Note: The following contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4 Episode 8.
Bill Hader was not necessarily focused on “landing” anything with the final episode of his HBO series “Barry.” He and the show’s writers weren’t trying to line up a bunch of plot points to fall right into place in the final episode. As Hader explains their approach to the series’ conclusion, they were simply trying to tell a good story.
A story that involved the shocking-yet-not-shocking murder of Hader’s titular character at the hands of Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau.
A story that, as it turns out, had been in Hader’s head for years.
In a final, super-sized episodic interview with TheWrap, conducted under WGA guidance that allows for WGA members to participate in interviews about their shows as long as it’s not facilitated by the studio, Hader revealed that he came up with the idea of Gene killing Barry while they were making Season 2. Specifically, the notion that Gene kills Barry with Rip Torn’s gun.
“I remember saying it’d be really interesting if Cousineau killed Barry with that gun,” Hader recalled when they introduced the gun as a gag in the second season. “And then that was kind of it. I made a mental note of it, so from that point on there are a lot of specific close-ups of it, always tracking where that gun is knowing that it eventually killed Barry.”
Thematically, the final episode of “Barry” has dire consequences for those who remain in denial, who refuse to be honest, who refuse to take off their mask. Hank (Anthony Carrigan) can’t admit that he killed Cristobal, so he dies. Sally acknowledges that she’s a murderer, that she’s a bad mother; she lives. Fuches says he’s a “man with no heart” and saves John; he lives, albeit in the shadows.
And Barry. Well, for Barry his realization comes too late – but he does finally “get it” during his last few seconds alive.
“He’s so concerned about heaven and hell when what he should have done is what he does at the very end, which is he realizes my son and my wife are gone and the only way to properly redeem myself is by turning myself in,” Hader said. “The only way to properly take responsibility isn’t by dying, it’s by turning myself in. Which if you think about it, is probably what he should have done in the pilot.”
Below, Hader breaks down this chilling moment, that final shot of John, “The Mask Collector,” and how he staged and crafted that graphic shootout. He also talks about the “fan service” moment that didn’t work, the bleaker ending that he initially pitched and much more as we cover episodes 7 and 8.
Editor’s Note: If I may break the fourth wall here for a second, this marks the conclusion of a five-year conversation between Hader and myself about “Barry.” When the first season started airing, I pitched Hader on doing weekly episodic deep-dive interviews, specifically about the filmmaking and storytelling choices in the show. We’ve chatted about literally almost every single episode of the series, individually, up through this finale. Through these conversations, it’s become clear that A. Hader is a tremendously gifted filmmaker and B. This is a show that has thrived because its writers feel strongly about telling the best story possible, even if that means scrapping scripts, storylines or even completed scenes that don’t work and redoing them. The candor with which Hader has spoken about the storytelling process over these four seasons is refreshing, insightful and greatly appreciated.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Let’s start with the ending. When and how did you know how the entire show was going to end? Did Episode 8 kind of materialize organically as you broke the season or was it a destination you were always moving towards?
I remember talking to Alec Berg in Season 2 about it. We were shooting a scene where Henry Winkler is talking about killing himself with the Rip Torn gun, I think it’s the first episode of Season 2. So we introduced this idea of a Rip Torn gun, and I remember saying it’d be really interesting if Cousineau killed Barry with that gun, and Alec was like, “Oh, yeah.” And then that was kind of it. I made a mental note of it, so from that point on there are a lot of specific close-ups of it, always tracking where that gun is knowing that it eventually killed Barry.
As you started the writers room for Season 4, were you working backward from Barry’s death?
We knew roughly that he was gonna die, and we knew it was gonna be Cousineau. I remember we did have one moment that was very dark where Barry and Sally, they’re not on the outs, they’re all good, and Jim Moss has let Barry go. This was an early, early version, and Barry was much more involved in pinning all the crimes on Cousineau. It was a whole thing where Jim Moss finally catches him and it’s like Barry out-maneuvers Jim Moss in this interrogation battle. He tells him the truth about what happened but says he was manipulated. Basically, the movie that you see at the end, in an earlier draft Barry tells Jim Moss that is what happened. And there was an even earlier draft that as Barry is telling Jim Moss that, Cousineau appears as his acting teacher and it’s this whole thing where you’re seeing Barry using everything he learned from Cousineau to pin the crimes on him. He’s using his acting. So it was this whole scene, and then Gene goes down, Barry goes to call Jim Moss and the police answer the phone and say, “Jim Moss has just been killed.” And then you hear a door open behind him and he turns around and it’s Cousineau and Cousineau shoots him, so Cousineau shot Jim Moss and kills Barry.
