Much like his old “Saturday Night Live” pal Will Forte went through last year when NEBRASKA was released, Bill Hader is getting a great deal of attention (and some of his best reviews) for a film that takes him deeper into drama than he has even attempted with THE SKELETON TWINS. The film pairs Hader with another “SNL” comrade, Kristen Wiig, and the pair play grown twins who have been estranged for 10 years and are reunited after Hader Milo (a gay failed actor) attempts to commit suicide. The film certainly has its fair share of laughs, but the beating heart of it is in its more serious moments, both between the twins and between Milo and his former high school teacher (played by Ty Burrell), whom he also had an elicit sexual relationship with when he was underage.
The last time I spoke with Hader, it was five years ago for ADVENTURELAND, another, radically different pairing with Wiig. But this time around, Hader was ready to talk about stepping into the world of more serious acting while still understanding that sometimes the most devastating subject matters can be addressed using humor. Please enjoy by brief chat with Bill Hader…
Bill Hader: Hello?
Capone: Hey, Bill. How are you?
BH: Hey. How are you?
Capone: Good. We talked many years ago at SXSW for ADVENTURELAND, I believe.
BH: Yeah, yeah. I remember that. That was fun.
Capone: You’re probably getting a lot of questions about THE SKELETON TWINS being your first big dramatic role. But I actually saw THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY before this, which is certainly a step in the dramatic direction. Which did you shoot first?
BH: Actually, ELEANOR RIGBY came first. ELEANOR RIGBY in July and August 2012, then I shot SKELETON TWINS in November and December.
Capone: So it seems like it was a step in that direction, and maybe wasn’t quite as much a jump into the deep end with this one as some are making it out to be.
BH: Oh, yeah. But it was different in that it was the biggest role that I’ve ever had in a movie.
Capone: I keep reading about how [casting director] Avy Kaufman had seen you at this table read for something, and I’m dying to know what the hell movie was that?
BH: Yeah, it was never made.
Capone: Well, it was a great group of people that you were in a room with.
BH: Yeah, Avy Kaufman is just a genius at getting people together in one room. I was excited to just work with Kate Winslet. Just to sit across the table from her and watch her work. I’m such a fan of hers. I think it was the rest of us kinda watching her, and Greta Gerwig being in awe and watching her do her thing. [Laughs]
Capone: THE SKELETON TWINS is not exactly just a straight-up drama, it’s this beautiful balance of tones. Taking some very serious subject matters and sprinkling comedy throughout it. As an actor, was that more difficult to strike that kind of balance in a film like this?
BH: Yeah. It really is a testament to Craig Johnson and his editor and his co-writer. His editor is Jennifer Lee and co-writer is Mark Heyman, and they did a great job. That tone was in the script, and then on set we would try a lot of different things, and some things were too funny, somethings were too sad, and it really was Jenny and Craig getting in there and kind of just honing it right. You go one little direction one way, and it doesn’t work, you know?
Capone: You and Kristen have worked together for many years and are very good friends. Is it difficult playing people who are supposed to be estranged from each other when you’re so close to somebody?
BH: None of it was actually that difficult. The scene at the beginning of the film when I’m in the hospital room, initially as written and as the way I was thinking of it, it was a little bit more... I don’t know what the right word is, but a little bit more contrite and “Oh, hi.” Not wanting to look her in the eye and just watching TV and just thinking,“I did something stupid.” But something happened where I got into this place where I thought he might be a little drugged up. It was something about seeing Kristen standing there, I felt so embarrassed, and it was that feeling that in the back of his head, he wonders if she’ll show up or not.
Because he has nobody. He lives in L.A. Who else is going to show up? And when he looks over and sees her, it’s the first time he’s seen her in 10 years. And with that embarrassment, I got really emotional, and it was really interesting; we cut a lot of the dialogue in it. Kristen sits down and stares at me, and I think so much of that was because it was Kristen there. I think if it was anyone else, I wouldn’t have had the same reaction. And again, to Craig Johnson’s credit, he let that happen.
