Paul Walter Hauser On His Powerhouse ‘Black Bird’ Performance That Let To A Life-Changing Decision

Black Bird is another home run for Paul Walter Hauser.

The six-part crime drama inspired by actual events sees him portray suspected serial killer Larry Hall opposite Taron Egerton’s Jimmy Keene, a man who finds himself behind bars but gets the chance to cut a deal with the FBI. In exchange for a second chance, Keene needs to get a confession from serial liar Hall and the locations of some of his victims’ bodies.

The first two episodes of Black Bird will premiere globally on AppleAAPL
TV+ on Friday, July 8, 2022. One new episode will drop weekly through Friday, August 5, 2022.

I caught up with Hauser to discuss the limited series, one of the most highly acclaimed of the year, embodying a serial killer and how the project coincided with a life-changing moment.

Simon Thompson: Larry is fundamentally someone who ultimately wants to be loved but how that manifests is chilling and terrifying. I’m guessing that was part of the appeal for this role?

Paul Walter Hauser: Dennis Lehane’s writing was appealing. Doing another true story or something based on a true story is appealing. That’s a big deal for me because I love those things. Working opposite Taron Egerton is a big deal for me, and so is playing somebody I knew would challenge me. I love Cobra Kai, but it’s not a challenge for me to play Stingray because there’s a piece of me that is that guy who wishes he was a Batman or a Ninja Turtle. Larry was a lot of work. It’s a lot of work to try to bring a bit of humanity, purpose, reason, and nuance to someone that complicated. Thankfully, I had all the right tools surrounding me to do it.

Thompson: Because of the type of person Larry is, and obviously what he did, did you hesitate before taking the role?

Hauser: No. I don’t think I was in the best mental or emotional space when I received the role, so I didn’t even think twice about it. I did it because the writing was amazing. I think Taron is an A-class actor. I needed a job, and Apple was providing a good salary and a good opportunity, so I took it. The role tested me emotionally for sure. I got sober in the middle of the shoot last summer. I had a day where I was on set, and I was about to have a bit of an emotional breakdown, and I said, ‘Something’s got to give.’ The next morning, my assistant threw out my bar cart, and I had those last two episodes to do, episodes five and six, which are crucial. I’m grateful I could maintain everything under that pressure and get the job done. I’m proud of the show. I’ve watched it a couple of times all the way through, and I think everybody’s at the height of their intelligence and creativity. I thought everybody killed it.

Thompson: You and Taron formed a solid friendship on this project, which came at a pivotal time for you.

Hauser: Yeah. I’m seeing Taron tonight for the first time since we wrapped back in October. We’ve chatted since then, but I haven’t seen him in forever. It’ll be good to connect and explain where we were emotionally out by the end of the shoot because we were exhausted. We were both done with Larry and Jimmy. We’d been there too long. I think the relationship is definitely one of mutual admiration. I think we’re both softies. We’re both pretty gentle, emotional people. I think he would admit to that, and we both want to do a great job. We want to walk away making Apple and Jimmy Keene, Dennis Lehane, and all these people happy that they hired us, and I think they are. I hope they are.

Thompson: I want to talk about Larry’s high voice. Where did that come from in you? I didn’t know what Larry sounds like in life, so I have no reference, but it’s a very unique sound. How did you get it to what it is and avoid it coming off as comedic?

Hauser: What you just said is the key. How do you do it to where it feels honest, and it’s not bordering on cartoonish or like a Mad TV or Saturday Night Live character? That’s tough. The real Larry, there was only something like 10 or 20 seconds of composite audio available to me to listen to his voice. I had no video recording of him. His voice was in a really high, almost strange register. When I heard him in this YouTube documentary, I found he was talking saggy, and everything was sad and crazy. I was like, ‘Dude. I can’t do that the whole show.’ If it’s distracting to me, the performer, it’ll definitely be distracting to the audience. I remember an interview where Mahershala Ali was talking about doing Green Book, and in reality, the guy he played also had a high register, so he had to dilute it. I did the same kind of thing. I don’t know how folks will respond to it, but hopefully, it feels like a real voice.

Thompson: Larry is still alive, so there is a chance that he will see this. Have you considered how he might react or that he might want to reach out?

Hauser: I’m hoping and assuming that Apple TV+ falls under the category of contraband in a prison setting? I would assume, but I don’t know. I don’t imagine he will see it. The only way I would ever want to meet Larry or correspond in any regard would be if it would help the authorities gather new information that could lead to the unburying of bodies or give closure to families. If they thought they could utilize me in some way to do that, I would do it in four seconds, but I have no interest in engaging or corresponding outside of that. As far as people getting addicted and weird and grabby with me because I’m playing a real serial killer, I have heard some horror stories about people sending actors inappropriate photos or death threats or whatever. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, we’ll deal with it.

Thompson: It’s so strange to me that people would do that

Hauser: Well, it is, and it isn’t. People are weird, man. There are many weird people who have unhealthy connections to entertainment, as you know.

Thompson: With a six-parter like Black Bird, you have much more room to maneuver as an actor in terms of performance and narrative.

Hauser: Yeah, and it’s a pleasure because you get to go in and do that sort of invasive character work. It’s also intimidating because you’re telling a story over six episodes. When it’s truncated into a two-hour film, that’s far less intimidating, but telling that story over that time span is a lot. I don’t know where it would fall in the delineation of the hardest type of acting because some of these men and women do theater, and they have to put on eight shows a week. They’re not developing the character over time, it’s more like you have to keep it fresh in its repetition, and that’s its own intimidating reality.

Thompson: Talking of theatre, no spoilers, but there is one scene in the final episode with just you and Taron, and it feels very much like a piece of stage work. Is that how you guys approached it?

Hauser: Not really. We approached it like any other scene. I look at this thing very much like The Master. One of us is Joaquin Phoenix, and the other is Philip Seymour Hoffman, and we’re having that equal parts chummy but dangerously volatile relationship. There were a lot of moments in The Master that felt like theater, and this had that same dynamic. That scene you’re talking about was heavy. I wouldn’t want to do that eight shows a week on Broadway.

Thompson: Larry has a distinctive voice and look. What was the physicality that helped you get into him?

Hauser: It’s funny because every actor is different. I’ve heard some actors like Russell Crowe or De Niro talk about the shoes. They say things like, ‘Well, I don’t know the guy until I wear the shoes.’ That doesn’t do anything for me. Physically, I think it’s how I relate to my surrounding. When I was doing I, Tonya and I was walking as Sean Eckhart, and people were snapping photos and trying to interview us. Based on the environment, there’s a different swagger and a different type of walk in that scene. As I’m playing Larry Hall in the prison, I’m constantly leaning against things. I’m leaning against walls, bars, and tables; it signifies exhaustion. There’s no emotional release or emotional leaning to be had. It’s against these cold hard walls.

Thompson: Finally, I’d like to touch on the Cruella sequel. Do you know where things are at with that project?

Hauser: I’m told we’re doing it next year. I don’t know when but I think Tony McNamara is writing the script right now. He’s probably tinkering away with that. We got to work around the ever-busy schedule of Craig Gillespie and Emma Stone, who are worth the wait, so anytime they want to do it, I’ll be there.

Black Bird is streaming on Apple TV+.