I remember in the writers room, everybody’s like, “Why do you have to kill Jim Moss?” (laughs) For some reason in my head, I was thinking of the Harvey Milk shooting where Dan White went nuts and he shot Harvey Milk and then he shot the mayor, like when someone goes insane like that it’s like these are the two people who wronged me so I’m gonna kill them both. Everybody was just like, “Don’t kill Jim Moss. This just feels like needless bloodshed.” Emma Barrie is usually the biggest voice of, “Bill, this is needless bloodshed.” So I went, OK, you’re right. It also became very “TV” if that makes sense. I also feel like people said, “I don’t think Jim Moss would let him go. Even if he thought Barry was manipulated, he would bring them both down.”
So that’s when I had that idea about these weird goggles and Jim Moss is completely scrambling his brain. Once Barry became religious, I was like, “Oh, it should be about him being concerned about heaven and hell and sin and where’s he going?” Then it leads to that moment when he’s shot, we just cut the black. Darkness has been a very big theme throughout the show, and now he just lives in that blackness. A switch is flipped and that’s where he goes. He’s so concerned about heaven and hell when what he should have done is what he does at the very end, which is he realizes my son and my wife are gone and the only way to properly redeem myself is by turning myself in. The only way to properly take responsibility isn’t by dying, it’s by turning myself in. Which if you think about it, is probably what he should have done in the pilot.
Initially, in Episode 8 when he got shot, that was it. He didn’t say, “Call the police.” He comes in and he’s yelling at Tom “Where’s Sally? Have you seen a little boy?” and then pow he’s shot. We were shooting the scene of Stephen Root as The Raven when he’s looking out the window at his girlfriend and her daughter leaving and I was talking to our producer Aida Rodgers and she was saying, “Oh man next week, we’re shooting your death scene. How do you feel?” And it just came to me right then, I was like, “Oh, he should be turning himself in” and she started laughing. She said, “Oh my God, yeah, he turns himself in and if Cousineau had just waited two seconds…” and I was like, “Yeah, exactly,” and we both started laughing. I ran over and I told Duffy [Boudreau] and he was eating something at crafts services and was like, “Oh yeah sounds great.”
Where did the “wow” come from?
I don’t remember, I don’t think that’s in the script. I did a bunch of them. There are so many takes of me sitting down and looking up and going like, “huh” or “you!” or “Jesus” or “Mr. Cousineau?” I think I did one where I finally got it and I went, “Ohhhhh!” But everybody liked that read of just “Oh wow.”
What was it like staging the tableau of Gene sitting on the couch and Barry’s body? It really brings to mind this idea you’ve talked about since the show’s inception which is that this could be a true crime article in Vanity Fair.
Yeah, that was the idea. And this idea of having those puppets up there and we’ve always had this Pinocchio thing, although when I look at it, I go, “Well that’s a little on the nose.” (laughs) If I had to do it again I might not have those in there. You know honestly what I was thinking was the technocrane was stuttering as it periscoped back. It would catch and jitter for a second and continue, and you’d just hear [cinematographer] Carl [Herse] go “Ahh!” So I’m just sitting there with Henry with my legs crossed, just waiting. But I do remember people being like, no one take pictures. A lot of crew people were coming up to me going, “This feels weird. How are you? How are you doing today?” People feeling like, “Oh, this must be very emotional for you,” and I was like, “I just want to get this blood off my face” (laughs)
That image is stomach-churning.
Yeah, it’s somebody that you followed for four seasons sitting there dead, and at the hands of someone else who you’ve never seen be violent. He’s been accused of all this violence that he’s never done and now he’s done it, which makes him guilty.
Walk me through putting together the twist that Moss pins Cousineau as this criminal mastermind.
