Henry Winkler On Saying Goodbye To ‘Barry’ And Listening To His Tummy

Yes, Barry is one of your (and our, obviously) favorite shows, but it’s also a job and passion project for a lot of people seen and unseen. Being on a set, the sheer amount of people kinda takes your breath away, and they’re all fitting together in a kind of dance working toward one goal. It’s pretty cool.

Anyway, the end of a show is the end of the production and all the feelings tied up in that in addition to trying to land the big damn plane of a story in a way that feels satisfying. And since nobody is saying shit about the actual finale of Barry before it airs (and would you really want them to?) we decided to spend our allotted press day time with Henry Winkler talking about the behind-the-scenes side of things, which includes goofing off with Bill Hader, fond farewells from people who might ghost him, his luxurious beard and long hair combo, and his thoughts on questions of legacy and instinct when it comes to what’s next.

Along the way, there’s some great advice about trusting your gut, a metaphor about being a bug, and revelations about Stephen Root’s kick-ass CD collection that include Henry Winkler planting an F-bomb with the precision of a master surgeon slicing a cyst off the nutsack of a hummingbird. Think of it as a cleanse before Bill Hader emotionally wrecks us all with the way the show ends.

Thoughts as you kind of sit here now, having filmed everything, it’s all wrapped up on that side of things. Where’s your head as far as this entire experience?

I’ll tell you, the producer part of me, the adult part of me (is like), where was it going to go? It had to end. We were contracted for 12 episodes a year. We only did eight. Because Bill and Alec did not want to extenuate any story beyond its capability. We were contracted for five seasons. It was time.

I am so sad not to be able to play this guy, not to be able to be with those people, not to be able to be on that sound stage with an extraordinary crew. Mary was one of our dolly grips, and she would push the dolly and in shots. And she had a little view, a little screen so she could see where exactly the camera was going. When I did a good scene, when I did a good job on my closeup, she tapped the screen. That’s who they were.

That is such a sweet thing. How important is it to you when you’re on a set that it’s not just a job that it also feels like that kind of family thing, or is that overstated?

Well, when you’re doing it, the family is very important. What I have learned after all these years was, you do it, you do it, you do it for all the years, and then you think, we’re going to go to dinner! And they don’t call you back. (Laughs)

(Laughs) Isn’t that every job, though? It’s always like, “no, we’re going to stay in touch. We’re going to be best friends. I’m not just saying that.” And then you never hear from them again.

It’s true! And all those words came out of everybody’s mouth. Everything you just said.

(Laughs) So we’ll see. We’ll have to check back at some point to see if people hold up to it.

I’m telling you, like, D’arcy (Carden) is going to stay and be friends forever. Bill (Hader), Alec (Berg), Sarah (Goldberg), Stephen Root, we’ll be friends forever. I really believe that. Robert Wisdom, that scene I did last year in the garage, I could never have gotten to that place without that man. And that’s just the truth. That’s not even hyperbole.

The command he has in those scenes and he makes people bend to his will. I love the cycles of emotion on the show, but that character is so not emotional when he talks. And yet it’s just so firm.

I’m telling you, Jason, when he was nose to nose with me when we were in that room by ourselves, there was not a crew member. When he did that, I felt my hair blow in the wind.

Some actors care, some don’t. Some say they don’t, but they do. Do you pay a lot of attention to your quote “legacy?” And if so, what has this show meant to that? Because it’s a different kind of role. It’s a role a lot of people haven’t seen you in or don’t think of you in. How much has that meant?

When we did the first reading ever, I slammed the table and I yelled at Sarah and I said, “Bullshit,” because of what she had done and it wasn’t right, and I was being the acting coach. And it came back to me later that the executives from HBO said, we did not know that was in Henry. So that’s a compliment.


I never have thought about my legacy except in terms of my children and my grandchildren. That they are proud of me. (Pauses) Now, I’m thinking about what you just said. So I know that I have the affection of a lot of fans. I feel it. I was just in Orlando at a comic-con and the reaction is gigantic. It just is. There are men and women who come up to me, they are in motorcycle leathers. They are tattooed, they are muscle-bound and they are crying. Because they never thought that we’d ever meet. But for the most part, I think my legacy is important for my children and my grandchildren.

That’s a beautiful sentiment. I think that’s the most natural thing that you can do. Obviously, those people, as you said, the fan base is obviously going to rally behind you. So many people have responded so well to this character. Does this make you want to go in one direction or the other with future projects?

You know what, I never know. My tummy knows. When I hear or see or read something, when I meet a person, I know, “yes, I can do that, I like that.” That’s how I know: my tummy. I always say to young people, your mind, no matter how educated you are, only knows a little. Your instinct knows everything.

So much happened at the end of last season, such an amazing, amazing moment at the end (when Gene traps Barry). I’m curious, is there still a part of your character that feels guilty or bad for Barry? I know in episode 7 you say the sympathetic soul thing, does he mean that or is that just positioning?

That’s positioning. That is to stay alive.

So there’s no affection at all.

Barry killed the woman I loved and it was hard for me to love anybody, including my own personal son. I saw him as a son and it was like my son betrayed me.

There’s no coming back from that. So, Gene comes back with such a determination to stop the movie about Barry and it’s such a 180 from where your character was before the jump. But then there’s that Daniel Day-Lewis thing that pulls him back in. So do you allow yourself to be disappointed in the character for not being able to stick to his guns?

Oh, no, no. You have to love your character. He is who he is, and you’re playing him within an inch of his life. So this is my thought: I went out the door I came in. My metaphor is that Gene is a bug that skirts across the surface of a pond. Now I’m in a well and I come up to the sky and I land on the rock surrounding the well. I’ve got wings. I’m basking in the sun. My wing breaks. I fall back into the well and I don’t know whether I am drowned or not.

How was it to have a beard and long hair? Was that freeing? Did you enjoy that look?

I enjoyed the look because they stopped me from shooting for four or five weeks. They shot everybody before me so I could grow the beard. And I would send a picture every two weeks to Aida Rogers, our fearless leader, and she would say, “Keep going, keep going. Okay, it’s good.” And then they even on top of that, pasted some beard. Corey, my makeup man pasted more beard and then they put extensions in my hair. Now we’re finished shooting and Dummkopf here forgot about re-shoots. So I shave, I get a haircut. Now we’re re-shooting that part of it. I go out to the middle of the valley, a guy fits my face with Saran wrap. A beard is built. I come back with extensions. It takes an hour now for my hair, an hour for my beard before I ever get to the set to shoot.

Stephen Root was telling me he got an hour for the fake tattoos all over him. You should have gone with that look.

Oh my God, didn’t he look great?

Fantastic. We (Jewish people) can go with the fake tattoos, I think. Right? I think that’s safe. Right?

That is safe. Stephen, he is an adorable human being. He’s gentle, thoughtful, his wife is gregarious. And you know what, here’s a fun fact. I don’t know how many CDs Stephen Root has, but they fill a wall from the ceiling to the floor, from one end of the room to the other, and they are alpha-fucking-betical.

That’s lovely. I just went through my DVDs and did that with genre as well. And so I’m very proud of myself for that. It takes a little time, but it’s worth it.

How long did it take you?

It was like a weekend, basically.


Last question, so much is written and said about the heaviness of the show and the drama of it, but what’s your favorite just on set moment? What’s the laugh-out-loud, funniest moment you went through?

I’ll tell you exactly. We’re doing a scene. Bill is in the scene and all of a sudden, it’s his turn for the closeup and he does something where he pulls a plug and he goes down the drain out of camera shot. And it’s a bit. And I must have asked him to do it a thousand times. Bill is instantly funny. He’s just a funny person. But when he did that, and he makes the sound, and then he just… it struck me as so funny. I didn’t know what to do.

The final episode of ‘Barry’ airs Sunday on HBO.