I recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor John Pirruccello (Detective Loach on Barry, Chad from Twin Peaks) about a number of topics, including the recent episode of Barry that everyone is talking about. There are a lot of spoilers for the first five episodes of Barry’s second season in this interview.
AG: When you got the role on Barry, did you see your character dying as a result of a Taekwondo kick?
JP: Is that what happened?
AG: I think it was.
JP: I don’t know, man. I don’t know what’s happening on that show.
AG: Is this potential foreshadowing?
JP: I just don’t know. I can’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you what’s going on.
AG: So we could, in theory, see Loach again?
JP: Listen, that’s not my department. You can call Bill Hader if you like or Alec Berg and ask them that question but not my department.
AG: Fair enough. Okay, so this week’s episode. Definitely the most talked about episode by far of the series. I’ve heard comparisons to the “Pine Barrens” Sopranos episode, as well as their famous dream episodes. I’ve heard people call this your Part Eight of Twin Peaks. It’s that episode that completely flipped the show on its head. What was it like for you when you read the script? Did you think to yourself, “Oh, this one’s going to have the world buzzing?”
JP: No, absolutely not. I never have any sort of insights like that. Maybe some people can. I don’t seem to have that ability. To me, it was another great episode. I’ve been reading great scripts from them for a couple of years now. I read these scripts, and they’re great one after another. I certainly could not tell from the script the sort of surreal nature of it. I don’t know why. I think since doing Twin Peaks, I sort of like the idea of being surprised by as much of a show that I work on as I can be. That gift that Twin Peaks gave me, I’ve kind of grown to want to try to create that. Maybe subconsciously or otherwise, I sort of skimmed through the script. The elements that don’t apply to me, maybe I just kind of skim over them trying to maintain as much of a surprise as I can for the end product. Maybe that’s what happened. But yeah, I didn’t see it looking like that. I didn’t see it looking like a Part Eight, which it absolutely is. That’s a great comparison. I’ve made that comparison myself.
AG: It did something remarkable, this latest episode, by adding this whole new layer to the show. If you think of Barry as an onion, we peeled down to its third layer. The show started off as a dark comedy and towards the end of Season One hit this emotionally devastating place, like a musician playing new notes. Now this surreal aspect has been added and as a viewer, it just really has you wondering what is the show capable of doing next?
JP: Well, it really makes you feel like it’s capable of anything. Doesn’t it? Bill wrote it and directed it and like any great artist and he’s definitely a great artist, he had the courage to make a leap like that. It just reminds all of us that anything is possible and you can go anywhere, just like that show can go anywhere now. He’s walking the walk in that regard, right? Then when you and I are having a conversation like this, like, “Wow, where’s it going to go next?” Well, it could go anywhere.
AG: Your character has been really fun to watch this season. You took a complete left turn from what seemed like the obvious trajectory of being upset over your partner’s murder. It turned out that you had this complete other rationale and motivation. As a viewer, I should have seen that coming but I didn’t. In that moment I was completely surprised by that swerve. What was that like for you as an actor kind of going on this journey in Season Two with Loach?
JP: It took me by surprise, too. I remember Anthony Carrigan and I talking after the first table read about how both of us had lost our partners. It’s sort of daunting when you get used to something and then you get used to a change. I mean, it’s daunting to being with. Before Season One, we start shooting. It’s like, “Wow, how is this going to work? Am I going to be able to figure this out?” You do with a lot of help. Then you sort of get in this groove and you get something that you’re used to, and it’s enjoyable, and you know what it is. Then you come back for Season Two and for both of us and it’s just a completely different thing. You wonder, “Well, can I do this?” I trusted them so much by that point that it wasn’t a matter of “is this a good thing or not?” That doesn’t even occur to me. It’s more like, “Can I rise to the occasion and do this?” You know, my first thought of course was, “Oh, I’m not going to be funny anymore.” That’s just selfish on my part because all I want to do is be funny. As you saw, there are funny moments that we pull off. Looking at it heading into the season, I didn’t really see that. All I saw was, “Oh, I’m not funny anymore.” Very challenging, very rewarding turn. I guess I did it. I mean, people seem to think I did it, so I guess I did.