The reason you have Lon in the story is to piss Barry off and piss Jim Moss off and to give somebody Cousineau can suck up to, he’s just a good thing to come in that disrupts everything. But the piece of plot – as I’ve written the show, plot starts to get a little dicey. But you kind of say, “OK we have the notebook that he has in Episode 2 and it has to show up in Episode 7 and $250,000.” So then there’s this whole thing of how do you show that? I think we have good editors and everybody basically just saying, “There’s gonna be a ‘previously on,’” but also people are gonna just get it or they’re not.” But the worst thing to do is to have Jim Moss go “$250,000?” and then look at Lon’s notebook, and then you cut to Lon with the notebook and then you cut to Gene Cousineau saying it and it’s like echoey dialogue or whatever. I didn’t want to do that.
Jim Moss is not a murderer. He’s an interrogator. His whole thing was he got the guy interrogating him to kill himself, so he’s never killed anybody, but he can get your brain to eat itself. That’s what he’s doing to Barry in that scene. I think the thing that really throws people which maybe was a mistake was having those instruments of torture there. But I don’t think he’s interested in killing Barry there. He’s interested in getting information.
But initially, the whole Cousineau thing happened in a court case. Cousineau is giving this deposition and then Jim Moss somehow — it was really contrived, he shows up at this deposition and says “I believe he manipulated Barry Berkman to kill my daughter.” That’s what it was for a very long time up until we were in prep on Season 4. I thought, he’s an interrogator. He’s also good at setting traps. What if he set the trap for Cousineau? Then that works for us because Cousineau’s issue is fighting his narcissism. So by having it be an agent, and having it be Daniel Day-Lewis, then you’re able to engage in that. I had an agent say that to me about Daniel Day-Lewis, I said “My Left Foot” and he said, “Wow that’s a deep cut.” (laughs)
It tracks because it goes to this idea in the finale, which one of these characters has changed truly or is able to admit their true self and stop pretending?
Yeah, and it was interesting to me to see Cousineau go into that room. That’s one of my favorite scenes in the whole series when he goes into the room and everybody’s waiting for him.
Nate Corddry is great.
Oh my God Nate Corddry is so funny. He improvised the funniest lines. He improvised the “Mark’s very frightened of the woods” and “I was in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’”
Episode 7 also gives us the FUBAKs and some really classic Noho Hank comedy before the finale.
Anthony improvised that line, “Wait, those guys are real?” (laughs). With the FUBAKs, initially, forever it was going to be a giant battle. We were going to have a shootout with the FUBAKs where you saw how truly tough The Raven’s crew was. There was going to be a thing at night where all the power goes out, and it was this big shootout thing. Then I sat down to write it and I thought, “We’ve done this on the show before. I just don’t care. What’s something fun? What’s something unexpected?” So I just went, “What if they just come back and there are boxes with their heads in it?” I just wrote those two scenes and sent it to Duffy and Liz [Sarnoff] and Aida loved it because the budget for a shootout at that house was very expensive.
And the name of one of the FUBAKs, Isaiah Ransone, is a shout-out to two of my co-stars from “It Chapter Two,” Isaiah Mustafa and PJ Ransone. And then we got to do that scene with the rocket with Hank, which was really fun because that was a shot that came completely from the location. We were scouting that house and we had to park our van where the guy set up the rocket launcher. I got out of the van and saw that vantage point of the house and looked down and saw the other parking place and took a picture. I described the shot to Carl and Gavin [Kleintop] and that was it.
That shot is incredible. Is that a Texas Switch with the car?
No the car is the same, the Texas Switch is with Anthony. He runs out of frame and inside the car is his stunt double, and then the guy who is acting with him is an actual stunt driver. That guy jumps in the car and takes off, and then the guy you see running away is Anthony’s stunt double. That’s Take 2 and we did two takes.
And all practical?
Yeah, I’ve gotta give a shoutout to Don our camera operator who just did a phenomenal job and then Gavin Kleintop is cueing everybody on his walkie. The CG in that shot is the flashes from the gun hits and the muzzle flashes because we weren’t allowed to shoot up there, and then we shot an element of the rocket on a line just straight at the house and it stops and VFX takes over when it gets about 20 feet away.
Let’s dive into the finale, which begins with Fuches and off the bat you’re setting up the emotional stakes because what would make Fuches come to Hank’s compound? It’s Barry’s son. How did you go about breaking the story of the finale?
