Bill Hader Talks 'Cloudy 2,' Working With Pixar and Why You'll Never See His Horror Movie

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Sony Pictures

No matter how it happened, 'SNL' vet Bill Hader has become one of the go-to voices for animation, as he leads this weekend's 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2' as Flint Lockwood. On top of that, he's popular at Pixar and will do voice work for their upcoming films 'The Good Dinosaur' and 'Inside Out,' which we talked about, and the process of doing voiceover in the days while working on 'SNL' at night.

Hader is knee-deep in the animated world as he's working on this new season of 'South Park,' where you could hear his Alec Baldwin impression last night. Hader is also one of the preeminent nerds in pop culture, so we covered a lot of ground in our freewheeling discussion about his career and his taste.

With a film like 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,' how did you find your way back into the character of Flint Lockwood?

I feel like I never left. It takes so long to record these things, so I feel like my work on the first one bled into the second one.

You finished with the first one in 2009, when did you start on this?

I guess it was three years, but I kept getting calls from Sony to do Flint for a commercial, and possibly an amusement park, some sort of ride or something? I was constantly brought in to do Flint things.

Do you feel like you have a lock on the character? What’s your way in to Flint?

I think it’s to scream as loud as I can. (laughs)

I’m used to watching DVDs where it has the person recording their most famous line in the film with a picture of the character behind them, which seems like BS. What was your experience like, did you go into a recording booth on Sundays after 'SNL'?

No, it was two or three times a month, and it was during an 'SNL' week, so if I didn’t have to be at 'SNL' until 2pm, I would come in at 9am and record for four hours and then go to 'SNL' and my brain would be complete mush and my voice would be shot.

Did you get a sense of what you were doing, or was it more like, "Okay, right now we need you to scream."

I always had a sense of what the character was doing, I just didn’t have a sense of the scope of the scene. They can say "you’re being chased by a cheese spider" but you don’t really have a frame of reference for that, but then you see the movie and go, "Oh, that looks cool."

In this film you’re working with your 'SNL' alums Will Forte and Andy Samberg, in addition to Anna Faris, Terry Crews. Did you guys get to record together, did you get to play a little bit?

No, not at all, I didn’t get to record with any of them. I didn’t actually meet Terry Crews until the movie was over, until we were at Comic-Con. None of us recorded together.

Do you have a favorite scene in the new film?

There’s a scene where Tim, my dad, has a bunch of pickles come into the tackle shop and attack him, and I like it because it reminds me of ‘Gremlins.’

You’re going to be in 'Inside Out' and 'The Good Dinosaur,' you’ve got this franchise plus 'Turbo' and 'Monsters University,' so at this point you’ve done a lot of animated work. Was that a career goal, do you want to be the next Mel Blanc?

Nah. I love animated movies, but I never consider strategizing anything in my career, it’s kind of more about what’s available at that moment, and what I’m interested in. That changes every year, so it just happens that lately that’s what I’ve been approached about and have been interested in.

How far into ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Good Dinosaur’ are you?

‘Inside Out’ I’m into way more, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ I just did my first session a month ago, but ‘Inside Out’ I’ve been working on that for two years.

It’s funny because ‘Dinosaur’ was originally scheduled to come out first.

That’s how long these movies percolate for. ‘Inside Out’ I was hanging out inside the writer’s room and bulls---ing with people and it turned into “Do you want to play the part?” “Yeah!” Which is pretty cool.

You’ve mentioned that you’re working on ‘South Park’ this season. How’s that going?

Great, the first episode airs this week. It’s a great experience, I get to work with a group of people writing the best… I guess you’d call it situational comedy in the world right now. I’m envious of what those guys have done, how they’ve kept up the quality. Their quality control is ridiculous. They invited me and I wanted to see how they did it, but like everything, they’re trying to figure it out every week and there’s no correct answer.

With this season coming up, are you in the trenches when you’re not promoting this movie?

Yeah, but it’s like you’re helping Trey (Parker) and Matt (Stone) with their idea, and Trey goes off and writes it. So the days usually start with me and Vernon Chatman coming in to the office around 9am and Trey will have the big white board, and he’s walking through what the show could be and he’s throwing out ideas, and that’s Thursday, there’s nothing on the white board, and then by Tuesday there’s a full three act outline that’s been changed and rearranged a thousand times. It’s just trying to lock down what the story is.

I used to work at a video store, and would have dreams about putting tapes away, and I’d wake up pissed at myself for still working in my sleep. After eight years at ‘SNL’ did you have any recurring work dreams?

Yeah, I have a recurring dream where I’m doing a live show and the cue cards aren’t there and I don’t know what to say. And it actually happened in real life where Melissa McCarthy and I were doing a sketch and the cue cards weren’t there.

