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Q&A: Bill Hader On His First Leading Role 'Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs'

September 16th, 2009 9:37am EDT
Bill Hader"Knocked Up," "SuperBad," Hot Rod," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Tropic Thunder," "The Pineapple Express, Adventureland." All films -- released just in the last two years -- featuring (obviously, from the title of this post) "Saturday Night Live" star Bill Hader. Bill Hader now takes on his first leading role, sort of, as wayward inventor Flint Lockwood in the new 3-D animated feature, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." Hader, in this one on one interview, discusses with us the challenges of voice over work, his recent success in films as a supporting character and how all of this would have never happened had he not escaped The Mist at the World's Largest McDonald's. Hader -- unfortunately, considering the pitch-perfect unrelated introductory music that happened to be playing -- joined us after a short delay:

Mike Ryan: It's disappointing this was delayed a few minutes because when I was waiting, before, the music playing in the background was the opening to "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. It was perfect intro music; it was like you were coming out for a wrestling match...

Bill Hader: (Laughing) And then they say, "Well, he's not coming out for another five minutes," and everyone is like, "awww."

When I first heard you were in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" my first reaction was, "I wonder what crazy voices Bill Hader's going to be doing?" And then it was surprising when I heard you're playing the lead.

Yeah, no, I was the same way (laughs). I did a lot of television and Adult Swim stuff. So I would come in and they're like, "So you're a Russian gangster and then a leprechaun guy for this other episode and then an evil scientist." This was like, "No, we just kind of want you."

Well, that has to be nice, right?

Yeah, it was a surprise and it was really nice but the first session we had to kind of do over because I was in this place where you always do a voice. [Directors] Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] were great and were like, "let's try this," or, "let's try that; let's see if this works." And then we got it right. It felt good. It's the same thing like on "SNL" when you have to play yourself in a sketch, it's always the harder thing -- for me at least (laughs).

So they approached you? You didn't audition?

They approached me with it, yeah. I felt very honored. I think they had taken audio from me on "The Tonight Show," or something, and animated Flint around that. Just to see what the character would look like with that voice coming out and everybody was like, "Oh, I like that."

Bill Hader and Anna Faris

Bill Hader and Anna Faris 'Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs' Los Angeles Premiere © Chris Hatcher / PR Photos

When I was looking at your filmography doing background for this, I knew you were in all of those movies but you see them all together and it's like, "Wow. Bill Hader is in a lot of big movies." In great supporting roles but this is your first lead. Would you say that?

Yeah, I guess it is my first lead. Being a lead in a [non-animated] movie is probably different because you have to be on set every day and it's just a different experience. This, I just had a lot of days in the studio, you know? Doing the voice and everything of Flint.

You know, I've never been somebody who... You can be the lead in a movie just for the sake of being a lead in a movie or you can just be in a good movie. So, my philosophy has always been, "Would I go see this?" And, "Is this character going to be fun for me to play and is it a way I can do something different." I get really excited about that, too. Like, "Oh, I can play this guy differently than I did the other thing." I'll look different and that's always fun. So, I'd rather do that. People ask, "Why don't you lead in movies?" And it's like if something comes along that I get really excited about and I would go see this and I want to be the lead in it, that will happen.

And in the supporting roles you've had, it has to be nice to show up, steal some scenes and people are talking about your part anyway.

It is funny that people always assume you have a bigger part in a movie than you actually do. I remember a lot of people thought "Adventureland" starred me and Kristen Wiig. But we were like, "No, we're only in the movie for like ten minutes!" But it was still a lot of fun to be a part of that. That's a perfect example of, "Oh, I get to go to Pittsburgh for four days, hang out with my friend directing it, it's a great part with Kristen, I like all these actors and it's a movie I would go see?" Yeah, and I get to go to Pittsburgh! And see George Romero Land! I got to soak that in which is a lot of fun.

Anytime there's an animated film I always see the TV spots that show the montage of voice actors with their arms flailing with the black background as they yell into a microphone as a background voice says, "With the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris... Do they tell you, "Hey, we're filming the promo so get really animated for the camera?"