I do remember that it was always going to be there that he was going to find out that Barry had a son, and that was going to be what made him go there. There was a time where there was a bigger emphasis on him going there and you’re like, “Oh my God, he’s gonna kill John.” It was kind of like Darth Vader throwing the Emperor over the thing in “Return of the Jedi” where you’re like, “Oh my God!” It was gonna be like that, but it just felt a little false and not very earned. Stephen does something really amazing in those scenes. If you watch it, I said, “Be The Raven and then when you see Barry’s son, be Fuches.” Then in the back of the car when we do that push in on his face, that’s Fuches.
That was a big thing, and then Sally having to admit that she killed somebody. Someone told me there was a criticism that what Sally did was in self-defense and not actually that bad. I think for someone like Sally, stabbing a guy who was trying to choke her to death and then beating him with a baseball bat is gonna stick with her. Given her history as well.
I mean, the first episode of the season establishes that Sally has no mechanism for dealing with trauma.
Yeah, that’s why she’s an actor (laughs). For that character, it’s not a thing that she can just get over and it’s a thing she holds a ton of guilt about. And she’s very conflicted about men in her life and then she has a son. There’s a reason we made it a son and not a daughter. So that was always a big thing. Everybody’s hiding and in denial of who they are. Like Barry going into the acting class is a bit of, “I’m going to better myself” and then you found that it was actually someone who was in denial.
We always looked at it in the form of like an alcoholic. The pilot is like an alcoholic going to AA, and then you’re seeing he’s drinking on the side, but trying to stick to it. And then by the end of Season 1 he’s like, “I’m not gonna drink at all,” and he does a pretty good job. He’s tempted the whole time, and then the last five minutes of Season 2, he goes on a massive bender. So now it’s like Season 3 or 4 are about him being like, “Yeah I’m gonna drink but let me see if I can keep my relationships even though I drink.” But there is no “I can’t kill anybody anymore” after that. We did that. Now he’s just accepted on some level that he’s an alcoholic. And then he went to jail, and got out so then he can drink some more (laughs). Then it’s like, “I’m gonna be a Christian and a good religious guy who used to drink.” It really does follow the arc of that. So then by the end, he’s super religious but he’s gonna go get trashed “Leaving Las Vegas”-style, maybe drink himself to death. The analogy kind of falls apart after a while, but that’s the idea.
So with Sally, she’s able to say, “I murdered somebody.” The whole self-defense criticism, you still murdered somebody. There’s people who do it in self-defense and they’re not like, “Oh man, I’m totally over it because it was self-defense.” You remember Dimebag Darrell, the guitarist for Pantera? He was shot and killed onstage by a crazy fan and I saw an interview with the cop who killed the guy. He saved everybody and he’s still super f—ked up about it a decade later. That’s kind of the point of the show.
Violence is terrible and graphic and traumatic and it lingers and festers.
It’s soul-destroying and people saying, “Oh it doesn’t affect you that bad,” that’s TV logic. It’s the same thing of like, “Why are we still talking about Janice Moss?” Well, when someone dies, people don’t stop feeling bad about it. But TV shows do it all the time.
There’s a line I underlined that Fuches says to Hank during their confrontation, but it feels like a thesis statement of sorts for the show. He’s telling him to admit he hates himself, and in talking about his life of denial he says, “The only thing that will make you forget is by being someone else.”
Yeah I mean, that’s basically what the show is. That’s what everyone is trying to do by being someone else, so they can forget that they hate themselves and what they’ve done. That’s what the show ended up being about. It started out kind of hopeful, someone called it “Breaking Good” (laughs). By Season 4 he can’t be good so he’s gotta be Clark and Sally’s gotta be Emily and Fuches has gotta be The Raven and Cousineau has to be this monk, this weird wizard guy, and Hank is a well-to-do philanthropist and businessman. And they’re all lying to themselves. So I think it was about Sally does it, Hank can’t do it and dies for it, Fuches does it – and his thing was he says, “I’m a man with no heart,” but he saves the kid. He feels that way about himself, but it’s complex. He wants to give him back to Barry because Fuches has always loved Barry, and we show that at the beginning of the season with the little Barry out in the field with him. So when he’s looking at John he’s like, “I can fix this within myself.”
