Henry Winkler is mad at me. Mad is probably the wrong word. Henry Winkler is a little bummed out because of me. Our Zoom chat was scheduled for the afternoon, East Coast time, and I did not prepare well with my setup. There was a massive glare behind me from the sun hitting a window and bouncing off things and it was all very distracting. I elected to keep my camera off to simplify things. Henry Winkler was sad about this. He felt “cheated,” to use his own words. I have disappointed Henry Winkler. You cannot imagine how upsetting this is. This is not how to start an interview.
Luckily, we recovered, in large part because Henry Winkler is the sweetest man. We chatted about the upcoming third season of Barry. We talked about the journey his character, Barry’s self-obsessed acting coach Gene Cousineau, goes on in the second season. We talked about the fish pictures he posts on Twitter every summer from vacation. It was a wonderful little chat. At one point, I kind of forgot I was interviewing him. Point being: We bounced back from the camera thing. This was a relief. Imagine trying to go to sleep every night for the rest of your life knowing you made Henry Winkler sad. It would be devastating. No thank you.
Below, you can find our discussion. It was a fun one.
I guess my first question for you is… do you think Gene is a good acting coach?
I think he wants to be. I think he cares more about “pay me in cash on time” than anything else. But once in a while, he sees a glimmer, and he knows that maybe Sally is really good. And I think that Bill, or Barry, all of a sudden gives him purpose. Barry actually looks up to him. Barry actually needs something that I can’t put my… I don’t know if that answers your question, but those are the thoughts that come to my mind.
That was wonderful.
The other question I had about Gene, you don’t have to name any names if you don’t want to, obviously, but did you pull motivation for this character from anyone or anything specifically?
You know, he was really based on a teacher here in LA that (Barry co-creator) Alec Berg’s wife took classes from. And I think the legend goes that he actually wore the safari jacket, because I looked him up before I went in for an audition and I wore the safari jacket and a tie loosened at the neck. And I think the legend was that all these young people who are just starting to take classes, they work really hard for their money and they buy food, they have enough for rent, some for gas in LA, and acting class. And this guy I think tried to make them buy his original paintings. That says everything you need to know.
There’s a great line in season two where Gene’s talking with, I think it’s with his son, and the theater that he’s in is described as a shrine to him, with all the posters for the smaller roles he’s played in these little movies that aren’t super prestigious. Where do you think Gene expected he would be at this point in his career?
Okay. There are two things. One. I wish you could see those posters up close, because it is Hamlet, written by Gene Cousineau, produced by Gene Cousineau, directed by Gene Cousineau, and Gene Cousineau as Hamlet.
And they had them all made. It was just amazing. They had them all printed up. I love them. I love them a lot. Gene Cousineau thought he would be at the top of the heap. He thought he just is so good at it all that he would just be above the title in everything.
Box office success, Academy Awards, the whole shebang?
Oh my God. Yes. An Academy Award with no slapping.
Not even a little bit?
Maybe he would’ve slapped a studio head on the back.
How do you think Gene would react if one of his students became a legitimate A-list star? Would he be proud of them, or would he be resentful, or would he just use it to pump himself up and brag that he made this person?
Oh, without a doubt, all three. He would go from one emotion to the next. He would take credit. He would use it in every ad. “I taught this person to get where they are now,” and he would hate them.
Just with all his heart?
Every inch of it.
Well, first of all, that’s an interesting question. In the beginning of the second season, I asked Alec Berg and Bill Hader if I could meet with them. And I said, “I am very grateful for this job. I am very grateful for this brilliant character that you have written. But I don’t recognize this character we created in season one.” And they said, “I hear you, but this is where we’re going. And we’ll make accommodations for what you just said, but this is where we’re going.” Season three, I did not have that conversation. I just bought the ticket for the train, had it punched, took my seat, and strapped in.
It was some real capital-A acting, when you get to do that thing where you get to be very serious and show the real pain, I just thought that was such a cool twist on the character.
