01/20/2014 12:31 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Bill Hader On His Sundance Drama, 'The Skeleton Twins'


The last time I spoke to Bill Hader was at San Diego Comic-Con and he was, to say the least, reflective. After eight seasons, Hader had just left "Saturday Night Live" and was venturing into a new chapter of his career -- a very uncertain chapter. During that interview, Hader mentioned a film called "The Skeleton Twins" that he had just made with his former "SNL" co-star Kristen Wiig. The part the grabbed my attention is that "The Skeleton Twins" is not a comedy, but a drama. Hader wasn't waiting long at all to play against type.

In "The Skeleton Twins," Hader plays Milo -- a gay man living in Los Angeles who, after too many failed relationships and too much failure as an actor, attempts suicide. After, Milo is invited to live with his estranged sister, Maggie (Wiig), and her husband (Luke Wilson) -- who she clearly no longer loves -- in upstate New York. The film focuses on the two siblings as they attempt to work through all of their emotional damage. (And, honestly, the film is much funnier than anyone was letting on.)

I met Hader off of a very busy Main Street in Park City, Utah -- a very different Hader than the one I had met in San Diego. This is now a guy looking forward, not back. And it's obvious how proud he is of this film and, honestly, he should be.

The last time we spoke, I got in a little bit of trouble because we didn't really talk about the movie you were promoting.
So it's my fault.

I requested this interview today just to blame you personally.
Yeah, thanks, asshole. [Laughs]

It's interesting, they're billing this as the "Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig drama," but it's a lot funnier than people are letting on. It's not "Ordinary People," or something like that.
No, no. Yeah, it has comedy in it. I think the reverse would be worse, where it's like people were kind of expecting, when they see us they're thinking, "Oh, this is going to be fucking hilarious."

Here comes the hijinks.
Yeah, here comes the hijinks, here comes the crazy voices. And then they go, "What the fuck is this?" You know? Especially the opening. And so, for me, approaching it is different than anything else I've ever done -- and it's also the biggest role I've had in a movie, too. So I was very happy that I got to do a bigger role and also do something different than what people kind of expect from you -- especially coming off "SNL."

Did you feel some sort of pressure at all going in for something like this? Because it is a lot different than what people are used to seeing you do.
No, I was very excited to do something different -- I was doing a thing that I was excited about. And so just because I came from "SNL" doesn't mean I have to have the stereotypical career. Which isn't bad, by the way. I mean, it's wonderful and I love some of those movies.

Then there's interesting stuff like Will Forte is doing.
Exactly! Where it's like, you don't have to do that. I mean, I was very lucky that the people I was with at "SNL" were all good actors. Everyone was just a solid actor. And that's what I enjoy doing. Even when I would do a character on the show, I always liked to kind of figure out the voice, figure out the costume, talk more about little moods you can do. I don't know; it's all just instinctual. It's hard to like intellectualize it. It's a very instinctual thing.

Well, the instinctual part of it, working with Kristen again -- obviously you guys worked together for a while and then there's a chemistry that's already there. But did you worry that we might not take it too far, from a comedy aspect?
Well, that's [director] Craig Johnson. And we did a couple of times, but Craig cut it out because he's smart.

Oh, really?
Yeah. That whole scene with us using gas at the dentist office, there is a lot of shit of us doing crazy shit in that. Craig was like, "It was hilarious," we were falling down on the floor laughing, but it was like, "Oh, these are the professional comedians now," you know? But I also wanted to make sure that the guy was funny in the way that they wrote him to be. I was like, "Okay, that's different funny in the way -- medium funny." It's a different kind of funny.

Milo makes a joke that he won an Oscar playing a mentally challenged Ukrainian immigrant who lives in Brooklyn and teaches high school kids how to play chess. That should be your next role.
I should do that. Why didn't I do that? I know, it would be like the most meta thing on earth.

That will be your shtick.
Yeah, that will be my shtick.

Every movie, you do a joke about something then you play it next.
And then actually do it.

You and Kristen mime out Starship's "Nothing's Gonna to Stop Us Now" in this movie. That's a show-stopper

You know what's great about that? That the whole song played.
Yeah, when I first saw it, I went, "Man, you played the whole song!" We did it, but I thought we'll cut out of it at some point or whatever. No. Craig's like, "No, we're playing the whole song."

As a viewer of it at a film festival, I'm worried that when it's released theatrically, they're gonna cut it down. I hope that doesn't happen.
Well, you know what? It's hard because it keeps going. I mean, I heard even at the press screening it got a reaction.

I was there. It did.
Which, a press screening? That basically doesn't happen. The screening yesterday at the Library, it got applause and people went nuts during it. So, yeah, I hope they don't touch it at all.

You've read the reviews, right? People are responding very well to this.
I tend to just -- people are saying nice things?

Good. Very good to hear.

I mean, you had to have a good idea it would go over well.
We had no idea.

You've had to have been in movies where you knew things were going well or not going well.
Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes you think it's great, then you see it and you go, "Oh, that's what we were making." Or you go, "Oh, I don't know about that," then you see it and you go, "Oh, that's what they were doing!" You know? You have no idea; it's just kind of out of your control.

Is there an example in "The Skeleton Twins" where you were like, "I don't know about this shot?" until you saw the final cut?
You know what? And it's a testament to Craig Johnson's directing. My very last shot of the movie, and I don't want to give a lot away in your interview, but it's me and Kristen in a pool. It was my very last shot of the movie. And I said, "This should be a very big emotional moment right now, right?" I planned this thing, and then I talked to him about it. And he said, "No, I just want you to look at her." And he kind of looked at me, and he went, "Bill, you've got to trust me." And I went, "Yes, sir," and I jumped in the water, I looked at her and then they went, "That's a wrap on Bill," and I went home -- and that was it. And so then when I saw the film, when I saw the music play and I saw where that came in the movie, I was like, "brilliant, spot-on, bang-on, perfect." You don't need that big moment. He was 100 percent right.

With the suicide attempt from the beginning: I had done research, I had talked to people. And so, I had all these ideas for how to do this. I was like calling Craig, going, "What about this? What about this? What about this? What do you think?" And he let me try some of them, but, ultimately, he was like, "We've got to be able to go someplace in this movie. At the beginning of the movie, you've got to be able to go someplace." If you do something that's fucking off the wall, then it's like, where do you go from here?

The audience is thinking, Who is this guy?
Yeah, "Who is this guy? Where do you go from here?" So it was little things like, "Ooh, let's put the suicide note on a envelope."

With a funny message written.
With a funny message. We didn't know how funny that was -- and then that was a great thing.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.



Sundance Film Festival 2014