Henry Winkler earned his sixth career Emmy nomination in prime-time this year for his scene-stealing role as acting coach Gene Cousineau in “Barry.” The television legend, who rose to prominence as “The Fonz” on “Happy Days,” remains Emmy-less after four decades in the business, and that could easily change with a win this year in Best Comedy Supporting Actor.
Winkler recently sat down with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum and senior editor Marcus Dixon about the brilliance of “Barry,” earning Emmy recognition, what it would mean to win his first Emmy. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby (Marcus Dixon): Henry Winkler, congrats on your Emmy nomination for “Barry.” We wonder how you found out that you were nominated.
Henry Winkler: Okay, I was making a personal appearance for my books in Iola, Wisconsin, very small town, which apparently has a great trout stream running through it. I didn’t have time for that. My favorite thing to do. And I get a call from Sheri Goldberg, who is my public relations representative and she is superb. She called me and we listened to the television because it didn’t come on the TV in Iola, but it came on TV, of course, in L.A. So Sheri called me and we’re listening and they cut it off before there was the supporting category, and then Sheri immediately went online and looked up the full list, and said, “There’s your name!” She was screaming in L.A., my wife and I were screaming in Wisconsin, and we then went and had chicken wings. It was a great moment.
Gold Derby (Chris Beachum): The show overall, Comedy Series, Bill Hader personally got four nominations for the show.
HW: Yes, as he should.
GD (Chris): Tell us just about what that means to all of you as a group to be recognized, embraced by the Academy voters.
HW: I’ll tell you exactly. First of all, personally, I’ve had a dream since I was seven and the voters, the Academy, said, “We completely embrace your dream.” So that’s pretty great, right off the bat. Number two, when I got called from HBO and they congratulated me personally, they also said, “It is a known fact that comedies in their first year are not recognized. It takes two years for a comedy to finally get nominations. We got 13.” I’m so proud of this, Alec Berg, one of the co-creators, got two nominations for writing two different shows, that he happened to have both helped to create. That hasn’t happened since 1975 when the great writer David Lloyd got the two nominations for writing, so that was pretty exciting. Bill Hader has shown the world, you think of him as Stefon, you think of him, (puts on accent) “I don’t know, he makes up all these words in Italian,” I’m now sounding French, on “Saturday Night Live,” and now he has shown the world this enormous depth. The two of them, Alec and Bill, they produce, they write, they direct, and Bill stars, and they have been acknowledged for all of that. There is no drama on the set except for the drama that is written in the script. That is the truth.
GD (Marcus): And now you get to choose one episode to submit to the Emmy judges so they can watch you in action. What was it about the fourth episode that made you choose that one?
HW: Well let me just say that Bill helped. I’m sure that Alec helped. There is that wonderful scene with Paula Newsome. You don’t get a nomination or you don’t get an award on your own. I had amazing acting partners to get me this far. Paula and I did a scene that people liked very much in the restaurant that Bill Hader’s wife, now ex-wife, Maggie [Carey], directed. So it’s very exciting.
GD (Chris): There’s another scene in that episode where you really lay into Bill’s character, Barry. You don’t feel like he’s giving a good performance, you’re doing a scene reading from “Glengarry [Glen Ross]” and you feel like he’s always playing the same character.
HW: He’s deferential to every character except his own. What is amazing about the series, “Barry,” is that everybody wants to be somebody they’re not. I’m telling you, to this day I don’t know how Alec Berg and Bill Hader took two completely separate series and sewed them together seamlessly. Bill Hader plays a character who is an assassin who has to be very down low, who has to be completely unnoticed, can bring no attention to himself, and decides he wants to be an actor, bringing all the attention to oneself, being in the spotlight. It’s like schizophrenia right in front of you, except funny.
GD (Marcus): Now your character, Gene, he’s in the dark. He doesn’t know Barry’s a serial killer. Do you hope in Season 2 he finds out? ’Cause if he finds out he may get killed.
HW: The end of the first season, the last episode. It says, and I’m paraphrasing now, “They’re inside the house. You see two flashes of light outside Gene’s summer cabin.” I called them right away and I said, “Am I dead?” He laughed. So what I did was I wrote Bill and I said, “Okay, now Season 2. Do I last all eight episodes?” He said, “You cry a lot in Episode 7.” So I don’t know if that’s Henry crying or Gene Cousineau crying. Either one makes me nauseous, because what happens if I cannot cry on every take? So already I am anxious.
GD (Chris): That’s a teachable skill, the crying.
HW: It is! It is!
GD (Chris): Tell us anything you can about Season 2. When do you go into production?
HW: We start reading the scripts in two weeks. We go into production September 13th. It’s really interesting about Season 2 because there was an article in “The New York Times” that said, “Barry is one of the best series in a long time,” and the writer said, “I literally don’t think you should do Season 2, because there’s no way you’re going to equal Season 1.” I vomited a little. But then I thought, “You know what? Think about who these two guys are. Think about what they did in the first eight episodes.” I then completely calmed down and I totally trust whatever Season 2 is, it will be dynamic and incredibly engaging, because these two men are the head.
GD (Marcus): You mentioned “Barry’s” only eight episodes. Back a couple decades ago, shows were regularly 20, 22, 24 episodes. What do you think of the way TV has changed over the past few years?
HW: What is interesting is the venues have changed, the technology has changed in making television, but what is exactly the same as when I first started in 1974? You have to tell a good story. You have to have good acting partners. You have to have a dramatic tension and dynamic in whatever story you’re telling. That never changes. So the size of the camera might change. When we first started doing “Happy Days,” we had a magazine of film that only lasted I think 10 or 11 minutes, and then you had to change film, check the gate, change the film. Now, it is this small cassette of tape that just keeps running, it seems, forever. But the story has to be good no matter what you shoot it on. I often thought you could shoot something on bathroom tissue and if it is compelling, people will come and watch it.
