In Pixar's "Inside Out," Bill Hader plays the embodiment of the emotion Fear. But the actor himself had no trepidation about going after what he wanted: An opportunity to work with of one of the most acclaimed and beloved filmmaking teams of all time.
The secret to Hader's success? He made a trek to Pixar's Emeryville headquarters in Northern California on his own initiative -- mostly as a fan, but also in hopes of building a relationship with the studio he admired. "I kind of stalked them at Pixar," Hader told SPINOFF ONLINE, with a laugh. "I went to them. I said, 'I want to take a tour of Pixar.'"
Word spread quickly that Hader was on site, and it turned out there was plenty of mutual admiration. "I was a fan since 'Saturday Night Live,'" recalls "Inside Out" co-director Jonas Rivera. "He shows up one day at Pixar, and our casting director calls me and says, 'Bill Hader's in the atrium -- does anyone want to go have coffee with him?' There's Bill Hader, drinking coffee by himself. He had, on his own dime, flown up just because he loves animation."
"He came on to write with us, actually, because he's a great writer," Rivera continued. "He was so much fun in the story room. We went through the script and he started developing voices. He kind of leaned towards Fear, and he was kind of perfect at it. He really brought this sort of -- I don't know, Don Knotts, quick-turn-on-a-dime that made us laugh."
Not only did the actor lock down the part, he came away even more impressed with the Pixar team. "They act like it's a real privilege that they get to do their job -- it's like they can't believe they get to do what they do, which is really nice, says Hader, who spoke with SPINOFF about making his professional dream come true, his longstanding affection for animation and his alternating frustration and relief over drifting away from his comic book habit.
SPINOFF ONLINE: What a story, how you made it happen for yourself to be a part of "Inside Out."
Bill Hader: Yeah, yeah. I was such a Pixar nerd, I just kind of muscled my way into the whole thing.
Was it an actual strategy, or was it really just about wanting to be close to Pixar, period?
Just being close to Pixar. I wanted to see the place, and it was one of those things where I go, "Hey! I have an agent and a manager. They can maybe make this happen. I can fly to San Francisco." So yeah, it worked out.
I've been up there, and it's such a cool, one-of-a-kind place. What did you respond to just being in the world?
It was so neat. It's La La Land, and it was also like "Real Genius." You look over, and someone's built a robot, and it's serving food. They were really great, great guys and just incredibly humble and modest and just, "Hey, how are you? Don't want to bother you…" [Laughs] I'm like, "You guys are, like, geniuses!" I loved it. I love going up there. It's so relaxing.
I was on a movie, and I hung out in the story department for a couple weeks just because, I'm not, I think, that great of a writer, and I wanted to learn. That's why I hang out -- I work at "South Park" and at Pixar, but I don't want the idea that I'm writing like things that end up in [the world] -- I'm more just hanging out, observing. Josh Cooley and Pete [Docter] said, "Why don't you guys work on this sequence, the dream production sequence?" So we went out and we sat out, like, on a grassy lawn and he had a sketchpad, and the sun was out, and we were eating. It was just like, "Yeah, at 'SNL' we'd be writing underneath a table on a laptop that's, like, dying."
During the development period, you worked on voices for a few of the characters before settling on this guy, Fear, as the one you'd play in the film.
I think they just liked the voice I did for Fear.
You're great at creating original characters, but you're also equally great at impressions. Was the final version a soufflé of different voices you've worked on?
No, no, no. They just liked it. Once Pete said, "He's kind of like a middle management type guy," and we both started laughing. Pete drew a little bowtie on him, and I went, "Yeah, there you go -- I get him now! I know who that guy is."
The movie shows us how all these emotions have value. Nothing should be dismissed or avoided. In your mind, is there a good part of fear?
Yeah, I mean, I think you need to have some fear. People who have absence of fear can get themselves into a lot of trouble, but you don't want to have too much fear. Like any of these emotions, you want to have a nice balance of things, but I think it's good to have fear.
