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Comedians Take A Dark Turn In 'Skeleton Twins'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are in a new movie and its rough stuff. It opens with twins Milo and Maggie, brother and sister on opposite sides of the country, who haven't seen each other for 10 years but they tried to take their lives at the same time. They both fail. Maggie rushes to California to be with Milo. He's reading a book in the hospital.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SKELETON TWINS")

BILL HADER: (As Milo) Have you read "Marley And Me?"

KRISTEN WIIG: (As Maggie) Yeah. Sad.

HADER: (As Milo) Why is it sad?

WIIG: (As Maggie) You don't know what happens?

HADER: (As Milo) No, that's why I'm reading it. What?

WIIG: (As Maggie) Nothing.

HADER: (As Milo) What, does the dog die at the end?

WIIG: (As Maggie) No. I didn't say that.

HADER: (As Milo) Maggie, I know the dog dies. Everyone knows the dog dies. It's the book where the dog dies.

WIIG: (As Maggie) I see you're getting your sense of humor back.

HADER: (As Milo) Yeah, they can't take that away from me.

SIMON: So this isn't the Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader so familiar for "Saturday Night Live." In "Skeleton Twins," they play two troubled siblings who struggle to have lives in the shadow of their father's suicide. The film's directed by Craig Johnson and won a Screenwriting Award at Sundance. And when we spoke with Bill Hader, we asked whether he sought out this role, or if the part came to him.

HADER: A little bit of both. I said I wanted to do something different to my agent and he said, well, you know, no one really sees you in that light. You know, they only kind of see you as a sketch performer, doing these kind of broad comedies. So he suggested I do a table read. So I did a table read and at the table read was Kate Winslet, and Bradley Cooper, and Greta Gerwig and Paul Dano and myself.

SIMON: (Laughter). Pretty good cast for a table read.

HADER: Yeah, I know I was - and I felt very intimidated because those are all pretty heavy hitters. And it happened a lot faster than I thought. I want to say just a couple of months later, my agent called me and said, Avy Kaufman sent in this script called "The Skeleton Twins" - have a read.

And as you know, the opening scene of the movie is not like anything that I usually get sent, you know, with a suicide attempt. And so I was intrigued. I liked the characters. I thought the writing was really strong. And I said, this is exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing. And met Craig Johnson and Craig was very honest and said, you were not on my radar on it all, I was thinking about other people. We had a nice drink at a bar in New York and then I was thrilled to hear that I was attached to the movie.

SIMON: Milo, your character, leaves the small town in New York State where apparently he and his sister have grown up. It looks like - it's Nyack, I think?

HADER: It's Nyack, yeah.

SIMON: Leaves for the bright lights of Hollywood but he can only get work as a waiter. Your story, of course - very different. You went to Second City, you wound up on "SNL." But do you play a character like Milo and have a sense of, what if?

HADER: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I moved to LA in 1999, didn't know that many people. You know, I was looking in the back of Hollywood Reporter to try to get PA jobs on movies. It was definitely in the back of my head for years - like, this might not work out. And a thing happens when you move out to LA, you get a job on TV shows, where you can kind of - you're making a living but it takes up all your time. And then you realize, wow, I've been out in LA for - in my case, it was like, five years - and I haven't done anything creative.

So I related to that in Milo, especially when he comes back to Nyack and seeks out his teacher. He needs someone to say he's good, you know? That, you were good, you were good - he needs to hear that. Because when he was in Nyack he was the best actor, you know, in his little town. And then you get out to LA and it's filled with people who are really good and savvy. And it can be really discouraging.

SIMON: Yeah. A relationship - we'll just explain - between him and his old high school teacher is fraught with hazard and complication. Is that fair to say?

HADER: Yeah, it's not appropriate (laughter).

SIMON: I wonder if after doing this film you learned something new. You have any different feeling for suicide?

HADER: I think it's different. For Milo's case - it's kind of a case-by-case thing - but for Milo, I think it is like a cry for help. And he always knows because of his father, their father, they know that that's an option. But he's not his father. And he has his sister. They have each other.

SIMON: Even though they spend much of the film...

HADER: Yelling at each other.

SIMON: ...Yelling at each other and trying to do worse.

HADER: That's kind of what a beautiful relationship it is. It's very honest. No one knows you like your sibling and no one knows you like your twin. That's what's so great about where these two characters are in their lives. And that's just the right time to have someone call BS on them.

SIMON: The question this is going to raise for a lot of people watching this film, among so many others, is - how can two people who so palpably love each other keep doing the wrong thing for each other?

HADER: Yeah. That's interesting. And that's very much Craig - Johnson - is that way. Every day on that movie - and it's much like the relationship - we would shoot something that was very funny and or moving. And then, we would shoot something like that and Kristen and I would be laughing, having a great time and then he'd be like, all right, now's the scene where she says the most unforgivable thing in the world to you (laughter). You know? And we would be legitimately hurt.

But the thing I like hearing about this film is that people always say it strikes such a specific tone, where it is dark and it is sad, but it's also very funny. That release of tension and with a laugh plays huge, you know, because there is a lot of tension between us. But it feels very real and it's just kind of really nonjudgmental.

SIMON: Is this something you'd like to do - go back and forth between comedy and drama?

HADER: Oh yeah. I love comedy. I mean, I just finished one, a big you know, Judd Apatow comedy called "Trainwreck" with Amy Schumer. Like, I'm a romantic lead in that movie, which is another new thing for me. (Laughter). But no, I would love to do both. Those are my favorite kind of actors, are the ones that could be funny and then also, you know, do drama.

SIMON: Bill Hader, he co-stars with Kristen Wiig in the new film, "The Skeleton Twins," speaking with us from our studios on the West Coast.

Thanks much for being with us.

HADER: Hey man, thank you. This was really cool. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.