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Henry Winkler Interview: TV Superstar Talks NBC's "Better Late Than Never" and New HBO Series "Barry"

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Image attributed to Henry Winkler

Henry Winkler

Henry Winkler is best known for his portrayal of Fonzie on the hit ABC sitcom Happy Days (1974-1984), also starring Ron Howard, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Donny Most and Tom Bosley. He also starred as Sy Mittleman on Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital, as Eddie R. Lawson on USA Network’s Royal Pains, and has made numerous other television and film appearances. In 2016, he starred in and produced the NBC series Better Late Than Never, which also features George Foreman, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and Jeff Dye. Winkler, along with co-author Lin Oliver, has written a series of books exploring the world of a fourth grader who struggles with dyslexia.

The versatile talent co-stars with Bill Hader in the upcoming dark comedy TV series Barry, which premieres on March 25, 2018, on HBO. The show centers on former marine Barry Berkman who works as a low-rent hitman in the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied in his life, he begrudgingly travels to Los Angeles to kill someone and ends up finding an accepting community in a group of eager hopefuls within the LA theater scene.

“Every character starts with who you are as a human being, and then you add on conditions. Wooing somebody is very true to life.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I have seen a few episodes of Barry, and it is hilarious!

Henry Winkler: Thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I doubt anyone has ever created a comedy series about a depressed hitman who wants to be an actor (laughs).

Henry Winkler: You know what? I think you’re right, and I have to say that I still am amazed that they have put these two completely singular shows together into one, and it works.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What interested you about the project?

Henry Winkler: The writing of Bill Hader. We were fans of Bill Hader way before I got to meet him in the room. But the writing was exceptional.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bill is making his directorial debut, so how would you rank his directing skills?

Henry Winkler: He’s always wanted to direct. I mean, he has had so many different jobs in Hollywood since he’s been here. He was an assistant editor. He was on Saturday Night Live. But as a director, he was directing, co-writing, co-producing and starring all at the same time, and you would never know it. There was never an ounce shown of any of the pressure he must have been feeling. He took it all in stride. It was wholly exceptional because I kept thinking, “I have been a producer. I have been a director. I have been an actor. But never at the same time.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How would you describe your character Gene Cousineau?

Henry Winkler: Well, let’s see. He is an acting teacher. I have had this teacher. I know this teacher. I have heard about this teacher, and I’ve researched this teacher. He is a teacher who could not be successful at his first job, so he took on a second job and created a school where these kids think they’re going to learn about the theater.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it similar to a real acting class?

Henry Winkler: Yes. It is like a real acting class, and Gene is like a conglomerate of real teachers who are pompous, filled with hubris, and their power comes from their domination.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of domination, during the very funny scene between Gene and Detective Moss, it appeared he was into a little sadomasochism (laughs).

Henry Winkler: Ah, yes (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this character similar to anything you’ve done before?

Henry Winkler: Well, you know what? That’s an interesting question. Every character starts with who you are as a human being, and then you add on conditions. Wooing somebody is very true to life. But how he does it and who he does it to, I don’t think that I have ever been in love with or dated a law enforcement officer (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Bill Hader tells the story about you going into character as Fonzie and sort of “parting the Red Sea” of fans because you couldn’t leave the Dallas airport for the huge amount of people there.

Henry Winkler: Yes. That is true. Bill Hader has used that story a few times. I didn’t realize it had such an impact on him when I told him. But that is true. There were 25,000 people between us, the four boys, and the limousine. I had no idea how we were going to get through that crowd. If they turned and became a mob, we would’ve been dead. So I just used the Fonz, and that was the image I decided to use.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bill Hader recently hosted Saturday Night Live. Have you ever hosted?

Henry Winkler: No. I only did one scene with Gilda Radner years and years ago down in New Orleans where Barbara Wawa interviewed me for the show. But I have never been the host.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever wanted to host SNL?

Henry Winkler: I never thought that I would be good at it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think you’d be a great one.

Henry Winkler: Thank you. Well, maybe now I would be, but certainly at that time, I don’t think I would’ve been great.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your reality show, Better Late Than Never, is hilarious and “wonderful” according to Marion Ross whom I recently interviewed.

Henry Winkler: Marion Ross is one of my favorite women of the 21st Century.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will Better Late Than Never be renewed for a third season?

Henry Winkler: I have no idea They don’t tell me anything. They play it very close to the vest.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You guys seem to have so much fun visiting exotic locales.

Henry Winkler: It’s like an amazing thing that here I have two exceptional jobs. They’re like gifts that fell out of the heaven. On Better Late Than Never, it’s very hard work, but it’s extraordinary. Then when you look back on it … I watch the episodes as they are on TV, and it’s amazing. I’m telling you, it’s amazing what we eat, what we learn, what we get to visit, who we meet, what we learn about each other. It’s exceptional.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a favorite adventure?

Henry Winkler: I don’t. Meeting the elephant in Thailand, Germany, meeting my roots and being the model of the art class in Barcelona are favorites.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was The Lords of Flatbush a springboard to Happy Days for you?

Henry Winkler: They were completely separate entities. One did not know about the other.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you just auditioned for the part of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli out of interest?

Henry Winkler: Yes, I auditioned for the Fonz.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What were you told about the character?

Henry Winkler: Nothing. I was told it was a new show on ABC, and I was sent the script. I went in, and I met Garry Marshall. I said, “Hello.” He said, “Hello.” Then I had six lines, and I used the six lines to make the guy reading with me sit down.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you want to get into the entertainment business, Henry?

Henry Winkler: Oh, that’s a good question. I didn’t have a choice. I have always wanted to be an actor since I was old enough to reason.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it true that if you didn’t succeed as an actor, your second choice would’ve been a career as a child psychologist?

Henry Winkler: I would have worked with children in some way so that they had a better sense of self at a younger age than I did because I believe that sense of self is the beginning or the end of living.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Hank Zipzer literary character is based on your own experiences with dyslexia, and the message of the books is that everyone has greatness in them. Is there a new book out now?

Henry Winkler: Yes, there is. It’s called Robot on the Loose. It came out in February, and the very last one will come out next September.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks for the time today, Henry. I appreciate the work you’ve done as an actor and as an author of children’s books.

Henry Winkler: Thank you. I am very excited about Barry, and I’m very happy that I got to chat with you.

© 2018 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

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