The premise of “Barry,” by Bill Hader’s own description is “crazy.” A violent but outwardly gentle hit man falls in love with community theater, but he still has murders to carry out. Oh, and it’s a comedy. But the HBO show — created by Mr. Hader and Alec Berg — was well received by audiences and critics as a showcase for Mr. Hader’s innovative writing and acting range.
The show received 13 Emmy nominations Thursday, including nods for outstanding comedy series and for best lead actor and best director for a comedy series, both for Mr. Hader. He also earned one for best guest actor in a comedy, for his hosting appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in March.
Part of the show’s charm is its self-referential approach to the world of acting: The scenes at the community theater are an affectionate sendup based on observations Mr. Hader and Mr. Berg made while developing the show by sitting in on classes in Los Angeles. And yet, it’s still a show about a killer. In a phone conversation on Thursday from Toronto, Mr. Hader talked about the future of “Barry” and about reconciling that darkness with the humor. Following are edited excerpts.
Your portrayal of Barry is interesting because he is so different from many of the characters you are known for. He is reserved and a bit quieter. How did you go about developing him?
Alec Berg and I talked about the character and said if you want someone to figure out their goal and to become a human, it should probably start in a place that’s very repressed. It was all kind of story-based. You know what I mean? I really approach acting through writing. But we never talked about it in terms of the guy. It’s weird.
I will say from an acting standpoint, you do get pigeonholed, you know? Especially when you come out of “Saturday Night Live.” You’re kind of a funny, goofy person, and it is nice to be able to take control a bit and go write your own thing and say, “I kind of want to go over here.” And hopefully, people will follow.
How did you find out about the Emmy nominations? Were you watching the livestream like the rest of us?
No, I’m outside of Toronto, shooting “It 2.” I just went to the gym, and then I just was about to eat breakfast and my phone started going crazy. I had forgotten that the nominations were today. I was like, “Wait, what happened?”
Did you say you forgot the nominations were today?
I did, yeah. I’m a little out of it because we are shooting like crazy. That’s not me not caring. That’s me just working crazy hours on “It 2.”
The show is definitely violent and has a lot of dark themes. Is it actually a comedy?
I don’t really think about it in those terms. I mean it’s legitimately funny. I think it has big laughs in it. The premise is so crazy that we decided the way to play it was straight and kind of true to life, and to be real for the characters and real for the situations. It was more of a reflection of telling a story and making it feel real. It’s like life. Some situations were really funny, and some were really sad. For whatever Barry and these characters are going through, you want to fill that out. So to us, we were constantly just trying to honor the story.
Do you have to put yourself into a dark head space to play Barry? Or is it just another head space?
Oh no. If you saw me on set, I’m goofing around the whole time.
I’m not surprised by that at all.
Yeah, it’s just work. In Episode 7, there’s a scene where Barry has a breakdown. That’s a scene where you kind of have to focus a bit. But it’s all in terms of telling a story. That’s all I’m tracking in my head.
The first season ended very cleanly and in a bit of a provocative way. Where does the show go from here?
We’re writing it right now so we’re figuring it out. [Laughs.]
I had to try.
I’m digging it so far. It definitely feels darker somehow.