For as funny as Bill Hader’s “Saturday Night Live” sketches were, the actor wasn’t having a proportionate amount of fun performing them.
“Any time you saw me on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I was basically having a panic attack,” Hader said during a Q&A following the world premiere of his new HBO series, “Barry,” at SXSW. Co-created by Alec Berg (“Silicon Valley”), who was also on hand to take questions, the comedy tracks a depressed assassin who finds new purpose in a North Hollywood acting class.
“I think we started talking about the idea that he was good at killing, but hated it — that he was a prisoner of his own talent, which is sort of based on Bill’s experience on ‘SNL,'” Berg said. “He was great at it, but he derived no enjoyment from it.”
“That’s true,” Hader said, silencing the crowd members who laughed at Berg’s initial comment. “I had massive stage fright. […] I tried everything. I was doing transcendental meditation, I was doing all these things.”
“So I was telling Alec about it: the irony that the thing you’re good at is wrecking you,” he said.
“Then we started talking about what he wanted to do instead, and we landed on acting, which is the polar opposite of being a hitman,” Berg said, noting the “interesting parallels” between the two professions: “Being a hitman requires you living in the darkness and being anonymous and shutting your emotions down, and being an actor requires you being in the light and being known and accessing all of your emotions. Those two things kind of fight against each other [to the point] that if he’s successful as an actor, it will probably get him killed.”
“We thought that was interesting: to put a guy in a position where if he succeeds in what he wants to do, it will ultimately end in his death,” Berg said.
Later in the Q&A, an audience member asked if Hader was depressed during his time at “SNL.”
“Depression? Not really,” Hader said. “Anxiety? Yes.”
“When I started at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I really wanted to fit in there,” he said. “The first couple of years there, you always feel like you’re going to get fired at any moment. The first four seasons– for the first four years, you’re just waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and go, ‘Hey Bill, you’re gone.'”
There’s a scene in the pilot episode where Barry (played by Hader) sits at a bar with his acting class, and for the first time in a long time, he feels accepted. He feels safe.
“That scene at the bar, that’s me at the bar with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey [during ‘SNL’],” Hader said. “I just so badly wanted to fit in, you know? [I wanted] to be a part of that community.”
Hader was nominated for an Emmy three times during his nine-year run on the legendary NBC sketch series. “Barry” marks his first starring role in a scripted TV series, and he also directed multiple episodes while writing and producing the first season.
“Barry” premieres Sunday, March 25 at 10:30 p.m. ET after “Silicon Valley” on HBO.
The SXSW Film Festival runs from March 9 – 18 in Austin, TX.