Photo of Bill Hader by Matt Hoyle
In his eight seasons on Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader made it abundantly clear that he could play just about anything, including people of the lavender persuasion. He was one of ”2 Gay Guys from New Jersey,” as well as Broadway baby Harvey Fierstein and, most famously, Stefon, the flamboyant yet shy nightclub correspondent for Weekend Update.
But he’s outdone himself. In the darkly comic dramedy The Skeleton Twins, Hader plays the disturbed but appealing gay twin of the equally suicidal Kristen Wiig, giving a deft performance as a guy searching not only for “cock,” but for peace, meaning, and a chance to lipsynch a Jefferson Starship song with his long-estranged sister. As he moves in with sis and her fiancée (Luke Wilson, excellent as a simple but decent guy), Hader’s Milo character settles scores, does drag, and chases after a man he had an affair with in more impressionable times (Ty Burrell). I talked with Hader about his achievement.
Great work, Bill. Where did you get the acting chops?
I don’t know, man. From SNL. I did a little acting in high school, but mainly from SNL.
But sketch acting is completely different from feature film acting, no?
100%. It was fun--something I always wanted to do, and I was happy that we shot the scenes with Ty Burrell in the first three days. He’s a classically trained actor and he gave me a lot of confidence. I was confiding in him. “This is the biggest role I’ve had in a movie. What do I do?”
Why did you want to do The Skeleton Twins?
I was offered it. You get offered a lot of things. Or scripts are shown to you and they say, “What do you think?” I said, “I’d really love to meet the director.” You have to do a lot of convincing.
How did you convince them?
Avy Kaufman, the casting director, had seen me in a dramatic table read. My agent said, “Maybe best thing is to do table reads so casting directors can see you’ve got the goods.” I did one for a movie that never got made, with Kate Winslet and Paul Dano. Avy was doing Skeleton Twins. She saw me, recommended me, and [director/cowriter] Craig Johnson was very honest, saying, “I was not thinking of you. I only know you as Stefon.”
But what’s the difference between Stefon and Milo?
The only thing those two guys have in common is they’re gay. That was one of the nice things about the script. The character being gay wasn’t his problem.
Stefon was such a sweet character—zany yet a little withdrawn.
That was based on a guy who worked in a coffee shop in Chelsea. I met him and he made me laugh. I went back there and the lady behind the register said, “He doesn’t work here anymore!” They all knew it was him. He was a little shy, but you talked to him and you’d draw him out very easily.
Are you amazed at the way the character grew?
Yeah. Everyone was a little like, “Really?” I tried it as a sketch, but it didn’t work. Just as a commentator. We kept saying, “The joke isn’t that he’s gay, the joke is that he’s bad at his job.” I find it funny when someone is being patient with an insane person. Seth Meyers would go “Now, Stefon…” He’d never get exasperated with him, he’d be patient with him, and that made me laugh.
You also played Harvey Fierstein.
He sent me a bunch of roses and I have his card someplace. That was huge. “There’s a huge bouquet of flowers from Harvey Fierstein.” I was like, “No!”
What’s more, you played horror ham Vincent Price in sketches. Gay?
I don’t think Vincent Price is gay. He did all right with the ladies. I met his daughter and she’s awesome. There’s a little bit femme. He and Liberace didn’t get along well in the sketches.
What about the sketch “2 Gay Guys From New Jersey”?
That was a recurring thing me and Fred Armisen did. Seth wrote them. Fred and I would talk about the issues, like gay marriage, and we were like Italian mob guys. “Seth why can’t we be gay, come on?”
Is it true that Megan Mullally discovered you?
That’s another gay angle.
She changed my life.
Is it also true that you’ve been married to a woman since 2006?
You were so convincing in the film, I really started to wonder. [laughs]
Oh, thanks. Craig Johnson is gay. We never talked about it, except, “If I go too crazy, you’ll tell me.” The character is a little flamboyant. There was a risk that it could turn out to be a cliché.
There’s a scene where you do drag. I’m sure it wasn’t your first time.
No, I’ve done a lot of drag. It was the only time Craig said, “You have full permission to be flamboyant.”
Another actress [here’s a hint, dear reader: Anna Faris] was originally signed on to the movie, but had to leave and then Kristen Wiig came on. You have great chemistry.
Thank God. It wouldn’t have been the same performance from me. It’s easy to be vulnerable around her.
You also turn up in another good film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, in which you hit James McAvoy with kale.
That was fun. We did one long take. I got legitimately nervous that he was gonna kick the shit out of me. I’m not tough at all.
No, but you’re definitely brave.
>>> CLICK THROUGH: NICK JONAS LOVES HIS GAY FANS
Nick Jonas: Miley’s smart. She’s very smart. We’ve always known that about her. She’ll always be successful. [The VMA performance] was funny — I was laughing.