So the shot when all those guys get shot, we push and we find them and then he stands up and says, “I’m gonna get you to your dad,” as we track with him he hides his eyes, and we’re trying to create this sea of this is where this life ends. It’s just carnage and it’s guys stupidly shooting each other. The whole point of that scene was not to be cool, it was the lead-up to see this badass thing and then it’s like, “Look how dumb it was. They all just shot themselves.” And Fuches is hiding him from it. Fuches is saying, “Don’t look down,” and this is what he should have done with Barry. Instead of exposing him to this violence and instead of exploiting him, he shields him from it. It’s like his little piece of redemption. Then he gives him back to Barry, which I don’t know if the audience is gonna feel happy about (laughs). But they have that little moment, which is nice.
You’re commenting on it as well with Barry going into this big box store and buying all these guns, and walking out through the kids aisle.
Yeah that’s pretty obvious. He could go in and get all those guns and just walk out. And however many years from now it is, it’s gonna be just a regular occurrence. No one’s gonna notice. When I got in the car, that was the last take we did. For whatever reason I knew we got it, so I got in the car that way to make Carl laugh. On all the other takes, I put the guns in the trunk.
I want to talk about the scene between Fuches and Hank. The performances are phenomenal, and Anthony told me the camera was like two inches in front of his face. What was it like directing that moment?
I didn’t really do much. We didn’t do a lot of takes. I think we did three takes of Anthony and we did two takes of Stephen, and with Stephen what you’re seeing is the full second take. He did a good first take and then I gave him one note which was pretend you’re in an AA meeting, so it’s a bit like you’re criticizing the guy but you’re also like hey I’ve got the same disease. We were all just completely knocked out and blown away by what they did. When they finished their takes, the whole crew applauded. And their last days were shooting that scene. Stephen’s last shot was him leading the little boy out, and then Anthony’s last shot was him laying down in his death pose. He did that and then he got up and did his dance from Season 2 that he does on the rooftop (laughs).
So tell me practically how you shot that shoot out because it’s a tremendous shot.
Yeah it’s dumbasses with guns all get together and you think OK, this should be like some killer shootout. But in reality, they would just shoot each other. We had so many different ideas. There was one idea where they were going to be in separate buildings, but they all were shootouts and I was talking to Aida Rodgers because we had to pick a location, and I was like, “You know what they could do is just blow the s—t out of each other in like two seconds” and I remember her saying, “That sounds more like the show.” And what you see is basically what I pitched, but it was more about the stupidity of the two sides shooting each other and how that then lends itself visually and thematically to Fuches’ story with Barry.
So that shot is on a technocrane and the camera’s locked down, a bit like how we did the sand thing. We shot five plates, which is where you have that same angle for five different shots but each shot is another layer of the final shot. So we did a plate of all the guys getting shot., then we do a version with squibs, and then we taped down where each person landed like a crime scene where they tape the body. Then we did a plate that was a flash for the bomb and it’s literally just a light, and then a plate where we blow the windows out, and then one with smoke. And then we did one with the stunt guys on ratchets which are giant ropes that pull them up in the air and make it look like they fly. Then that one stunt performer has one leg so he had his prosthetic on and then it’s basically on very loose and then when the ratchet goes off, it flies off.
I think what was difficult was that they wanted to put a lot of smoke into the shot to kind of hide all the different composites that they’re doing, and I was like no because you’ll be able to tell. The hardest thing was I wanted the actor Toby, if you notice everybody falls but he’s still up like he got shot in the knee, and he kind of falls on his butt. I asked him to do that, then that was a tough thing because you had to animate him falling down. So he becomes, for not very many frames, completely animated and goes down. I’m sure the VFX people were really happy with me when I was like, “Toby, you should be up for a second and then go down” (laughs)
Tell me about putting together the scene with Sally and John, where Sally admits she’s a murderer. Sarah is so good in that scene.
