Kissing men is not foreign to Bill Hader. We've seen him make out with James Franco, Paul Rudd, and half of his male cast mates on Saturday Night Live. But in The Skeleton Twins, it's the first time he's had to do it for real.
Hader's character Milo is a depressed guy who attempts suicide in Los Angeles, unknowingly on the same day as his estranged twin sister, Kristen Wiig's Maggie, in New York's Hudson Valley. The two reconnect and he heads back east to recuperate.
During his time back in their hometown, Milo reconnects with a teacher with whom he had a sordid relationship back in high school. That teacher, played by Ty Burrell, has tried to move on, but being with Milo clearly brings back some old feelings.
"The scene was Ty and I are talking in the car by the water -- basically, we're drunk and we're stoned and I'm seducing him," Hader says. "And then it cuts to his bedroom, and we're kissing, we're making out pretty hard against a wall, and then we fall down on the bed, and then we're hooking up, then the camera pushes in on us as we're kissing and tearing each other's clothes off, and the camera focuses on a photo on his bedside table of him and his new girlfriend."
That scene was eventually cut.
"Craig [Johnson, the film's writer and director], said he fucked up the direction of that," Hader explains. "I guess when they were cutting the movie, it felt like it was a little too on the nose. It just didn't feel like it needed that. Some filmmakers do that, by the way, and they fall in love with the shot and they fall in love with the performances and they go, 'I don't fucking care, it stays in!' And you're just like, 'ugh,' but this is a testament to Craig and his editor that they were really hard on the material. But Ty and I -- we really went for it."
Even with a gay leading character and other sexual content in the movie, one can make the case that The Skeleton Twins isn't necessarily a gay movie. It's a movie about a gay character and his sister going through their own crises, and his crisis has hardly anything to do with the fact that he's gay. Milo's "out and proud," Hader says. "Some people would want to dial it back or play it down, but this was based on people we knew. I know there was some criticism -- not a lot -- that he was too fey, but I tried to play it like anyone you'd know."
Johnson, who is gay, told The Advocate earlier this year, that he realized most of his favorite queer films "had less to do with the fact that they were about a queer character but more that they were great films that integrated queer characters into a compelling story."
He added, "In The Skeleton Twins, the character of Milo has all kinds of issues -- he's depressed, self-destructive, bratty, narcissistic, and flirting with a drinking problem. And yet none of his problems stem from the fact that he's gay. It's the one part of his identity he's at peace with (aside from a drunken experimental night with a Debbie Harry look-alike)."
Hader says his inspiration in playing the character came from Johnson himself, especially after seeing Johnson interact with his own sister. Still, there are differences between his character and the man in the director's chair.
"Craig isn't as kind of, for lack of a better term, catty as Milo is," Hader says with a laugh. "Craig's very warm, kind of like a camp counselor. Like, 'Come on, gang! Let's do this!' There's a little of Craig there, and other friends of mine who are gay, and some who are straight. It's kind of like you just read the script and you're like, 'Oh, I know this person.'"
Hader has appeared in plenty of recent comedy classics, including Superbad, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Knocked Up, alongside his several years on SNL. However, Milo is Hader's first leading film role, which he says has been a gratifying experience. It allowed him to walk around as Milo and figure out how to play him much more honestly.
"A good example of that is actually a scene that got cut," he recalls. It was a Halloween scene, where Milo's dressed like a sort of fancy opera diva, and Maggie's in cowboy apparel. "There's a moment where Kristen and I are walking down the street, and we're all dressed up, and these young guys come by and yell out, 'Hey, fag' or something to me."
When Hader first read the script, he said he figured he'd react angrily, even though the script called for Maggie to step up and defend her brother.
"Then when we started rolling," he says, "[I realized] Milo would say something like, 'They hate me because they want to fuck me. Who cares?' And I did not plan on saying that. It kind of just rolled out of me, and I was like, 'Wow that was Milo, that's not me! That's him.' That was cool."