The fourth and final season of barry was different than the previous three, with the HBO comedy turning darker and deadlier as hit man Barry Berkman (co-creator Bill Hader) comes to a close. However, the Television Academy’s love for the show did not waver; After winning nine Emmy Awards in its first three seasons, including lead actor wins for Bill Hader and a supporting actor trophy for Henry Winkler, barry returns to the competition with 11 nominations, including four for Hader (for acting, directing, writing and producing the series) and individual nominations for supporting actors Winkler and Anthony Carrigan.
Talking with THR On the day of the nominations announcement, Hader details how the writing team discovered that an eight-year time jump mid-season was the best way to approach the end of Barry’s story, telegraphs his disappointment that co-stars Sarah Goldberg and Stephen Root were passed over. for the Emmy nominations, and she reiterates that no matter how dark the show got, barry it still makes him laugh.
Did you and co-creator Alec Berg have any idea where Barry, or any of the other characters, would end up when you started the show?
No, we had no idea. Actually, it wasn’t until during the pandemic, when we were premiering season three, that we started thinking, “Oh, things could be heading this way…” At the end of season three, Barry is going to prison, and it started to become clear where all the other characters should go.
So, was it while you were writing season three that you identified season four as the perfect ending point?
Yes. Once Barry goes to prison, it’s all downhill from there.
Did you feel that each season needed to surpass the previous one? In season three, you had that intense sequence on the freeway. Did you think: “We have to be bigger and bolder”?
The fourth season was almost the opposite. In a way, it became a quieter season. And there was a moment where we thought instead of an action sequence, what if we did a time jump? The characters are different people, but they still act. Eight years later, they are acting in real life. They are trying to be able to live with themselves. To be honest, episode five… The show tends to be very fast-paced, so it was interesting for us to do (an episode) that’s just Barry and Sally and their son in the middle of nowhere. For everyone on the team, that was our favorite episode, it was the one we most enjoyed writing, shooting and editing. I really love all the work, especially Sarah Goldberg’s.
That episode takes some risks, not just narratively but tonally. Was there any particular opportunity you wanted to take advantage of with the time jump?
Somehow he showed up (in the writers room): he’s getting out of prison, he breaks out, he takes Sally with him. What happens next? When we first started breaking up, “whatever’s next” felt really boring. So why don’t we fast forward eight years and they have a child? And then everyone was like, “Oh yeah, that’s interesting!” You just know when you’ve hit the thing.
The time jump also requires the viewer to fill in the blanks when it comes to how Barry and Sally spent those years. Did you and Sarah talk about it with each other? Or did you lean on mystery?
You lean into it and keep it simple. In writing, we don’t talk at all about where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing. It is only about the present. You have to infer where they are. Good artists like Sarah can complete that, they can make those moments really work.
And Stephen Root, who has an even bigger transformation:
I thought Steven and especially Sarah were just phenomenal this season, really amazing performances. Sarah did things in that season that she had never seen; the range she had was like nothing she had ever seen. It’s very rare to be in the editing room and see someone who can take your breath away.
How do you bring humor to the series? Is it included in the scripts or does it happen organically on set?
This set is very loose. We move incredibly fast. Gavin Kleintop, the first AD, and I have worked all day with (executive producer) Aida Rodgers on a very well-oiled machine. I think that lends itself to being very relaxed. Everyone is in a good mood because we know what we are doing. We are moving, we are doing everything. In episode five, for example, we were in a very good mood. In fact, I find that episode incredibly funny, and very few people do. (laughs.) When I watch that episode, it’s very funny. When everyone is eating in the dark, or Barry is reading shit on the internet, trying to feel better… (laughs.)
Comedy has a different point of view, and I think you’re right: people either get it or they don’t. But he really acknowledges the absurdity and humanity of the show’s characters.
Everyone understands (what it is to try) to feel better. But the way Barry does it and tries to feel safe… What he’s doing is really extreme and a little bit crazy. I don’t know, I find it very funny. But sometimes I tell people that and they say, “What? It’s one of the most depressing episodes of television I’ve ever seen.” (laughs.)
I know you are a big movie buff. You directed every episode of this season, so I’m curious if there were any movies or directors that inspired you in particular.
You know, usually those things happen in hindsight. You’re seeing it in the mix, which is the final phase, and that’s when you’re relaxed and a lot of the heavy lifting is done. That’s when you’re like, “Oh wow, I guess this is like (that movie).” There’s a transition where Barry has this vision of a wedding party going from the desert to this wedding ceremony. He was watching that and had no idea where he was coming from. Maybe it’s like those old Italian movies: they always seem to have processions in the middle of nowhere. It’s more like collecting rare moments, but it’s all there. You read a lot, you get excited about people like Flannery O’Connor or Tobias Wolff or George Saunders or Charles Portis, and then it seeps into your work. The most obvious and embarrassing (inspiration) to me is the Coen brothers. It’s so clear that I feel like I owe them money.
Over the course of four seasons, what did you learn about yourself as an actor, writer, and director?
Knowing that I have grown as a filmmaker is really gratifying. But I also know that I am 45 years old and I am gaining weight much faster than before. That’s what I really learned, that I’m suddenly 25 pounds overweight. How the hell did that happen? I’ve learned that I can’t eat sweets like before. I think it was towards the end of the season that the costume designer said, “I think you need to wear bigger clothes. You wear a big one, and, well…” (laughs.) We have to go up a size, or three. Excellent!
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This interview was conducted prior to the launch of the SAG-AFTRA strike on July 14.
This story first appeared in an independent August issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here for subscribe.