With Judd Apatow comedies raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and traditional leading-man vehicles floundering, a pretty face no longer automatically equals a big opening weekend. Suddenly the nerdy boys next door are wielding a whole lot of clout.
“People ask me, ‘Did you always want to be on SNL?’” says Bill Hader, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native who moved to Los Angeles in hopes of working in film but ended up joining an improv group. “No, actually, it never crossed my mind. It didn’t even seem possible. It would’ve been like saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go to the moon?’”
Nevertheless, the 29-year-old actor-writer, who does a mean Al Pacino and can pull off the same goofy, manic-eyed expression as Jim Carrey—without possessing the actual mania—now reports to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. During Saturday Night Live’s off-seasons, he’s been building quite a film career: His role alongside Seth Rogen as a bumbling cop in last summer’s Superbad sealed his place in the Judd Apatow broad-comedy firmament, and next up he stars in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Two more Apatow productions are also in the works: Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Adventureland, in which he and SNL castmate Kristin Wiig play a married couple who own an amusement park. “I love the ensemble thing,” says Hader, “especially shooting those Judd films where you’re just yelling stuff out, where we’re doing a scene and suddenly Jonah Hill yells from offstage, ‘Why doesn’t he say this?’ and we’ll all start cracking up.”
It’s almost as if the one-liners delivered on set are as much for the benefit of those making them as they are for those who will hear them later. Private jokes abound, and sometimes it’s just coincidence that an improvised scene ends up being funny to a larger audience. “There was one take in Superbad when I’m sitting in the bar and I start going off on my wife just for the hell of it—it totally didn’t advance the plot or anything,” says Hader, whose real-life wife is filmmaker Maggie Carey. “When I saw the final cut, I said to [director] Greg Mottola, ‘You left all that in?’ There was so much stuff I thought would be cut, but then there it was, in the actual movie!”