Since emerging onto the comedy scene with his break-out SNL character Stefan, Bill Hader has been “that guy” in a long, laundry list of hit comedies. With an arsenal of characters, impressions and spot-on comedic timing, Hader fell easily into the Judd Apatow camp, but his upbeat, everyman voice also earned him a role in several major animated releases such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Inside Out.
With the release of Apatow’s latest directorial effort Trainwreck, Hader stars alongside Amy Schumer as a down-to-earth doctor in love with – pun intended – an absolute trainwreck of a woman. Schumer’s script and Apatow’s direction somehow manage to make Hader’s straight-man every bit as funny as the supporting cast.
We sat down with Hader to talk about the balance of drama and comedy, as well as his upcoming IFC series, Documentary Now.
There’s obviously a ton of improv in the film. How did those moments differ between experienced improvisers like Amy and folks like LeBron who don’t come from that background?
No difference at all! If anything, the sports guys were better than us! They kind of inherently knew how to improvise and how to be funny. They knew it was funnier if they played it straight.
How did Judd work with you guys to guide each scene? Were you able to create and change and evolve scenes through the improv — or was it more like riffiing within a set template?
Amy wrote a wonderful script. I’ve done a lot of these Judd movies and the scripts are typically good, but usually more like suggestions. Amy’s script was so solid and so honest and funny. It was also incredibly moving, so we almost didn’t want to mess with it too much. So we started with that really solid script, so we had nowhere to go but up. Amy gave us this amazing launch pad and we were already improvising at an A+.
You’re known largely for your comedy, but you also come from a dramatic background. What was the process in a film like this balancing the comedic and the dramatic beats?
I feel like I just play whatever feels right for the character and right for the moment. I don’t think of it in those terms. It just doesn’t work if I’m “funny” in this particular movie. The relationship doesn’t work if I’m silly like in SNL. You have to believe that I’m in love with this woman and see a side of her that she doesn’t even see in herself. And I’m accepting her in some ways and not accepting her in other ways. We are in a relationship, so we had to find real ways to work through our issues, and that’s all in a solid script.
Congrats on the success of Inside Out! You campaigned pretty hard to work with Pixar and you obviously have a real passion for animation and voicework. As a writer, is animation a format you’d be interested in exploring?
I guess, I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. I never thought about writing an animated movie. I worked at South Park and Pixar, but that was mostly to learn how to write. The writers at those places are so good at telling stories, I just wanted to learn how to do that. It wasn’t like anyone said, “Bill’s got real writing chops! Let’s get him in here!” It was more me begging, “Please let me get into the room!”
Can you talk a little about Documentary Now? A mockumentary anthology series is pretty fertile ground. What was the process deciding on which subjects and character-types you wanted to tackle?
Fred [Armisen], Seth [Myers] and I did a short film called The History of Punk where Seth played this character Ian Rubbish. Rys Thomas and Alex Buono, did such a great job at mimicking that documentary style and we just had so much fun doing it. So we were at the after party of our last SNL — we all knew we were leaving – and we thought, hey, we could make a whole show in that style. Just pick different documentaries. Kind of like American Masters. Then it was just about what was interesting to be parodied. John Mulaney wrote an episode that’s a parody of the Thin Blue Line; we did one where it’s a current day rock documentary where Fred and I are in a band called The Blue Jean Committee. It’s been a real blast. We’re in a stage where we are just getting cuts of the show and it’s so fun to see how different they all are. I think it’ll be a show where people will love an episode and maybe not feel so great about the next episode. Kind of like SNL, they all have a different feel, I’m excited for people to see it!
Trainwreck opens in theaters July 17, 2015.