Bill Hader can’t help be sceptical of showbusiness, which is fair enough when you’ve spent as long as he has in it. At 41, the Saturday Night Live alumni is having one of those ‘big’ career moments Hollywood types love to crow about.
He’s coming off the back of an Emmy win and a Golden Globe nomination for his hit HBO series “Barry,” which he stars in and also co-writes, co-produces and directs. He’s got a Disney Christmas flick, “Noelle,” dropping this festive season with Anna Kendrick.
Then there is “IT: Chapter 2” which releases globally this week and comes off the back of the first “IT” taking the title of highest-grossing horror movie ever with a massive $700M international haul. Despite all of that hype, buzz, insert-other-keyword-here, Hader can’t help but remain sceptical.
“It’s this weird combination of feeling a bit more confident with your ability but then feeling like you have more to lose,” he says. “You wanna try to put all of that in perspective and success in this town in perspective. You can see how exciting and rewarding it is, but then on the other hand how fickle and fleeting. It’s a big rollercoaster.”
Hader has perhaps more perspective than most, having spent years working in the industry as everything from a PA to production assistant on films such as “The Scorpion King,” “Spider-Man” and “Collateral Damage”. It was Megan Mullally catching a chance performance of Hader as part of an improv show at the Los Angeles branch of Second City that unexpectedly led to an audition on “Saturday Night Live” and a career in front of the camera.
“I’ve been told ‘oh, this is the thing!’ and then nothing happens and it’s ‘oh no, this is the thing!’ so, you know, you just have to do the things that excite you,” says Hader. “What has helped me in my career and my life is doing things that I would go see, for the most part. But also, the actual act of creating the thing is where it begins and ends with me. That’s what’s fun and exciting about doing this: the other stuff is kind of out of your control.”
Landing the part of grown-up Richie Tozier in “IT: Chapter 2” was out of his control as well and weirdly in the hands of a teenager with the best name in Hollywood: Finn Wolfhard. The “Stranger Things” star played the younger version and on the press tour for the first “IT” was vocal about how Hader was his dream choice to play Richie in the sequel.
“It worked” says Hader, who landed a meeting with writer/director Andy Muschietti a few months later and jokes that he now owes Wolfhard ‘1.5 million in royalties’.
A lifelong fan of both horror and Stephen King’s work – “Stand By Me” and “Carrie” his favourites – Hader had always wanted to be in a genre movie. However, when that opportunity came around he found it a little harder than expected.
The death of a child is one of those rarely crossed lines in horror, with the exceptions to the rule stark in our collective pop-culture consciousness: “Jaws,” “Pet Sematary,” and “Hereditary” to name a few. “IT,” of course, famously features not one but several gruesome child deaths. Previously “it used to not be” such an issue, but now as the father of three kids it’s something Hader has struggled with as a viewer and performer.
“Not that I was callous or whatever, but there’s this part of you that has a hard time with it,” he says. There’s this movie I really liked called Under The Skin and there was this scene with a kid who was abandoned on the beach. I remember watching that in the theatre and a woman got up and left. I kind of got it. Like, that is just terrible. It was really rough to watch that. Anything with kids in peril is just hard to watch.”
He pauses for a beat, before adding with a laugh: “Andy just likes to show it… Those little kids had a blast though, they were laughing while I was like ‘oh God!’.”
Muschietti is a man who famously likes a lot of takes – Hader dubs him ‘Fincher-lite’ – and despite a bulk of his mainstream Hollywood work being about kids in peril (“Mama, both “IT” films) is actually “a very sweet person:.
“When my kids visited the set, he was conscious about them not seeing anything too disturbing,” says Hader. “He wouldn’t have them go to that area over there because we had theses props and things that were a little scary, ‘maybe keep them over here’, he’s super sweet.”
Hader’s kids, who are big fans of the cult series “H20: Just Add Water” – “they love the Australian mermaid shows, it’s so strange” – are part of the generation who will grow up with both chapters of “IT,” much in the same way the TV movie was a shared, viral thing at slumber parties in the 1990s.
But in the decades that have passed since Tim Curry donned the Pennywise make-up, viewing habits have changed a lot: movie theatres are hanging on by their fingernails, we’re in the era of Peak TV, and the streaming wars are in full swing. Despite the ever-changing nature of the business, there’s still room for a traditional, crisp hit: even if it is about a hitman going through an existential crisis in LA.
Arguably “Barry” has been one of the biggest successes of Hader’s career, becoming a triumph for HBO as it heads into its third season and earning Hader the most amount of Emmy nominations he has had since working on South Park. Is Barry’s hit status perhaps then the ultimate ‘f–k you’ to an industry that he struggled to find a place in initially?
“I wouldn’t say a f–k you,” Hader replies, cautious. “But it’s definitely nice to just have something and be lucky enough to have a thing work (like ‘Barry’). Like SNL, with each season you just try to get better and better… I never watch something that I’m in, I’m usually like – ‘okay great, we did it’. But that process of getting the idea, taking it, writing it, casting it, shooting it, editing it, mixing it, vfx, everything, is really rewarding. Improving on Barry as we go along, nothing beats that.”
“IT: Chapter Two” is now in cinemas.