Bill Hader On How Anxiety Inspired His New HBO Series "Barry"

By David Konow 03/29/18

In a recent interview, the actor discussed his anxiety and the crippling stage fright he battled during his SNL stint.

Bill Hader

Former SNL star Bill Hader is back with HBO’s Barry, a comedy series about a hitman who wants to leaving the killing life behind and become an actor instead. While it’s hard to imagine this show having any connection to Hader's real life, it turns out that the actor channeled his personal battle with anxiety into the quirky role.

Hader recently opened up about the anxiety he dealt with during his Saturday Night Live years.

Although he was an acclaimed member of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players and was nominated for an Emmy, he told The Daily Beast that as soon as he was live in front of millions, he experienced “a level of anxiety I never felt before.”

It wasn’t just first-time jitters. For eight seasons Hader says, “I was trying everything in my power to remain calm,” and the feeling inspired his character Barry. “It was a feeling of the thing that you’re good at and you’re making a good living at kind of destroys you because you’re so terrified of it.”

Hader told Rolling Stone that his stage fright also gave him terrible migraines that “were off the charts. I was so nervous all the time and I was smoking like a chimney... I’ve stopped smoking, and I don’t get them so often anymore.”

Another character Hader created, Stefon on SNL, was born out of his anxiety. When he performed on the show, he had a hard time facing the camera and wanted to hide his face. “I’m trying everything I can to not do this,” he said. “I’m trying to keep myself up so I can deliver my stuff.”

With Stefon, he created a character where he actually could cover his face, with no one in the audience being the wiser that he was using his stage fright to his advantage.

The character of Barry finds acting classes therapeutic, and Hader fought his anxiety through therapy, transcendental meditation, exercise, and by adopting a healthier diet.

Hader learned in therapy about what’s called anticipatory anxiety, “the idea of the anticipation of getting to a thing that is the hard thing. So it’s all the lead up that makes me anxious. Then once it’s happening and done, I’m fine.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.