Last fall, Diedrich Bader had the unique challenge of shooting three television shows at the same time: HBO’s “Veep,” which is currently airing its final season, and FX’s “Better Things” and ABC’s “American Housewife,” both in their third seasons. Aside from working with a trio of different casts and crews, Bader had to balance the inner lives of his distinct characters and get the scripts down to boot.
Here, he explains his process and how he kept it all together while working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Pamela Adlon, and Katy Mixon.
How do you keep yourself from burning out?
It was kind of bonkers at times. I shot “American Housewife” during the day and then shot “Better Things” through the night and went back to “American Housewife” and continued to shoot.
There would be days where I had to memorize lines for all three characters. It was a really fascinating process.
I was trained to be a theater actor at [University of] North Carolina School of the Arts, and you had to balance out all of these different characters at the same time. I didn’t know it would come in handy in such a real way.
They’re all such different guys: Bill [on “Veep”] is a shark, Rich [on “Better Things”] is a sweet but sad man, and Greg [of “American Housewife”] is a professor geek who loves his wife. I am very lucky to be working for and with and supporting three incredible actresses.
How important is knowing your scene partner?
That’s a big deal, too.
And also [knowing] very different styles. “Veep” has a very sharp and clipped and just-the-facts kind of delivery; “Better Things” has a languorous pace to it, it’s very much the rhythm of life; and “American Housewife” has a farcical structure, it’s a little bit of a heightened reality—you talk a lot faster but you dig into the jokes a little harder, too.
You’re supposed to perform one role at night and rehearse another one during the day and make these transitions and take them on and off like a coat. Finally, I was able to use my training.
I haven’t had a publicity run or any time when I talked about myself since the “Beverly Hillbillies,” and I thought this was an opportunity to talk about something that was cool and a great opportunity to work on all three shows literally at the same time.
Find it in the script and go over the entirety of the lines over and over again. What I find really helpful, and this drives everybody crazy, is I read the entirety of the script every day three or four times, even scenes I’m not in, so I get the tone of everything.
Rather than thinking about my bits, it’s how do I serve the scene, serve the story, serve the actors that I’m with? That’s helped me a lot, and it’s reduced my nerves a lot. That was a big problem: anxiety.
In our life, we continue to move forward. There are reflective moments, but we’re discovering the words as we go along.
How do you typically prepare for an audition?
Auditions are tough.
You have to bring what you have and just be entirely present within the room. Be open to change based on what they say and not how they react.
I was always waiting in a comedy for people to laugh, and if they didn’t, I’d get incredibly nervous. It’s possible [that] in that room they’re not laughers.
You can’t anticipate anything. Just read the script and try to think how it fits within the larger context.
The most anxious I would get was at network tests. They were the worst auditions.
Now they changed them [to] where you’re kind of pre-taping. It used to be you wait, you sign a contract, you stare at the other actor, they bring you in and it’s a darkened room where they’re all staring at you, and you basically have one shot at it.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on any audition, especially with material you got maybe two days before. They’ve changed that, in my experience in the last five years.
They tend to just tape you beforehand, which is a much more civil way to do it. I would say that what you need to do is run it and read it.
People aren’t made up of mannerisms; they’re made up of thoughts and feelings and memory. All you need to do is concentrate on the script itself.
I’ve played a lot of characters, and the ones I’m really frustrated about were the ones I decided I’d do a character before I worked on the script. The more you work on the script, the more the character comes from part of you and you realize you’re there and you start thinking like the person.
But you have to go over it over and over and over again.
Watch your heroes and focus on what they do specifically, technically. It is a fascinating process to rewatch things that impressed you and see what the actor actually did and how subtle the work can be.
I was watching something last night, it’s a truly terrible movie, and the actor clearly wasn’t thinking anything and staring blankly off into space. I realized you really do have to be thinking something.
If you’re not searching for your line, you can really listen, and everything comes from there. I think that’s why Pam [Adlon] used me for so many reaction shots, because I’m really listening.
That’s the beauty of working with such great actresses: You can listen, and everything that they say helps you be more present. If you ever feel like you’re nervous and don’t know what’s happening, breathe and listen to the actor across from you and you’ll snap back into it.
Want to break into TV like Bader? Read more from the Backstage 5 here!