“I always like playing characters that think they’re good… but they’re bad.” Bill Hader is grinning at me, blinking through his thick glasses, as we talk via Zoom about his new film. He’s voicing the oily, cretinous tech mogul Cyrus Strange in The Addams Family 2, a role which he brings his trademark effortlessness and flair to.
“You know?” he continues. “Or ones that don’t know! You know, bad guys that might be good. That weird in between.”
Bill has always straddled that line himself. Not to the murderous, megalomaniacal extent of Cyrus, or even of Barry, but he’s been ricocheting between untethered comedic mayhem and heart-wrenching dramatic turns for years. I ask him if Cyrus straddles that line.
“No. No, he’s an asshole. He’s terrible.”
Cyrus Strange is your typical slimy tech mogul. He’s the billionaire patron behind Wednesday’s school’s science fair (which seems deeply suspect in and of itself – is this really the best place to trawl for talent to pilfer ideas from?), and he saunters onstage as a hologram, ready to vacuum up any inventions he deems profitable. When he sees that Wednesday has perfected a formula which allows you to distill down the trait of one thing and literally drink it, he flips his lid. He has to have it. But that just makes him a greedy patent thief, right? How does he stack up to the Bezoses, the Musks of the tech world?
“He’s trying to manipulate Wednesday, this little girl, which is pretty disgusting. So he’s a pretty terrible person.”
But, I ask, are the Addams Family themselves bad? Or do they just have the trappings of bad people? And is that their appeal?
“Yeah! I just think they are who they are”, he replies. “They’re like… kind of ghoulish people, but I don’t think they want to really hurt anybody. They just like to experiment on each other, I guess! But I think… the first thing was, like, the tone of it was this kind of… lightness. It was a tone I’d never seen before, of taking very dark subject matter and doing it in this kind of light way, which then people started copying, you know?”
Bill Hader, as a performer, gives excellent face. He does to the human brain what nineties Jim Carrey did – his face, voice, and physicality all work in unison to turn out these exhilarating performances. Is it hard, I ask him, rocking up to a studio and being trapped in a small box, unable to cut loose?
“Well this one was done during the pandemic! So I was underneath a blanket in my bedroom, speaking and holding the thing up, trying to read the lines off my phone. During the pandemic it was just reading my lines underneath the comforter, and just screaming into it… doing all these big, weird noises, playing this big, weird character… alone. In your house. It was the most human interaction I had during the pandemic pretty much! It was kind of great!”
But what about the core premise of The Addams Family 2 plot? Wednesday can take a trait from someone (or something) and give it to someone else. I ask Bill the question: if he could absorb a skill from anyone else, what skill, and which person?
He thinks about it for a moment. “I mean”, he ventures, “anyone with the ability to… spell. That would be good. I can’t spell very well! So, like, a spelling teacher, or a kid who won a spelling bee, maybe? I’m terrible at spelling. I’m always in the writer’s room at Barry, up on the big whiteboard, with writers in the room, and I’m spelling, and they’re like… Bill. You spelled that wrong. It’s pretty embarrassing. I’m a terrible speller… I’m bad at grammar, too. So maybe just, like, a fourth grader?”
Hang on”, I ask. “A fourth grade teacher?”
“Oh, a fourth grader would probably have a lot better spelling than me!”
Check out the rest of my chat with Bill Hader here:
The Addams Family 2 hits Australia today (6 January, 2022) after a very, very long wait.
Paul F. Verhoeven is an author, broadcaster and TV presenter. His books Electric Blue and Loose Units are out now through Penguin, and his podcasts, DISH! and Loose Units, are available everywhere you get your podcasts.