AG: I would concur with that. Something like this past week’s episode where your character now has this new position in the show as almost Barry’s new nemesis. Barry’s in this predicament that he doesn’t want to be in, and you’re still really funny throughout the course of it all. I don’t even know how to describe the style of humor of Barry and this man that he’s been assigned by your character to kill. It was sad. It was hysterical. It really kind of ran the gauntlet of emotions and there was something absurd about it being a martial artist and your character getting right in the middle of it. We were reminded that your character was this cause of pain for Barry, putting him in this situation. But it was still laugh out loud funny at the same time.
JP: Well, I think that’s a testament to not just what a great show it is and what a really unprecedented show it is. I think it’s a testament to how really courageous Bill and Alec are to not worry about what the definition is of the show or what their genre is. They don’t seem to really consider something so mundane as what kind of genre they are. They’re trying to tell a story and it ends up being wildly rewarding to both watch and work on because of that. I guess more of us don’t seek that apparently. I guess that’s what makes something really special. You know, special almost by definition is that it’s unusual.
AG: You can’t help but wonder how trend setting the format of the show will become. Not only in terms of crossing genres, but also the half hour format. There are very few shows that are considered to be prestige television type of shows that are a 30 minute format. We’re conditioned as a viewer to expect an hour. Barry condenses so much into 30 minutes that I can’t help but wonder if this is something that other writers and directors are going to pick up on.
JP: Absolutely. It’s certainly going to be influential. I mean, much like David Lynch, how influential he is. I just did a movie a couple of months ago and the director in between one of the takes was talking about what a huge influence David Lynch was on him. We’re doing this big giant movie and he’s talking about what an influence Lynch is on him. I have to think that Lynch had an influence on Bill as well. I think it’s Bill turn, Bill and Alec’s turn to have an influence. When something is kind of undeniably great, you watch it and it hits you, it grabs you, how can that not influence? I don’t know how it could not influence. And it will. It certainly will. In terms of your point about the half hour over the hour, that’s funny. I haven’t even thought of that. I hadn’t even thought about what length it was compared to some other length. It’s what the show is.
AG: It’s impressive especially from a writing standpoint how much they’re packing into 30 minutes of time and eight episodes. There is this full, complete, dense story that is packed into a very small amount of television time when you think about it. That might be one of the most impressive things about the show is just how much it’s accomplished in a short amount of time.
JP: Well, the writers on the show are just phenomenal. Some of them are standups and some of them are comedy writers. Some of them write for dramas. It’s a sort of cross-section of writers. I think that wealth of experience and the kind of places that they all come from … I mean, a standup has to get his or her point across pretty quickly, right? Efficiently is more like it and I think that shows. It’s the hardest thing to do. I’ve been thinking about this lately, how just incredibly satisfying it is to be able to work on comedy. To be able to work in comedy which I think is the most difficult thing to do. I’ll never understand when comedians want to go and do serious stuff. It’s almost like a step back in a way. You can do it, but I think a lot more people can do straight stuff than can do comedy. Comedy is, in my opinion, easily the more difficult thing to do and more impressive from where I stand. I’m probably just biased. [laughs]
AG: No. It’s incredibly daunting, the idea of making somebody laugh.
JP: It’ll be on my gravestone. That’s the thing I’m probably the most proud of or the thing about myself that I’m the most proud of is my ability to make somebody laugh. Somebody else’s laughter is the most rewarding thing to me in the world.
AG: You were talking about the diversity of writers and all the different backgrounds they came from. I noticed that Liz Sarnoff is credited as writing an upcoming episode. Just the diversity of her work, somebody who’s known for Lost and Deadwood and serious dramas coming into the mix with extremely hilarious people, it definitely lends to the diversity of the show and the different aspects of the show that are covered.
JP: I think it goes a long way toward explaining it, I think. It’s what you might think would happen if you put that group of people in a room together and then you put Alec and Bill at the head of the table. They’re wonderful. All the writers are just amazing. So lovely at the table read. They’re all supportive. The whole atmosphere on that show is a very satisfying. I don’t want to say, “Family,” because that sounds corny. There’s a lot of respect and support. I really am grateful for the time that I’ve had on that show and the time that I may have in the future.
AG: The vagueness is definitely keeping me curious.
JP: I remember after last season texting Paula and saying, “Are you really dead?” She was like, “I don’t know.” Now I can relate, I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening.”
AG: When I watched last week’s episode, I caught it on Tuesday so a few days after it had aired, I was just like, “Holy shit, they killed him. A karate kick?” But the episode, like you said, was extremely symbolic. It reminded me a lot of David Chase’s work from The Sopranos. Just those dream sequences and those episodes where Tony would be in these, almost, fever dreams. It was up to the viewer to interpret, “What’s really happening here?” So anything is definitely possible.
