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‘Black Bird’ Star Paul Walter Hauser Talks How Sobriety Has Changed the Way He Decompresses From a Challenging Role

After picking up Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins this year for his performance as serial killer Larry Hall on Apple TV+’s limited series Black Bird, Paul Walter Hauser also has landed his first Emmy nomination for the role. He is nominated alongside late co-star Ray Liotta in the supporting actor category, an honor he says is “a great creative swan song for people to know how great [Liotta] really was.” Chatting on the morning his nomination was announced, Hauser tells THR how he got in (and out) of the mind of a killer, if he’d take on a role this dark again and his desire to balance both comedic and dramatic projects.

What does it mean to have Ray Liotta recognized alongside you in that category?

It’s completely overwhelming to be in a category with the likes of people like Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins and Jesse Plemons, whom I’m also a huge fan of. I really think that category is a bunch of heavy hitters, and I feel very lucky. I’m celebrating Ray, his career and his legacy he leaves behind, and I really hope people see that Ray was good until the last drop. Some actors, as they age, don’t put in the same amount of work; maybe they can’t or maybe they are just collecting a paycheck. Ray was never that guy. Ray was always interesting and specific and nuanced, and he can be funny, he can be scary. We lost him way too soon, but this is a great creative swan song for people to know how great he really was.

It’s been about a year since the show came out. Now that some time has passed, what stands out about your experience making it?

I look back on it and I’m really proud of the creative team behind it. I think that when I was making it, I wasn’t in a good place, and in some respects that may have helped the character — but I never want to put that out into the atmosphere. That whole idea that you have to be tortured to give a dark performance, I don’t subscribe to that at all. Looking back, I wish I had been in a better place while making it, but to be in a good place now, sober with a new baby, life is good. I feel like we’re able to celebrate it.

Paul Walter Hauser as convicted serial killer Larry Hull on the Apple TV+ true-crime limited series Black Bird.

Paul Walter Hauser as convicted serial killer Larry Hull on the Apple TV+ true-crime limited series Black Bird. Courtesy of Apple TV+

Have you seen the roles you’re being offered change since the success of this one?

I wouldn’t say darker, but I would say I’m getting some offers or interest from more prestigious people. That’s not exciting because of the reputation, it’s exciting because you know that it’s going to be a great creative team. There are people that I really want to work with. Because of the success of a show like Black Bird, I might get to work with some of those people, and that’s exciting.

Would you ever play a role this dark again?

I wouldn’t play another serial killer, but I would definitely play a dark character, so long as it was well written. I don’t want to play a dark character unless the writing is at the level of the stuff I’ve gotten to do already. [Showrunner] Dennis Lehane doesn’t write dark for the sake of dark, there’s so much purpose and idiosyncratic choices in there. And I need that, I need it to be textured. Maybe I’ve been spoiled because I’ve gotten to work with the likes of Charlie Kaufman and Steven Rogers and Billy Ray and now Dennis Lehane. I’ve been spoiled by good writing; it’s hard to go back.

Was there anything you did to get in and out of character, or something you had to do to shake this character off at the end of the day?

It was really just trying to numb the pain with some marijuana and an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, that was kind of the deal. Now I have discovered, through sobriety, that I can have much healthier, beneficial, productive versions of that, which are usually binge-watching TV with my wife, going for a swim in my backyard or working on a screenplay with my buddy Julian [Sergi].

What was your most challenging scene or the most difficult aspect of the character?

Having to think the thoughts that the character thinks to then translate the truth in my eyes and what I said. It was acting, but it was also a level of emotional immersion that is not a lot of fun to inhabit. I did something similar in BlacKkKlansman, where I played a racist piece of shit for Spike Lee. There were times where we had fun making that movie, but there were also times where you feel like you need a shower. It just feels gross.

I’m glad you just did The Afterparty to lighten things up after your recent string of projects.

Yeah, it’s nice to get to do some comedy in something like Afterparty or Cobra Kai. The guys I admire, who I came up trying to be like, were people like Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Those guys kind of played in both worlds all the time, so that’s what I’m trying to do.

Is there any other show or nominee that you’re rooting for this year that you especially loved?

I have so much love for Jury Duty and The Bear. I would jump at a chance to work on either, and I shout them out as often as I can because those are the kind of shows we need — stuff with heart and humor and an ensemble that lets you know how important community is in our world. We’re so prone to isolation, especially in the digital era. The Bear and Jury Duty [are] almost like The Muppets — they have that collection of different types that are all kind of wacky, but also necessary. I really think those are shows worth celebrating.

Interviews edited for length and clarity.

This interview was conducted before the July 14 launch of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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