How did you deal with it?

I kind of remember it from dress rehearsal, it was a very short moment, so it was an easy moment to get out of. But then when Melissa and I were doing a scene together… so the beginning of the sketch is me introducing a show, and it went to pre-tape where she played a college basketball coach, but when it cuts to me saying “all this and more on Top Line” or whatever the show was called I didn’t have any cue cards and so I approximated whatever that line was, but when we sat down to do this back and forth where I’m grilling her about abusing the players, I had the cue cards from dress rehearsal and she had the re-writes for air, so I’m asking her questions she doesn’t have the answer to, so it was a total clusterf---.

You just did the James Franco roast, how did you decide on playing “The President of Hollywood?”

I wanted to be a character and John Mulaney -- who I wrote with a lot at ‘SNL’ -- and John Solomon and Rob Klein, who I also worked with on ‘SNL,’ we talked about this idea of this old Hollywood Jewish guy with the tracksuit and sunglasses, and I said I wanted to play it like the embodiment of Hollywood. I thought it was good because it gives all my jokes a point of view, I was having a hard time. It was scatterbrained jokes about everybody that are kind of about different things, so I liked that it was all one guy’s point of view about these people. I thought that worked. And so they helped me with the jokes.

I remember reading a while back about you working on a horror comedy script about the guy who comes to town not realizing he’s in the middle of a horror movie, is that going any place?

I think that’s gone. It’s dead. It was a movie about a guy who’s dating a girl and he wants to propose to her, and he wants to propose to her someplace that’s special, so he takes her back to her hometown and he doesn’t realize that the girl that he’s in love with is Jamie Lee Curtis from 'Halloween.' She’s basically Laurie Strode. So taking her back awakens the evil, and everyone in the town is scared of her and thinks she’s f---ed up, that she brought this evil onto the town, and then he realizes, "Oh s--, that’s what I did." And Judd Apatow wanted a very grounded relationship movie that happened to take place in a slasher movie, he wanted to play the real emotion of how f---ed up she is from it, not to make it a parody. And some of it worked really well, but every time you got to the horror aspect of it, when you have a guy with a knife stabbing people, you had to take it to a bigger unrealistic place for it to be funny, and it f---ed up all the realistic stuff. It was like two different movies fighting with each other. Does that make sense?

Yes, and that’s too bad.

It was a very mutual decision that we didn’t think we could make it work. The people who do that best these days are Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. But even their movies are really heightened, the way that Edgar directs them and I think what we were trying to do was more of a Judd Apatow movie.

Are you working on scripts now for other projects? I heard a 'Stefon' movie wasn’t happening, so…

Yeah, but nothing I want to talk about publicly. If something happens with it I’ll say something about it, but I learned my lesson on the horror script that I shouldn’t talk about it with the press. You learn, you think something could happen, but then it’s like, "S---, we can’t figure this out, the story kind of stinks. I wish I had never said that." So, there are other things, but the only way you’ll find out is when we’re actually making them.

What are you geeking out about lately?

So many things, let’s take it in categories.

What’s the best Blu-ray you’ve seen lately?

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 'Ivan’s Childhood,' which is really good, and then I watched 'Solaris' which is the most "leave me alone" movie in the world.

Did you get that in the Criterion closet?

Well, now at this point I can email them and ask them for stuff. I just got 'Missing' from them which I didn’t know was a Criterion disc until I was on their site, and went, "what the f---, how did I miss this?" Oh, "Sansho the Bailiff."

I just watched that.

That movie is f---ing so good. I think I like it as much if not more than 'Ugestu,' which I know could create a debate.

You know, I just watched both recently and I thought the same thing, I like 'Sansho' more.

Books? I like David Mitchell’s books a lot, I like George Saunders’s books a lot. Since I moved to LA I’ve been listening to audio books a lot so I’ve been listening to Joe Hill’s ‘NOS4A2.’ Comic book-wise, like everybody, I really like ‘Saga’ and any Matt Fraction.

Do you feel that ‘Hot Rod’ has found its audience?

I guess, it’s funny you’d say that because you’re the second person I’ve talked to today who’s mentioned that movie. Maybe? I don’t know if it’s a great movie, I love the movie, and I do get more people asking me about it. Actually, Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the Emmys and her son came up and he’s in his late teens/early twenties and said, “all right I’m going to embarrass myself, I love ‘Hot Rod’ and my brother and I quote it constantly.” And Julia Louis-Dreyfus was like, “yeah, you don’t understand how funny that movie is to those guys.”

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ will be in theaters on September 27.

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