IAR INTERVIEW: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig Talk 'The Skeleton Twins'

Friday, 12 September 2014 09:46 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig Talk 'The Skeleton Twins'

The Skeleton Twins is a hard movie to peg to just one genre.

On the one hand, the critically acclaimed film stars two of America's funniest comedic actors and has moments of genuine humor.  On the other, it deals with weighty issues like depression, infidelity, and suicide.

So which is it, a comedy or a drama?

"As long as they do not call it just a comedy, and as long as they do not call it just a drama," Kristen Wiig said in a roundtable interview promoting The Skeleton Twins, which opens in theaters September 12th.

"As long as they do not call it shit," quipped Bill Hader. "That’s good."

Both Hader and Wiig are basically national treasures.  Two of the most talented performers ever to grace Saturday Night Live, they've proven their cinematic chops in movies such as Bridesmaids and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs; they even played husband and wife in Adventureland.

With The Skeleton Twins, both actors demonstrate a dramatic range that neither had the opportunity to show prior.  In the film, Hader plays Milo, twin brother to Wiig's Maggie.  The two haven't spoken in a decade, but after Milo attempts to kill, himself, the formerly close twins are reunited, slowly reconnecting and discovering that they may just be able to help each other repair their lives.

Hader routinely turns up in outstanding supporting performances, but here he takes center stage for the first time as Milo, who happens to have the same sexual orientation as his most famous SNL character, the bizarre New York club kid Stefon.

IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick asked Hader if he was conscious of steering Milo away from any similarities to Stefon, an outsized comedic figure.  "Actually that’s funny. That never came up when we were making the movie very much. Actually, we had the premiere at Sundance and someone brought it up and we thought, 'Oh yeah, I’m famous for playing another gay guy.' But no, I was very specific with this guy," replied Hader.

"What I liked about the script that these guys wrote is that Milo being gay was not his issue or his problem. He had these other issues that he was dealing with. But he’s a gay guy," he continued. "When I read the script that was one of the first things I talked about, which was how much I appreciated that. That’s the thing with Stefon too. The joke wasn’t that he was gay. The joke was that he’s bad at his job."

Wiig similarly praised the specificity of the screenplay by Mark Heyman and writer-director Craig Johnson, saying, "Reading what these guys wrote, you knew exactly who they were. A lot of times you do have to ask a lot of questions about where a character is coming from in a certain situation, and I just felt like I knew both of these characters, and specifically for me, Maggie, so well. It was in the script. It was all there."

In fact, the script was so specific that even ringers like Wiig and Hader didn't feel any imperative to improvise, goosing the material with off-the-cuff funny business. "So much of it was on the page," said Wiig.

"We will give them credit, they wrote a really amazing script that was again, going back to this balance was so tonally that you didn't want to mess with it, you go one way or another, this thing is so nicely drawn," Hader said on the subject of improv. "But the scene when we were on nitrous, we improvised on that. That was the one improvise."

The relative lack of riffing is in keeping with the delicate tonal balance of The Skeleton Twins.  "It’s such a hard tone, and it’s a real testament to these guys and Jenny Lee, the editor, that they were able to get this tone in the movie that is really, really difficult," said Hader. "You go one way just a little too much and you lose the audience – too funny, too sad. And we shot a lot of stuff that was really funny, but it was too funny, and we shot some stuff that was just too sad."

Both Milo and Maggie grapple with at times debilitating depression.  "It is touchy subject and it is hard to generalize and it kind of depends on the individual and with this movie we kind of had to approach it from where these people were coming from," Wiig explained.

"I had a friend who was clinically depressed in high school and committed suicide. But I think these characters it is different, it is a little bit more of they are having a hard time forgiving themselves, and its more of a cry for help," said Hader. "And also when you have a parent commit suicide, you know their father committed suicide, now that is like an option that’s on the table. These people are having a really hard time grappling with who they are, that is just like an option now. I think its two different things, I don't think it's the same thing as being clinically depressed."

Wiig and Hader go way back thanks to Saturday Night Live; both performers joined the comedy institution in the fall of 2005. 

Asked if their longtime friendship aided her performance, Wiig replied, "It absolutely helped. Bill and I’ve been friends for now, I just realized, almost ten years. To have someone there that you’re really close to, especially someone that’s supposed to play your sibling, and to do some of those more difficult scenes as well as the comedic scenes, to know each other the way that we do, and I think that we know how the other person works and reacts, it just made it so much easier to do our own jobs. It was also great for me to watch what Bill did in this movie."

"That was the thing Kristen did, there was a scene, we get in a big argument at the end of the movie in a backyard. When she came out, I had never seen her in our life, our friendship, I’d never seen her that angry," recalled Hader. "So if it was any other actor, it wouldn’t have been the same. But with her coming out, I was just legitimately reacting to her. So it was a gift that she was in the movie."

Between them, Wiig and Hader are two of the most acclaimed and sought-after comedic actors working today, but they each remain humble and gracious.

"I mean when you are trying to be an actor you don’t ever think that you’re going to end up here. I feel so lucky," said Wiig. "I started at the Groundlings doing little shows in backyards and garages and stuff. You hope that you can make a living doing something like this but it’s always a surprise. You never expect it. I feel very lucky."

"Never in my wildest dreams, it’s the same thing," Hader agreed. "I actually did shows in backyards too. You call your friends and say, will you come? It’ll be really good but you have to bring your own beer. We will not provide food. I’m very sorry and you need to be very quiet because there are no microphones. If the cops break it up it’s your problem man."

The Skeleton Twins opens in select cities this Friday, September 12th.

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