Bill Hader: It’s not always about fun and love
In The To Do List, Aubrey Plaza plays Brandy, a straight A high school student determined to lose her virginity before heading off to college in the fall. She makes a checklist of the sexual acts and starts checking them off as she finds boys willing to experiment. Bill Hader stars as Willy, a lifeguard attendant who tries to give Brandy a few pointers along the way. He recently phoned in from L.A. where he was on his way to The Jay Leno Show to talk about the movie that his wife, Maggie Carey, directed.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from the film so far?
Pretty good. People seem to really like it.
Tell me a bit about the genesis of the film. Do you know when Maggie first came up with the idea and what inspired the concept?
I don’t know. What she said to me was that when she gave her first hand job to a guy that it was more of an emotional experience than when she when she lost her virginity. That’s the thing they don’t tell you—that intimacy is really intense. I was shooting a movie in Sante Fe and while I would go out and shoot, she was back at our condo writing. I didn’t ask her that much about it. Every once in a while she would say she had a scene where this or that happens. It’s good to figure it out for yourself and get to a place where you’re happy with it before you show it to people. That was in 2009 when I was shooting Paul.
Did she always have you in mind for the role of Willy?
I’m assuming, yeah. She said she wanted me to be in it. I said, “Absolutely.” The character’s name is Willy, so I think that suggests it was for me. It was a fun role to play.
He’s such an odd guy. He comes off as an asshole as the beginning but then shows he has some heart at the end. Talk about the character a bit.
I think he’s a guy who is the polar opposite of Brandy. She is very type A. He’s just coasted and is a lay-a-bout. He lives at the pool. He learns a little something from her, which is that he gets off his ass a little bit from working with her. She, in turn, chills out a little bit.
Can you really not swim?
I can swim better than Willy but not much. I can float on my back just fine. Maggie was a swimmer in high school. She is a really good swimmer. She tried to teach me. It was way harder than I thought. She would try to teach me a breathing exercise where you blow out while under the water and then you breathe in while out of the water. I couldn’t get the timing down.
It’s such a great cast. What was it like to be on set with them?
I couldn’t believe all those people were doing it for no money. The movie was made for a million dollars, so everyone worked for nothing. That was nice. It seemed like people just liked the project and the script. I didn’t get to be there on the big days. I guess at the pool we had some fun days when everyone was there. Andy [Samberg] shot all his stuff in one day. Most movies are a marathon. This one was a straight up sprint. From beginning to end, it was 24 days. Maggie was much more laid back than I was. I was like, “Oh my gosh, you have to get everything done.” She was just like, “I just want to make sure it’s funny.”
I like the fact the film is raunchy and crude yet has a feminist philosophy at its core. I think of it as a chick flick for guys. Is that accurate?
That was the thing that Maggie said when I said something about the love story between Brandy and Cameron. She set me straight. She said, “There is no love story in this movie. It’s about a girl wanting to get laid.” I went, “Oh, right on.” That put it into perspective for me. Sometimes, girls just want to go get laid. It’s not always about fun and love. I thought that was pretty good.
Do you remember what you were doing in the summer of 1993?
I was probably mowing lawns in Oklahoma and saving up for a bass guitar that I got in the fall of 1993. I started making little short films because I saw The Evil Dead, not the remake, on television and my friends and my sisters would get my dad’s video camera and follow each other around with it. A lot of it was chasing each other through the house. A lot of them starred our dog. That’s kind of crazy. We must have been really patient with the dog.
Did you learn how to play the bass?
A little bit. I liked punk music so I was a punk bassist. Fred Armisen would have me play bass. That last [SNL] show when Kim Gordon and all these amazing people came out . . . J. Mascis and Aimee Mann. I was really playing bass. I was really nervous. J. Mascis was there and I had to play bass.
Did you play in bands?
Not really. I would just play with friends. I would go to their shows. I would go up and play with them. I didn’t know any of the songs. The majority of my bass playing consisted of me sitting in my room playing to Surfer Rosa or something.
At what point did you know you were funny?
I have no idea. Teachers would tell my parents that I was funny. My parents are really funny but I don’t consider it a weird thing. I probably took it for granted. I thought everyone does voices. At my house when [my family tells] a story, everyone does voice. We would do the voice for everybody so I never considered it. A teacher wrote it in a progress report something like “Your son is very funny. He has an F.”
Talk about your career a bit. Is that how you imagined things would go? Obviously Saturday Night Live provided a big break. Would have you been happy as a behind- the-scenes guy?
I love doing behind-the-scenes stuff. The idea of being on SNL and being an actor was so cool that I didn’t even think about it. I thought it would never happen and never be a possibility. It happens and you’re like, “Holy shit.”