Comedian and SNL star Bill Hader has been popping up in just about everything since he first hit the scene five or six years ago, stealing the spotlight from Seth Rogen in Superbad, from Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, and now from Shaun of the Dead cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Paul.
Pegg and Frost play two British sci-fi nerds traveling the American Southwest who give a foul-mouthed alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) a lift that winds up changing both their lives for the better, or at least the rowdier. Their attempt to get this cigarette smoking E.T. home brings them in the path of a covert government agent (Jason Bateman) and his two flunkies (Hader & Joe Lo Truglio) whose objective is to bring Paul back to base for extermination.
As Haggard, Hader gets to show his rare evil side and also interact with the stars of the BBC’s “Spaced,” who he’s a tremendous fan of. We got to talk 1-on-1 with one of the brightest rising stars in comedy as he discusses this latest film with Superbad and Adventureland director Greg Mottola, as well as his future projects with Judd Apatow and many others.
ComingSoon.net: I’m pretty sure I spotted you in 2008 at the “Spaced” reunion event in New York.
Bill Hader: Yeah, I was there!
CS: It was you, Greg Mottola, Paul Rudd…
Hader: Joe Lo Truglio was there too, yeah. Matt Stone was there from “South Park,” we were all there, we were just huge fans and wanted to hang out and watch the thing. Actually, I went to one thing in LA, Matt Stone curated a thing, did a Q&A with Edgar Wright. I went to that then we went to the same thing in New York and it was so much fun. It was just nice to see people get into it. I’m actually on a commentary track of one of the episodes when they did the American release.
CS: Were you all there because you were pals or were you discussing “Paul”?
Hader: We were just there as pals. “Paul” wasn’t even on the radar yet. I hung out with them then and after that was when I got the phone call, “Hey, do you want to come out? We’re doing a test for this movie ‘Paul.'” Greg had told me, “I might do a movie with Simon & Nick, an alien movie. Do you want to fly out and do this test?” I said, “Sure, I’d love to do the test.”
CS: As Paul.
Hader: As Paul, yeah. “We’re not paying you. We’ll fly you out and put you up.” I just went and did it, it was a blast, had a great time. Came back, didn’t think anything of it. That was August of ’08, then in April of ’09 “Adventureland” came out and during that time we did a table read for “Paul.” “Will you come and play a couple of the parts at a table read?” “Yeah sure!” I did that, still no commitment. “Yeah, I’ll do that, I’m just a fan,” but secretly being like, “I would love to be involved with this.” Then the day after that table read Greg called and said, “You have the role of Haggard.”
CS: Joe was just telling me that, and it’s so interesting that you AND Joe both played Paul.
Hader: Yeah, we both at one point or another played Paul in the process. That’s true, it’s funny.
CS: But you might have been the most important one because you were part of the selling of the concept.
Hader: Yeah yeah, this is what he would look like, this is kinda what he would sound like, or whatever. I think Seth just did a phenomenal job. He really sells it and it’s a really nuanced performance.
CS: It feels like the first fully-realized comedic mo-cap performance.
Hader: Yeah it really is, one that’s funny. People are obviously gonna compare it to Gollum and stuff like that, but you really forget ’cause he feels like just another dude in the room even though he’s an alien. They did a really good job of bringing that to life.
CS: When you first worked with Greg on “Superbad” he hadn’t made a feature in a decade, and now you’ve made three pictures with him. From your vantage point, how has he evolved as a filmmaker?
Hader: He’s done really interesting stuff. He’s just kind of evolving in a way… “Evolving,” I think he’s always been an amazing filmmaker, but he’s a guy that doesn’t get locked into a specific style. He’s like, “this is what the script calls for, this should be like an early Spielberg movie, so I’m gonna do that.”
CS: He nailed that.
Hader: It does, it feels like an early Spielberg movie. That was the cool thing, the differences between this movie and the other ones, there was less improvising and stuff like that. It was Greg really going for that style. There’s some great shots in it, not even the sci-fi movies and the obvious ones, it’s more like “Sugarland Express”
Hader: “Duel”, yeah, big time. That shot of Jason Bateman in the car when pulls to the T in the road and then it catches up with him and he starts talking, that’s right out of “Sugarland Express.” That’s such a great shot. It’s him just trying stuff which I think is really healthy and cool, he’s not just like, “Here’s my style.”
CS: It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who did “The Daytrippers.”
Hader: Yeah, isn’t that great, that’s what I mean, yeah! He’s stretching in certain ways. “This is what this movie calls for.”
CS: Speaking of evolution, when you first read the script and saw how large a role the atheistic viewpoint plays in the story were you surprised that they would do that in a broad studio movie?
Hader: No, it didn’t really affect me. I thought it was interesting just from a character standpoint. I didn’t see it as them going after somebody, I just thought, “Yeah, if this guy showed up it might rock some people’s beliefs.” No, it didn’t bother me at all.
CS: Over the years you’ve been like the Zelig of comedy, just popping up in everything, stealing scenes, but has there ever been anything you had to turn down that you regretted?