I felt bad because that monologue she gave was initially much longer, and then as I heard it, I was like, “I overwrote it,” which I tend to do. And I wanted to do it all in one shot, so I had to make the cuts before we shot. I went up and I was like, “OK, I’m cutting this and this,” and Sarah was very patient with me. When you’re doing that kind of work and now you have to think like, “Oh, they’re changing the line” is not fun, and I felt bad I put her in that position. But what you’re seeing is the last take and Zach who plays John did a great job. Then when the guys come in and take them away, that’s a reshoot. Initially, we had that scene and they hug each other and then you cut to something else, then when you come back they’re like “Bring her but leave the boy” and she didn’t struggle or anything. It was very casual. So we shot that before we shot Sarah’s monologue, and when I watched the cut I was like, “They need to be pulled apart.” Eric Schoonover, our fabulous production designer — the theater in “The Mask Collector” is called The Eric Schoonover Theater — he built that on stage so that is a cut from an actual location to a stage.
It’s gut-wrenching to see them torn apart after that heart-to-heart.
Yeah, and it’s good too because hopefully you’re thinking like, “Well, that’s it. That was the only moment they had together. One of them’s about to die.”
We also get the first and last scene between Sally and Hank in the series finale, these two people who were both broken by Barry.
That is where I shot something that, thank God, we went back and reshot because it was really bad (laughs). I was completely exhausted by the time I was writing Episode 8, and this is what I mean by when you do fan service you f—k yourself — I had it in my head that the audience is going to be so excited Sally and Hank are meeting each other. What do these two characters have in common? He loves Barry and she loves what Barry did for her, so it’s like an ex talking to the new girlfriend but maybe they find some sort of connection and sympathy for each other. So at the end when Hank is killed, in the initial version, Hank brings his hand up because he’s dying, and then Sally took his hand and put it in Cristobal’s hand as a way of being like, “I’m gonna get you back with your guy” and all this stuff. Sarah and Anthony, to their credit, were like, “Why are we shooting this?” (laughs). And I was like, “No, no, no this is good!” This is the problem when you read s—t about your show is people are like “Oh it’s so bleak” and I thought this was a nice moment, so it’s a reaction to people going, “Why is it so bleak?”
They were like, “I don’t think our characters would do this” and Sarah’s like “He just had my son captive, why would I do this?” I asked them to do it and they were good actors and did it, then when we got into the edit I said, “How’s it looking?” and Franky Guttman was like, “I’m just trying to get around Sally putting Hank’s hand in Cristobal’s hand because it’s so stupid” (laughs). Like, “So I think I figured it out where he kind of looks up and then you see him die and then you cut and you pull back and see that his hand’s already in the hand. Because that’s such a dumb idea.” (laughs) So we went back and reshot his death scene on stage, just Anthony looking up and then he starts to realize he’s dying and then the closeup of him grabbing Cristobal’s hand. That was all shot in reshoots because I had straight up the most sentimental, unearned, weird ass moment.
But this is what I mean, A. You can’t do fan service. B. It’s dangerous to get caught up in what people are saying about your stuff, because then you get insecure and start changing it. And then C. You’ve gotta have people around you that say this is wrong and listen to them. I’ve been on plenty of things where people are like, “I’m doing a scene that makes no sense” and the filmmaker or whoever it is is just not listening to you. And sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong, it doesn’t matter, but the bigger thing is being ignored. I don’t think I ignored Anthony and Sarah, but it was at the end of the shoot and I was just like, “I don’t have any other ideas” (laughs). I remember Sarah even the way she played it she was like how do I make this super silly sentimental moment somewhat real? She’s kind of looking at him like he’s a freak and she’s like, “This is the only way I can make sense out of this Bill, I’m sorry” (laughs).
Was there any pushback from HBO on killing Hank?
No, never. Not at all. I think the note was, “Poor Hank!”
I wanted to talk about your performance in that final scene before Barry gets shot because it’s really spectacular as he finally realizes what he needs to do.
I think the idea was what we were talking about earlier, that he’s prepared to die so he’ll go to heaven and be redeemed. And then he thinks, I didn’t have to do s–t and I got redeemed. I mean, one of my favorite things about the finale is Barry is late. He’s praying in his car while all the s—t’s going down. But the way he can be redeemed is by turning himself in, so to me, it was just him thinking and then slowly realizing. When he says, “I see” that’s the important line.
Even just the look on your face in that moment, Barry looks like a different man.
