Barry star Bill Hader breaks down HBO's other big Sunday finale
“Barry Berkman did this.”
The reveal of that whisper from Fuches to Gene ended season 2 of Barry and set up a third season that might as well be called “Barry vs. Everyone.”
In an attempt to impress upon Barry (Bill Hader) that he still holds power over him, Fuches (Stephen Root) brought Gene (Henry Winkler) out to the woods and showed him Moss’ body — but instead of killing Gene like it first appeared he would, Fuches outed Barry, his former protégé, as the perpetrator. With Gene caught up in the emotions of standing over his dead girlfriend, the revelation didn’t come back to him until after he was released from custody thanks to Barry framing the Chechens for the murder. And amid all this, we had a monastery slaughter and an acting showcase.
To break it all down, EW chatted with Hader — who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the season 2 finale, “berkman/block” — about the long process of landing on that ending, finding Barry’s motivation, and whether we can expect to see more of the sure-to-be cinematic classic Swim Instructors.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on being the most-discussed finale to air Sunday night on HBO.
BILL HADER: Oh, is Game of Thrones off? [Laughs] They’re talking about the Game of Thrones finale on ESPN this morning. I’m like, “Wow, we’re really lucky to be after that show.” It’s been crazy. We got like 2 million more viewers once that started.
Diving specifically into the Barry finale, was the endgame of the season always going to be Gene finding out about Barry? Or is that something you discovered along the way?
It was something that we discovered as we wrote it. It really just gravitated from the ending of episode 7. If you’re writing it from Fuches’ point of view, he wants to blow up the acting world for Barry out of spite. But unlike Barry, Fuches can’t kill anybody. He thinks he can, but he can’t. He says later, “I used to think you guys were the sh—, but to actually kill takes someone with no soul.” But then he can kill that relationship in a Fuches way, which is just to tell Gene. And that was a big discussion in the writers’ room. Okay, he’s got this gun to his head, why doesn’t he kill him? If someone pulls a gun on someone, they shoot them, right? That’s such a bad trope, of a guy pulls a gun and he can’t do it. But it feeds into his character and why he needs someone like Barry: He’s not the guy who kills people, and that’s a flaw in him, from a criminal aspect. Once we decided that he would say that, it became this thing of, so does Gene remember it? He’s in shock, does he know that happened? So it was more because of Fuches than wanting Gene to know. It was like, “Goddamn it, Fuches would tell him, so now Gene knows.” If we’re being honest with the characters, that is what would happen. It wasn’t an argument, but it really was tense in the writers’ room on that day. It was a massive move for the show to be happening at the end of season 2. I think a lot of shows would like that to happen a lot later. But for me, I was adamant that that is what Fuches would do. Why wouldn’t he just say that? And if I was watching that, I would be like, “Just tell him!”
Over the course of season 2, Gene had really become the father figure to Barry that Fuches could have been but wasn’t. Now with that secret out there, what will presumably losing that bond with Gene mean for Barry?
I know this sounds so lame and kind of irresponsible, but we kind of just say, “Okay, Gene knows,” and then we pack up our stuff and say, “See you guys back in October.” [Laughs] Next week, [co-creator] Alec [Berg] and I are going to have dinner, and it happened over dinner last season where I said, “What do you think happened with Moss?” and he was like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” So it will probably be like, “So, Gene knows, what do you think?” We kind of have our ideas of possibly what that will be, but, at the same time, I don’t want to give that away.
Fuches’ trip to the woods with Gene sets Barry off and sends him to the monastery, where he kills basically everyone except Fuches and NoHo Hank. And this was literally just after he told Gene’s son that people can change. So why did you then immediately want to prove that maybe that isn’t true?
The Fuches-and-Barry relationship is awful, and that is what was fun about writing that. Initially, Barry went in and just started killing people for like no reason. It was outlined as “Barry gets angry, he’s mad at Sally because she slapped him, he’s seeing red, he might kill her, but then he has all this pent up anger towards Fuches, and then he lets it out by going to the monastery and arbitrarily killing people.” And it was not a good idea. I remember looking at it like, “So he’s just like a serial killer or a mass shooter? He just goes and blows over all these bad guys because he has to get it out of his system?”
And then I had to go to the FYC event for season 1 that John Mulaney hosted and I got stuck in traffic, and while I was in traffic the whole ending of episode 8 just came into my head. “Oh, Fuches would go and broker peace between Cristobal and NoHo Hank, and then we should put in earlier that NoHo Hank tells Barry to come here because the Chechens like you and Barry can’t do it so Fuches does it, and then Hank would text Barry and say, ‘Hey, man, don’t worry, Fuches is here and figured it out.’ And Barry wants to kill Fuches so he goes to the monastery, and that’s why the big gunfight happens, but there’s a reason for it, he’s basically trying to kill his dad. That works.” And I remember running in and as I was getting mic’d up to do the event I pitched it all to Alec, and he’s like, “Yeah, that sounds great.” I told John Mulaney that because John was trying to talk to me and I felt bad that I was ignoring him, because I was like, “Hey, John, can you just give us a second, man?” Because I was basically telling Alec what the end of season 2 was. We had been trying to figure that out for weeks: Why is he killing all these people at the end? There has to be a reason.
