Bill Hader racked up five Emmy nominations on Thursday — including both his acting, directing, and writing work on his HBO show Barry, as well as his triumphant return to Saturday Night Live as a guest host this season. When reached by EW during a break from filming It: Chapter Two in Canada, Hader says the acclaim for Barry has exceeded his expectations.
“I wasn’t expecting any of it. [Co-creator] Alec Berg and I are both kind of like, Whoa,” Hader tells EW. “I’m just happy HBO let us do it, and I’m glad people are digging it. It’s a weird concept, so it’s cool that people are on board.”
Barry stars Hader as the titular character, an unsatisfied assassin-for-hire who stumbles into an L.A. improv class run by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and believes it to be his best chance at a different, less violent lifestyle. In addition to playing the lead, Hader also co-wrote three episodes with Berg, and directed the first two himself. He got nominations for all three of those tasks — even though it was his first time directing anything. Hader says his SNL experience taught him how to balance so many different creative tasks at once.
“I moved out to L.A. to become a writer and a filmmaker, so that’s pretty great, to get recognition for that,” Hader says. “At SNL that’s how you do that show, you’re in charge of your sketches and collaborating with a writer as well as the other cast members. It wasn’t a hard thing for me to navigate. I was really prepared too. I was very lucky that we put aside the time to prepare.”
Hader says he appreciated the nominations for his SNL return because “it’s well-documented that I get very nervous, I burn a lot of energy worrying, so it was good to be recognized for that.” Several SNL cast members also earned Emmy nominations this year — including Kenan Thompson, who’s been on the show since 2003 (Hader came on in 2005) and earned his first as a performer. Hader says Thompson’s nomination was “long, long overdue.”
“He’s a guy I would watch when I was a cast member and say, ‘Okay, I have to get to be that relaxed and confident as a performer, and that good at making choices to make a bit work,’” Hader says. “He would always find laughs where there weren’t any. You’d read the script and be like, ‘I don’t see anything there.’ Kenan is a master at pulling laughs out of things where you’re like, ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’”
Barry racked up quite the body count in season 1, but Hader, Berg, and their team are already hard at work writing season 2. The season 1 finale ended with Barry seeming to finally get a chance at the peaceful life he wanted, only to be forced to return to his violent ways at the last minute. Although season 1 already blended various tones (from comedy to drama to tragedy), Hader says that so far, season 2 “feels a bit darker.”
“The idea of the show is so weird, and the idea immediately kind of brings these two strange worlds together and the conflict that that brings, so we just kind of played out what these characters would do, and doing that you get a funny moment or a really scary moment,” Hader says. “Barry’s not that smart. I can say that it feels a bit darker this season. It’s still funny, but where the character kind of goes is dark. We’ll see what people think, but I’m digging it. As long as Alec and I are digging it, it seems like other people do too.”
This year’s Emmy Awards will be held Sep. 17 at the Microsoft Theater in L.A.