Yeah, he finally figured it out. It’s like an actual, selfless thought went into his head (laughs). It’s him realizing his son who he loves more than anything, the best thing for his life is if he’s in jail. And he finally gets it. Again, the only thing that would have made sense in the acting class is like you find acting, you’re doing great, but you go take responsibility for murdering people. The positive version of the show would be that, but that also sounds boring. And it’s not really true to life.
It’s not realistic.
Yeah, we all have an ego. He doesn’t want to go, but it takes the moment of him realizing they’re gone, that they have officially fled me, that makes him say, “Alright.”
I’m struck by something you said earlier in this conversation, you said “when the show was maybe more hopeful.” I don’t think it’s not hopeful because Barry gets it — he gets it late, but he gets it.
Yeah it is hopeful, you’re right.
And in the final sequence, Sally shows growth – she still cares most about adulation, and when John says “I love you” she doesn’t say “I love you” back, but the thing with the other teacher shows growth with her relationship with men.
Yeah that was a really important thing was that she has that moment with that guy, but when she talks to her son, you realize he’s more of the parent. He’s asking can I spend the night at my friend’s house as like are you going to be OK? And she’s like, “I’m fine.” Another important line in that is that John doesn’t drink. John is not his parents. I remember talking to someone and when that kid says, “Alright, you ready for this?” and John goes, “Yeah,” he was like, “I thought he was going to take him out into the woods and teach him how to shoot or something.” And it was like, no, no, no, he’s a good kid. He got out. But I think the reason you’ve got to end it on John is that John is the future, John is the hope that Barry wanted. John represents everything Barry wanted. So it has to be about him and seeing the movie. From the beginning of the season, Barry does not want Gene Cousineau telling his story. So then when the executive pitches the movie to Gene, he says what it is, it’s mindless entertainment. You’re glorifying a killer. But you don’t realize that it’s gonna be glorifying him. But Gene’s right, it’s a stupid movie.
It was really interesting. We had some moments throughout the show this season where we had lines where it was like, “Oh, we should probably make it clear that the character knows X or Y,” and we had a moment with John where he’s watching the movie, and in the movie Barry is saving his family and we had his friend say, “Do you remember this?” and John goes, “I don’t… yeah I… I remember something else… I don’t really remember” and we had another version where he says “No, I don’t remember this” and then another version was like “I don’t really remember anything from that time.” We had it in there and Ali Greer and all of us were just like — it happened a lot this season and during Season 3 too where it feels like we’re taking you out of the story in this moment to say, “Hey we thought of this, FYI.” It’s like an asterisk. “Just so you know, we’re not dumb.” And as you get more confident in this stuff, you’re like I don’t care if people think I’m dumb, I just want the feeling to be there. So the look on his face was so much more interesting to us than to have these lines where he’s explaining things. It just felt off. You go for feeling when you’re looking at this stuff.
We also did a thing where we had different versions of “The Mask Collector.” We did have a version where we would have had celebrities, well-known actors. I remember Carl Herse, especially, saying, “Please don’t do that. It’s been done to death.” And it would step on the idea, like “Oh my God look they got all these cameos.” Then we had this idea where the movie was just a better-made film. More of an Oscar movie, a little bit more subtle about how bulls–t it is. Like a well-acted, well-written movie.
Like the prestige version versus the direct-to-video version.
Yeah and that just was not fun. When you thought about it and read it and everything it was just like this is not very fun. So then it was like, “OK, what is it that Cousineau says in that scene? What is ‘mindless entertainment?’ What’s the most cynical version where a studio exec is like just make me money?” Like if you’re on Amazon or Apple or whatever and it’s like 99 cents, like a cheap thing. That was making me laugh more. So getting to do that and making him like a little detective. Jim Cummings is so funny. I’m such a massive fan of his movie “Thunder Road,” and I was wanting to get him on the show somehow and Sherry Thomas suggested him. And Louisa Krause plays Sally. She’s an amazing actor. She was in that play that won the Pulitzer “The Flick” and her boyfriend is Anthony Carrigan, that’s how we knew about her. We met her through Anthony and I was like, “She’s awesome, and I’ve seen her and stuff and she’s an amazing actor, let’s use her.” Then the guy who plays Cousineau we just found, he was amazing. And then the wonderful actress who plays Moss, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, she actually auditioned for Janice Moss and it was between her and Paula Newsome. It was literally like flipping a coin. They both were perfect, so when we did this, Sherry was like, “What if we give it to her?” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” She was really sweet. When she came in she was like, “Finally!” She’s so good on “Vice Principals.”