He was so locked-in during that, just shooting people without hesitation, even killing the young Chechen who had thanked him earlier in the season for training him and giving him purpose. And the kid hesitated when he saw Barry…
Yeah, we tried to put that in episode 4 where Barry yells at that kid, going, “You can’t hesitate. Kill, that’s the only thing on your brain.” And that was purposely put in as a harbinger to that Barry was going to kill him at the end of the season. Barry is basically describing to him, “This is how I’m going to kill you.”
Barry doesn’t realize it in the moment when he kills him, but you have the moment after Fuches is gone when it hits him as he’s standing over the kid. Like with Moss, is that something that will continue to haunt Barry moving forward?
Oh yeah. At the beginning of the season, I wanted the season to be bookended by Barry coming out of darkness and then retreating into darkness. So in episode 1, when he comes out of the stage area, he’s coming out of darkness and tries to get everyone together to do Front Page. And then at the end is him walking away into darkness and all of the lights going out. So he lives in the shadows and tried to come out into the light to live this virtuous life, and he just can’t do it. When I watch that, it’s this weird acceptance of who he is. The title of this episode could have been “Fuches was Right.” Barry is a violent piece of sh—. Fuches was the one in episode 3 that’s like, “No one wants truth, they just want Braveheart,” and Sally’s story proves that. The cynical character is right at the end of the season. And I actually believe him as well, so that sucks. [Laughs]
The acting class was obviously a big part of season 1, but there was even more of that this year, whether it was with the other acting students getting more to do or expanding Sally’s story. What was it that you enjoyed about exploring who Sally is outside the class?
When we started writing this season, there was so much for that character that I really feel for, and it was interesting how many people were like, “She’s a bitch, I can’t stand her. She’s a self-obsessed a—hole.” And we were always like, “But Barry kills people.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but he’s trying to be better, she’s just awful.” I always want to get deeper with everybody, and you realize with Sally there’s a degree of empathy that you hope you bring to it, which is that she came from this abusive relationship and she kind of fled to L.A. and created this strong character for herself. I feel like Sally always works when she’s just being honest. Her meanness and directness is just her being honest. In episode 6, she turns around and tells Barry, “Really, you’re going to help me with this?” And she’s just being honest because Barry really is the worst actor in the class. You want to try to understand her and make her a complex human and bring some empathy to it, and I think Sarah Goldberg’s performance this season is really special, and she brought so much of it in very interesting and subtle ways that I think helped show this vulnerable side. But we talked to her about that before the season, like let’s see the mask come down a bit.
And I think that’s why her amazing monologue in episode 7 where she just lays it all out there was so perfect.
I liked that scene so much because Alec and I were trying to write a scene between Barry and Sally where she says all the things that she’s afraid of and you get to see where her head is at. We had our list but then it kept growing and growing, and we’re like, how do we put this in a scene with them because it’s all these like 20 wildly different things? And then I would ask Sarah what she thought Sally was going through and she’d have like four new things. So then I’m like, I bet Sarah Goldberg could do a three-minute monologue with no punctuation, I think she could rattle off three pages, and let’s do it in one locked-on shot. I bet she could do that. And she did — she just killed it. In a season 2, you get to know your actors so well that you’re kind of showing them off. Like, “Look, Sarah Goldberg has this awesome superpower where she can rattle off a bunch of dialogue and make it have 20 different levels.” And I think by just letting it be in one shot, you’re watching her shapeshift in front of you. It’s her being honest, and you get to just see inside her soul for a second. In a show that is so fast-paced and has all these crazy things, it’s nice to let a character just have a moment like that.
That monologue came during Barry practicing for his big audition. I know you haven’t mapped out season 3 yet, but is there any chance that we get to see some more of Swim Instructors? I feel like there’s a world where Jay Roach is intrigued by that audition and starts rethinking the character.
We loved the idea of Swim Instructors. It came from auditions that I’ve gone on in my life. You see it a lot where the title is just right there. Like there’s a version of our show where it’s called Hitman Actor. And I would get scripts like that, where like the pitch was the title.
That’s why I loved when Gene was so excited about Barry having the “We’re swim instructors” line and being like, “You say the title, they can’t cut that!”
That is from my life. I’m like the guy going, “You should forget about Sarah Marshall!” I loved it. There were so many movies that I was in early in my career where I was the character who would tell you the setup of the movie. I remember in Year One, I’m the guy who tells Jack Black to go on his quest, so I was like, “Yes, I’m going to be in the trailer!” [Laughs] “It’s Year One, Jack.” I’m always the guy telling the title, and that line from Henry was something I told Alec, and he laughed so we put it in the script.
For more Barry, read EW critic Darren Franich’s review of the finale and season 2 in its entirety.