Beverly Hills, California – Henry Winkler is smart enough to know that working on HBO’s dark comedy “Barry” has never been a great opportunity for long-term job security.
Never mind that the “Happy Days” icon, 77, won her first Emmy Award as brilliant, dramatic acting teacher Gene Cosino and mentor to drama student Barry Berkman (star and executive producer Bill Hader).
Winkler’s fear that the forgetful gene would be defeated or killed by Barry’s secret double life as an assassin was very real.
“At the beginning of every season I had one question for Bill: am I dead?” Suddenly serious over lunch at his favorite Beverly Hills bistro, says Winkler. “So many people have died. Should I kill?’
With Hader announcing that season 4 of “Barry” will be the last (the series returns Sunday at 10 p.m. EST/PDT), the line is over for everyone, including Jen.
“I’m sorry the job is done,” says Winkler. “I love this character. It completely redefined my character. I have the same feeling for Barry that I had when ‘Happy Days’ ended. How am I going to do something as poignant as this?”
The final season of Barry on HBO:Watch the season 4 trailer starring Bill Hader
Winkler’s career exploded with Happy Days
So says Winkler, who will celebrate 50 years of his acting career on television in 2023 after first appearing on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973 as dinner party Rhoda (Valerie Harper).
Of course, Winkler turned into a groundbreaking global star a year later with his breakthrough role as the leather jacket-clad Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on ABC’s “Happy Days,” earning him 5,000 fan letters a week.
“My plan A was to become an actor. Suddenly I was in 126 countries. I lived Plan A to within an inch of her life,” says Winkler. “I had no plan B.”
“Happy Days” traversed 11 seasons and even rebounded after inspiring a term now popular in popular culture for a show in decline – “jumping the shark”. The phrase originated in a season 5 episode where the surfer Fonz, still in his leather jacket, jumped over a shark pool.
Winkler always embraced the phrase cheerfully, even if he disagreed that the “happy days” lost momentum at that point.
“There was a period in years eight and nine when some of the stories got a little crazy,” says Winkler. “But the Happy Days writers were exceptional.”
The Fonz was so indelible that Winkler struggled to find regular roles after “Happy Days” ended in 1984, executive producing hit shows like “MacGyver” and teasing roles like Coach Klein in 1998’s “The Waterboy” alongside Adam Sandler.
There’s a scene where I’m talking to A A child in a child’s voice says Winkler. She did it at least nine times in all sorts of different ways until she made Adam Sandler laugh. “
He played Sandler’s father in 2006’s Click, which was filmed shortly after Sandler’s real father died in 2003. “It was such an honor that he chose me,” says Winkler. On television, he excelled as clueless lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn in 32 episodes of Arrested Development.
However, when Winkler auditioned for the role of Cousineau in “Barry,” Winkler shocked HBO executives with a scene that showed a flash of black comic rage.
“That’s when I’m talking to my student, and suddenly she closes the table and says, ‘This is (expletive)’,” says Winkler. “They told me later that the HBO people didn’t know Henry had that in him.” I can go from zero to revolution in one minute.”
Winkler showed the range of emotions playing the self-righteous, often profound drama guru, including a deep love for LAPD detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsom), who is murdered by Barry in the season one finale. When Gene discovers the full scope of Barry’s wrongdoings, including killing Moose, that scope turns completely dark with rage towards the end of Season 3, and he coldly hands Barry over to the police. (He is now in prison.)
“When you thought it was dark,” warns Winkler. “You need a flashlight for what’s to come this season.”
Bill Hader Says “The Hardest Thing He Made Him Be Tough”
This side of winkler Hader was impressed.
“Henry is such a sweet guy. The hardest part is making him tough because Henry is not a tough guy. But he does it perfectly,” said Hader, who directed all eight episodes of the final season. “And Henry knows exactly how to play comedy.”
Winkler, who keeps his supporting cast Amy in the Beverly Hills home office he shares with Stacy, his wife of 45 years, may grieve at the end. But he respects Hader and co-creator Alec Berg’s decision to end “Barry” with a mere four seasons.
“They were very clear about what they wanted and where they were going. When they saw the ending, what am I or (is) anyone going to say?” Winkler says. “Besides, how many shows have gone beyond welcoming them…or even jumping the shark?”
Who knows better than Winkler, who also jumped on a shark (on a dock) in the Arrested Development tribute.
“By the way, I’m the only actor on earth who has ‘jumped the shark’ twice,” he says proudly.
Winkler has new projects in the pipeline, including his memoir, Being Henry: Fonz and Beyond (released Oct. 31, the day after his 78th birthday) and his 38th children’s book, Detective Duck (co-written with Lyn Oliver, Oct. 17). He sneered at the word “retired”—”never crossed my mind,” he says, repeating the phrase slowly for emphasis.
Henry Winkler, TikTok’s unlikely dancer
With the encouragement of his six grandchildren, he has become a TikTok dance sensation, with frequent fluid-motion videos and 1.4 million followers.
“This one has 2.4 million views,” he said loudly as he scrolled through his TikTok feed. “But it never occurred to me that I had to do TikTok without my grandchildren.”
Winkler also knows the ultimate secret of the near future: how Barry will bow in the May 25 finale.
Fear returns, even to talk about it. “I know how it will end. But you’ll never get it from me,” says Winkler. “Because then I’m dead.”