JP: I think you’ve just said it exactly right. I took it the same way. It was like a fever dream and like, “What’s really happening?” Obviously there’s a lot of stuff that happens and it is completely surreal. Just even knowing some of the stuff that we shot, it didn’t go in. When I see the final episode now I go, “Oh, well that makes sense because that stuff that we shot maybe might have been literal,” or something, you know? In other words, it made sense to me the way that it got cut together, the way that it is. Just even that death scene was abbreviated compared to what we shot, so I get it. What they did is just amazing. I think that episode of television has moved the needle. I think it’s changed things, just like those David Chase and David Lynch episodes that you mentioned. It’s up there with those.
AG: We can’t say too much more about Barry, I completely understand. What else do you have going on? You mentioned a big budget film you were just working on. Is there anything you can say about that?
JP: As soon as I said that I was thinking that I’ve signed an NDA on it and I wonder if I’m even allowed to say anything. I look on IMDb and I’m not listed on it on there so I wonder whether I’m allowed to talk. I don’t care. It’s a Godzilla movie. [laughs] It’s the new Godzilla Versus Kong. Adam Wingard is the director. We filmed it in Australia. It was a lot of fun.
AG: What was filming in Australia like?
JP: It’s just like filming anywhere. The process is the same. I don’t tend to work on things that are that big. That was interesting, the size of my hotel room was stunning. It’s bigger than my house. I was looking at it from the outside, it was these high rises on the Gold Coast and I think there was six rooms on each floor or something crazy. There was a walk-in closet and one, two, three rooms. I would just open up all the sliding doors and just have the ocean coming into my room.
I had this scene with Brian Tyree Henry, it was amazing, from Atlanta. He’s just this amazing, wonderful person and incredibly fun to work with. No take was ever the same, he does something different every time. He was very present. He’s very, very funny and very down to earth. He was a pleasure to work with and made it all the more rewarding to work on the movie. He’s got a great, big role. I was just stopping by for the day. He’s carrying the movie on his shoulders. One of the people carrying it on his shoulders.
AG: Looking at your career trajectory from Twin Peaks to Barry, now you’ve got a role in the upcoming Godzilla film which I’m sure is going to be huge, what’s on the horizon for you next?
JP: Man, I wish I knew. That’s the nature of it, the peaks and valleys of it all. I guess the good news is that it means I have a career. I suppose that’s one way to look at, that if I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen peaks and valleys, then I guess I have a career. I have no idea. I’m both excited about what it is that comes next and also terrified that I’ll never work again. I’ve been in that head space for so long that that’s what normal is. At this point I have a pension and I have health benefits. There was a time not so long ago I wasn’t in the Union. There was a time not so long ago where the idea of getting paid to act was a pipe dream. I feel incredibly privileged to have made it as far as I have so far.
AG: You’re in a great spot and with as many people as watched Twin Peaks and that watched Barry and that will undoubtedly see this upcoming Godzilla film. I imagine that the sky’s the limit.
JP: Thanks, Andrew. Thanks for saying that. That means a lot, I appreciate it.
AG: On a personal level, I want to see you play at least one more cop though.
JP: It’s so ironic because I grew up such a scofflaw really. Just, no respect for the law whatsoever. Always in trouble in school. Always in the vice principal’s office everyday. The idea that I play cops is funny to me.
AG: I suppose you could make the point that both of the cops were a little bit against the grain and dirty at times.
JP: I know. When Bill called me about what was going to happen this season, I joked, I said, “Well, I guess you and David Lynch, both of you looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, rogue cop.'” He laughed. He thought that was funny.
Here’s the thing, I was actually thinking about this this morning for whatever reason, but I don’t really have a sense of self in that way. I can’t see these things. Thank God people like Johanna Ray, Krista Husar and David Lynch, and Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, Bill Hader and Alec Berg—thank God people like that can look and see something that I can’t see. There’s no way that I would have ever cast myself as either one of those roles. If you’d have asked me who would I think I play? It wouldn’t be a rogue cop. It would be maybe a serial killer. [laughs] Thank God those people can look and see something in there, and they’re right. That’s what’s stunning to me is that they’re right. They see this thing in me, it seems like a bridge too far to me, and then we just go there and it happens and I’m as surprised as anybody.
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