Bill Hader, coactors on 2nd chances and doing the right thing
It’s been almost three years since we last saw the characters of HBO’s Emmy-winning dark comedy series “Barry” on the boob-tube. So it felt like a happy reunion of sorts to see its main cast and creators getting together recently to discuss what viewers could expect for Season 3 and what spoiler-free details they were at liberty to share with us.
For the uninitiated, “Barry” is about depressed hitman Barry Berkman’s (two-time Emmy winner Bill Hader) attempt to escape his violent past by pursuing a skill that he realized he could be good at: Acting.
Barry arrives at this life-changing “epiphany” after he follows his target to an acting class in Hollywood facilitated by acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). As if that isn’t “discombobulating” enough to wrap your head around, Barry also finds himself falling in love with his classmate in acting class, Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg).
Convinced that acting could be the purpose that’s been missing all his life, Barry decides to walk the straight and narrow and leave his bloody past behind—but not if his former handler Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), who had been grooming him for a financially lucrative life as an assassin, has a say about it!
In Season 2, Barry’s attempt to turn his back on violence falls flat on his face when he ends up killing Chechnyan, Burmese and Bolivian gangsters after Fuches reveals that it was Barry who killed Cousineau’s girlfriend, Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome).
The interplay of existential themes continues to drive Season 3, which launches today at 10 a.m./11 p.m. on HBO and HBO Go. The latest season finds Barry and the series’ other characters trying to make the right choice. Desperate for change, the former assassin tries to untangle himself from the world of contract killing and fully immerse himself in acting. But, as it turns out, that’s easier said than done.
After two glorious seasons, how much of Barry’s “existential crisis” is left to explore?
“That’s a hard question. I’m trying to bounce around this a bit to avoid spoiling things, but there’s certainly a lot to explore because Barry’s bone-headed way of getting in touch with himself only ends up hurting people,” said Bill. “I don’t think he knew the extent of how much he’s done that, but that’s what he’s learning.”
More than anything, the show is about people messing up and getting their second chances. But the idea of Barry turning over a new leaf has been around since the first season, and it’s fair to say he’s made a few mistakes since then.
So, how long a time does a person get for his second chance? Do Bill and Alec see it happening in phases, or is Barry already on his third or fourth chance by now?
“I think Barry’s not going to stop trying,” quipped Alec. “So, when one door closes—and, clearly, he’s run into granite and can’t go any further in that direction—he’s going to keep trying something. And that’s what we, as writers, have to keep discovering.”
Meanwhile, Sarah, whose character Sally is gearing up for the kind of stardom she’s been wanting for so long by way of her own TV show, reiterates that Barry isn’t the only one going through a similar “dilemma.”
She explained, “All the characters in the show are constantly grappling with who they want to be or who they think they could be … to become better versions of themselves. There are all these fork-in-the-road moments—and they all tend to make poor choices!
“So, morality is sort of the undercurrent of the whole show. What makes it a lot of fun to play with is the moral duality in each of the characters.”
Cocreator Alec noted that the string of “complex” situations has really emanated from one guy’s make-or-break decision. “What’s interesting is the fact that all of the wreckage of Seasons 1 and 2 and the subsequent terrible things that Barry had to do to keep the plates spinning go back to that decision he made to become an actor,” he said. “There was a moment where Fuches had Barry more or less convinced that he had to go back [to his old life] in Cleveland and be miserable.
“Every single thing that happens in the show is a consequence of Barry wanting a much better life. So, you could argue that every bit of that ‘better life’ that he’s trying to achieve has led to all of this chaos. He obviously didn’t know it would be that bad … but he was warned.”
Very long gap
It’s interesting to note that there was a very long gap between Seasons 2 and 3 because of the pandemic. In fact, it was three years from the time the last season ended to the time that the new one begins.
What was it like for the actors during that period of isolation?
“Well, we were in a similar position with the rest of the world really,” Sarah mused. “I suppose we had the slight luxury that, as actors, we spend a lot of time waiting on the set, so we were well-practiced for that (laughs). We’ve had to find other things to fill the time. In my case, I tried to keep myself busy, tried to write, tried to stay active creatively … but it was hard.
“It was a difficult time for everyone. And, yeah, it’s been six and a half years since we shot the pilot, and we’ve given you exactly 16 half-hour episodes. So I was really excited to get back to it. We all had these big ideas, and it was just fun to actually execute them and be together again.
“So many actors didn’t have a job that they knew they were going to get back to, so we were in a really fortunate position there.”
Anthony Carrigan, who plays NoHank, the reluctant leader of the Chechen mafia, revealed that the members of the cast had just finished their first table read for Season 3 right before the pandemic hit.
“Just a couple of days after the first table read, we were supposed to have a second table read,” he recalled. “Then, we got an email saying, ‘All right, guys, we might need to be locked down for two weeks—and everyone flipped out.’ But, honestly, just knowing that we were going to be able to come back was a huge thing.
“It kept me going [in the midst of uncertainty] … that we had these wonderful scripts to work on. At some point, they really helped carry me through those periods of ‘What’s it going to be like? Will I still be able to act when I get back to it?’ And when you eventually put on the costumes again, you just get right back into it. That really kept me sane and focused.”
For his part, Henry won an Emmy for his portrayal of an acting coach. When asked if he’s ever found himself in a position to help other wannabe performers act, or if he has brought his vast experiences as an actor to his portrayal of Cousineau, the 76-year-old actor said, “Gene Cousineau tries to be the best teacher he can be. And I myself have had the experience of holding master classes five times—and it’s one of my favorite things!
“I’m not sure if I know what I’m talking about in those lectures (laughs), but whatever I’m feeling about what the actors in front of me are doing, it is my pleasure to get them to taste something different than they came into the room with … just by pushing them a little bit. So, it goes back and forth: I take Gene with me, and I bring Henry to Gene.” INQCatch the third season of “Barry” Mondays at 10 a.m. on HBO and HBO Go, with a same-day encore at 11 p.m.
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