Hader: Hmm, no, not really, I’m happy just to get a job. (laughs) No, I’ve never been offered anything. They talk to me about certain things, but you’re never offered them. It’s like, “What do you think of this, what do you think of that?” But no, I’ve never had that thing of looking back and going, “Oh my God, I said ‘no’ to that, why did I say ‘no’ to that?” I’ve never had that experience, but I haven’t really done that much. It might seem like I have but I really haven’t. I also feel like when I started acting in movies it was a really awesome time, ’cause Judd was doing stuff and movies like “Tropic Thunder” were coming out. I was lucky enough to get in on all those things.
CS: You’ve done several of those pictures, and a constant of that has been the writer of the movie is also the star. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the Seth Rogen films, and now “Paul.”
Hader: All of them, and even “Tropic Thunder,” Ben was a co-writer on that. It is true, and it’s nice. I like it. It feels like SNL in that way, because you’re usually acting with the person who wrote the sketch. Everybody’s a writer and an actor. It is helpful to be working in the scene with the person and them giving you feedback. The thing that all of those guys have in common is that they really let you bring to it what you want to bring to it. There’s very rarely any moment of, like, “Oh, wait, he wouldn’t say that, this wouldn’t happen.” It was always like, “Oh that’s interesting, what if it’s ” You collaborate on it, which is very selfless too, you know. It’s a hard thing. When you work so hard writing something you kinda want it to go off without a hitch.
CS: And then all of the sudden you’re letting people sorta run wild in your backyard.
Hader: Yeah, like “Try that. No, it’s good, try it!”
CS: And you might possibly be in that same situation ’cause I know you’re developing a horror spoof for Judd?
Hader: Yeah, I’m actually developing a lot of stuff, to be honest. The slasher movie for Judd, it was Judd’s idea of, “What would it be like if you were dating a girl and you found out she used to be Laurie Strode? How could you deal with that in your relationship?” That was basically his pitch to me. I’m writing a thing with Vernon Chatman, do you know who he is?
Hader: He’s a writer on “South Park,” created “Wonder Showzen,” “Delocated.” Amazing writer. He and I are writing a thing for Scott Rudin right now. Then this movie “Henchmen” that 21 Laps came to us with that Akiva Schaffer and I are working on. There’s a film that’s really interesting called “Vaughn Meader” that is about this guy Vaughn Meader who had this JFK impression in the early ’60s, and he had this comedy album called “The First Family” that was the biggest album…
CS: Yeah yeah, and then after the assassination…
Hader: …his career obviously went nowhere. Ben Stiller had a script and Rob Siegel who did “The Wrestler” and “Big Fan” is doing the next draft on it. They approached me about being Vaughn Meader and I was like, “Absolutely, oh my God.” Those are things I’m developing with other people and then there’s two indie movies that might shoot this summer if they get financing. One’s called “The Skeleton Twins” with me, Anna Faris, and Mark Duplass. It’s kinda more of a drama, directed by this guy Craig Johnson, written by Mark Heyman who wrote “Black Swan.” It’s more of a drama where me and Anna will play twins. My wife wrote a script for Aubrey Plaza called “The Hand Job” that was a Black List script. She’s gonna write and direct. That’s me and Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, Connie Britton, Johnny Simmons, just a really cool cast. Those two films are packaged and ready-to-go, they’re just trying to find funding which is really tough right now.
CS: Of the ones you’ve written, which is the closest to happening?
Hader: Man, they’re all kind of in the exact same boat, just getting the script in the right place. There’s a lot of momentum with all of them, it seems like people are getting excited, it’s just finding the right… it’s like every one of them has that one element that’s missing, you know what I mean? I’m also not somebody who’s like, “Sh*t I gotta star in something right now!” It’s more about just being in a good movie. It’s like this [“Paul”], you just want to be a part of something you would go see. You just have to be patient, but it’s a lot of fun, and the best thing I got is from SNL, where you have a job nine months out of the year, you can’t go do a lot of other stuff. It’s kind of great to go through this development ’cause you learn so much: how studios work, how to make a script better. Just working with guys like Judd and Scott Rudin and all these people, you walk away with the best film class on Earth. You learn sh*t that no one would ever teach you just from doing. I feel really fortunate to have that process and watch other friends make movies, things that work, things that don’t work and go, “Why did that happen?” To look at it from that perspective.
CS: It seems like an envious position. Whenever I think about guys like you and Seth getting tutored by these people, it’s like
did you ever see “The War of the Roses”?
Hader: Oh yeah, yeah.
CS: It’s like that line at the beginning where Danny DeVito says, “When a man who makes $400 an hour wants to tell you something for free you should listen.”
Hader: Yeah yeah yeah, exactly! You’re just like, “Oh my God.” It’s 100% that. I remember when we did “Tropic Thunder” Ben Stiller bringing me in just to talk about my character for a couple of hours. Just that, and him sitting there with the script, the laptop, him and Justin Theroux, just trying to work it into the story, the thread. And Scott Rudin, that guy is like a genius, he’s a genius person.
CS: What does he make, like, 80 movies a year? (laughs)
Hader: Yeah, but he’s insanely involved with all of them. He’s just really really smart, and he’s been around, so any kind of advice, anything you can glom off those people, it’s like, man, you take it.
Paul opens nationwide on March 18th.