There’s no denying that Bill Hader is one of the current members of the “Saturday Night Live” cast who has found the most success when venturing out into movie world, thanks to the likes of Judd Apatow, Greg Mottola and Ben Stiller who have cast the comedian in many of their hit comedies from Knocked Up and Superbad to Tropic Thunder and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
On September 18, you’ll be able to hear Hader’s distinctive voice as the lead in the Sony Pictures Animation release Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on the popular children’s book written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. Hader plays Flint Lockwood, a young inventor living on the tiny hidden island of Swallow Falls who comes up with an invention that turns water into food, and things are looking up when he meets the pretty weathergirl Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris), who sees Flint’s invention as a way to put Swallow Falls on the map. (In fact, it’s currently hidden below one of the A’s in “Atlantic Ocean.”) The excitement in the town for all the great food now falling from the sky soon turns disastrous when the city’s mayor (voiced by Bruce Campbell) tries to take control of the invention for his own needs.
Usually, one might assume it’s hard to find interesting things to talk about with an actor doing voicework for an animated movie, but we found that Hader had a lot of interesting stories to share from the experience when we sat down with him at Dylan’s Candy Bar, the location chosen by Sony to fill journalists up with candy and marshmallow fondue before setting them upon their poor, unsuspecting talent.
ComingSoon.net: I spoke to the filmmakers and they told me the story of why they thought you would be perfect to voice Flint, so what did it take for you to want to do this?
Bill Hader: I don’t remember the exact… I remember my agent calling me up and said, “Do you remember reading ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’?” and I went, “Oh yeah. Sure, I remember that book.” They go, “Do you remember who Phil Lord and Chris Miller are?” “Yeah, ‘Clone High’ I thought was great.” I think I went to a hockey game once with Chris Miller and a bunch of other people, but Chris was there, so I knew Chris kind of. They said, “Yeah, they animated you from something, like it might have been a ‘Tonight Show’ appearance or some talk show appearance and they animated that around you.” I was like, “Oh, okay, cool.”
CS: Was it you or was it Flint with your voice?
Hader: Flint with my voice from a talk show appearance. So I guess somewhere there exists a reel of Flint the character talking, but it’s me talking to like Jay Leno or something. I was taken to Sony and I went to this big conference room and they just bring this reel to me and the reel was Sam Sparks walking on the Jell-O. That was one shot and another shot was just Flint kinda running and then I wanna say some of ice cream, where he’s throwing snowballs. They had like a mock up of that and it was really funny. I went, “Oh, wow, this is great.” And they’re like, “Yeah, you’ll play Flint.” I was like, “Oh my God. That’s great!”
CS: Did they actually have a script you could read?
Hader: Oh, yeah, yeah, and then I got the script after that, but it was kinda like, “Here’s what the story is and here’s the pitch and here’s what it’s gonna look like.” The visual presentation was really, really impressive so I was like, “Well, yeah, sign me up. I’m in.”
CS: It’s funny because when you first started on “SNL,” you were known for doing impressions and doing different voices, so are you surprised that people are wanting you for your own natural voice?
Hader: For movies especially, they kinda want your natural voice. They kind of want people to sound more personable and grounded instead of really big and charactery. Or if your natural voice has a specific character to it like in this movie, Mr. T’s voice, that’s just the way he talks, but it has such a big character to it. But yeah, I’ve auditioned for things and I’m like, “Do you want it kinda charactery or my normal voice?” Always, for films at least, they’re always like, “No, we just want your voice. We want the way you sound,” which is really interesting because I never thought my normal voice was unique. That’s why I was always disguising it. So it is a weird thing, to have that. Flint’s voice is like my voice but a little bit heightened obviously, the register’s a little different.
CS: Well, he’s really excitable.
Hader: Yeah, I’m doing a different thing with my voice in it. It’s not like I just said the lines like I would normally say them. It’s like you’re acting in it.
CS: Did they tell you who the other characters were and who would be doing those voices?
Hader: I knew Anna Farris was involved and I was really excited about that ’cause I was always a big fan of hers, and I found out about Andy (Samberg) and then finding out about Mr. T, that was huge. He was a huge part of my childhood and Bruce Campbell too, man.
CS: Chris and Phil mentioned that they recorded you on the phone with James Caan, too.
Hader: Oh, we did do a James Caan phone call. That was actually a lot of fun. I mean, that was another one of those things where you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m working with James Caan” right now…
CS: On the phone.
Hader: On the phone and he’s yelling at me, but it was kind of one of those great moments where you’re like, “Wow, I’m getting in a great argument with James Caan on the phone. How cool is this?” I mean, Bruce Campbell, I remember seeing the first “Evil Dead” film when I was 14 and it really changing my life watching that and going like, “I want to get into movies somehow. This looks so cool.”
CS: Did you tell him that you felt that?
Hader: No, I haven’t met him yet. We get to have kind of a fight scene in the movie, so I kept on those guys, “Do we get to do it with like, Bruce Campbell in a studio?” They go, “Oh, no he lives in Florida. He doesn’t live in Los Angeles or New York.” So I was like, “Maybe I’ll meet him one of these days.”
