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Remote Controlled: ‘Barry’ Star Henry Winkler on Getting Laughs From Playing a ‘Desperate’ Character

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, speaks with Henry Winkler, star of HBO’s “Barry,” about landing the role and the show’s unique ability to combine two storylines into each 30-minute episode. (And spoiler alert: Don’t listen until you’ve watched the season finale, which airs May 13.)

Winkler, who also juggles starring in NBC’s “Better Late Than Never” and the upcoming fifth season of “Arrested Development,” said after he auditioned for the role of acting teacher Gene Cousineau it “seemed like a millennium” passed before he learned he had been cast.

The long-time actor said, “When I first read the script, I knew that this was something very special.” He added that he still doesn’t know how creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader had a vision to take two separate shows and make them one.

Winkler said that he has known or had acting teachers similar to the one he portrays in “Barry.” He describes his character Gene as being “desperate.” He continued, “He wants so badly to be the emperor that he has created a space where he can be the emperor. But when he walks outside and he goes in to the world, he’s a plebeian.”

To get into the mindset of his character, Winkler needs to listen to his stomach. “I really believe that your stomach, your instinct knows more than your head does for anybody in any moment,” Winkler said. “Then if you have a really good ensemble around then the rest is like butter.”

He also praised his castmates, which include Hader, D’Arcy Carden, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. He said the cast all met to do a table reading of the script, and then he didn’t see some of them for months because he only has scenes with certain actors: “It never dawned on me that of course they’re in a whole other genre in this same piece.”

When asked about his on-screen chemistry with his co-stars, Winkler said the connection was “instantaneous.”

“Here’s the truth: there is no working on chemistry,” he explained. “You don’t talk about having chemistry. It’s either there—God pointed his finger down and touched the cast—or it’s not. You can maybe try and act it. You can maybe pretend somebody is being the way they’re supposed to be in order for you to do what you need to do. But, chemistry is like out of the ether. When it happens it is like a drug.”

You can listen to this week’s podcast here:

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.

Henry Winkler photographed exclusively for the Variety Remote Controlled podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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