take that walks the viewer through the sets of Sally’s show. The idea was to take the viewer inside Sally’s mindset and the burden of responsibility she now carries — and it was directly inspired by Hader’s experience running “Barry.” “How do I feel when I step on the stage? Well, when I step on a stage, I usually feel very small,” Hader said. “I feel like I’m in charge of this thing that’s just way bigger than me.”
The set was constructed with the owner (a single-shot take) in mind and was executed after careful planning by Hader (who directed the episode), cinematographer Carl Herse and production designer Eric Schoonover as well as the rest of the filmmaking team. Oh, and they shot the oner on the first day of filming on Season 3.
Below, Hader breaks down the construction and execution of that shot and also discusses other key aspects of the Season 3 premiere (which he also co-wrote with Alec Berg) including the opening sequence, creating a nursery called “Plants!” and the original plan for revealing Fuches’ exile to Chechnya.
When and how did that opening shot and sequence come about? It kind of serves as a thesis statement for the season.
Bill Hader: Yeah it’s essentially Barry killing the very idea of forgiveness (laughs). I think the first version of it was in a gas station parking lot, of Barry meeting a guy wanting his wife killed. Barry takes the money from him and then shoots him and you just see his car slowly drifting backward because he was about to leave, so the car is stuck in reverse, and it’s just kind of drifting backward. And as that’s happening, Barry makes a phone call and it’s to the wife, and she’s like, ‘Is it done?’ and he says, ‘Yes,’ and so you see that Barry’s pulled a double-cross on this husband. That was interesting, and it was that for a while, and then I think I just thought it really has nothing to do with what the season’s about. It just kind of shows where he’s at. So it was kind of like, let me go write another version of it, and that’s what you saw, which is these two guys forgiving each other and then he shoots them.
That location is in a lot of things, I think it’s in “Bumblebee,” the Transformers movie (laughs). Jonathan Jansen, our location manager, showed us a bunch of pictures and he landed on that tree and it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that!’ and I thought we really hit the jackpot and then I saw it like in a car commercial (laughs).
Carl Herse, the DP who’s new this season, he had a very tough [job] – we were really running. So we shot, if I’m remembering this correctly, the scene with Henry and me at the tree first, the day before. And then when we shot the opening, we kind of mapped out the opening and so that was all set up with the cameras and everything and all the actors when it was still dark out. And then right as the sun came up and the light was good, we shot the very first shot of me. We kind of shot it in sequence, so the B Camera was far away for the big wide shot of me walking over to the hole and then their coverage of the two guys in the hole and then back on me and then while we were shooting my coverage, the sun came up over this hill and then we went back to B Camera to shoot me walking back to the car because the sun had come up. And that was all very much by design, and it was kind of a thing of, ‘Alright, we’ve got 30 minutes to do this’ (laughs). It really was leap-frogging the camera. We were running really fast just to make sure that we got the light right.
You mentioned Carl, I wanted to ask what it was like working with him and how you hit upon him as the choice for the DP this season.
You know, I gotta give the guy credit. He’s got chutzpah. He really wanted the job. And really lobbied really hard for it. And as you know, Paula Huidobro who shot our first two seasons had gone on and worked on “Fargo” and then she went and did some big features, one of them is the winner for Best Picture, “CODA,” so she’s doing phenomenal and so we were looking for a new DP. All the guys over at Forte’s show “The Last Man on Earth” were like, “Carl really wants the job.” Maggie Carey worked with him and she went, “Well Carl is great to work with, just so you know,” (laughs). John Solomon, Phil and Chris at “Afterparty” – I don’t know if they’d worked on “Afterparty” yet but it was like anybody he could talk to and he was just telling everybody like, “I want that job.” And then we met at a coffee shop, had a really great conversation and we seem to just have the same things that we liked. He didn’t mind shooting it on wide-angle lenses. You know, wide-angle lenses make things look a little more exaggerated, which I think helps with the tone of the show. A lot of DPs like to make it look a little bit more elegant.
Let’s talk about the long take that tracks Sally through her set in a single shot, which I have to imagine was somewhat autobiographical and inspired by your experience as a showrunner.
Yes, very much so. The idea behind it was to show that Sally has her own show now and she has all this responsibility, and she’s doing it, and she can handle it. But here’s all the responsibility she has. This is what it looks like when you get what you always wanted (laughs). I just felt that you could see a lot of oners and people do oners for the sake of being a oner, and I just wanted it to tell a story. My favorite oners have an emotional component to it or the idea of seeing it in real time enhances something.
