Two years after leaving “Saturday Night Live,” Bill Hader is busier than ever on the big screen, playing his first romantic leading role in the Amy Schumer comedy “Trainwreck,” which opens July 17, and voicing the emotion of Fear in Pixar’s high-concept summer hit, “Inside Out.” Hader, who is also at work on Steven Spielberg’s upcoming fantasy “BFG” and an IFC show called “Documentary Now,” chatted about discovering new comedy muscles, stoking his Pixar fandom and juggling fatherhood and acting.
What was it like for you to play a romantic lead for the first time?
Weird. [“Trainwreck” director] Judd Apatow sent me that script, and I thought he wanted me to play the part Mike Birbiglia plays. ... Then when I got the sides I was like, “What? Don’t you want someone else?” I was really nervous for that audition. ... Afterward he took Amy and I out to dinner and watched us eat. And then I found out I got the job. Sometimes it’s really easy when you’re used to doing comedy to do a bunch of crazy stuff and act insane. I realized, I think I want to play this straight because the movie doesn’t work unless you feel I’m different from the other guys she’s been with. ... That was different, being on set and thinking, “OK, usually I would do this, but to make this work I’m going to just sit back ... and have some confidence that I think this will play all right.”
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How did you like working with LeBron James?
It’s not fair. He’s funny, he has unbelievable timing. It bums me out. And he’s also a quick study. We were shooting a scene, and Amy [Schumer] went over to him and said, “I hate to do this to you, but could you just say the lyrics to that Kanye West song?” And he just did it. I went, “I hate this guy. You can’t be the best basketball player in the world and be that funny and be that good of an actor. Be bad at one thing.”
Did you actually land a basket on him?
I did. There is footage where Judd said, “Bill, go up for a layup and LeBron, deny it.” I don’t know anything about sports, by the way. There was a moment where I had to take prednisone for a medical issue and while I was on it I got really into sports and I went to basketball games and then I got off the prednisone and I was like, “Why do I have all this basketball memorabilia in my house?” My wife was like, “Yeah, you got crazy into sports for like two months.” But, yeah, there’s this video where I go in for a layup and I scored and then I ruined the take ‘cause I looked right into the camera and I started screaming.
I feel like I would have that video on my phone and show it to everyone.
I don’t like watching myself. You have an idea in your head of the way you look ... and then you look up there and you see it and it’s like, “Oh, that’s not it at all ... why does my voice sound weird?” I’ve never seen any of my “SNL” stuff. My wife tried to get me to watch it with her once and it didn’t go well. When I go to premieres I do the red carpet and then go have dinner. When “Skeleton Twins” played at Sundance and got this amazing reception I was across the street at Starbucks getting text messages from my wife. I just can’t sit there. It’s too nerve-racking for me.
I understand you got the “Inside Out” role essentially by being a giant Pixar nerd?
I asked, just as a fan, if I could tour Pixar. And I met [“Inside Out” director] Pete Docter and we had this lunch, and I knew so much about Pixar ‘cause I’d watched all their movies and listened to the commentary tracks and read books about it, and I said, “If you guys ever want to come out to ‘SNL’ you should.” So they came to “SNL” and hung out and used the show to inform the dream production sequence in “Inside Out.” Then I came in to help write on it and they said, “Well, we have these emotions and they put me in a studio and they liked the voice I did for Fear. I would do voices, but I would also come in for a week and sit in the story department and pitch ideas. I do the same thing at South Park.
Why of all the emotions was Fear the one you landed on?
I’m a very neurotic, anxious person. I said, “What if we played Fear like a middle-management-type guy?” and they liked that. Fear is like, “Guys, everything’s fine” and then the minute something goes wrong, he panics.
You have three daughters under age 6, your wife, Maggie Carey, is a director and your acting career calls for you to travel a lot. How do you manage the work-life balance at your house?
We make dates to read stories over Skype. We get two copies of books and I bring one and read to them. Facetime’s a big thing. My daughter was having a problem at school recently and I was Facetiming with her. You’d rather just be there, though. Any actor has to deal with this stuff. I don’t want to name names, but I was talking to someone at the Golden Globes and he was like, “Get a TV show. That’s what I’m trying to do, man, get a TV show just to stay in town.”
You always hear about the punishing lifestyle of “SNL.”
The thing about “SNL” is everyone would show up thinking we were doing drugs, but actually we all had trainers and were eating crazy healthy just to keep up with the lifestyle. Going crazy for me at “SNL” was, “Oh, my God, I just had four cookies.” It’s like, “Dude, do you want to call your sponsor?” People would show up like, “All right, you guys wanna do coke?” and it was like, “What? You wanna do echinacea?” I moved to L.A. right after I finished “SNL,” and my body had been tense for eight years. It just relaxed, and I have never been that sick in my life. I had a fever, muscle aches. My body just broke down. So it’s funny now when people say, “Wow, you’re really busy.” I don’t feel busy.