GD (Chris): Tell us about your earliest days at the Emmys, nominated three times I believe for “Happy Days.” You hosted one year, we’ve discussed that before. What’s your first big award show memory of any award show?
HW: My first award show memory was that I did win the Golden Globe for “Happy Days” and then for “Heroes,” which was one of the first Hollywood movies I ever made and it was very exciting to hear your name. It’s surreal. They always say, and you feel, “It is a great honor to be nominated in this category with all of these talented, talented actors.” And that lasts until your tush hits the chair at which time, all bets are off. All you wanna do is win. So you’re sitting there, you’re magnanimous, you’re thinking all of these great thoughts and then (snaps fingers), “I wanna win.” You get so nervous that you forget who else is in the category. It is just an amazing moment in time. I was 27 when I got The Fonz, I’m 72 now. I’m still here. That is the beginning and the end. So many people said, “You won’t make it.” “I’m better than you.” “You just do that character.” “I can’t hire you because you did that character.” 2018, here I am with this wonderful character of Gene Cousineau.
GD (Marcus): And you also came back to “Arrested Development” this TV season, so we saw you on two different shows. Do you always like getting that call back to come hang out with the Bluths?
HW: I do! First of all, all of those people in the room, the family, they are incredible. I’ve known them now for five or six years. I literally can say the word “geniuses.” I’ve worked with Garry Marshall, (imitates Garry Marshall) “He might’ve sounded like this, except what went on in his mind was like Mount Vesuvius.” Adam Sandler, that is a force to be reckoned with. Mitch Hurwitz, oh my God. And then you’ve got Bill and Alec together, make this bubble of brilliance and that’s not hyperbole. That just is the truth. You come and visit, anybody, come and visit the set, you will see what I’m talking about.
GD (Chris): That episode of “Arrested” this season at the Ron Howard house, I just wish there was some way your character could’ve been visiting the Howards.
HW: Yeah, that would’ve been great.
GD (Chris): I love that they used all of his real kids and wife in that episode.
HW: When Ron finally had all of the children, Ron and Cheryl came to Stacey and to me and said, “Look, will you be the godfather? You’re certainly the godfather of Bryce [Dallas Howard],” my darling goddaughter who is so talented. “If anything happens to us, would you take all the children? You could bar mitzvah them if you want. Just take them.” And we said, “Of course. We’ll build a little wing, like the Amish, onto our house.”
GD (Marcus): And you have one of the Golden Globes. What would it mean to finally win at the Emmys after all these years working in television?
HW: Do you know what? It would be thrilling. I’ve been around long enough, I’m old enough to know, you go — I hope I see Jeff Daniels. I email him because I think everything he does is great. But, you win, you don’t win. I’m still doing another episode of “Barry,” another season of “Barry.” “MacGyver” is on the air. We have just sold a series of three new novels for children. My partner and I have written 30 novels so far for kids. My life is blessed.
GD (Chris): I wanna ask you, we were talking beforehand, you were an Academy governor of the Film Academy for a while in the acting branch. Tell us just a little bit about what that means, what that person does, and also, usually when I have an Oscar voter on, which you continue to vote on the Oscars, I’d just like to know, you don’t have to give specifics, but as an actor what are you looking for when you’re nominating or picking winners?
HW: When you are sitting around that table on the Board of Governors, there is somebody from each branch in the Motion Picture Academy and they talk about policy mostly. One of the last meetings that I was there, they were talking about expanding the number of nominations for Best Film, because they wanted to include a younger audience, so that was the discussion at that time.
My phone is ringing. It’s my wife. I’ll just tell her (answers phone). “Hi, sweetie. I’m on the middle of an interview. I love you and I’ll talk to you later.”
GD (Chris): I’ll cut that out.
HW: Well, it’s part of my life. So they were talking about going to other countries and sending representatives from around the table to help young filmmakers in burgeoning film programs in Indonesia, Vietnam, Mongolia. It was quite an amazing thing sitting around that table.
GD (Chris): And voting, what’s your process like when you’re nominating and when you’re picking a winner? What types of things usually appeal to you?
HW: You watch a movie, and I love the fact that we get the DVDs and that they come to the house, and then on Christmas vacation, part of the vacation is watching as many movies as possible, my wife and I, our children who are now older, Believe me, the films separate themselves awfully quickly between those that are just incredible pieces that take you on a journey and those that kind of just sit there. I do like a good popcorn movie. I do like adventures. I do love documentaries. I’m a fan. I just am a fan of people who make good things. My son, Max [Winkler], who directed me for the audition for “Barry,” is now in Boston directing his third movie that he helped write. So that’s exciting.
GD (Chris): As we wrap up, you mentioned earlier being on a book tour recently. What can people buy right now?
HW: We have “Here’s Hank,” and that is for the first, second and third grade, and then we have “Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever,” which is for the third, fourth and fifth grade. They are about my life having dyslexia. I always like to say about this little boy in the book, his glass is half-full, he just spills it everywhere. And the very last first, second and third grade comes out in January. That will be the last “Hank Zipzer” ever.
GD (Marcus): Good luck at the Emmys. We are rooting for you. It’s a very tough category, a lot of exciting people in that category.
HW: Listen, I watched Tony Shalhoub on Broadway, I watched him on TV. That show is amazing. Every one of them, “Atlanta,” “Kimmy Schmidt,” I worked with Mr. [Kenan] Thompson, and it’s amazing. It’s an amazing category.
GD (Chris): Well good luck, we’ll see you on the red carpet in a few weeks.
HW: Thank you. I can honestly say my fingers are crossed.