NICK JONAS LOVES HIS GAY FANS
Another bold spirit, teen idol Nick Jonas, worked the NYC gay circuit last week, appearing at the Sunday night gay bash at Up & Down and also the Gay Tuesday night at BPM to promote his new record, “Jealous” (a top 40 hit). I waited for his appearance at Up & Down, then grew as restless as a teenage girl, so I eventually went home, but a source filled me in on what happened: “Nick kind of snuck in and all of a sudden I noticed him sitting in the dark in the back section. Other people started to notice him too and it became a congested madhouse. He is drop-dead gorgeous and everyone wanted a picture with him. He must have posed for 100 pictures with every type of drag queen and transsexual known to man. He didn’t seem to mind. They actually had the whole back area roped off with burly bouncers asking to see wristbands, but most of the people in the section didn’t have wristbands—I don’t know who was giving them out.
“Finally at like 1:30 a.m., there was a drag entertainer on ‘stage’ and Nick went up there for a brief interview. She must have said ‘He’s straight’ 50 times, as she was probably instructed to do. She just kept making lascivious comments about his looks, saying ‘He’s a gorgeous straight guy’ repeatedly. Anyway, he talked about his new single and they played a snippet of it over the sound system—it’s terrible—and then he left.”
I messaged the drag star to ask if she was told to keep saying Nick is straight or if she just assumed it—or maybe he’d made a pass at her, thereby proving it, lol. No reply. As for Nick, he tweeted how much he loves his gay fans, then he went on to play to the real ladies at a Wilhemina party a few nights later.
And one of the Up & Down night’s promoters had loving things to say about the singer: “Anyone really hungry to be a star would have ripped off his shirt and the crowd would have gone wild, but he didn’t. He was shy and awkward and a real person, and I like him for that.” Sort of like Stefon. Kidding!
Anthony Wayne in 'Mighty Real' | Photo by Nathan Johnson
HAUL OUT THE HOLLY
This week’s nostalgia pileup brought homages to a Warhol superstar, Barbara Eden, and a disco legend, but not all at once. First, I hosted a night with Warhol Superstar Holly Woodlawn at Baruch College, where the merry mayhem started even before showtime. Backstage, the publicist brought in an autograph book for Holly to sign for someone in the audience. “No,” she responded, emphatically pushing the book away. Everyone thought the campy drag star was kidding. “N-O,” Holly clarified. “Should I repeat it?” I guess the gal only signs her name for cash—and one can see why; when an audience member later asked if Warhol paid his actors, Holly erupted into peals of sardonic laughter.
[Update: I'm now told that Holly doesn't sign much because she's frail, not because she's a diva.]
Paul Morrissey (who directed Holly in Warhol’s Trash and Women in Revolt) put in his own two cents about the art legend. “Warhol had trouble reading, writing, speaking,” he said. “He didn’t know what made a good movie, he didn’t understand the movement of characters or story, and he didn’t know which people could make a movie work. He did nothing.” But otherwise, he was terrific. Morrissey has been known to cross out Warhol’s name on the box of any movies he’s asked to sign, though at the event he revealed that he was the artist’s manager and part of his job was attaching Andy’s name to the movies so he’d get press! Curioser and curioser.
But back to Holly: When I asked her if she needed the trappings of womanly glamour to be funny, she said no and ripped her wig off and tossed it aside as if returning a dog to the kennel. “I am what I am,” announced Holly, as if about to launch into an ‘80s show tune. As she sat there, triumphant in a few straggling grey hairs, I cracked, “I’d love to see Barbara Walters do that!”
Fortunately, Holly captured her wacky, divine life in a 1992 memoir titled A Low Life in High Heels, and even more fortunately, the Madonna movie version of it that the singer optioned never happened. “She wanted to play Candy Darling,” revealed Holly, making retching noises. “So the whole movie would have been about Candy. I don’t care how much money she has!” Sounds like Madge never even got an autograph out of Holly Woodlawn.
Two nights later, I went to the opening of the Off-Broadway musical about Sylvester called Mighty Real, which is presented as a confessional concert by the gender-bending disco singer, relating his battles with oppression in between trilling his hits in flashy outfits. The narrative is a bit sketchy, but it’s a dazzling concert, and Anthony Wayne has the pipes and pathos to deliver a sensational performance as the lonely but loving Sylvester. What’s more, every other musical artist on that stage matches him down to the last bugle bead.
In a curtain speech, Wayne and partner/co-creator Kendrell Bowman said they loved the Unsung TV documentary about Sylvester, and went on a Twitter campaign to launch this show, contacting notables like original Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee Ralph for support. Sheryl ultimately responded and they hooked up, doing a kickstarter campaign and moving forward despite the naysayers. On opening night, Sheryl related, “[Dreamgirls creator] Michael Bennett once said to me, ‘You can talk to me when it says Sheryl Lee Ralph presents’.” She craftily looked upward and said, “Well, I’m talking to you!”
And finally, back to the ground: Every Fashion Week, I lie and tell people I’m going to a million shows, when in reality I usually only show up at one: The Blonds. It’s the event that brings together a bevy of downtown royalty for an eye popping extravaganza—and that’s before the show even starts! You don’t need to go to anything else all week when you’ve got the Blonds (David and the dragalicious Phillipe) serving sparkly celebuwear, and last week they didn’t disappoint. Offering Arabian Ghetto Nights via I Dream of Queenie to a crowd of ritualized exhibitionists, they put on such a genie-ous presentation that Stefon would have gagged, then giggled.