As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble nominees for your consideration.
Main Cast: Nikita Bogolyubov, Darrell Britt-Gibson, D’Arcy Carden, Andy Carey, Anthony Carrigan, Turhan Troy Caylak, Rightor Doyle, Patricia Fa’asua, Alejandro Furth, Sarah Goldberg, Nick Gracer, Bill Hader, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Michael Irby, James Hiroyuki Liao, John Pirruccello, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler
Casting by: Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas
Created by: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
Distributed by: HBO
Dark comedy is a tricky tightrope to walk, as it requires actors to balance both light and heavy material. HBO’s “Barry,” co-created by Bill Hader and Alec Burg, ably pulls it off—and that’s largely thanks to the work of the series’ talented cast.
Hader stars as Barry Berkman, a downtrodden Marine-turned-hitman searching for a greater purpose in life. After traveling to Los Angeles on a job and tracking his target to an acting class, he gets bitten by the performance bug and becomes involved with a community of aspiring stars. As he begins to consider a career change, leaving his violent past behind becomes an increasingly complex struggle.
Hader is a naturalistic performer known for scene-stealing cameos in comedies like “Tropic Thunder” and “Pineapple Express,” as well as weightier roles in films like “Trainwreck” and “The Skeleton Twins.” On “Barry,” he shows off his dramatic prowess in a role that’s already won him two Emmys. He conveys wide-eyed wonder at the magic of performing, tongue-tied nervousness as a fledgling actor, and cold fury when dealing with criminal threats. Barry is a realistic character caught in the middle of a painful transformation.
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In a pivotal early scene, Barry suffers an emotional breakdown in a parking lot, directing his emotions at his acting coach, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Hader’s devastating performance ranks among the best turns on dramas like “Breaking Bad” and “Ozark,” even if he mainly functions as the straight man to the series’ more overtly comedic performances. In action sequences, the actor conveys the steely professionalism of a seasoned killer.
Comedy and sadness converge in Winkler’s frank, unsparing Gene, whose tough exterior masks vulnerability and a dedication to his profession—even when it’s mostly in service of his ego. The actor’s believability in the role cranks up the suspense as he’s drawn further into Barry’s hidden life.
The show’s community of performers elevates its satire and heart in equal measure. D’Arcy Carden and Kirby Howell-Baptiste stand out as charmingly flawed dreamers who are by turns supportive, kind, and naive. Barry’s acting partner and love interest Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) embodies the emotional struggles of an aspiring artist—albeit one who has a tendency to interrupt her peers with chipper non sequiturs; she perfectly captures the well-meaning narcissism of an eccentric creative. An ideal foil for Hader’s repressed protagonist, Goldberg brings earthy charm to an otherwise self-centered character.
Credit: Merrick Morton
The actors playing Barry’s criminal associates give similarly nuanced performances; they’re working stiffs whose trade just happens to involve violent crime. Stephen Root plays handler Monroe Fuches with glad-handing warmth, lulling both Barry and viewers into a sense of ease before revealing his true devious nature. As Chechen mafia leader Goran Pazar, Glenn Fleshler channels his chilling, dead-eyed performance on “True Detective” while retaining organic humor. Anthony Carrigan’s turn as NoHo Hank, a cold sociopath with a warm personality, is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. The actor shows his character’s growth as the story unfolds, avoiding the trap of stock-villain simplicity.
Finally, there are the police, whose investigation threatens to topple the house of cards
Barry has built. James Hiroyuki Liao plays FBI Agent Albert Nguyen straight while still peppering in moments of comedy. His no-nonsense expertise emphasizes the ineptitude of others across the spectrum of law enforcement, crime, and show business, elevating the stakes as the series progresses.
With each season ending on an increasingly intense cliffhanger, “Barry” has gathered steam
as a compelling crime drama while also allowing its characters to evolve—and the cast to
further explore their hilarious, despicable roles.
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