Dark comic: Bill Hader on 'Barry' and 'It 2'

Los Angeles (AFP) –


For one of the funniest men in America, Bill Hader is definitely drawn to darkness.

Critics agree that the "Saturday Night Live" alumnus steals the show in horror blockbuster "It: Chapter 2," out this Friday, while his acclaimed HBO hitman comedy "Barry" is tipped to win multiple Emmys once again next month.

In both, the in-demand star steers the mood rapidly from terrifying brutality to hilarity and back again, often several times within a single scene.

"I've always been weirdly interested in violence ... people's inherent violence, which is kind of what 'Barry' is about," says Hader, who created and co-wrote the show, as well as directing several episodes.

"It's about a guy saying, 'Well I can quit this' and realizing 'Oh, no, this is in me, and maybe it's in most people.'"

The acclaimed series sees Hader's former US Marine-turned-hitman pursue his target into a Hollywood acting class, where he quickly enrolls.

Its second season -- which earned a whopping 17 Emmy nominations -- follows Barry's bid to swap contract killings for casting calls, an ambition which is constantly thwarted by his own inner turmoil and an assortment of larger-than-life mobsters.

"You have to have some levity because that's just life," says Hader.

"If there's no humor in it then I don't feel like it's very realistic, because life is very funny, you know? Life doesn't make a lot of sense."

It is a lesson Hader learned as a teenager growing up in Oklahoma when he was in a bad car accident -- but remembers laughing with his sister on the way to hospital.

"I was 16, and we went through a fence and hit a tree, and spun around ... I did something to my foot and I hurt my neck," said Hader.

"And then this drunk guy who was walking home just started directing traffic around us -- it was just super surreal ... He was yelling at people and then when the cops came he took off running."

"On the way to the hospital my sister and I were just like, 'Who the hell was that guy?'"

- 'A mask' -

Those intense contradictions underline much of Hader's career. As a hugely popular cast member for eight years on "SNL" he famously suffered severe anxiety live on air, even as he reduced audiences to stitches.

Having spent years as a Hollywood production assistant on Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson films before joining the venerated comedy show, Hader's profile rose substantially following his scene-stealing role as a police officer in "Superbad" alongside regular collaborator Seth Rogen.

Since leaving "SNL" in 2013 his star has risen further, becoming one of the most sought-after funnymen in Hollywood, and lending his voice to mainstream hits such as "Toy Story 4" and "Finding Dory."

But in "It: Chapter 2" Hader -- a lifelong Stephen King fan -- enjoyed flexing his dramatic muscles as well as bringing many of the laughs.

His character, the trash-talking Richie Tozier, is struggling with a secret which is hinted to be his repressed homosexuality -- something which he seeks to deflect by regularly cracking jokes.

"I liked that Andy and I talked about just giving the character something to play... it's all kind of a mask," says Hader, referring to director Andy Muschietti.

In a separate interview with AFP, Muschietti praised Hader's "phenomenal" performance, while also describing him as "one of the funniest guys on Earth."

But Hader says he wants to focus more in the future on his directing and writing, with writing on season three of "Barry" due to begin later this month.

The show will continue for "as long as we're enjoying it," he says, but admits he is uncertain of its future direction.

"We'll have to figure it out," he says. "I don't know what it is, but we're gonna figure it out."