Directed by Craig Johnson, the dramedy The Skeleton Twins finds estranged twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) at the end of their ropes and having an unexpected reunion that forces them to confront why their lives have gone so wrong. As the twins reconnect, they both get under each other’s skin and uplift each other, in ways that only family can. The film also stars Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook and Joanna Gleason.
At the film’s press day, actor Bill Hader spoke during both a 1-on-1 with Collider and a press conference about how nice it was to work with a script where the story and character was all on the page, shooting in 22 days, how important his 10-year friendship with Kristen Wiig was to their on screen relationship in the film, how much fun they had doing a lip-synching duet on Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” his willingness to put in the work to be seen as a dramatic actor, why you never stop auditioning for the roles that you really want, and how he got into the headspace for this character. He also talked about his experience on the upcoming Judd Apatow film Trainwreck, and how he thinks Amy Schumer, who stars in and wrote the film, will blow people’s minds with her performance. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: Terrific performance in this film!
When you heard that they were looking for funny people for these two lead roles, and then you read the script, did it take some pressure off of you when you saw that it was all on the page and that you were expected to improvise?
HADER: Yeah, that’s a good point. It is nice to know that you can just stick to the script. This director (Craig Johnson) gives you freedom for how you want to interpret the character, but has a very clear view of where the movie is going. I’ve worked on some things where you’re improvising and you’re making up the movie, as you’re going along, and saying, “Maybe it’s this, or it could be that.” That does put a certain amount of pressure on you. You want it to make sense, as a movie, or at least, I do. It’s hard to let go because you’re like, “Wait, does that track?” So yeah, it is nice to be able to have a script that is so good and so layered and so complex. It’s all there. You just read the scene and you know exactly what you need to do. It wasn’t a big question of what to do and at what level.
At least, if it’s on the page and you’re shooting out of order, you know where you are in the film and you don’t have to wonder what you should be doing.
HADER: Yeah. And we didn’t have time to rehearse on this, or do anything like that. We just hit the ground running. It was 22 days and a million dollars, so it was really run-and-gun.
Did having a friendship with Kristen Wiig really help tremendously then, since you didn’t have any time to figure that out, prior to the shoot?
HADER: Yeah, we didn’t have to worry about establishing that relationship because it’s already there. I don’t think the performances would have been what they are, if I hadn’t been with Kristen. There were scenes where I was just reacting to what Kristen was bringing to it, naturally. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie where we get in a fight in a backyard, and I had never seen her that angry before. That brought a very specific emotion out of me because I was going, “Wow, why are you so mad, Kristen?” It affected me. But, if it had been any other actress, it wouldn’t have been the same. I was like, “Oh, god, she’s mad at me. What did I do?!” But, it was nice. It was a lot of fun.
How much fun was it to shoot that lip-synching duet with Kristen?
HADER: That scene was a lot of fun. We could have done that, all day. But it tells a story, too, which I thought was really smart. It wasn’t just a big set piece. It moves the story forward, as far as where their relationship is at. (Director) Craig [Johnson] just said, “There’s a piano here, if you want to pretend to play the piano. Kristen is sitting here, and Luke [Wilson] is standing there. Just do whatever you have to do to get her up and dancing.” It was a lot of fun.
A lot of dramatic actors talk about how they’d love to do comedy, but that no one wants to give them that chance. When you’re known as the funny guy, do you feel the same way, when it comes to getting the chance to do something really dramatic?
