Paul Walter Hauser stars as Larry Hall in the chilling Apple TV+ miniseries Black Bird. Based on the 2010 autobiographical novel In with the Devil: a Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption, authored by James Keene with Hillel Levin, the six-episode crime drama has received no shortage of critical acclaim. And much of that praise is directed towards the cast for their powerful performances, especially Hauser, who gives an unsettling, brilliant portrayal of the murderer, rapist, and suspected serial killer.
Hauser recently came through Atlanta, Georgia, in promotion of the series. Audiences were privy to a small screening of the final episode and then a brief Q&A afterward. Following the event, I sat down with Hauser to talk about the role’s effect on him, how he separated himself from his work after a day of filming, and what he hopes younger audiences take away from the series.
And, of course, I had to ask him about his favorite Atlanta spots to visit when in town. After all, Hauser is no stranger to Georgia, having filmed multiple movies here, including Richard Jewel, and I, Tonya.
Here’s what he had to say.
Looking back on the experience of the show, is there anything that surprised you about embodying Hall? What was the role’s effect on you?
Paul Walter Hauser: I think it’s the most I’ve been able to dissolve into another character where I don’t see myself on screen. And when I start to see myself on screen or factually remember that it’s myself, it’s almost uncomfortable. So I would say what surprised me the most is that it really doesn’t feel like me. Whereas something like Richard Jewel, I can still see 30% of myself. I’m playing the role, but there’s also a decent chunk of me in there.
I hope to God there isn’t any of me in Hall. Though, I do relate to his sense of human struggle, like loneliness and feeling misunderstood. And I mean, I think we can all relate to at least those basic things he’s feeling.
You did a fantastic job at capturing Hall’s humanity. He is such an easy character to hate. But you brought so much humanity to the role that, while you hated Hall, you also felt sorry for him. Because he did get dealt a crappy deal growing up, and that clearly impacted him.
Paul Walter Hauser: Yeah. And I think people, especially in the political climate, people like to go black and white with everything. It’s just easier for them. They don’t get judged by their own people as much. It’s a matter of mental lethargy.
So I like signing on to projects like Richard Jewell and Black Bird and I, Tonya, where you don’t really know who the good guy or bad guy are at certain points in the story. By the end of Black Bird, it’s abundantly clear who the bad guy is. But I do mean to say that I think the most compelling stories are the ones where people are caught in the gray area of humanity.
Where did you start in preparing for the role? Did you start with the mannerisms and the voice? Or did you do deeper internal work of trying to relate to him first on some level?
Paul Walter Hauser: I don’t know how other actors do it, but I always come from a place of what the scene is about. What are we trying to accomplish as a group of storyteller people? And what place is my character’s mindset at the start of the scene? Did I come from the bathroom? Did I just wake up? Am I thinking something gruesome? Am I thinking of something lovely? Is that lovely thing untrue, and I’m actually in this place of continual self-deception? All those answers have to come before I’m just like, I’m going to eat the sandwich this way, or I’m going to do this with my voice. That’s all the really fun stuff.
It’s almost like I always compare it to building a house. I’m checking the grounds to make sure I’m not going to have any flooding. I’m building this foundation, and I’m making sure I’m within the property lines. And then once all that stuff is done, which you usually hire out because it’s no fun, I get to pick out the furniture and the wallpaper, and I want an 80-inch television. And that’s all the choices that go on top of the character, which is my favorite part of the whole job.
When you’re looking for the types of roles and making strategic choices, is there a certain piece of this project that you were like, that’s going to really challenge me?
Paul Walter Hauser: Oh God. I knew it was going to be so challenging because some stuff I do because it’s easy. I don’t show up to Cobra Kai and go, ‘oh, how do I do this?’ It’s very fun and instinctual as much of comedy is for me. But this was a lot, and I knew it would be a challenge, and I really wanted to put myself through some sort of creative, emotional endurance course. So that was exciting for me. Daunting but exciting. And if you let the excitement take over, you forget how daunting it is. So that was kind of my approach to choosing that.
And in the future, I’d love to do more challenging things. I would love to do what Michael Fassbender did in Steve McQueen’s Hunger and get gaunt and go through a challenge of a physical transformation. I would love to play famous figures that are well known, like Theodore Roosevelt or Chris Farley or a fill-in-the-blank, and try to honor that and be as committed as possible because those are the things that last.
I mean, there are less showy things that last too. I watch While You Were Sleeping once a year. I adore Sandra Bullock. But as an actor, what really seems to last is when audiences watch a man or a woman enter that space and really control it well.
Right. I’ve always said that growth happens outside your comfort zone.
Paul Walter Hauser: Oh. That’s so true.
So for this role, what do you feel like you took away from it?
Paul Walter Hauser: My takeaway, well, I got sober in the middle of the shoot. So that was the greatest takeaway ever because I’m way happier and healthier and et cetera. I think that’s the biggest thing for me to take away.
But the other thing to take away is that I need to have a little more confidence because I’m sometimes self-deprecating to a fault. And it’s almost like an old habit of something painful. And that habit is trying to live in the new.
