[Editor’s note: To mark the return of one of television’s best shows—that’s Barry, the third season of which premieres Sunday, April 24—The A.V.Club is rolling out a different piece of content about the series over the next seven days. To kick things off, we sat down with the man himself, Bill Hader.]
It’s been three agonizing years since Barry Berkman took on the Chechen-Burmese-Bolivian mob—and won—in a jaw-dropping killing spree that rounded out an unbelievable sophomore season for HBO’s Barry.
Not long after “berkman > block” aired on May 19, 2019, co-creator and star Bill Hader took home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series while the show earned four other nominations. Then, Hader and co-creator Alec Berg started in on season three with big plans (and just as much pressure) to answer the question on every fan’s mind: What is Barry going to do now that Henry Winkler’s Gene Couisneau knows who killed Janice?
Cut to Hader in 2022, chatting about Barry with The A.V. Club over Zoom. Demand for his show (and answers to its most burning questions) is still at a fever-pitch, but audiences haven’t been with Barry in a minute—and the world he’s coming back to is seriously different.
In our conversation, Hader breaks down rewriting, reshooting, and finally returning to Barry, as well as what to expect for the heartbreakingly hapless hitman and which season three episode Hader is most eager for viewers to see.
Watch parts of our conversation with Bill Hader below, or read on for the full chat.
The A.V. Club: So Barry season two ended in May 2019. Now you’re returning with season three in April 2022. What did you miss most about working on your show?
Bill Hader: Probably the people that are there, the crew and the cast and just being with those people every day. That was really the thing I missed the most if I’m being honest. I didn’t miss the hours of shooting. [Laughs.] But yeah, that would probably be it—it was nice seeing everybody and just having that kind of camaraderie again. It’s a nice family.
AVC: When we last left Barry, he was in a tough spot—to put it mildly. How did you approach writing and returning to a character that was left on a cliffhanger for so long?
BH: Well, we tend to write ourselves into corners so we had no idea how to get out of that. So I remember the first day of writing season three, which was in October of 2019, we were saying, “So Couisneau knows. Shit. What do we do?” So really we just had to try to figure that out.
AVC: Henry Winkler has said that the script changed pretty dramatically from what you had in 2019 to what you have now. What can you say about that rewrite process and how getting out of that corner evolved over time?
BH: A lot of it was that we started talking about season four and what a season four would be. Then as we were talking about that it made us go back to season three and change a bunch of stuff. Because we’re like, “Oh, if we wanted to go here, it might be better then to set this up this way.” You know? So we were going through that process and then while doing that there were more and more things [we wanted to change].
Usually, you just want to go deeper. You gotta go, “Is this interesting? Is this really what this is?” And then you try to go a little deeper with it. Then you shoot it and you think, “We got it!” And then you show it to people and then you go, “Oh, we didn’t get it.” We had to go back and reshoot some stuff and go even deeper and try to make it as honest and as truthful as possible.
AVC: In the season-two finale, Barry dealt with finding out that he really couldn’t change. How do you make lack of change compelling as a storyteller?
BH: We would always say it was like [Barry] was an alcoholic and at the beginning of the season, he was like, “I’m not gonna drink anymore.” And then, he doesn’t drink all season, but wants to and the universe keeps putting things in front of him that make him want to drink. And then the last episode, he goes on a bender. So it’s kind of trying to make these real-world comparisons or emotional comparisons to this heightened, crazy thing of a guy being a killer.
I think season three is him learning that there’s [consequences]. Barry does a lot of things where he doesn’t feel like there’s consequences to it. He’s pretty awful to the people he loves this season. When he’s up against the wall, he doesn’t reflect on his own rage and anger. Now, he’s learning that there’s consequences for all that.
AVC: Episode one of season three is titled “forgiving jeff.” Why is a season centered on the theme of forgiveness important for Barry as a show?
BH: It kind of happened naturally. We were writing it, going scene by scene really of what [Barry] goes through. Then, this idea of redemption and forgiveness and these real things started to rise to the top. That was a lot of that rewriting process. It was like, “While this stuff’s here, are we exploring it [deeply enough]?” Those ideas of “forgiveness has to be earned” and all that—that came during the rewrite process.
AVC: In your 2019 Emmy acceptance speech, you spoke at length about your collaborative process and friendship with Barry co-creator Alec Berg. How your relationship changed between seasons two and three?
BH: It hasn’t changed too much. The biggest thing is that when we started, I had no idea what I was doing. He was like my big brother, going, “I’ve run Silicon Valley and Curb Your Enthusiasm and all this.” He was really helping me. Then I think during season two, specifically really with that episode “ronny/lily,” he was like really encouraging and kind of going, “Yeah, go for it!”
So it’s becoming more of him telling me, “Yeah, run with this thought.” He’s this great kind of collaborator-slash-like-coach. I directed five of the episodes this season, so I directed the bulk of ’em. And it’s been just really wonderful and very kind of laid-back.
AVC: Do you have an episode that you’re the most proud of this season?
BH: Oh, I really like ’em all. I will say the last episode I really like—but I’m interested to see what people think. [Laughs.] It’s pretty… Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know what people are gonna think of it. But I do like that one.
AVC: Now, I’m gonna round you out with a few rapid fire questions. What is your favorite line that your character says?
BH: In season one, where he says, “That’s toxic masculinity” to Fuches, and it’s clear he doesn’t know what that means.
AVC: Have you ever taken a souvenir from the set?
BH: My shoes! The boots. I have like nine pairs at my house. But it’s not like a souvenir. I’m lazy and I wear them home. I wear my wardrobe home a lot because I’m directing and we’ll be at a location and the trailers are way someplace else. And I’m like, “Oh, I’m just gonna go home in my costume.” Then [the wardrobe department] is always like, “Can you please bring it back to work tomorrow?” And I go, “Absolutely.” Then, I show up and I’m like, “I forgot.” [Laughs.] So I have a lot of Barry clothes just in my closet. And yeah, I have to bring that back to work.
AVC: Describe Barry season three in just one word.
BH: [Laughs] The first word that came to mind was “fucked.” [Laughs] Yeah…it’s fucked.