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Posted at 6:20 PM ET, 09/20/2009

The 'Riffs Interview: 'SNL's' Bill Hader Embraces His Inner Nerd for 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs'

By The Reliable Source

(Sony Pictures Animation)

Bill Hader say his voice was "nerdy enough" to be cast as the lead voice in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

[ NOTE: Updated Sunday with new video.]

I've got two things to declare upfront before launching into today's Comic Riffs Q&A:

1. After recently seeing "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (opens today), I can say without reservation that it's the funniest animated film I've seen this year. And among the year's funnier films, period.

2. No small part of the credit for that goes to BILL HADER, the "Saturday Night Live" veteran who has strung together a rather remarkable run of very funny supporting roles (including "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall").

Hader's comic presence typically doesn't hit you over the head -- his is not a manic Belushi barrage, or an edgy pixieish charm like Amy Poehler. Hader, a 31-year-old Oklahoma native, specializes in acting from the neck up -- all arched eyebrows, wide grin, furtive eyes and an overall ability to do "brooding." There's a reason he initially impressed "SNL" producers with his impersonations of Al Pacino and Vincent Price: His physical attributes utterly lend themselves to sly, angular humor.

Among those physical virtues, of course, is his voice, which he can comically push into a flattened, nasal burst as he ramps up to a punchline. It's money in the bank. Which is why he says his sound was "nerdy enough" to voice the lead character -- eccentric inventor Flint Lockwood -- in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

Comic Riffs recently caught up with Hader to discuss comics (he and "SNL" castmate Seth Meyers recently wrote a Spider-Man book), TV animation (he's also written a "South Park" episode), graphic novels (big-time Neil Gaiman fan) and his love of old movies, especially ensemble comedies (the Marx brothers and Preston Sturges all the way).

MICHAEL CAVNA: I've got to ask you, Bill -- I've heard that you knew the first time you saw your girlfriend's [Maggie Carey's] apartment, you knew you'd end up married because she had "Star Wars" curtains. Sounds like great "geek love" -- is there any truth to that?

BILL HADER: Yeah, that's true. She had "Star Wars" curtains. I walked in there and in my head, I thought: This is awesome and we will be married. We've been married now for three years.


MC: So you're back in New York, to start a new season of "Saturday Night Live." How are you feeling?

BH: It's kind of a back-to-school feeling. I'm going on my fifth season, and it's pretty crazy. I remember [head writer] Seth Meyers telling me during the summer after my first season: It flies by so fast. Now suddenly, it's my fifth season and I'm the one the newer people are looking to.

MC: Speaking of Seth, I saw where you and he got to write a story arc for "Spider-Man." As a comics fan yourself, how fun was that?

BH: That was a blast. Yeah, me and Seth wrote it. ... I had become friends with [comic book writers] Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. The two of them invited Seth and I [to a party] because we're big comics fans. Marvel had this Christmas party a couple of years ago, and ... we met [Marvel honcho] Joe Quesada, who said, "I'm a big 'SNL' fan." And we said: "We're big Marvel fans." So Joe said to us: "Pick a character and you can write a book for him."

I remember walking home and thinking that maybe Joe was just trying to be nice. But then we [heard again] from Joe and he said he was totally serious -- "I want you to do a book." The [Hollywood] writers' strike had just happened, so we had time. ... We said we wanted to do "Spider-Man" and we outlined it and ... [about] five days later, we had a full outline. ... During the filming of "Night of the Museum" 2, there's actually an image of me writing the comic in my trailer [while] dressed as General Custer. I was [thinking]: "We've got to get these pages done now!"

MC: Do you and Seth write much together on the show?

BH: Yeah. Fortunately, Seth and I work the same when we write together. My two big characters on "SNL" -- Vinny Vedecci and Vincent Price --
Seth co-writes. ... He's the guy we come to with our ideas. On [Tuesday] night, we were getting back into swing. We just go and knock on Seth's door. He's the best. He's got such an amazing comedic mind.

(AP Photo/Sony Pictures Animation)

MC: In terms of comics tastes, I hear you're a Neil Gaiman fan, too?

BH: Oh, yeah. I got into "Sandman" -- that's definitely the thing that introduced me to him. I also like "Smoke and Mirrors" --the short stories.

MC: I interviewed Carlos Saldanha recently, and he talked about bringing you in to do a voice for "Ice Age 3" -- how was that?

BH: Yeah, I did a gazelle's voice. I'd auditioned for a part that went to someone else, but they said: "Hey, why don't you come in and play a gazelle?" I was there for maybe 30 minutes, I did a gazelle and then left. Then [in May], I get an e-mail from my agent, who said: "You're in the number-one movie in America. Congratulations!"

MC: You've had quite a run of success with supporting roles, of course, including "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Pineapple Express" and "Tropic Thunder." Are you purposefully choosing a lot of ensemble comedies?

BH: It's weird -- it's just kind of like one of those things where I see [projects I like]. I like going to movies -- I'm a big movie geek -- and when something comes along that's right, I just [take it]. Like "Superbad," I hadn't even really read the script before I said yes. I mean, you've got [director] Greg Mottola ..... and Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow and those guys. Of course I said yes.