What was it like directing the movie and doing shaky cam and lens flares and everything?
Really fun. That was so much fun, and that was the second to last day of shooting. I was beyond exhausted by that point. I was like “Love it, moving on. Love it, moving on.” We shot all that stuff and then we went and shot the Mega Girls and Larry Chowder posters and then we ran up to the college right by Sony and shot the Sally scene with the snow and everything. That was Sarah’s last shot in principal photography by the car, she improvised that line, “Was it good?” which I loved. Then we got up early and went to Big Bear the next day and shot all the stuff of Cousineau at the house, then we were done. And my last shot of principal photography was the back of my head in Episode 7, and then you, Adam Chitwood, were visiting set so you were outside while I was shooting my last shot of “Barry.”
Was there a world in which the show ended in the regular timeline? Where did the idea of the movie come from?
We had this idea that Hollywood would make a movie out of this and if you introduce that, we thought it’d be great to see it. We just kept going back and forth like do we want to see it? Do we not want to see it? And then we decided, yeah, we should see it. I really liked it. Someone told me it was like the inverse of the “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” ending but I always thought it was like the ending of “The Player,” without the actors. But I was like, oh people are gonna say we’re ripping off “The Player.” And then Jaeden Martell is such a great actor. I worked with him on “It.” He did such a good job, with that little smile.
It’s the perfect ending.
Barry will live on through his son. And the important thing too is that his friend goes, “Hey, your mom’s wrong. You have the right to see this.” So Sally has told him, “There’s a movie made about us that’s utter bulls—t, don’t watch it. Your dad was an awful piece of s–t.” I was really proud of it, I really like that ending. Kyle Reiter, his only note was, “I just think that Gene going to jail for two life sentences is so brutal.” I heard other people say that and I was like he murdered somebody! He fully murdered somebody. That’s what would happen. Other people were like, “Why wouldn’t Albert come back?” Well, Albert caught Barry then let him go. How’s he gonna explain that? He has a daughter, he’s not going to come back. We talked about that. If I’m Albert, I’m pretending like I never knew the guy. Even though he says this big thing of “I’ll come back here,” but I think it’s like, you almost murdered somebody. He almost killed Barry. He didn’t do it, he forgave him and said, “I never want to see you again.” So he does know who he is but he doesn’t wanna get involved because people would be like, “Why didn’t you arrest him?” And then the other one was Annabeth Gish’s character knows Barry and Chris’ wife knows Barry, but they both did terrible things. They’d be incriminating themselves.
It’s also just uninteresting to me, to think of it that way. Thematically what you guys settled on is much more interesting.
It is a thing that you invite on yourself when you make a thing like this is that I don’t watch a lot of TV, and TV can be like a fun puzzle where it’s like, “Oh, how’s this all gonna line up and land so well?” The amount of people that came up to me being like, “I can’t wait to see how you land this thing” (laughs). I don’t know, it’s a story. There’s a lot of hype around it, but we’re telling a story. So the idea of landing or whatever never really occurred to me. It was more about what’s the story?
So it’s over. How are you feeling about it all now? What does “Barry” mean to you?
That Sunday it was like this weird form of grief. I didn’t watch it or anything. I went and had dinner with Duffy Boudreau and my girlfriend and we just hung out. There was a moment in the dinner where I stood up, I went to the restroom, and I checked my phone and it had aired on the east coast where I had some texts from my family and a couple of friends and my publicist. And they were like, “People dug it.” I’m really proud of it. I learned so much through it. And I went through so much making that show. It’s happened in stages where we were shooting and then we’re not shooting and then we’re in post and then post ends. These stages happen and then suddenly you turn around and it’s all done and then it airs. I remember Amy Gravitt at HBO said, “I don’t think you’re going to be able to relax until the last episode airs,” and she was right. It aired and I just felt like a truck hit me. I didn’t realize just how stressed out I’ve been.