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Bill Hader on HBO's 'Barry', a show he co-created, directed and stars in

MILES PARKS, HOST:

TV's favorite hitman turned wannabe actor is back. HBO's "Barry" returns for its fourth and final season starting Sunday. The Season 3 finale saw our antihero, Barry Berkman, arrested. And Season 4 picks up with him behind bars, where one of the guards is starstruck.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BARRY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As prison guard) I know they say you did a bad thing, but I'm sure you're not a bad guy. I mean, heck, you were in the Marines, man. That's pretty special. And you were also on TV.

PARKS: Bill Hader is the show's co-creator, co-writer, director and, of course, star.

Bill Hader, welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

BILL HADER: Hey, thanks for having me.

PARKS: I want to start with that kind of goofy line from the guard there. Throughout this whole show, people keep seeing the good in Barry, but I have to admit, as I've watched, it gets harder and harder every episode. Do you feel like the audience has to keep kind of feeling like there's good in Barry somewhere to kind of stay with the show?

HADER: No, I never think in those terms. It's more just what's honest with this particular person in each scene.

PARKS: Have you played a character that even compares to this?

HADER: I think General Custer in "A Night At The Museum 2" comes pretty close. No, I'm joking.

(LAUGHTER)

HADER: Flint Lockwood in "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs", I think, you had similar demons. No, I've never played anything like this (laughter). I had to write it to play it, you know? I wanted to always play something like this. But in order to do it, I don't think anybody would cast me in it, so I had to go write it.

PARKS: I want to talk about NoHo Hank and Cristobal in Season 4. These are two rival crime lords who fall in love. And I loved the opening moment in Season 4 where we see them kind of try to start a normal life in Santa Fe. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BARRY")

ANTHONY CARRIGAN: (As NoHo Hank) I feel I'm in "The Wizard Of Oz". I'm Dorothy.

MICHAEL IRBY: (As Cristobal) I'm Dorothy.

CARRIGAN: (As NoHo Hank) OK, fine. You're Dorothy. I'm the Tin Man.

PARKS: Even just the timing of that line - Anthony Carrigan playing NoHo Hank - it just killed me immediately. What makes NoHo Hank work so well in this show?

HADER: It was something interesting. I remember when the show came out, a journalist said NoHo Hank doesn't work because he's funny, and you can't have a bad guy be funny. And I said, he doesn't know he's a bad guy. He wants what he wants. But he, you know, initially came out as a polite person. That's what attracted him to Cristobal, was this other character, who - we work in crime, but doesn't mean that we have to be pillaging and killing people for no reason. So they actually have a more positive outlook than some of the Hollywood people.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKS: Well, and their relationship - it differs so much from Barry and Sally's relationship. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way to see how, kind of, Barry treats his love interest.

HADER: Yeah, well, definitely in Season 3, when he really goes nuts on her at work. And that was when people went, oh, he's a bad guy. And I was like, well, Season 1, he shoots... ...His friend, who has a wife and a kid, and makes it look like a suicide so he can get away with something. It's, like, he's always been a pretty bad person. But I think that's kind of genre, you know, conventions. You know? And it's the same reason that people, kind of, immediately didn't like the Sally character. I would go and do Q and A's and they'd be like, why is Sally so terrible? Like, Barry kills people. And they would say, yeah, but he's trying to better himself and she's not. And I'm like, he kills people.

PARKS: I wonder if I could just have you kind of describe Barry and Sally's relationship.

HADER: Well, I definitely think, you know, initially, it started out that he found her very exotic. And he'd never met an actor before - and the fact that she can access her emotions so well, and she wears her emotions on her sleeve. And Barry keeps it very deep down. You know, he hides everything. So I thought that was his attraction to her. And then, initially, she was attracted to him because he saw her as a star. I think what Barry's always wanted is a very normal life. And I think she's still his chance to have that. And then, as she says in a scene in Episode 2, he makes her feel safe.

PARKS: And when she tells him that - you make me feel safe - it almost seems like it surprises him.

HADER: Yeah, he never considered himself that to her. And then it's kind of a thing that people do, where you kind of rewrite the narrative on a relationship with someone. Of course. That's what I've always done.

(LAUGHTER)

HADER: You know? Barry's not that deep of a thinker. Our editor, Ali Greer, the other day said, I think he might be the dumbest lead character of a TV show.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKS: Well, and then you kind of layer on top of that the trauma aspect of this, which keeps kind of popping up in different parts of the show. And you guys do a lot with flashbacks and hallucinations.

HADER: I think trauma is a very big theme, especially for - you know, initially for Barry, for what happened to him in war and then Sally, from her past relationships, and then, of course, what happens to NoHo Hank at the end of Season 3. I was always interested that the violence could not be glib in this, you know? When something horrible and violent happens to someone, you know, it lives in their body. You know, the one thing I didn't want people to think when they watched a "comedy," quote-unquote, is that we were OK with people dying.

PARKS: Do you identify the show as a comedy? I mean, you said - kind of it in quotes.

HADER: I get annoyed with - not annoyed, that's too strong a word - but I have been asked like, is it a comedy? Is it a drama? To me, it's always been like telling a story. But, yeah, you know, it's like, I'm now - now I'm echoing it.

PARKS: Yeah.

HADER: It's hard to - you're just trying to tell a story.

PARKS: There's one random line. It's - I can't even remember which season it is, Season 1 or Season 2 - where NoHo Hank is talking about meeting the rival gang, and he's like, well, they're actually - turns out, they're super-nice guys.

HADER: Oh, yeah. He says - he's in the car, he's like, we met the Bolivians, which is - that's when he met Cristobal. We met the Bolivians who are, by the way, off-the-charts nice guys. Like, they're just great.

PARKS: Well, and that's what I was going to say is, like, it's actually become, like, vocabulary in my relationship. Me and my wife say that line, like, once a month, like, in reference to, like...

HADER: (Laughter).

PARKS: ...Whenever we meet somebody who we think we're not going to like, and then we - they end up really being really cool or surprising to us, we're like, turns out, like, off-the-chart nice guy.

HADER: Yeah, really nice.

PARKS: When you think about this show ending, are there moments or lines or scenes, like, that you will remember, like, more than any other?

HADER: I just have a memory of us shooting a scene from Season 2 where I'm at a bus stop and NoHo Hank is texting me. It was in the very last episode of Season 2, and I just remember sitting there, and it was raining, and we were waiting for the rain to stop. And it was - the whole crew was underneath this kind of awning. And I just remember just feeling like, I'm really lucky to be with these people and get to do this for a living. It was just, like, a moment of reflection of like, this is great. We were all laughing. And when I think of "Barry", that's the image I have.

PARKS: That's Bill Hader. He stars in Season 4 of "Barry", which is out on HBO on Sunday.

Thank you so much for joining us.

HADER: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID WINGO'S "BARRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.