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Henry Winkler on How ‘Barry’ Is ‘The Most Intense Work I’ve Ever Done’

Awards Circuit Podcast: Also on this episode, the Roundtable previews this week's Creative Arts Emmys, including key categories.

Henry Winkler NAPTE HONOR
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/S

When Henry Winkler joined “Barry,” as the pompous, washed-up acting teacher Gene Cousineau, he soon asked series creator and star Bill Hader, “Am I playing an asshole?” But by Season 3, Cousineau has suffered a tremendous loss — at the hands of Barry — and it’s forcing him to do some deep introspection.

“I think the umbrella for Season 3 is, can a person change? It was a question Bill asked me in a scene in Season 2. And now it is for all of the characters,” Winkler tells Variety. “Is there atonement?”

On this episode of the “Variety Awards Circuit Podcast,” we talk to Emmy-winning “Barry” star Henry Winkler on how dark the show went this season, especially for his character, as well as what he hopes might come next.

But first, our Awards Circuit Roundtable discusses some of the key Creative Arts Emmys races coming this weekend, including animation and guest actor and actress. Listen below!

Before Henry Winkler was in “Barry,” and before and before he was even The Fonz, his name appeared in Variety on March 12, 1973. He was mentioned in passing, in a poor review of “42 Seconds From Broadway,” which ran for one night before the reviews shut it down. But Winkler was mentioned positively, with the reviewer praising his “commendable attempts at credibility.”

Variety television editor Michael Schneider informed Winkler of his first mention in the magazine during a conversation in honor of Winkler’s 2022 Variety TV Legacy Award, which is repurposed for this episode of the podcast. When he Winkler heard the quote, he simply said, “I was working really hard at being credible at that time.”

Winkler reflected on his decades-long career and his Emmy-winning turn in HBO’s “Barry,” which aired its third season this spring. At this year’s Emmys, Winkler is nominated in the outstanding supporting actor in a comedy category, which he won in 2018. He says after each day of shooting the series, he would “go home and have visited a land that was never in my imagination.

“I think this is the most intense work I have ever done in my career, starting June 30, 1970, when I was hired by the Yale repertory theater for $172 a week,” Winkler says

From “Arrested Development” to “Happy Days,” Winkler has no shortage of recognizable voice and screen roles. But his six years playing administrator Sy Mittleman on “Children’s Hospital” stands out as one of his most baffling roles.

“I went in for just a few, I stayed for six years. I never understood the jokes. I never understood why I was holding a vat of urine,” Winkler says. “All I knew was I was with these incredibly funny people. And once during an interview I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing a wacky comedy.’ And they stopped the interview, took me aside [and said], ‘You cannot say wacky. It’s meta.’ I didn’t understand what that meant either. Sat down and went, ‘I’m doing a meta comedy.’ I have no idea.”

While he may not know exactly what was going on during “Children’s Hospital,” his memories of playing The Fonz on “Happy Days” are fond, as are his memories of first arriving in Hollywood.

“It’s taken me from there to today to taste who I knew I wanted to be as an actor,” Winkler says of his “Happy Days” role.

When asked what he wishes he knew back then, Winkler says he “was thin because of worry,” and could never have imagined the career he would go on to have.

“When I talked to students, to people, young people who want to be an actor, I said, ‘You know what? It is not easy. You have to be tenacious, but eventually you will get where you want to be. Not always, but for the most part,’” Winkler says. “It happened to me. I didn’t know that I was going to have this great journey.”

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.