I remember when Taron pulled me aside at a bar in New Orleans when we were shooting, and he said, “This is our set. We run this show. There’s something you don’t like or something that needs to be changed or whatever. I know we have directors and Dennis [Lehane], but we run this set.”
And just that, him treating me as an equal because I didn’t see it that way and trying to empower me creatively and emotionally… I take that away. I feel like in every job I’ve done since I’ve carried that strength that he allowed me to have. I needed somebody else to say it because I wasn’t going to feel that on my own.
You spoke a bit last night about how you were concerned for the next generation. That they’re desensitized to so much that they see on TV. And so many of these serial killer shows, and television in general, are desensitizing.
With Black Bird, what do you hope that younger viewers take away from this compared to some of the other more gruesome series and films in this space?
Paul Walter Hauser: Yeah, there’s no story here worth telling without that relationship between Jimmy and Larry. So that is a very strategic relationship with an agenda. It’s about playing cleanup and trying to save something at the last minute. So much of life is choosing to either work on something early, so you don’t have to deal with it later, or having to deal with it later. And then, it gets messy, and most often, you not even being able to deal with it.
So, I would say to young people watching the show is to go be nice to people who are picked on. Go be nice to people who are uninteresting to you. Go out of your way to be kind to them because you don’t know what effect that will have on their eternity and the lives of those they encounter and touch.
I don’t want to get too preachy. But, there’s something so deeply sad that in order to connect with another person, we’re looking for them to read the same books as us, be the same religion as us, and live in the same zip code. It’s all very surface, shallow, unfair, stupid, and obtuse in thinking. And if Larry had some people in his life early on who may have taken a vested interest or really tried to help them, we may not have had to make this show.
The power of kindness, especially for young people with bullying… I don’t know how you kind of get through to young people dealing with it. Because they don’t listen to their peers about how it will get better. Life will be better, but it’s going to be a minute.
Paul Walter Hauser: I think some messages just need to be told by the right people. And I think a lot of leaders, and I’ll only speak for our country because I don’t know the other continents and places, but I will say in America, it feels like our leaders are failing very loudly in public. And because of that, who will people listen to if their ministers are cheating on their wives, their politicians are taking bribes, and celebrities are, for the most part, pretty self-seeking? It starts to dwindle.
And hopefully, that empowers young people to want to be the change they want to see in the world. I think that’s a cool calling for all humanity. But yeah, we need some more role models who aren’t in it for some agenda.
That’s the thing, too. God only knows who Jared Fogle really is. He definitely started out seeming like he was just this guy that was like, ‘Hey, if you eat some sandwiches and walk all the time, you might lose some weight.’
And it seems so harmless and normal. But God only knows what the spotlight and money did to him. Or what it then revealed, which may have already been true. And I think peoples’ spirits are so corruptible, from the trivial to the monumental, from a sandwich salesman to a politician.
That’s a great example.
Paul Walter Hauser: It’s like, right. If you think it’s easy for Jared Fogle to be corrupted as a Subway spokesperson, how easy is it for a politician in Washington to be corrupted at that level? What’s being promised to them? I bet it’s more than what Jared Fogle got.
And it’s unfortunate. I don’t know how I went down that said rabbit hole, but I know I stand by everything that I said.
It’s all very valid in the impressions that are left on young people.
Regarding the impact you were left with each day during filming, how did you divorce yourself from the role after you wrapped shooting? What do you geek out on that helps make you happy after a day of intense filming?
Paul Walter Hauser: Yeah, I would say when I need to laugh, I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I watch I Think You Should Leave, which is my favorite television show from Tim Robinson and the folks at Netflix.
I make playlists all the time. I love making a nineties playlist, and it’s full of Silverchair and Sister Hazel and all these bands. There’s something we all love about that kind of nostalgia, the coziness, and nostalgia. So I like to watch movies from my childhood, make playlists, and cook. I’m a big cook.
What’s your favorite thing to make?
Paul Walter Hauser: My favorite thing to make is probably my caponata. It’s an Italian eggplant dish, and I also make a really good meatloaf. It’s so satisfying to make something, get better at it, and then share it with people, the instant gratification of consuming it. It’s a pretty big deal.
You’ve spent a lot of time filming in Atlanta over the last few years. What are your favorite Atlanta spots to visit when you’re in town?
Paul Walter Hauser: I have to go to Ponce City Market. There are a lot of good places there. But what I would really point to would be Marcel and The Optimist.
There’s so much good food in Atlanta. I just came from Chicago and Boston, which Boston, I guess has some Italian food. Chicago has pizza. But Atlanta’s got everything. It’s a little bit more like LA and New York in that sense.
Oh, I love, love the Midtown Art Cinema. That’s where I went on my first date with my wife. We saw John Farrow’s Lion King movie. And I saw Midsommar there with Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, and John Ham when we were shooting Richard Jewell. I have so many movie-watching memories at that theater.
All of the theaters nowadays are the upgraded new experiences and talking about nostalgia, I mean that is-
Paul Walter Hauser: Keep it real.
Yeah. I like that.
Paul Walter Hauser: And they also play smaller independent films, which become very hard in the face of all the Blockbuster stuff.
Be sure to check out Black Bird, streaming now in its entirety on Apple TV+.