Barry's Bill Hader and Alec Berg Brought Their Comedic Best to SXSW


The two minds behind the upcoming dark comedy Barry, about a hitman who aspires to act, were at South by Southwest to introduce their new series. Co-creator and star, Bill Hader, took questions at the Alamo Draft House along with his co-creator Alec Berg, who also serves as an executive producer on Silicon Valley.

Here’s what we learned.

This comedy has some darker stakes and real-life inspiration came from Hader’s time on Saturday Night Live. As Berg put it, “Barry’s good at killing, but he hates it. He’s a prisoner of his own talent. It’s sort of based on Bill’s experience at SNL.” Hader elaborated: “I have massive stage fright. Any time you saw me on Saturday Night Live, I was having basically a panic attack.”

Hader originally considered creating a series based on his character from Hot Rod. The pivot to hitman required clarification on Hader’s part — this was not going to be a show with “skinny ties, two .45s in hand, falling sideways.” Berg had a gut-dislike of the word “hitman,” but quickly got on board when Hader explained, “It would be me, Bill, as a hitman.”

As Hader put it, the comedy in Barry springs from the “irony of the thing you’re good at destroying you.” Berg found the tension between the role of actor and killer-for-hire ripe for storytelling: “Being a hitman requires living in the darkness, being anonymous and setting your emotions down. Being an actor requires being in the light and being known and accessing all your emotions.”

He continued, “If Barry’s successful as an actor, it will most likely get him killed as a hitman. Then, essentially getting an audience to root for...” Hader filled in the rest: “ — him dying.” Berg concluded, “It seemed really fun to us.”

“I just love stories, so you talk about the story and then at the end I’m like… ‘Well, I guess I play Barry?’ I get excited by it on the writer-level."
— Bill Hader

Henry Winkler plays Barry’s acting teacher in the series, and the comedy icon auditioned for his part. Hader recalled the process: “We walked in, and Henry Winkler is sitting in the hallway like, ‘Hello.’ We’re like, ‘What the f*ck are you doing here?!’ He was nervous out in the hallway, and we were in the office going, ‘What do we say to him?! He’s a legend.’”

While the villains have some of the funniest lines in Barry, Hader and Berg were adamant about never sensationalizing the violence. Hader described writing the Chechen mobster “Noho Hank” (played by Anthony Carrigan): “I had this idea he should be like one of those guys at the Genius Bar, who’s really helpful. A very positive, helpful person in a polo shirt.” That said, Berg made clear, “It’s not John Wick slow motion, flying through the air and stuff. We always talked about filming violence a lot like security camera footage.”

For Hader, being the star came second to writing. Hader walked the audience through his mindset during production: “I just love stories, so you talk about the story and then at the end I’m like… ‘Well, I guess I play Barry?’ I get excited by it on the writer-level, and I’m just more interested in the other people.”

Since Barry and Silicon Valley will premiere on March 25, “Sunday nights are going to be Alec Berg nights on HBO,” noted Hader, before declaring the prospect of a Berg-double feature “f*cking rad.”