The last time most people saw Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader together, the two were probably wearing wigs while hosting a game show, making out with family members or giving unnecessarily detailed California traffic directions on Saturday Night Live. The next time audiences see them together, they won’t be so funny. In the opening scene of the writer-director Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins, opening Friday, the two actors wield their hard-won chemistry to portray a brother and sister who decide to attempt suicide on the same night.
Wiig, who left Saturday Night Live in 2012, has already played a number of dramatic roles, in such films as Hateship Loveship and Friends With Kids. For Hader, who left the show last year, the role is a sharp departure.
On a recent afternoon in Los Angeles, the two actors sat for a Skype interview with the New York Times, affectionately praised each other and couldn’t help trying — and succeeding — to crack each other up. These are excerpts from the conversation.
How did you two end up acting together again?
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Hader: I’d wanted to do a drama for a very long time, and I was sent the script in 2010. I met with Craig, we hit it off, and that began two years of emails: We’ve got the money; we don’t have the money. Then Craig called me up with the idea of Kristen playing Maggie, the sister.
What did you say?
Hader: I’ve been in that position where friends will call me: “Hey, I don’t want to pressure you.” I always feel pressured. So I remember consciously, purposely, saying, “I’m staying out of it.” Kristen called me up saying: “I love this. I’ll do it, but only if you’ll have me.” Like, are you joking?
Kristen, did you worry a bit that your “Saturday Night Live” connection might overshadow the film?
Wiig: Doing a movie by myself, people just assume it’s a comedy. With Bill and me, I knew people would be quick to think it’s a comedy, which makes sense. But to really appreciate the movie, you have to go in with an open mind, because we’ve got some dramatic stuff in there as well.
How does your experience on “SNL” translate to a film like this?
Wiig: For me, it’s how much you can accomplish in five minutes. At first, when you look at the rundown of the show at SNL, and you know that you’re going to be this person and then totally become this other person in a commercial break, you think, ‘I’ve only got two minutes?’ After you’ve done it for a while, you think: “Oh, I’ve got two whole minutes? I can take a bathroom break.”
Hader: I’m going to read a book. I was doing this movie while I was still on SNL. It is just a great place to be performing every day. You’re building up those muscles, and you don’t over think stuff. You start to trust yourself more.
Is it more challenging, as an actor known for comedy, doing a more dramatic film?
Wiig: Probably the only challenge is how people comment on it. There’s almost an added pressure from the outside, which you just have to ignore.
Hader: I was totally fine, and then the morning of the Sundance screening, I woke up and wondered, “What if people don’t accept me as an actor in this way?” At the screening, I got a little applause, and my wife started crying, because she knew how nervous I was.
Did familiarity help you play a brother and sister?
Hader: Having worked together really helped me personally, because I was able to be vulnerable around Kristen. It was a new kind of part for me, and it was nice being there with someone you knew had your back and who you could fail in front of.
Wiig: And we have a very brother-and-sister vibe in real life.
Your director has said you have a “telepathic connection.”
Hader: Oh, gosh, I don’t know.
Wiig: I knew you were going to say that. See? I was reading his mind.
Kristen, there’s been a lot of talk about the impact of “Bridesmaids.” Do you think there are more female-driven comedies being made as a result?
Wiig: I never really know how to comment on that. It’s frustrating, mostly because there are so many incredibly talented, really funny women out there, and I look forward to when those movies come out — to Trainwreck and movies like that. But it’s still not common to have a female comedy in the theaters. I hope it doesn’t become this thing that we have to keep talking about. Even the fact that they’re called female comedies. You don’t say “male comedies.” Funny is funny.