HADER: Yeah. You have to work for it. With this movie, I did that. I went to my agent and said, “I really would like to be in a drama.” And he said, “I don’t think anyone will want to do that with you. I’ve pitched you for dramas and people are like, ‘You mean the guy from SNL?’” So, I did this dramatic table read. My agent suggested that I do some dramatic table reads because casting directors will have table reads for dramas looking for funding. So, I did this table read with Kate Winslet, Bradley Cooper, Greta Gerwig and Paul Dano, for this movie that never got made. But the casting director for that movie was Avy Kaufman, and she happened to be the casting director for this movie. Craig had other people that he had in mind for the movie, but she said, “You should really look at Bill. He was in here and he was really good. You should check him out.” So, we met and it worked. That thing totally worked, and I’m very thankful that I did that. That’s what I mean that you have to work at it. You can’t just wait for that script to show up. You have to write it yourself. You have to do some legwork. You’ve gotta start knocking on doors. That never ends. There’s a conception that people think, “Oh, you’re on television, so you don’t have to audition anymore.” But, no. Are you kidding? I always have to audition. I auditioned for the Judd Apatow movie, Trainwreck. I’m still auditioning. I have an audition next week. You’re always auditioning.
It’s an interesting predicament because, as an actor, you always want to do something different, but the business side of things want to keep you in what you’ve had success at.
HADER: Yeah, ‘cause that thing worked and made money, which makes total sense to me, why you would want to stick to that. And there are actors that say, “This worked, and I love playing this. I love being in romantic comedies. I like being in action movies.” I was always interested in someone like Clint Eastwood. He was like, “People like me in Dirty Harry, or that kind of a role, so for every one or two of those, I’ll go do a Bronco Billy or an Unforgiven, or something a little bit more avant garde or strange, like The Beguiled. To keep my name out there and be able to fund these things, I’ve gotta go do the bigger movie, like Magnum Force.”
Movies that deal with the topic of suicide typically deal with the aftermath that the person leaves behind, but this movie explores what it’s like for the individual to find a way to move on with their life, after an unsuccessful attempt.
Did you do anything to understand that headspace for where this character is at?
HADER: I had a friend who was clinically depressed in high school, who did commit suicide, but I didn’t draw on anything that they did because I felt that Milo was different. It was not about being clinically depressed. It was more of a cry for help. And I think if you have a parent who’s committed suicide, then that becomes an option. He’s lost, and things didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped. He took a big swing and went to L.A., and he missed. That’s a hard thing to accept. I think that’s why he comes back and looks for Rich (Ty Burrell), which is bad for him. Rich is the guy that said, “You’re good.” And he’ll lie to him to get him to say, “You’re really good,” because he needs that right now. He just needs someone to give him some validation. It was on a scene by scene basis of where he was at. Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, I just knew where he was at. So much of it was just reacting to what the other people were doing. He’s not happy to be back. It’s just where he’s at right now.
How did you find the authenticity of this character, and make sure that that worked with the tone of this film?
HADER: It’s a hard tone that’s really, really difficult. If you go one way just a little too much, then you’ll lose the audience. It can’t be too funny or too sad. We shot a lot of stuff that was really funny, but it was too funny. And we shot some stuff that was too sad. We shot a version of the opening scene – Milo’s suicide attempt – that was just too big of a bummer. I remember Craig saying, “There’s a lot of movie left, and you’ve gotta go some place.”
You just did Trainwreck. How does Judd Apatow’s style of comedy vibe with yours?
HADER: It’s good. I like it. It is different. But Trainwreck is very grounded and it actually has a lot of drama in it. I think the story for that movie is going to be Amy Schumer. I think people are going to be really blown away by Amy Schumer in the movie, to be honest. I think she’s going to surprise everybody. She surprised me. I knew who she was, but I didn’t know she was a classically trained actor who just decided to do stand-up comedy. She did a scene in the movie that had me and Brie Larson and Tilda Swinton all crying, off camera. That’s what the story of that movie is gonna be. She’s gonna blow people’s minds.
How has your professional career gone versus the expectations you had for it?
HADER: Never in my wildest dreams. I’ve done shows in backyards where you call your friends and say, “Will you come to Matt’s backyard? It will be really good. You have to bring your own beer. We will not provide food. I’m very sorry, but you need to be very quiet because there are no microphones. And if the cops break it up, it’s your problem.” People would say, “Oh, do you ever want to be on Saturday Night Live?,” but that’s like saying, “Hey, you wanna go to Mars?” It just was never an option, unless you’re a weirdo who wants to go to Mars.
The Skeleton Twins is now playing in limited release.