The Primetime Emmy Awards are just around the corner, and in anticipation of the big night, we recently spoke with Bill Hader, one of the biggest names in on-screen comedy of the past decade. Hader is up for the second year in a row as an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Saturday Night Live. Though his performances on SNL — typified by a laundry list of eccentric characters and outrageous celebrity impersonations — arguably hit their peak last season, Hader announced this May that his eighth year on the show would be his last. Between now and then, he’s moved with his family to Los Angeles and put out The To Do List, a film starring himself, Aubrey Plaza, Alia Shawkat, and Rachel Bilson, and written by his wife and first-time writer/director, Maggie Carey, herself a veteran of the L.A. improv comedy scene. The Independent caught up with Hader over the phone last week to talk about his work on SNL and upcoming projects.
First off, how’s the move to L.A. been? The move to L.A. has been pretty great. July was an exhausting month, though; we moved out, I was doing a lot of press, my wife was doing a lot of press, she had a movie coming out [The To Do List], so it was all a little hectic. Now things are starting to slow down and it’s going great.
Was The To Do List the first time you’ve worked with your wife directly on a major project? Yeah, yeah. We did a thing called The Jeannie Tate Show, a Youtube show with Liz Cackowski, and I helped her with that, but outside of that, this was the first thing. This is her first movie — she’s never directed a feature before.
Was it nice for her to have you around on set for moral support? Oh yeah, we had a blast. We have a shorthand with each other, so it was really simple and pretty smooth. The days I didn’t work, I would still go and pick her up from work, and take her to work, so I was her driver, as well. [Laughs.]
You’ve got two kids now, both relatively young. How are they adjusting? Oh, they’re loving it. They have a backyard now, which is pretty cool.
I want to talk a bit about your SNL sen-doff. What was it like leaving the cast? Did they throw you a big party? Not really, no. I mean you’re part of an ensemble, so everyone’s different, and I wanted to kinda do a final “thing.” The Stefon thing was exactly what I wanted to do, which was to say good-bye as a character, and we had thought of that probably a year beforehand. So it went perfect in that sense.
[Editor’s note: One of Hader’s most popular characters, a flamboyantly gay city correspondent for SNL’s fake news broadcasts, left Anderson Cooper at the altar in favor of costar Seth Meyers in front of a congregation of hosts, stars, and characters from the past eight years’ worth of skits during the conclusion of Hader’s final show.]
Were there any other memorable moments leading up to your last show? At one of our last table reads, Fred Armisen had the Flaming Lips come in and sing a song to us, which was fantastic. They happened to be doing [Jimmy] Fallon that day, so Fred and his friends went down and said, “Why don’t you guys just come up?” They sang “Do You Realize.” It was pretty amazing.
Was it an emotional good-bye? It was emotional, and it was hard, but it didn’t feel like saying good-bye to everybody. I had a hard time saying good-bye to a bunch of people, so I tended to just say, “I’ll be seeing you guys soon!” I don’t like to dwell too much on it — it probably hasn’t fully hit me yet, that I’ve left. It’s probably going to when the show comes back. That’s what they always tell you, when the show comes back it really sinks in when you’re not there.
But on the bright side, the cast from SNL seems to stay pretty close, regardless of their current affiliation with the show, right? I don’t know, with Skeleton Twins [an upcoming film starring Hader and fellow SNL alum Kristen Wiig] it was someone else that was going to play the part, and then their schedule didn’t work and the role went to Kristen. It helps with that movie, you know, because we play brother and sister. It was easy for us to take on those roles because we have such a long history with each other. In that case, being on SNL really helped the feeling on set, helped us act those parts. I mean, we’re just friends — we’re all really just good friends.
How did you first meet Craig Johnson, the director of Skeleton Twins? It was one of those things my agents called me up and said, “You know, I read the script, really liked it, do you want to read it and see what you think — [the filmmakers] inquired about you.” It’s a drama, which piqued my interest, because I’ve been wanting to do something like that, something different. And then I read it, and I really loved it, and I went and met with Craig and his producers, and it was just the four of us sitting in a bar. It wasn’t really an audition. I know they were looking at other people, so it was just us meeting each other, and he decided that he wanted me to be in the movie. I was just thrilled, you know, because I never get asked to do these things. I told them, “I’ll work really hard; I really want to do this.” I was very passionate about it. It was two years of getting the money and then the money falling through and then having the money again … but it finally it all worked out.
You’ve spent most of the vast majority of your career involved in various comedy projects. Are you looking to pursue more diverse roles now that SNL is done? Yeah, I mean I’m interested in — I like a lot of movies. It’s that I look at a film, and if it’s something I’d like to see, if it’s a role I’d like to play, then I go ahead and do that. I’m never going to say, “Well, I’m never going to do comedy again.” I love comedies, and it’s what people know me for, so I love doing it. … I don’t really think about it in terms of “Well, I should do this because it’s comedy or drama.” Outside of the Skeleton Twins, that is kinda the only time I said “Oh, that’s something different,” because at that time I was at SNL for six years or so. I was ready for something new, for something I hadn’t done before.
The Emmy nomination — this is your second one in two years. How does it feel to have your work highlighted like that? I’m incredibly flattered — just, incredibly flattered.
The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be held at the Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, September 22. The deadline for returning at-home ballots for the telecast awards is Friday, August 30. For more on the Emmys, visit emmys.com.