Heh, no, no. Not really. We are pretty much that animated; that's why it's so exhausting doing VO work. Doing this kind of a job is incredibly exhausting because you're putting your whole performance into your voice. So, you might be jumping up and down and going crazy but the directors will still say, "That, physically, was great. But the voice still isn't there yet. There needs to be more energy in your voice." I would get done with the sessions and just flop down on the couch and just not move. And I read an interview with Tom Hanks about doing "Toy Story" and how it's a tough job. And that made me feel better. I'm like, "Oh, OK, I'm not like a pussy or anything."


What was the most physical scene for you as a voice actor? The scene that left you the most physically exhausted?

Hmm, let me think. There seems to be a lot of them (laughs). I know I'll tell you one and then say, "Oh, no, it was actually this. No, wait, it was this" (laughs). You know what was really hard and it's funny? Was saying that really fast line where the dad says, "Look me in the eye and tell me this won't end in disaster." Then [Flint] says the line really fast and he goes, "ugggggh" like that. I remember doing that like a hundred times. "Thiswontendindisaster, ugggggh." And they go, "That was too fast, you cant make out this word and this word." Then you do it again and they're like, "That was a little too slow."

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs © Columbia Tristar Marketing Group, Inc.


And you do these sessions they'll say, especially the beginning ones, "So now you're at your most tired, right? Now for the last 15 minutes we're just going to do screams and yells and 'oofs' and 'aack.'" Any sort of sound effect you would possibly do, you do at the end of the session. You get to certain lines and they say, "Let's skip that because it's loud. We don't want to blow out your voice." So basically saying, "We are going to blow out your voice but we're just going to do it at the end of every session."

When you did [ESPN's] Bill Simmons' Podcast you mentioned that people on the street will say to you, "Hey, 'Superbad.'" And people more in the know would mention "Hot Rod." How much street cred would someone get if they came up to you on the street and said, "Hey, aren't you the voice of Flint Lockwood?"

(Laughing) I don't know, maybe. It's not so much street cred, it's more like people in their mind kind of say -- because "Hot Rod" didn't do very well when it came out -- and they kind of feel now like, [In his "man on he street" voice] "Hey, 'Hot Rod.' Everybody saw 'Superbad,' but I saw 'Hot Rod'" That was the idea behind it. Though I have friends... Paul Rudd is a huge "Hot Rod" fan. That movie was all of our first movies. First big movie where we had trailers and stuff. We were like, "Oh my God, this is crazy." So it was a big learning experience for all of us. "This is a real movie... there are trucks here!" (laughs).

The impression you've had the hardest time with?

Believe it or not, Christopher Walken. I know it should be easy. But I think because Jay Mohr and everybody does it and it's so simple, I guess, or everybody just knows what that impression sounds like. I kind of got in this place where I was like, "Wow, he's around all week. I can just talk to him and listen to him." That was the one I remember being like, "Why is this so hard? This should not be hard at all."

You mentioned at the press conference that you grew up in Tulsa, right?

Yeah.

I'm not sure why I thought of this: When I was a kid I would love it when my parents were going somewhere and we had to drive toward Tulsa. Do you remember that big giant McDonald's on Highway 44?

Oh yeah! It goes over the highway. In Vinita.

I always looked forward to going to Tulsa for that reason alone.

One time there was a huge thunderstorm; like three tornadoes had touched down or something. I was going out to Grand Lake with some friends -- I was in high school -- we pulled over to that McDonald's and all these people... It was like "The Mist." All these people took refuge in that huge McDonald's. Some say it's the biggest McDonald in the U.S., maybe?

I think there's a place in Orlando now disputing that.

It's a huge McDonald's! It stretches over the highway. But, yeah, we took refuge in there and waited for these storms to pass and ate Chicken Nuggets (laughs) and just sat there. I remember me and my buddies sitting on the floor -- you couldn't sit down anywhere -- just hearing the weather outside. And I'm a huge Stephen King fan so I was like, "This is just like 'The Mist!'" (laughs).

I sense a script somewhere in there. A huge storm's coming and everyone has to hide in the world's biggest McDonald's.

Yeah, I own it. You can't use it. Too late, it's mine. (laughs)

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" opens this Friday, September 18.

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
or submit reader questions for celebrites to Mike on Twitter.

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