'Barry's Bill Hader Teases His Character's 'Uncomfortable' Season 2 Evolution

Ingela Ratledge
Preview HBO

In February 2018, TV Guide Magazine sat down with Bill Hader at HBO's New York City headquarters to discuss his series Barry, which had yet to debut. At the time, the star and executive producer, who cocreated the dark comedy along with Alec Berg (Silicon Valley), seemed to be wrestling with one major concern: Would audiences get behind the central character? That is, could they really find it in their hearts to root for this guy and invest in his ongoing plight?

It wasn't an absurd question. Barry Berkman is a bit of a tough sell, even by today's post-Breaking Bad antihero standards. A former Marine turned methodical hitman from the Midwest, he travels to Los Angeles for his latest assassination assignment. Once there, he stumbles upon a group of aspiring actors (one of whom is his designated target) and decides — light bulb moment! — he'd like to stop killing people for money and pursue a theater career instead. As he tries (but mostly fails) to extricate himself from criminal activity, he never quite demonstrates significant remorse or develops much self-awareness.

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And was the speech he gave on air really written over four decades ago?

And yet, Hader needn't have worried. The show's first season was embraced by viewers and critics, with both Hader and Henry Winkler — aka Barry's megalomaniac acting teacher, Gene Cousineau — taking home Emmy Awards. Now, on the brink of Season 2, I remind Hader of that conversation we had a year ago. Crisis averted! People are totally on board with this lovable murder machine, right? "Yeaaaahh," replies Hader slowly, letting out a disbelieving laugh. "Hopefully that'll continue, because this season Barry is going to evolve in a way that might be…uncomfortable. That feeling I had has not gone away.”

Hey, at least we've been warned. When we last left Barry, he'd gotten to briefly enjoy a taste of normalcy. He had severed ties with his exploitative handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), and slain the members of the Chechen Mafia who wanted him dead. An investigation — led by Gene's sharp-as-a-tack girlfriend, Det. Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) — that could've unearthed Barry's misdeeds took an unforeseen turn, and thanks to some fortuitous red herrings, he was in the clear. He'd even managed to woo his acting-class crush, Sally (Sarah Goldberg), and the lovebirds were cozied up for an idyllic weekend at a lake house with Gene and Janice.

Naturally, the other shoe had to drop. In the last minutes of the Season 1 finale, Janice connected the dots and realized Barry wasn't just a mild-mannered acting student, but the dangerous perp she'd been hunting — and then swiftly rejected his pleas for her to forget about the truth and let them carry on with their couples' vacay. (Fade to black as a gunshot rings out.)

The action will pick up a few weeks later, with a flurry of activity surrounding Janice's, ahem, disappearance. "Moss is missing, and everyone's flipping out over where she could be," Hader says. "Barry is the only one who knows the truth, and he's in a state of denial. He's trying to move forward." (Think: selling athletic wear at a Lululemon to pay the bills while continuing to hone his craft — and exorcise his demons — via the magic of monologues.)

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Bill Hader shines as a burned-out hitman who finds new purpose in an acting class in the HBO dark comedy.

Alas, the other folks in Barry's orbit won't find clean-slating it so easy. Gene, prone to histrionics under the best of circumstances, will come unglued — and could take the whole troupe down with him. "He's depressed and frantic and wants to know where his girlfriend is," Hader says. "This hasn't stopped him from being egotistical, but he's in pain." The recent unpleasantness will also disrupt Barry's romance with Sally. "Moss's disappearance has her freaked out," Hader confirms.

In short, it's precisely the sort of mess that Barry has been going to great, bloody lengths to avoid. "What Barry did is having all these adverse effects, and it's putting what he cares about — these people and Gene's acting class — in jeopardy," Hader says. "He doesn't want to kill anymore, but in order to maintain this new life, he has to keep killing. That's a weird conundrum."

Indeed. Besides, Barry hasn't even escaped the crooks in his midst. With the former Chechen mob boss deceased, the exuberant Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who has a deep affinity for Barry, has risen up the ranks. Hank will be navigating his recently forged alliance with Cristobal Sifuentes (Michael Irby) and his gang of deadly Bolivians to create a mega-syndicate of one-stop shopping for all nefarious dealings. Plus, a group of Burmese baddies is eager to join the party. "Hank reaches out to Barry for help," Hader teases. "When you have this thing that you're really good at and you're also being offered a lot of money to do it, it's super hard not to get pulled back in."

Therein lies the rub. To his own detriment, Barry will continue to exist with his feet planted in two vastly different worlds. "It's like he's on The Flintstones and The Jetsons and he does not want that crossover episode to happen," Hader says. His only possible way out, according to Hader? The kind of soul-searching and introspection that will likely make him — and viewers — downright squirmy. "If you're going to better yourself, then you've got to know yourself first," he says. "We're going to dig deep and find some pretty dark elements." Challenge accepted, sir: Give us your worst.

Barry, Season 2 Premiere, Sunday, March 31, 10/9c, HBO