Capone: I wonder if it was somebody you were less familiar with, the impulse would have been to talk more.
BH: Yeah. I wouldn’t have tried that. I wouldn’t have felt that. I wouldn’t have had those feelings, because you look over and see it’s a person you know well, who’s your friend, who you love looking at you, and it was a look of “What the hell did you do?” I think that has so much to do with it.
Capone: I realize this is a scripted film, but the experience of creating in a fully-realized character is still fairly new to you, this being your first starring role. Is there anything you’ve done before this that prepared you for that process, or is it just flexing a different acting muscle?
BH: Yeah, it’s just getting the chance to go a little deeper with it, being nuanced. It’s a thing you learn at “SNL”—the difference between performing and acting. Performing is live, and you’re playing for the back row, and that was “Saturday Night Live.” Even though it was on TV, we’re performing for that live audience. And in a movie, you get to act. You get to make it more nuanced, and a lot of it is behavior. Sketch comedy is a sketch. It’s a quick sketch on a pad with a pencil. And it was nice to be a little more detailed and be nuanced.
Capone: I know you’ve done a few roles since this. Was it strange going back to comedy, or going back to smaller roles after this?
BH: It’s interesting, so much of these things are just sent to you. It’s kind of what you’re considered for, and also you might read something that you’re not considered for and you say, “I’m going to put myself on tape anyway. I think I can do this.” A lot of times that doesn’t work. I’ve done that a number of times [laughs]. And someone goes, “Yep. Thank you. No.” But you’ve got to try and see. But I think people have this conception of, “You were on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and you were in some of these big movies. You don’t have to work as hard.” And you go, “What? Are you kidding me? I audition all the time.”
Capone: I’m sure the scene that everyone is going to talk about is the lip-synching scene, which done to the theme from MANNEQUIN [Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”]. Why that song? And can you just talk about shooting and choreographing that? What went into that scene?
BH: Well, initially it was Wilson Phillip’s song “Hold On,” which was in BRIDESMAIDS and so they couldn't do it. So then Craig Johnson thought of this song, which is was a duet. And because it was a duet, it turned into more of a set piece. It turned into more of a big thing. And because it has a story point of them being close together, and him pulling her out of her shell. I remember it wasn’t a lot. If you know anything about filmmaking, it was only shot from one side because we had no time. We were shooting at one wall, basically, because it was only lit in one direction because there was no time. And he just let us go. His only direction to me was, “Get her off of that couch. Get her to join.”
Capone: I have to ask about Luke Wilson, because he comes from a slightly different school of performance and acting than you and Kristen do. Everything he says in this movie is funny even though he’s not telling jokes. I don’t know how you kept it together with him.
BH: I didn’t. The scene where he’s talking about swimming with turtles, I kept laughing. They had to cut away from me. The scenes you see of me listening is right before I start laughing. I just could not keep it together in those scenes. But Luke, I’m such a fan of his. He’s so sweet. He told me about shooting BOTTLE ROCKET and THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS, and I was just being a real nerd with him. But he had done some amazing work on the show “Enlightened.
Capone: I love that show.
BH: Yeah, he did some amazing work on that show. But when Craig called me and said, “Luke Wilson’s going to do the movie,” we all couldn’t believe it.
Capone: I’m used to that look in your eye when you’re about to loose it, because I’ve seen it many times on “SNL.”
BH: [laughs] Yeah, you can see it. It’s there in that scene when I’m listening to them while they’re eating. Just the two of them are just so chummy together, I just was like, “I can’t. I can’t do this.”
Capone: There’s so much judgement.
BH: So much judgement, because Milo knows her better than her husband. That’s what I was thinking. I’m like, “You don’t know her, dude. I know this girl.”
Capone: Bill, thank you so much, and best of luck with this.