Real-life can often provide the best inspiration for art, but tackling sensitive subject matter often requires a certain degree of maturity and understanding on the part of the artist. That’s why Barry showrunners Bill Hader and Alec Berg reached out for advice when crafting the arc of Sally (Sarah Goldberg), who in the show’s second season is confronted by her abusive ex-husband.
In Barry Season 2 Episode 4, Sally’s ex-husband Sam asks her to come to his hotel room to retrieve an item. Despite her best instincts, Sally goes—but it’s made clear throughout the entire ordeal that she’s aware what she’s doing is dangerous, and by the episode’s end she has refused Sam’s request to keep his abuse private.
When I spoke to Hader about the crafting of the episode, he revealed that he and the show’s writers reached out to women to see if Sally’s actions tracked. Hader even reached out to women he knew personally who had suffered abuse, as it was important to him that the show was remaining true to life. Indeed, while Barry may be a half-hour comedy about a hitman trying to become an actor, each and every character motivation and action is rooted in truth. The show’s writers try to remain honest to what an actual human being would do in the increasingly precarious situations.
In the below episode breakdown with Collider, Hader talks about creating Sally’s arc this season and how Sam forces her to confront the lies she’s been telling herself, and then how Barry then tries to convince Sally that creating your own truth is the way to go. He also discusses the writing process on the show overall, and why a subtle change in blocking made Barry’s scene with Gene (Henry Winkler) even more emotional.
Check out the full interview below, and definitely check back next week when Hader breaks down the jaw-droppingly great fifth episode of Barry Season 2—which he directed himself. Trust me, you do not want to miss that one.
First thing’s first, I have to know who came up with the great “My name’s Barry.” smash cut to titles gag.
BILL HADER: I think that was in the script. I can’t remember… Either me, Alec or Duffy Boudreau came up with that.
That one really got me.
HADER: (laughing) I’m glad it worked. I thought it came on too fast. While we were in the edit I was like, “Is that happening too fast?”
I didn’t see it coming because you’re so focused on like, “Oh God. What’s gonna happen?” with Sam and everything.
HADER: Yeah. And then we just do a weird joke and then go right back to the serious.
Yeah. I mean, the episode is incredibly tense and it’s dealing with very sensitive subject matter. How did those conversations about Sally’s abuse and her reaction to seeing her abuser again manifest in the writers room, and then how did they evolve or change once you get Sarah involved and get on set?
HADER: I have people very close to me in my life who’ve been victims of domestic violence and so I was able to talk to them. One of them actually works with women who have been abused so it was kind of like sending them the Sally story and going, “Does this track? Does this make sense?” Some of the stuff we got out of that was this thing of somebody saying when you see [the abuser] it’s not like they run away or they’re really strong. They actually just try to be cool with them. That person has a weird power over them. And look, Alec and I are just two white guys. We don’t know much about this, so we asked a lot of women what they thought and everyone had different experiences or different ideas, but the consensus was that this was pretty honest.
And then bringing Sarah over, she’s incredibly tuned and incredibly smart. I really like this scene that Sarah came up with where she’s about to go see Sam and she looks in the mirror, starts to check her hair and stops and is like “What am I doing?” I really liked that scene, but we had to cut it because of time, because we wanted to keep the pacing up. But that was a really, really tough one to lose and Sarah had come up with it and I really liked it.
As long as it just is feeling honest, and the fact that she goes back up there and I think, immediately, regrets it, and is like, “Why the hell am I up here?” Some people might say, “Well who cares if she lied about how she left him?” I mean we have Barry go, “You still left.” Her thing is saying “No, but I lied.” For her and how she feels about herself, she wants to be strong. She wants to see herself as someone who’s strong and you, in this episode, realize how much she had made up this character of Sally, of herself, by coming to L.A.
HADER: She says in Episode 2, “Do you think I play weak women because I was weak in my marriage? No. I’m not that fucking person. I’m independent.” And I love that scene in this episode because then Barry’s like “We can lie together.” Like you can be whoever you say you are. Come over to the dark side with me.
I was gonna ask about that because that scene, I thought, was really striking. What was your experience shooting that scene and working with Sarah? Because you both seem very emotionally vulnerable there.
HADER: She’s amazing in that scene.
She’s so good. And there’s a lot of Barry and Sally both basically lying to themselves out loud this season. And then here Barry’s trying to help her and say like, “Look, I’m fine. Do like me.”
HADER: Yeah. “I’m Barry Berkman. I’m an actor.”
HADER: And, yeah, he’s not. (laughing) But he’s telling himself he is. I think the whole season is about people just trying to escape their nature. It’s what Cousineau says at the end of the episode, “I think we can change our nature and if we can’t, then God help us.” I think Sally’s trying to change this nature with this guy in it and trying to be vulnerable, because it’s terrifying for her to be vulnerable. That was the thing. To talk about that is terrifying. To admit that is a very terrifying thing and that was something that people that I know in my life who’ve gone through this said. It’s not an easy thing to talk about and then just to admit it to yourself and then to admit it to the person that you’re dating. And now Sally’s gonna have to get up on stage and talk about it. It’s what being an artist is supposed to be I guess, when you share these really awful traumatic things, you have to cut through all the shit to get to who you actually are and doing that can be terrifying. And is it worth it in the end? Those are the kind of questions that are interesting to us and that’s kind of like what Barry’s saying. “You don’t have to. Just lie.”
But Barry’s a perpetrator of violence and Sally’s a victim of violence and they’re dating and they’re both lying to each other about it. They’re trying to tell themselves this thing and it gets into a bigger question of “Do we do that all the time in everyday life?” And is that easier? You know, the whole truth exercise that Cousineau wants to do, is that even a real thing? Can you actually do that?
Well, that’s one of the things that I thought was really interesting, too. So much of the thematic arc of the season and the show, in general, was kind of about the effects of trauma and violence, but also how art can be a cathartic way of working out issues. You’re a writer, you’re an actor, you’re in a room of writers; do you personally find that to be true?
HADER: Yeah. Sometimes the writers room can feel like a group therapy session when you’re trying to get to the root of something. And writers rooms are its own special, weird place that people say things that they don’t mean. As you’re trying to just get to the truth of something, it can get really emotional, it can get very fired up in there. Also, I’m someone that I will be very open about myself in a writers room, more than I ever would around certain friends and things like that because I’m just trying to figure out what the truth is of this thing. And it’s not gonna be true for everybody. It’s not saying, “Oh, we’re foolproof. People are gonna watch this episode and be like, ‘Yep. That’s it.’” That’s impossible. But it’s attempting that. I think all the stuff I like, at least, always is attempting to do that.