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June 27, 2019

Better Things for Bader

Television is keeping actor Diedrich Bader a busy man.

Dana Cape
  • Better Things

  • Better Things

  • American Housewife

  • Better Things

  • Better Things


Diedrich Bader has had one heck of a year.

The 2018-19 season brought him significant roles in not one, not two, but three different shows that "people actually pay attention to": HBO's Veep, Better Things on FX, and ABC's American Housewife. Veep celebrated its series finale (in which Bader was honored to appear) in May. Housewife and Better Things things both had season three finales and found out they've been picked up for fourth seasons.

In between publicity sessions to promote both renewals, Bader found some time to reflect on his history in television, his ability to balance a busy current schedule, and his continued evolution as an actor.

Congratulations! You've got both American Housewife and Better Things coming out with fourth seasons this fall.

Yes! I hope it's a little easier to shoot and the schedule doesn't overlap again, but it's hard to imagine that it won't. I had a busy fall—which is amazing and everything that I wanted!—but it was also totally exhausting because I would have days where I would go from one set to another.

There was one day in particular where I went from a 12-hour day at Housewife to an 8-hour day at Better Things back to a 12-hour day at Housewife. That was a long day! There's no other way to put it.

I'm sure other people might have complained with this schedule, but for me it was amazing. To play three totally different characters, to work with three incredibly talented actresses and to support them, that was just a dream.

That's a really great aspect about the three shows you're on: they're all headed by strong female leads. How do you feel about getting to play your roles supporting them?

What's interesting to me is that they all kind of have their own feminist strain about it.

Obviously you have a female president and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is a producer and an incredibly strong woman; Pam, who has created her own show but who also has a strong feminist strain because it's a realistic portrayal of women in a way that we don't really see—I mean, she's a deeply flawed person who goes to the bathroom!

She actually exists as a human being, and in its own way that's sort of daring—; and then Housewife where it's a housewife who says what a lot of women who have children just think: that they resent the fact that their children exist.

Supporting these three women and getting to work with them is an opportunity like no other because you see the real strength of women. That's the stream that I step into: their strength.

What are the differences between the three sets and how does it affect the work you do on them?

Veep is a strictly ensemble show. There's a tremendous number of actors all the time and it works at a very, very fast clip. Faster than I've ever worked on any other show.

It's very much of a pattern show. There's very few close-ups. It's all shot in master shots and stays that way, so it's a matter of getting it out as fast as you possibly can.

But it's a very supportive group of actors. They're so different from their characters. Their characters are really, truly awful people and the actors couldn't be sweeter.

Better Things is almost entirely female-run. The AD, the script supervisor, almost everybody but the DP are women, so that's a very different set.

It's like being at the hippest party that you've ever been to and everybody's super laid back because it's a daytime party. It's got a kickback sort of feel. It's hard to even know that the camera's rolling because there's such an organic feel to what you're doing.

And then Housewife—because of the kids and everything—has a different vibe as well. It's very creative and supportive but has a "Let's try to get this right," and "let's make sure that our rhythms are correct," and "this is what this scene is about" kind of thing. And the force of nature that is Katy Mixon that sweeps us all along is a beautiful thing to be a part of too.

How does being a dad in real life affect the way that you portray being a dad on American Housewife?

I would say that Greg is much less of a disciplinarian than I am, but I think that I have an ease around the kids that I would not have if I weren't actually a parent. I think we have a relationship we fall into.

I try to set an example for them, and I'm aware that they're around all the time. It's like being a parent again, like having a second set of kids. I have my wife and my kids at home and then I have my wife and kids at work.

And then you have your other other wife with Pamela and those kids, right?

Oh yeah, I'm her "Big Gay Husband." I tower over her. She's so tiny.

Your performance in the Better Things finale was incredibly touching. How do you feel about that episode?

Pam did use things that I didn't know were going to be in the show. For example, us on the beach? That was a reshoot that was supposed to be for the pilot.

We had shot it two-and-a-half years before. That scene was originally shot on the day I heard American Housewife was picked up. And the day that I watched that episode was the day that I heard American Housewife was picked up for the fourth season!