CS: What’s it like doing a movie like this where you’re going to do your voice and you’re not seeing any of the stuff that you’re reacting to. Is that kind of strange?
Hader: Yeah, it would be, but Chris and Phil are so good at explaining to you what’s happening and what’s coming before, so they can say–this is before I would do anything–”Okay, just imagine you’ve just given this big speech to the crowd and then you hear something. No one knows what it is, there’s a rustling, you look over and there’s a spaghetti twister. Now say your lines.” You go, “Oh, okay.” So they kinda take you in and then they go, “And this is right before this happens,” so they’re really good at kind of leading me through it, because…
CS: It’s all so visual.
Hader: It’s such a visual thing and you gotta get into their head a bit.
CS: Did they have pictures and stuff or some early animation to show you?
Hader: They showed me what the character looked like and pretty soon into working with them–I would say on the fourth or fifth sessions on the movie–I got to see a mock-up of almost… It was almost completely done, but a majority of the sequence where we’re in the Jell-O mold, us jumping around. That was almost done and that was a good thing to see and then kinda go, “Oh wow, this makes sense to me now.”
CS: As far as improvisation, did they let you play around with it?
Hader: Yeah, they’d let you play around or say, “Oh, that’s a funny idea. Do you want to try that or do you want to try this?” Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. The thing that always feels nice, even when you’re doing a movie like this or anything, another film or whatever, is just that feeling of trust with the filmmaker and you, the actor, and them being relaxed and going, “Yeah, try that man.” That’s one of the things I kinda realized in directing. The good ones are the ones that just kinda sit back and listen in and go, “Yeah, try that,” then say, “Oh, I think that might have been a little too soft, maybe more over here.” I think I always had an old school (idea) where directing was, “I want you to starve for me…” I’d see old film of someone working and them showing the person how to do it and maybe giving line readings and stuff which used to be maybe the norm.
CS: I heard that from so many directors I talk to these days, where the best directors just know to hire the right people, whether it’s the actors or the crew…
Hader: Yeah, I mean, these guys – Akiva Schaeffer, Greg Mottola who I’ve worked with now three times…
CS: I was just down on the set of “Paul” when they were shooting the Comic-Con stuff.
Hader: Oh, that was one of the best…
CS: Did you get to see what they did?
Hader: I didn’t see it. I was gone by that point, but that was such a great working experience, making that movie. Greg’s that way. Being on the set of “Paul” and it’s kind of a big action movie. It’s like an early Spielberg movie which is kind of cool and he’s shooting that way, like “Duel,” “Sugarland Express,” “Close Encounters.” We had all these big things and I looked at it, just for me, these big set pieces and I would be freaking out. “The car has to crash here which triggers this explosion. The camera has to whip around on this mark” or whatever and Greg’s just cool as a cucumber, he’s like “Hey, you guys want to do that again?”
CS: Yeah, when we saw him, he seemed very mellow and you wouldn’t guess he was the director.
Hader: He’s one of the most mellow.. he just comes up and goes, “Yeah, it’s good.” If he gives you any direction it’s like, “Maybe say it a little faster, a little slower.” Or “Maybe that was too aggressive,” or “You should be more aggressive or a little louder if you want.” It’s all kind of softer or louder, it’s all of that stuff. It’s never getting into the head of your character. He allows you to do that. That’s your job. “You figure out this guy and I’ll tell you if I feel like we’re on the right track or not.” But he lets you do your interpretation first instead of giving you an interpretation before you step out there and that kind of sometimes can throw you, because you’re like, “Wait, I was going to do this and now I have to do this.” Instead, it’s like, “I want to see where you came to it.” Then he goes from there in trying to push you in the right direction.
CS: I know you have a horror movie you’re working on with Judd Apatow and you’re also starting up with “SNL” soon. How is it balancing all these things?
Hader: I don’t know. I mean, “SNL” is pretty busy. I mean, during the “SNL” season from September to May, “SNL” is the number one priority by far. And it’s fun and it should be, but it’s one of those things where you get a week off or we get two weeks off or whatever, and I can sit down and work on something else. That feels really good. When people started approaching me about being in movies, one of the first things I thought–and one of the things Judd said to me, too–was, “You need to learn how to write, just write.”
CS: Right, that’s something Judd mentioned when I spoke to him.
Hader: Yeah, “Just write. Learn how to write and it’ll be bad and you’ll write another good script, you’ll get a little bit better, a little bit better. But just start doing that now.” I really took that to heart and been trying to do that.
CS: So do you think at this point, you’d have to wait until May if you want to get going on “House of Joel”?
Hader: Ah, we’ll see, yeah, we’ll see. (Laughs)
(That last bit was a little odd, as if maybe Hader would leave “SNL” if “House of Joel” would get rolling before May? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a cast member left mid-season if that’s the case.)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opens in conventional and IMAX theaters on Friday, September 18. Check back next week for our exclusive interview with the film’s creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller.