Bill Hader: No Longer a 'Nutless Monkey'

Peter Travers sits down with Bill Hader Miramax Films
Bill Hader as Bobby, Kristen Wiig as Paulette in the movie "Adventureland".

"'A nutless monkey can do your job.' That's what people on the street come up to me and say. Of course, I would be with my in-laws and they would start to cry. I would have to explain it's a line from a movie," mused Bill Hader in an interview for ABC News Now's "Popcorn With Peter Travers."

Hader's unfortunate monkey association comes from "Tropic Thunder," last summer's Ben Stiller action-comedy. Tom Cruise played Les Grossman -- a foul-mouthed dirty-dancing studio exec -- whose hapless assistant is none other than Hader. "Tom Cruise was great. He took all that stuff seriously. He was working with the choreographer and getting all his moves down. He was so cool, the nicest guy," said Hader.

VIDEO: The "SNL" actor on being a swinging park owner and working with Tom Cruise.Play

The first time Hader met Cruise was at the table read for the film. According to Hader, Cruise had no idea who he was until he mimicked Seth Rogen and exclaimed, "You do impersonations and you're on SNL!"

Hader is in his fourth season on "Saturday Night Live" and is co-starring in director Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" along with fellow "SNLer" Kristen Wiig. The film is set in Pittsburgh, in 1987, at an amusement park. The movie centers on a college student, played by Jesse Eisenberg ("The Squid and the Whale") who is forced to spend the summer at the Adventureland amusement park after his plans for a European vacation get scuttled by bad finances.

Hader and Wiig play the married couple who run the park -- "a repressed couple who probably swing," according to the director Greg Mottola. This is not Hader's first movie with Mottola, as they worked together on "Superbad" in which he starred opposite Seth Rogen.

He joked that like all "SNLers," he and Wiig acted like divas on the set and in fact, he threw his weight around before he was even an actor. "As a PA, I wouldn't get coffee. I was the only PA with an agent or a publicist."

Hader's strength is impersonations. He has famously imitated Daniel Day-Lewis' "There Will Be Blood" character, Daniel Plainview and the improbable catchphrase, "I drink your milkshake."

Hader's 'SNL' Upbringing

His uncanny impersonations are rooted in his Tulsa, Okla., family, all of whom, according to his wife, act out stories in different voices -- especially at Thanksgiving dinners. His knack for comedy caught the eye of Megan Mullally, who saw him perform in a sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles. She called Lorne Michaels, "SNL's" boss and guiding personality, who in turn flew Hader to New York for an audition. Hader at the time was an assistant editor on "Iron Chef."

The "SNL" audition was "horrifying and stressful. They tell you that no one laughs. It's terrifying. We were all petrified and no one laughed." Andy Samberg was at the same audition as Hader and both compared notes in the elevator. It was "trial by fire" for both. Hader won them over by impersonating Al Pacino, Tony Blair, Vincent Prince, James Mason and Peter Falk, in addition to staying in character as the clueless Italian celebrity interviewer Vinny Vedecci.

After "SNL," movies were an easy transition. Hader's first meaty role was in "You, Me and Dupree" followed by "Knocked Up." "Superbad" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" came soon after. What's next for Hader? "Chekov. I'll be one of the three sisters.

Adventureland is out in theaters on Friday, April 3.