That one it was kind of like, how do I feel when I step on the stage? Well, when I step on a stage, I usually feel very small. I feel like I’m in charge of this thing that’s just way bigger than me. That was very much designed. And Eric Schoonover, our production designer, he and I worked together and the set was designed for the shot. All those sets and the whole thing is done specifically for that shot. I drew it on a big whiteboard with bad stick figures like here’s what I’m thinking and here’s where the camera will go and I worked with him and Carl and he made a bunch of models on his laptop and we looked at those and then mark it out on Stage 14 at Sony and just did it.
That shot is the first shot, first day of shooting. Gavin Kleintop, our First AD, he said if we do this, it’ll bring the crew together in a way that they really accomplish something off the bat. Let’s just get it done. So the day before the first day of shooting the actors and Carl and Kenny Davis our dolly grip, I believe, and Oliver [Alling], our gaffer, everybody, we all went out there and just walked through it.
I wanted to ask, from a story perspective, where you pick up here. Tell me a little bit about deciding where to pick up with Hank and the Chechens and dropping the acting class.
That was kind of the first thing we said the first day of the writers room: Okay, Cousineau knows. Liz Sarnoff is the one in the writers room that really likes it when we’re bold. She’s always up for the big bold choice. In Season 2, she’s the one that was like, “Nah man, Fuches has gotta take Cousineau to the woods.” Most shows it’s like we don’t need these two people to meet for like five years. But I was like, I think the episode should end with Cousineau knowing and Barry knowing that Cousteau knows and he just throws him in the trunk of a car when he’s about to shoot him in the head, and then it’s an idea of how to get his forgiveness. And there’s no acting class. That was like, “Oh shit. Whoa, okay, so we’re really shaking it up a bit.”
I think by doing that, it kind of made us look at all the characters differently. Not looking at how we had done it the first few seasons with them. Hank’s never had a personal life, so let’s focus on where Hank’s at and that’d be nice to have a Romeo and Juliet story with Hank and Cristobal, which is kind of already happening so it’s like that just seems like it should be happening. And making sure that it’s a secret. They’re leading secret lives, they’re much like Barry. That just seemed right. And then the stuff with the nursery, that was just one of those things where like, ‘So wait, what are the Chechens doing? What are the Bolivians doing?’ The nursery I think came from us literally like googling like, what are popular fronts for drug operations? (laughs).
A nursery called Plants!
Yeah, that that’s one of those things like what is it going to be called? There’s a text chain with all of us and that’s when your head explodes. Like, “Hey, what should the nursery be called?” and it’s like all the writers on the text chain. But nursery just felt visually more interesting and like a nursery that’s out in the middle of the valley with a big parking garage behind it. It just seemed like one of those little spaces you see when you drive around LA and you just go, “What happens over there?” Like a Christmas tree lot or something was hidden behind a bunch of stuff. So I just visually enjoyed it. And then the idea that these guys had to still water the plants and everything, I thought it was funny. And then it was like, oh they could be putting the heroin in the plants.
To be honest, when I watched those scenes, all I think of is how hot it was. The shot where the camera is on a technocrane and it’s following Nick, who plays Yandar, and he’s running down the tent and he’s like, ‘The cops are here!’ I think it was like 120 degrees in that thing. It was so hot. I felt so bad for those guys.
And then The Raven, that whole thing came about because there was initially – I don’t know if we ever wrote it, but it was outlined where you saw all that. After Season 2 ends you see they have Fuches in the back of the car, they’re like, ‘What do we do with him?’ and they put him in a crate and it opens up and he’s in Chechnya and they’re like, ‘Just stay here.’ Sometimes you get insecure and you’re like, ‘Oh we need some energy in this, let’s have a sequence.’ It’s a combination of insecurity and then also you wanna make sure you’re clear, like ‘Oh God, what if people don’t understand this?’ And then, thankfully, I think it was Duffy Boudreau who was like, ‘It’s really funny just cutting to him in a cabin.’ And then Emma Barrie, who’s a new writer this season, she pitched the thing of him milking the goat into the cereal and we all laughed and were like, ‘Okay, so that’s the open then.’
“Barry” Season 3 airs Sunday nights on HBO and on HBO Max at 10 p.m. ET.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.