I like big ensemble comedies [rather than] when one person is the focus -- I have a hard time with that. I love the Marx Brothers -- you've got Groucho here, and Harpo here, and Chico over there. I also like Preston Sturges movies.

MC: And what about working with the "South Park" guys -- how did that come about?

BH: They [creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone] asked me to come to their first retreat and I did that. We went to Seattle, and I couldn't believe how much fun I had. So [later], when my wife [a filmmaker] was working on a show in L.A., they were in L.A. for three to four weeks, so I came in and just wrote for them. I had a blast -- it was really, really fun. It was a nerdy dream come true.

MC: Whether it's Marvel or "South Park" or Judd Apatow's troupe, you seem to pick up a lot of projects that would fulfill many a nerd dream.

BH: I work a lot and it's kind of like: You meet people and you just click, It's not like I'm looking at something and thinking: "South Park -- how do I get on that?' I just became friends with those guys first. They're nice guys.

MC: So, getting to "Cloudy With a Chance," were you very familiar with the Barretts' book going into the film?

BH: Oh, yeah -- I remember reading that as a kid. And I'm a big fan of the filmmakers -- Phil [Lord] and Chris [Miller], from "Clone High." Those guys [who also produced "How I Met Your Mother"] really know what they're doing.

MC: So how did you get the voice role of Flint Lockwood?

BH: It's funny how they do it. You don't know what you're auditioning for, but they had taken audio from my "Superbad" character" and put it to footage of Flint. So there is footage of Flint being in "Superbad." They do this with a number of actors -- to see what voice they think works best for this guy. They said: "We like Bill's -- it's nerdy enough."

MC: Did you try to do much of an effect with your voice?

BH: I came in to do my first session and they had to scrap that because I kept doing a voice. They said: "You don't need to do a voice. Just be yourself." I'm so used to disguising my voice. We scrapped the whole first day's worth of work.

MC: So do you think Flint sounds like you?

BH: It's like a high-energy version of myself. It's not like my actual voice. It's my voice projected to 10 -- everything is of insane importance.

MC: Did you share time in the studio with [co-star and "SNL" castmate] Andy Samberg?

BH: I never was in there with Andy -- I see him, like, everyday anyway. I was more bummed out that I didnt' get to [voice scenes] with Bruce Campbel or Mr T.

MC: So like Flint Lockwood, do you self-identify as a nerd at all?

BH: Well, Flint's unconventional and an outcast, but as [the character] Sam Sparks says in the film: You should own that. That's something I figured out midway around my freshman year in high school. That being that way is cool. I'm a movie nerd -- I like older movies -- and I'd be excited [as a kid] to watch a Truffaut movie or "The Magnificent Seven." My friends would say: "But this looks old -- we want to go see 'Lethal Weapon 3.' " I'd say: "I like that, too." But I was watching Busby Berkeley and thinking: This is amazing -- this is really cool. It's fun just to sit around and talk movies with friends and family.

nerd. i


In Sunday's Style&Arts, look for Michael Cavna's profile of Bill Hader.

THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: "Iron Man" writer Matt Fraction.

THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: Marvel Comics honcho Joe Quesada.

THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: "SNL" animator/writer Robert Smigel.

THE 'RIFFS INTERVIEW: Mila Kunis of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

THE PRINT REVIEW: 'Cloudy' With a Chance of Hilarity

To contact Michael Cavna, e-mail:

Michael Cavna
Michael Cavna
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By The Reliable Source  | September 20, 2009; 6:20 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Holly Word  
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If this blog doesn't get back to being interesting by Wednesday, we are through. It's been a few * since it has been worth reading.

Posted by: walkerjw1 | September 19, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't put it that harshly, but I think there is an instructive lesson to be learned by comparing the number of comments left after recent posts:

(Film) '9' - 1
Good Obama Cartoons - 4
Pay their Respects - 7
New Films - 6 (but only 2 of these are relevant to the post)
Desperately Seeking a New LOL Strip - 19
Time to Bottle 'Blondie'? - 23
Fave Five Cartoons - 6
(Film) Meatballs - 2 so far (neither relevant to the post, of course)

This is not a scientific survey, of course, but it is still an overwhelming indicator that people who participate in the discussion are primarily interested in COMICS, and have little patience for movies that are tangential at best.

A blog that tries to be jack of all trades will end up being a deuce to all, and an ace to none.

Posted by: kilby | September 19, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Back on the subject of newspaper comic strips: the state of the industry was summarize succinctly by today's self-referential episode of "My Cage", a strip that gets far too little attention, in my (and apparently its creators') opinion:

Posted by: seismic-2 | September 19, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

P.S. Dovetailing onto the issue of off-topic material, I would like to see some discussion about the pseudo- or non-comic items that occupy space in the Sunday funnies. I'm not talking about Mark Trail or Spiderman (neither is "funny" - at least not intentionally - but they are "comics", and both have already been discussed here at extreme length).

On the other hand, what about things like "Jumble", "U Can U", or "Samurai Sudoku"? Do they belong in the comics? (I personally think that "Slylock Fox" and "The Mini Page" are even bigger wastes of newsprint, but we can leave those issues for another day).

Posted by: kilby | September 20, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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