How Barry Transformed a Young Actress Into a Feral, Unstoppable Terminator

Photo: Aaron Epstein/HBO

The fifth episode of Barry’s second season came out of nowhere, like a frenzied grade-schooler thirsty for a taste of blood. To set the scene, if you didn’t watch when it first aired in late April: Hapless hit man Barry (Bill Hader) is tasked by a cuckolded cop with murdering the guy schtupping his wife, which doesn’t sit all that well with Barry’s newly adopted pacifist leanings. As an alternative, he goes to the stud’s house with the intention of scaring him off, but, to put it mildly, things do not go as planned.

From that premise, “ronnie/lily” morphs into something self-contained, violently surreal, and wholly unique. After failing to convince Ronnie (Daniel Bernhardt) to skip town, Barry engages the guy — who, to Barry’s great misfortune, turns out to be a world-class tae kwon do master — in brute hand-to-hand combat that fills most of the episode. Until, that is, the story abruptly shifts focus to pit Barry against Ronnie’s kid daughter, Lily (Jessie Giacomazzi), a borderline-feral cherub with a Terminator’s staunch refusal to die.

“We’d been talking about doing an entire episode where a hit goes wrong.” Barry showrunner Alec Berg said. “We had this idea that Barry and the guy he’s trying to kill would be on opposite sides of a wall, and the whole episode would just be them talking, and then Barry kills the guy. We never quite found a place for that, but we always wanted to do something like that — one episode that felt like its own thing, done in real time.”

Inspired by Moonlighting’s legendary “Atomic Shakespeare” episode, in which the cast enacted Taming of the Shrew in a boy’s imagination, Berg and co-showrunner/episode director Bill Hader decided to make that “something” happen for the second season of their HBO comedy. They toyed around with pacing, letting segments of Barry’s drag-out battle against Ronnie and Lily stretch past the length of a normal scene. “You know Space Mountain at Disneyland?” Berg said. “There’s a cool thing that happens at the end of that ride, where there are, like, seven right turns in a row and then a sudden left turn. It always works, to get people into a certain rhythm and then throw them off of it.”

The episode’s standout MVP is Giacomazzi, whose shocking turn as Lily lifts the footage into a rarefied register of the chillingly uncanny. Without any dialogue to humanize her, she delivers a performance that straddles the line of human and beast. “They told me that she was like a wild mongoose, like a weird crazy animal,” Giacomazzi told Vulture over the phone, between two of the many auditions that she’s lined up since her big episode aired. “I imagined my own father dying, and I’d get really upset. I could turn into an animal, attacking everything in sight, let out my inner monster a little.”

She breaks through the limits of realism as the episode lurches into its second act, which sees Lily defying gravity in her all-out assault on Barry. “I was on a wire connected to a harness,” said Giacomazzi, who’s also done stunts on Westworld. “People would pull the wire to make me rise up or float to the side or things like that. They’d yank it, and I’d get launched right at Bill Hader, try to stab him in the air. It was definitely fun!”

In the episode’s most unsettling moment, Lily scurries up a tree with the dexterity of a demonically possessed squirrel and perches on top of a garage, leaving Barry and his accomplice Fuchs (Stephen Root) dumbfounded. Giacomazzi explained how she was able to go all girl-from–The Ring on ’em: “We had a big green tree that they could use CGI to make it look like a normal tree. I was in a harness attached to a crane, and they put these rock-climbing handles on it, so I could climb up with no trouble. With the harness still on, they’d lift me right over to the top of the roof and put me down really gently.”

After regrouping on the roof, Lily sneaks up on Barry and Fuchs as they hide in their getaway vehicle. She quietly slips into the back seat, then waits for the perfect moment to strike in the most horrifying fashion: Lily leaps forward and bites into Fuchs’s cheek, her eyes vacant as she sinks her incisors into the grown man’s flesh. Of course, the reality of the scene was much less bloody. “They put prosthetics on his face, the same skin color, and it popped out a little so I’d know where to bite down on,” Giacomazzi said. “I would crawl in through the window, hide in the car, and then pop out just right to hold on to that spot, and not his actual face.”

Giacomazzi talks nonchalantly about her time pretending to attempt homicide; she mostly remembers joking around with Hader, and everyone taking extra-special care to be sure she was okay after each stunt. To Giacomazzi, making one of the year’s best TV episodes was little more than structured, hyperviolent playtime.

“They told me the scream should sound like a dinosaur, pterodactyl if I could do that,” she said, with the matter-of-factness of a seasoned pro. “I did it a few times. Then I got used to it.”

Barry Transformed a Young Actress Into a Feral Terminator