It’s not unusual for actors to eventually move behind the camera as directors, particularly in today’s TV landscape of niche projects that celebrate unique points of view. In fact, many of the men in this year’s lead actor categories have scored their DGA cards, either by directing their current shows or other projects. And three of them — “Atlanta’s” Donald Glover, “Barry’s” Bill Hader and “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman — received Emmy nominations for their helming efforts. And lest we forget, NBC’s “This Is Us,” a drama series nominee, counts among its executive producers Ken Olin — famous for his role in 20th century tear-jerker “Thirtysomething.”
For Hader in particular, directing is realizing a dream long in the making. Despite his reputation and Emmy recognition for his on-screen characters — and caricatures — the “Saturday Night Live” vet says he arrived in Hollywood in 1999 with the intention of becoming a writer and helmer and never got to direct until now. But, as a co-creator of the comedy about the titular hitman who comes to Los Angeles and discovers a yearning to be on stage, he felt it was his duty to shepherd the show’s first episode. He also directed its second and third.
“The story for ‘Barry’ was the kind of thing that I always liked,” Hader says of finally stepping behind the camera, particularly early on when it would mean setting the show’s aesthetic. “I saw it very clearly and I knew the tone of it.”
Especially because of the precarious nature of a pilot episode, Hader says he felt safer doing it himself than entrusting his vision to a stranger. “I’ve been in enough productions where that had happened. If you hire people, you should let them do their jobs and not micro-manage people.”
This doesn’t mean there can’t be some misunderstanding among the cast when the first on the call sheet is also calling cut, though.
“Sarah Goldberg [who co-stars as Barry’s love interest] would look at me differently at times when we’re shooting and go, ‘do you not like what I’m doing?,’” Hader says, laughing. He says he explained, “‘Oh! I’m reacting to you in character. The character Barry looks concerned. I’m not concerned that you’re doing it wrong.’”
Part of the reason he was able to check this item off his career bucket list was that he had the backing of Alec Berg, Hader says. His “Barry” co-creator had already earned HBO’s trust through his other Emmy-nominated comedy, the well-established “Silicon Valley.”
“If you hire people, you should let Them do their jobs.”
Bateman may have considerably more experience in the director’s chair — he’s been sitting in it since his days on the sitcom “Valerie,” has two features under his belt and only directed four instead of all 10 episodes of his crime drama’s first season because of scheduling, but he spoke of a similar symbiosis with “Ozark” showrunner Chris Mundy.
“It’s a two-headed beast,” says Bateman of his relationship with the venerable writer. “He is doing anything and everything associated with the writing and I am doing anything and everything involved with the process stuff and we have some beautiful overlap in the casting choices and about directors and looking at cuts and dealing with post-production. It is actually a dream scenario for him and me.”
But does directing oneself also help uncover previously hidden nuances of one character? Bateman says he’s not sure, but it does cut down on explanations.
“I’d say that the fact that I had a hand on the wheel behind the camera as well as a hand in front of the camera allowed me to do things differently, knowing what I’d be able to go around the performance as a director,” he says. “For instance, if I wanted to play a scene without any emotion at all because I thought that there was going to be a really emotional piece of music behind it or vice versa. It just gives you a clearer picture of what the final experience was going to be for the audience.”