Thank you. First of all, thank you. And second of all, the honest truth is that we have great leaders, and those guys, Alec and Bill, are so thoughtful. And then in structure comes the freedom. So no matter what any actor says, they need to know where they’re going to end up, and how they get there is the jigsaw puzzle of acting. And I’m amazed by it. I read the scene, I think on preparing the scene at home, and when I get on the set it becomes a completely different animal because their vision is over here and they guide me to get there.
It’s got to feel good to be on a set where you feel comfortable doing that.
Yes. I totally trusted them. And here’s the other thing, which is amazing. They literally, from day one, the three of them, being Aida Rodgers, who is our incredible executive producer. They had a vision that there was a no-asshole policy. That everybody they hired, no matter what job was being done, it was going to be a good person, a caring person. And they kept their word. We have a female dolly grip, Mary, who’s married to one of the gaffers. And Mary sits there, pushes the dolly, pulls it back, moves it like a ballet. Watches. And she has her own screen so she can watch what’s happening so she knows when to move. And when you do the scene and it hits her, you literally see her tap the screen. Like, that’s it. We got it. I bet you we’re going to move on. And I cannot tell you how supportive and amazing that feeling is.
That’s such a wonderful answer. I had somewhere I was going to go for the next question, but now I just want to ask a million questions about that. They’re going to tell me to wrap up because we’re going to run out time before I get to anything.
I’ll go to any question you want.
Thank you, Henry Winkler. So… Gene Cousineau and Fuches are both Svengali-like mentor characters for Barry, and there’s almost a father-son sort of thing in the way they build him up. Last season, Barry and Fuches both lashed out at one point, with Fuches kind of burning Barry in a bunch of different ways and Barry showing up with his gun and lashing out in a physical way.
With Fuches telling Gene that Barry killed Janice, now it’s going to be your turn to get to lash out a little bit. So the two questions I have here are, one, how exciting is it for you to get to be the guy who gets to do the lashing out? And number two, in your own words, what can we expect from Gene in this new season?
First of all, it is amazing just to be a part of this. So that’s my gift in my life. And Gene is now deeply moved by his loss, deeply hurt by losing somebody he finally found where he can release love out of that barren emotional life of his. Deep hatred, because he now knows who killed the love of his life. And how do you negotiate that? How do you go on that journey? And everything starts with the writer, and we have a most amazing writing team at the top, and then all of the writers, Liz, and Duffy, and Justin, and all of the incredible writers, and then we have terrific directors. And they whisper in your ear and they say, “Oh, well, that’s interesting. Can you take it in this direction? Can you take something off that?” And your job is to say, “Oh yes I can.” And attempt to get to where they want to go.
They’re giving me the update that I have two minutes. I will kick myself forever if I don’t ask you two questions.
I have followed you on Twitter for years now. I consider you to be one of my favorite people on that website. You’re a lovely man, and you’re better at Twitter than most people I know. It seems like almost every summer you go on a fishing trip and you post these pictures of yourself with the fish.
It is one of my favorite things that happens on Twitter, because, you know Twitter, it’s like a stream of “everyone’s miserable, everyone’s angry, everyone’s upset”… and then blammo, there’s Henry Winkler holding a fish. It makes me so happy.
Happiness !! pic.twitter.com/DVBJ1dlC0S
— Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) June 18, 2021
The first question. Do you have a fishing trip planned for this summer?
Oh, I do. I live for them.
That’s fantastic. The second question is actually just a dumb idea that I’m going to pitch to you, and you can do whatever you want with it. Have you ever considered hosting a fishing show where you and another guest go out on the boat together, and it’s like a podcast, but it’s just a super-relaxing half-hour of you and another celebrity telling Hollywood stories while you’re fishing?
Well, let me tell you, I love that idea. I have never done that, but I love that.
My gift to you. If you ever want to do it, I would watch the hell out of that show.
Thank you so much, really.
Oh no, thank you, Henry. This was wonderful. I appreciate your time and I can’t wait for the new season.
It was a pleasure to chat with you.
‘Barry’ returns for season three on Sunday, April 24th.