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Sarah Goldberg On Why Sally Feels ‘Safe And Miserable’ On ‘Barry’

For everything Barry has said about the self-delusion of redemptive paths, the screwball soul of organized crime, and the messed up ways we seek and express love, it’s the show’s darkly comedic take on the Hollywood shuffle that thrills me most. And no character has embodied that dysfunctional dance better than Sarah Goldberg’s Sally Reed, a character that has been on a roller coaster from attention-seeking student to artsy “It” talent, to showrunner, pariah, teacher, and scheming acting coach. Through it all, Sally has also existed in the show’s central relationship, forming a powerfully mismatched duo with Bill Hader‘s Barry.

As we saw at the end of last week’s episode, though, something about that pairing still works for Sally, leading her to step, arm in arm with Barry into a whole new life of repression, routine, and the occasional dance with the bottle, violence, and the prospect of getting found out. So, why did Sally go with Barry and, perhaps more importantly, why has she stayed? Uproxx spoke with Goldberg (who Hader has praised for her ownership of the character) about those decisions, whether she judges her character, and what it feels like to walk away from the show.

What was your reaction when you found out that the show was going to come to an end after this season?

It was a mixed bag. I was obviously sad. And there are so many people I’m going to miss working with. But at the same time, I felt like the story was ready and the pitch of where they wanted to go with the story was so excellent and it felt like the right thing to do for the story. So there was an acceptance as well that, yeah, it’s time.

Sometimes actors will say they don’t want to judge their character, sometimes it’s just human nature to judge. How has your relationship with the character changed from the start of the show to where we are at this point?

I mean, I’ve always cared a great deal about Sally, and she gets a lot of criticism, but I’ve always felt like defending her. I’ve always thought you don’t have to like her, you just have to know her. And I felt in the beginning that she had all these qualities of vulnerable women I’ve met in Los Angeles. And she had ambition and tenacity and all these things, but maybe in too many scoops. And she would always set out with these great intentions, but push things too far, and tilt things too far until her Achilles heel I think was going too far in every direction.

And I’ve always had huge empathy for her. I’ve never really judged her. I mean, I think she makes bad choices, so I guess that’s judging her. But I’ve never really come at it from that angle. You try to see everything from their point of view and understand why someone’s making the decision that they’re making in that moment. And with all these characters that are morally dubious and often making the selfish choice or the wrong choice, it would always be about getting underneath why, what’s motivating that choice? Why are they behaving that way? And that was the fun, and the agility in the writing and with all these characters of figuring out what makes people tick. And so often they’re given the opportunity to better themselves and they’ve got a better path to take and they don’t take it. So that leads to endless fun and drama.

I know you’ve been involved in shaping the character too. Can you talk a little bit about just the decision that she makes as we go from episode four to episode five where she goes along with Barry and he and Sally create this whole other life? Is that something where you need to dig in a little to understand her reasoning for making that decision?

I think on first read, I couldn’t see the building blocks there, so we had to build her a clearer path. Which we tried to set up in episode two when she goes to see Barry in prison and the line she says, “I feel safe with you.” And I think her reasoning behind saying that is that Barry was the only person present when she was the most animal version of herself. And she’s committed this crime and has this overwhelming guilt and fear around what she did. And the only person who was there was him. And so there’s a relief in being with the person who bore witness and is accepting of her anyway and loves her anyway. And their love story has never been a love story, it’s always been a tragedy.

And I think in that moment, the closest they’ve ever been when they connect is in those moments right after she’s killed this guy. And I think that where we see her in episode two when she sees Barry and she says she feels safe with him, it’s rooted in the fact that they connected, their pact was forged in blood.

And by the time we get to the end of episode four, I feel like in episodes three and four, she’s suffered her final Hollywood humiliations. Like the failure as a teacher and then to be on set and have that experience where she pours her heart into a performance and thinks for one brief moment maybe she’s saved her career, maybe she’s just given the speech of her life and this director’s going to cast her in this movie and everything’s going to be okay… And to be squashed and told actually somebody prettier needs to say it like that. I think she’s really done. And so the news when Barry escapes, you’d think she’d be terrified, but I think she sees her exit strategy and just thinks, let’s get out of here. It’s not a healthy train of thought, speaking of judging, it’s not a healthy choice.

But like you’re saying though, it’s easy to have empathy because it feels like not just a commentary on the character, but also on the world. I mean, the world moves fast, especially in any industry that’s as competitive as Hollywood. I think it’s obvious that she’s lacking people in her life that can be an alternative to make her feel safe, even her family.

I know. She can leave home and search for some kind of solace or comfort, protection, security, anything, and is met with the opposite. And I like that we had that first episode going back to her home and meeting her parents because I think it also explains why Sally is the way she is. And she’s so verbose, almost to the point of belligerence at times. But once you meet her parents and realize nobody’s listening to her, nobody’s taking care of her, you can see where the origins of that person began.

So as we end episode five, Barry’s off to LA, Sally is still with him after, I guess it was eight years, and we get a sense of what we’re talking about here of why she went with him. But why has she stayed with him? And what is her mindset like at this point?

I think at that point she’s trapped in a lot of ways. And I think she’s developed a serious drinking problem. Understandably, I think. And she’s not well by the time we see her in the latest episode. And I think the one thing she has going is that she’s decided, for whatever reason, she’s going to give a performance as Emily. So in her workspace, when she’s got her wig and her nails and her accent, it’s like she’s still getting to act in a way. And I think there’s some tiny piece of solace in that.

But I think the rest of it, she’s really trapped. I think she’s afraid to go back to her old life because she doesn’t know what would happen. Would she be punished for what she did? And she doesn’t know how to face the crime that she committed, even though arguably it was self-defense. And so I think she feels trapped. I think that the feeling safe with Barry holds, it’s just she also feels miserable, safe and miserable. So she stays. She stays.

The scene with her and her co-worker in the bathroom, is that an extension of the performance that she’s doing, or is that just because she needs to feel danger and control something?

I think that there’s something in her in that scene where she’s testing how far she might go. I think that there’s a lot of rage boiled up in her, understandably after an abusive marriage. Now she’s in an abusive relationship again in a different kind of way. All the humiliation she experienced in Los Angeles and the trauma of the murder. I think she’s playing with fire in that scene where she doesn’t know how far she might go. And there’s a little aspect of her that wants revenge and vengeance for everything that she’s been through. And I think she’s punishing him and she’s testing herself.

But ultimately I think that her morality wins in that scenario and she’s never going to take it any further than that. Then she drops the accent, the wig comes off, she drops the veneer. And I think that’s a genuine moment where, yeah, I think she’s felt so much fear, I think that there is a desire to exercise some power in that dynamic and say enough is enough. And the way he treats her at work and she’s not going to have that kind of harassment again in her life.

The final season of ‘Barry’ continues on HBO Sundays at 10PM ET. Goldberg also co-created and can be seen on ‘SisterS,’ which debuts May 17 on IFC.