Following eight years on Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader is stepping out on his own with his first leading role in the Sundance hit, The Skeleton Twins, which opens nationwide in theaters on Sept. 19. In the film, Hader plays Milo, a depressed gay man who attempts suicide and later returns home to stay with his twin sister played by Kristen Wiig. The film is the first time the two have shared a screen since both appeared on SNL and the result is a mix of belly laughs, twisted humor, and tender moments only shared by two actors who have worked together for nearly a decade.
The former sketch artist — most famous for the snide Weekend Update Correspondent Stefon — talked to VH1 about taking on a more serious role, finding joy in such dark material, and forming a deeper bond with Wiig.
VH1: How would you describe your portrayal of Milo in The Skeleton Twins?
Bill Hader: I don’t know — that’s an interesting one — I don’t know how to do it. You just do your homework and you do a lot of research. You want to make it feel like someone who’s lived in character and that goes into the wardrobe, my haircut, and the band t-shirts I’m wearing. If I’m in a movie, what kind of music does he listen to? And take in little things in people that I know in my life and you do all this kind of research and you get there and you put all this stuff on. You know, you wear the wardrobe and you get on set and whatever Kristen’s doing or what [Luke] Wilson’s doing or like what’s Boyd [Holbrook]’s doing — I’m just reacting to them. So once you’re doing it, it’s not like a conscious thing if that makes sense, you just kind of react to the person.
The role has been described as serious but it’s not a serious part. It’s still funny.
Yeah it is funny and it’s much more grounded. But it is still very funny, which is a surprise to be quite frank, cause we were working at Saturday Night Live. And when you work there it’s all very kind of hard jokes and there’s a different type of tone. It was interesting.
You actually filmed this movie while you were still a cast member on SNL. Was this a reaction to what you were doing on the show at the time?
It wasn’t any sort of reaction to SNL, it was more of just wanting to expand your horizon and try something different. And I definitely was performing comedy and it was sketch comedy but I will say that while I was doing The Skeleton Twins, it was just all new work and it was very rewarding. My wife said that was the happiest she’s seen me coming home from a job because it was just all new stuff and it was a new way of working. And to get to work with Kristen, and to let our actual relationship over lay the relationship between Maggie and Milo was really fun — but it was very smart and very shrewd.
Since you mentioned the relationship between you and Kristen, and being on SNL together, was there a discussion to make sure it didn’t feel like you two weren’t just acting out one long sketch?
I mean it was all in the script. There was no way we could do that ’cause the script was so good. And the tone of it was so much implied in the script that Craig [Johnson] and Mark Heyman wrote. That was never a concern. And from meeting Craig too and just getting an idea of what kind of movie he wanted, what kind of movies he was talking about and that he liked and he kind of compared it to the different types of performance.
You’ve worked with Kristen now a number of times. How has your dynamic changed over the years?
It doesn’t change. You just get to know someone better. It’s nice because you’re comfortable failing in front of each other, and you can be vulnerable around each other, and that grows the longer you know each other and the more you work with each other. We got very close doing this movie, just by the nature of the part and playing siblings. It was a very short shoot — there wasn’t a lot of money — and it was a million dollar movie shot in 20 days. Because of that, you’re in the trenches and you only have two or three days to nail things and there are a lot of emotional things in it and you’re really there for each other to help each other out.
After Kristen left SNL she took on a lot of darker roles. Was there any discussion about her post-SNL career and what she was doing to move beyond the show?
No, not really. I mean, it all just kind of boils down to movies we would want to see. And Kristen and I have very similar tastes, I think and just the kind of movies we like. She was in Loomis Fargo — Lorne Michaels is producing it with Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson, and Jared Hess is directing it — it’s a big comedy. This is not to say I don’t like comedy anymore or any of those things, it’s just would I go see this? And Kristen’s an actor and she’s very excited about the role and I feel the same way — it’s just kind of whatever the part is. I think some people — after you get the lead role in something, you know, this is the biggest role I’ve had in a movie — it’s like now you have the lead, you only do lead roles now. That’d be nice but sometimes something comes around that’s more of a supporting role but it’s just too good of a movie and too good of a part — you want to go do it.
Up Next: Hader on the biggest challenge when making The Skeleton Twins and his SNL characters.
You mentioned you enjoyed the challenge of making this movie and I’m curious, what was the biggest challenge that you experienced while filming The Skeleton Twins?
I want to say the pace of it, but it wasn’t really the pace of it. Considering it was such a low-budget movie and we had no time, it still felt like we had time to do stuff which was great, and to explore which was nice. Craig kind of made that happen. I have to be totally honest about how cold it was. When we shot all these scenes on Halloween night, it was four degrees outside. It was so cold and I was in a dress, so that was awful.
Because of this film, a lot of people have been comparing your role to Stefon from SNL. When looking back on your career, do you ever feel there are characters that have been overlooked?
No, I never get like that. I just put something out there. You can’t really control what people think. I learned that pretty early at SNL. I wouldn’t get wrapped up — I would just say well, that was fun! It worked for me. I felt really good about it. You can’t really control what people are going to think.
Because everything is live on SNL was there a sense of freedom from being able to do multiple takes on set?
Oh yeah! Yeah with movies in general, it’s just nice to be a little more relaxed. There’s less pressure on nailing it the first time.
Was that style of taping SNL hard to shake? Did you feel the need to be on point every single take?
Not just by the nature of what we were doing and the nature of the movie because it’s different than SNL. I think because I was on SNL, it felt very limber. You’re performing all day, every day, nine months out of the year. I feel in shape, performing-wise, so SNL helps in that way. You just feel very prepared for going right in. I work with some actors and it takes them till take five — like it’s starting to gel, you know? It’s takes a while to get in and to get a rhythm going. And I think that just because of the nature of SNL, it was much easier for Kristen and I to immediately get into that rhythm.
The Skeleton Twins is in select theaters now and opening nationwide on Friday, Sept. 19. Hader will next be seen back on SNL as host on Oct. 11.
[Photos: Getty/Roadside Attractions]