If every set were like that you would think I'm completely bonkers (and also it'd be kind of oppressive) but every day on the set of Better Things something happens, and it's sort of magical for me.

It sounds like there's a lot of spontaneity on that show.

Totally. We improvise and it's part of the process. In the last episode, I had a full line that I was supposed to say to Sam about turning 50, and Pam just put her hand over my mouth and I was like, "Well, I guess that's the end of my dialogue!"

When you're on a more controlled show somebody would say, "There's more to the scene, so why did you do that?" But with Pam, things just sort of happen and you have to go with it. We're creating a spontaneous work of art, like a "happening."

You seem like someone to whom improvisation has come more naturally.

I love it. For me it's really fun, it grounds me to say whatever pops into my head.

What's particularly funny about my film career—Office Space for example—you'll see a lot of things that I just threw in because they occurred to me at that moment, and I wasn't thinking, "They're going to keep this forever!" I was thinking, "I know we've got a couple of takes to go, so I just feel like saying it at this exact moment and we'll see where it takes us. "

It's like I have a kind of Tourette's. It's just part of the process when you work with me. It's either going to drive you bonkers or you're going to like it.

I don't throw off any of the other actors because whatever I say is really in the same neighborhood. I'll never mess up a cue, but I do blurt things. It's a "take it or leave it" deal.

I bet it makes you a fun person to work with though.

I like to have a good time on a set. I pride myself on being fun to work with and being as professional as possible.

One of the things I learned from working with Ryan Stiles [on The Drew Carey Show] is that if you're not having fun, it's not fun, and when people watch it, they're not going to go "This is something that I want to be a part of!" It's more important in a comedy for people to think that something funny and fun is actually happening than for them to think that it's a reality.

Speaking of being based in reality, Veep just ended. That's such an interesting show, as is any that portrays a comparison to current American politics. How has being a part of it affected you?

What's interesting is what happened with the show tonally. One of the challenges of satirizing (let's say for example) wrestling is that it's hard to be satirical about professional wrestling because it's already so totally over the top. For you to try to make it funny—let's say it's a five and you want to turn it to seven so it's funnier—it's difficult to do in this day and age.

It used to be that rhetoric would follow policy, but now rhetoric is pretty much all we've got. So how do we make fun of that? I thought Dave Mandel did an excellent job with just turning it up a little bit and showing where we are and how tough a culture it is right now.

I think it has some of the best performances of my career in many ways. I think a lot of people see me as a character actor, but Bill Ericsson actually exists, could get a driver's licence. He's not a broad character, he's a shark.

I'm honored to be part of something that's so historic. And the fact that I was included in the last episode of Veep is a career highlight. That's why I took my kids out of school and had them come down to the set!

Do your kids watch any of the shows that you're on?

They haven't watched Veep because there's too much cursing, and they haven't watched Better Things because there's a lot of grown-up stuff I'm not entirely ready to talk to them about. But they've seen every episode of American Housewife. I think that and Napoleon Dynamite are pretty much everything they've ever seen.

We've talked about classics like Office Space, and The Drew Carey Show so far. How do you see yourself as having evolved within your work over the length of your career?

I'm a better actor now than I ever have been because I'm a better listener. I think having kids has really opened me up to the idea that I'm going to have to listen and be as present as possible, rather than having a preconceived notion of how the scene or my part is going to go.

And I feel like I'm at the zenith of my career right now, in my early 50s.

It's fascinating because you realize how little you have left to do. As I was saying before, one of the great things about working with these three actresses is it's like stepping into a really fast-moving river. In that case, you have to be willing to go with it and not fight against it.

And are you working on anything else this summer, before the shows resume?

I'm doing a student film has a really interesting script!

It's about a superhero whose alias is basically just a guy, and now he's old and out of shape and his private life has fallen apart, and so where do we go from here? At the same time he's still a superhero.

How did you get involved with this film?

An old friend's daughter was casting it. And I was going to just read it and say, "Thank you, but I'd rather not because you don't have any money." But then I read it, and when I got to the end I thought, "Ugh, I'm gonna have to do it."
It really won me over. Especially the story arc. I'm shooting it next week and I'm looking forward to getting started.

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