Actors have some of the most diverse backgrounds imaginable. Harrison Ford worked in construction. John Wayne played football. Tom Cruise was a seminary student. None of these tops the pre-acting career of the main character of Bill Hader’s new eight-part series, Barry: a hitman.
Barry, a dark comedy series, premiered at the 2018 SXSW Conference in Austin.
Hit Your Mark
Hader stars as a depressed hitman who wants out of his profession. He works for Fuches, played by Stephen Root (Office Space, Justified), a friend of his dad, and gets guilted and pressured into continuing. He’s sent from his midwestern home to Hollywood to conduct a hit on an actor. He unintentionally follows him into an acting class where he finds acceptance and support.
He decides on a career change to acting but finds that leaving the crime world behind is easier said than done. Can an actor have a day job as a hitman? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Hader, an SNL alum, executive produced and wrote the series with Alec Berg. Berg’s comedy writer/producer credentials include Silicon Valley, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Seinfeld. However, as far as I could determine, no experience as a hit man.
No Experience Required
Lack of experience was one of the amusing aspects that Hader and Berg discussed in a Q&A session with SXSW attendees after the screening. Surprisingly, neither Hader or Berg had ever taken an acting class. That surprised me even more, because as I watched the episodes they previewed, I recognized exercises I had done in acting class and thought the depiction was, satirically, right on.
Hader said he had only done improv classes, but really hated it. He admitted he never liked the SNL experience, and much prefers acting. He and Berg went into some acting classes, so they could get a feel for them. They ended up adapting some of the real-life experiences into the series, such as an emotional tear down of one acting student by the teacher.
The Fonz and the Penguin
For their acting teacher they recruited Henry Winkler (Arrested Development, Happy Days), who does an awesome job as a man with an ego the size of Mount Rushmore. The student he takes apart on stage is played sympathetically and with great enthusiasm by Sarah Goldberg (Bikini Moon, Hindsight). She is the one who encourages Barry to pursue his acting dream.
The episodes I saw were amazingly funny and at the same time dark. People get killed in bloody fashion as Barry has run-ins with a group of particularly creepy East European gangsters. The nogoodniks leader, played by Anthony Carrigan (who plays Victor Zsasz, The Penguin’s hitman in the series Gotham) projects evil, but gets some laughs, too.
The police get involved, of course. Paula Newsome (NCIS, Suburgatory) plays Detective Moss who must deal with less-than-efficient co-workers and the bureaucracy of the LAPD. She just may catch Barry before the eight-part series ends. Or, at least catch one of his performances.
To monitor Barry’s career progression, check for Barry on HBO, premiering March 25. You can see a trailer, below.