Animation is just one of the pop cultural things that you have a special interest in. What is it about animation that kind of caught your affection?
Well, I loved Looney Tunes, the Warner Brothers animation, I remember liking "Beany and Cecil," Bob Clampett stuff, "Secret of NIMH" and "Watership Down." Weirder, kind of allegory stuff. And then Pixar, I just dug. I just liked that it really made me laugh, and they were making it for them. I felt like when I saw "Toy Story," it was a group of people making it for themselves as much as for us. They just wanted to tell a good story. It didn't have to be just for kids. There's nothing pander-y about it, and I've always liked it. To get a chance to do a voice in animated thing, I thought was really cool.
You appear to have a lot of pop culture interests. Is that part of who you are?
Well, I feel like a certain era of pop culture, I feel like now, I don't know anything. People talk about songs or whatever, and I go, "Ah, I don't know what that is," like a grumpy old man.
Are you getting it secondhand from your kids?
Oh, no. They're too young. I'm like, "Dora the Explorer," I get.
Are you still reading a good amount of comic book stuff? I know you've been a longtime fan.
Gosh, you know what? Not as much as I'd like to, no. To be honest with you, I have a hard time catching up. If I feel like I have time to read, I have scripts to read, or there's a stack of books I've got to read or something like that. There was a good time there where I really, really was up on stuff. You know how it is. You kind of drop out for just a couple months. You come back and go, "Wait, what happened?" And then I felt this kind of anxiety. Comics is the same way for me as television is. It's just a serialized format. I just get really -- I'll lose interest, or I kind of want to go over to someone else. And then it goes away. And I go, "Oh, shit."
I know that feeling of, "I want to step out for a minute, but I'm never going to be able to get caught up if I do."
Yeah. It's kind of like, you are out on this river, and you get out. And then the river, you can't get back on the river because the thing's already gone. It's like, this is a raft flying down the river, and you're like, "Can I just hop off and see what's on the shore?" It's like, "It's way down there now," and you're like, "Oh, fuck it." That's how I think I feel that way about [comics].
What were you obsessed with when you were most into it?
Oh, I definitely liked the whole kind of Vertigo British invasion books, "Swamp Thing," and "Sandman" and things like that. I remember really liking Matt Fraction's "Iron Man." I really liked Fraction and [ed] Brubaker's "Iron Fist" -- that was one that I still think is the best ever. I liked some of the more creator-owned stuff that those two guys did.
I would definitely say I was more interested in writers than the actual [characters] -- I was never like a superhero person. Matt Fraction called me out. He's like, "You're not an actual comic book guy. You just like certain writers, and you'll read those writers." I'm not someone that you can sit with and could talk about the intricacies of certain universes and tangents -- I just can't do it. I would read something by Alan Moore or any of these people, and if didn't make sense to me, I would go on Wikipedia and find out what they're talking about it. "Okay. That happened. Right." But mostly, it was that stuff and old, weird stuff, like Jack Kirby stuff from the early '70s -- that kind of weird.
It's weird, but cool.
It's cool, but it's so strange. I love that, more of the kind of weirder things that you felt like they were trying to express themselves in a different way than the kind of bottom, middle of the road. Superheroes and stuff, I got into them not really as much.
So you won't be pulling your Pixar strategy, hanging out at Marvel?
Well, I already did that, and we did a Marvel book -- me and Seth Meyers wrote a Spider-Man book.
"The Short Halloween," sure -- I mean, would you want to campaign to be in a Marvel movie?
Well, yeah. I'd be in a movie in a second! Geez, are you kidding? Yeah, I love those movies. But me and Seth Meyers did a Spider-Man book called "The Short Halloween." It was like an annual that we did. And so I got to hang with Joe Quesada, and got to meet those guys and see how they work, and that was so cool. But I don't know: I think also when I was doing that stuff, I had no kids. And now, I have three kids, and it's just impossible. It's impossible to keep up with. And it's stressful. I just remember reading something, and just being like, "This is stressful!" [Laughs]