Interview: Paul Star Bill Hader Talks Movie References, Wilhelm Screams And Comics

When talking to Bill Hader about how he got involved in Paul, it basically involves him recounting all the most unimaginably fun things he got to do: going on movie dates with Edgar Wright, running around Los Angeles shooting Superbad with Greg Mottola, spending a summer he compares to summer camp in Santa Fe making Paul, even visiting the treasure trove DVD collection at the Criterion Collection offices (OK, that has nothing to do with Paul, but it's still awesome).

Hader seems to be as excited about getting to do all of this stuff as anyone else would be, which is part of what makes him so fun to talk to. I had interviewed him in September of 2009 for Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, when he had just gotten back from the desert where they shot Paul, the road trip comedy in which he and Joe Lo Truglio play a team of government agents trying to hunt down an alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who has escaped from Area 51. He reminisced again about shooting in the desert, told me how he got to know Simon Pegg and Nick Frost-- who wrote and star in the film-- through their longtime collaborator Edgar Wright, and how he improvised one of the many, many movie references in Paul.

For more on the movie you can also check out my interview with director Greg Mottola; Paul opens this Friday.

Obviously Simon and Nick have their background in putting pop culture references into their movies. Does that make you more exited to work with them?

I just know that they'll be in there. I felt very happy, I added my own movie reference, my last line in the movie is "Smile, you son of a bitch," which is from Jaws.

And Greg told me you got a Wilhelm scream.

That is, for me, one of my proudest things in the movie. Goddammit, that is awesome.

You've said you watched Spaced just like we all did, living in apartments just like the one in the show. Did you have this sense of Simon and Nick as just these comedy gods? Did you wind up meeting them before this movie?

I met them through Edgar Wright. He is friends with Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, and he came to an episode of SNL. I just walked over and was like, "I think you're fucking awesome." When he would come to New York, he's the nicest guy on earth and we'd hang out. Our first date was getting coffee and we went and saw Deja Vu, just laughing and enjoying ourselves, like "What the fuck is happening?" We're best friends ever since. Through him I met Simon and Nick. The first time I met Simon, immediately we were talking comic books. He recommends Simon Brubaker's Criminal to me. Then I actually played Paul in a test they did like a year before they went into production, just for the studio to see what Paul would look like. I was one of the scenes in the RV, and we just went and saw it, and I played Paul for that test.

Did you do it totally different than Seth Rogen?

Yeah, I think he was more laid back. I dunno, they made a good choice by going with Seth. But it was a lot of fun to be able to work with them. It all went without saying that I would love to be in this movie in any way.

You and Joe had worked together on Greg's movies before, but you hadn't been partners like in this. You come from these distinct comedy worlds that are separate, but there must be a ton of overlap between them.

Well The State was a huge thing for me. I watched that and SNL together when I was 15, 16. There was a lot of overlap, and we're all kind of fans of theirs. Andy Samberg and I, one of the first things we talked about was Wet Hot American Summer and how funny that was. When MacGruber came out David Wain was one of the first people who publicly championed it. We're all friends, definitely. It's a small comedy world. It is interesting, I was growing up and you think "God, I want to get in there, I want to get to work with these people." And it is so funny that once I got SNL, and you're able to go and do that, how small a world it was.

And this movie is like a comedy supergroup-- you've got people from practically every great comedy thing of the last decade.

Everybody's attracted to Simon and Nick because they make really, smart funny movies. And everybody's attracted to greg because Greg makes really smart, funny movies. They knew it would be a good project, and a good time. Going to Santa Fe for that summer, just talking about it when we did the commentary yesterday, we were all getting really nostalgic and melancholy. Every day was a blast. you woke up, you were in Santa Fe, it was gorgeous, it was kind of a dream.

You were mentioning even then that Greg was aiming for a feel like Sugarland Express and Duel. It seems like he was clear about that even when you were shooting.

Greg, definitely all he talked about was early Spielberg movies, and making it feel like that. How majestic it all feels, and especially by the end of it it's like full-blown Spielberg. it's a cool road movie that blossoms into this big ode to early Spielberg movies, which are some of my favorites. That was the difference between this film and Superbad and Adventureland, it was the most storyboarded. Greg is so good at adapting his style to what the movie warrants. It's a lot more camera movements, a lot of action scenes, and the camera is constantly moving in the movie, constantly tracking and pushing in. We didn't really have that on his other movies. There was less room for like, "Hey, why don't you riff on this." Everything needs to fit in its own spot. Whereas in Superbad it was like, we don't know where this is going to go, just fucking go.

You guys brought this to Comic Con as something original, amid all these giant adaptations of existing Marvel franchises and the like. As a comics fan, do you worry about all these giant, bigger and bigger movies, and feel like they need to be balanced out by something like Paul?

They make a shitload of money, those comic book movies, and I think what they realize is that any time you try to subvert the comic book movie, people don't understand it. So it's, whatever titles we remember, just get them out there. I don't know if I'm a fan of that. I appreciate stuff like Paul, which is just trying to tell a story. But maybe that's just because I like comic books, and any time I see a comic book movie I'm automatically critical, out of the gate. That's not fair to those movies. Those movies might all be great, but it does seem like-- 10, 20 years from now it'll be like "those late aughts, early teens comic book movies!" There's always kind of a film movement, and right now it's vampire movies and superheroes.

There's this video online of you visiting the Criterion office and geeking out over everything they have there. How did you wind up visiting them?

I can explain that. I kind of finagled my way into it. On the Criterion website they had this top 10 list, and I made a list, but I couldn't do 10. I ended up doing double features and did 20, and wrote synopses and stuff. And they were like, "Wow, you're kind of a nerd. If you ever want to come by and see our offices, you can." I just went to their offices to take a tour, and they were like "Do you want to see the video closet?" Just so you know, for the record, I am not a fan of that movie Salo. I thought I was very clearly being ironic, and then I read online people being like "That's so cool, he likes Salo." No no no, I couldn't make it through Salo! I don't like the movie because I never saw the whole movie, I couldn't get through it. We were with some friends, we were all like "I don't want to watch the rest of this."

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend