Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader spent seven years together on Saturday Night Live, so when you hear they’re starring in a movie together — playing twins no less — you might expect it to be an outrageous comedy. When you then hear it’s also a Sundance movie, you might conclude that it’s something quirky-funny like Adventureland, the 2009 festival hit in which they played the married couple that runs a rinky-dink amusement park. But The Skeleton Twins is something entirely different — a full-on drama. They play Maggie and Milo, twins who used to be close but now live on different sides of the country. Neither is particular happy with their lives, and when they both narrowly avoid death on the same day, they end up reuniting and confronting the issues that have kept them apart. “Yeah, I would say it’s the Nebraska route,” says Hader, referring to the toned-down performance by his former SNL colleague, Will Forte, in Alexander Payne’s recent movie. “It’s more dramatic than funny. The movie I can compare it to is You Can Count On Me.”
Hader filmed the movie during his final season of Saturday Night Live, a hectic time in his life that had him plumbing some pretty hard-core emotional depths on Skeleton Twins and then racing back to Studio 8H to do a sketch with a guest like Jamie Foxx or perform on Weekend Update as Stefon. “I always liked it when you’d see someone [from SNL] do something different,” he says. “I’m not comparing myself at all to Bill Murray, but I remember seeing Bill Murray in Mad Dog and Glory. I was like, ‘Wow, he was really scary in this.’ That’s so cool that he did that. Beating up Robert DeNiro? It was crazy. I thought that was so awesome.”
Before the 35-year-old actor heads back to the Sundance Film Festival — a special place for him and his wife, Maggie Carey, since they got engaged in Park City — Hader discussed working with Wiig on The Skeleton Twins and the scene that sent him to the emergency room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think some people might be anticipating a Wayne’s World-like comedy any time they see you and Kristen together in a movie. But this is heavier, yes?
BILL HADER: It’s a very sweet movie, but it’s not anything like an SNL movie or the comedies we’ve been in. It’s not like a comedy-comedy. Especially the beginning of it. The first time I saw it, I brought some of my friends who didn’t know anything about it, and they were like, “Oh yeah, pretty different.”
Had you been trying to change it up a little and do something dramatic?
It was something I wanted to do, but it’s not the kind of thing I get offered. I said to my agent, “I’ve been doing these big comedies and stuff, which I love doing, but I’d also like to do a drama or branch out a bit.” They said, “Well, no one really sees you that way. I think maybe a good thing to do is do some table reads for dramas and those casting directors can see you.” So I did some table reads for dramas and none of them got made. I did a table read with Kate Winslet. But one of those casting directors, Avy Kaufman, was the casting director on Skeleton Twins and they were saying, “For Milo, we’d like to try to find someone who you wouldn’t expect for this part.” And she goes, “You know, I actually think Bill might be pretty good for it.” So it was cool that that worked out.
You and Kristen play twins, but who exactly are Milo and Maggie?
When the movie starts, it’s a very, very low point in Milo’s life, maybe the absolutely lowest point you can be in. He does something stupid and then he has to go live with his sister. She’s now kind of settled down in life, married [to a guy played by Luke Wilson], but she’s not where she thought she would be in her life. They used to be close, and then, as you’re watching the movie, you kind of see why their relationship broke up. So it’s that feeling of when a part of your former life comes back after 10 years and reminds you of how you’ve changed.
Was this a project that you and Kristen came to together?
No. Someone else was attached to it for awhile and then she didn’t do it. And it became this crazy thing where the director [Craig Johnson] was like, “Well, what about Kristen?” And it was like, “Oh, yeah. Duh.” But does she have time? Because she’s in like every movie right now. She called me and said, “I read it and would love to be in it.” And then it was so awesome because we kind of have that brother-sister relationship in life, so it felt effortless. We had such a shorthand with each other. The chemistry was just built in, which is nice. We were laughing a lot.
Kristen’s done some drama, but this was a little new for you. Did it feel the same?
It was comfortable, but it is like that story from Caddyshack, where Rodney Dangerfield was getting nervous on the set, and Harold Ramis said, “Why?” And he said, “No one’s laughing.” And Harold Ramis was like, “Well, no. No one can laugh because it’ll ruin the sound.” I felt a little bit like that where we had a scene and I was like, “How did that go?” Because I’ve only really worked on things where you just know immediately how it went because everyone’s like, “That killed!” or the crew is laughing. You had a little of that on this, but just gauging that was different for me.
Luke Wilson plays Maggie’s husband, but who does Ty Burrell play?
Milo’s old high school teacher. Ty and I have some great scenes together. There’s another scene in the movie with Luke, and while we’re shooting it, I was given something that had peanut butter in it. And I’m allergic to peanut butter and I started to go into epileptic shock. We did a take and Craig knew something was wrong. He came over and goes, “Is everything okay?” And I was like, “I think that thing I just ate had peanut butter in it.” And he goes, “Oooh… well then we need to get you to a hospital.” So I had to leave and go to the emergency room. [As a result] there’s a whole scene in a rock-climbing gym with me and Luke where we’re never in the same room together. Like, one month apart, every time they cut between us.
The Skeleton Twins premieres Jan. 18. The Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 16-26.