HFPA in Conversation: The Optimist (but Pessimist) Henry Winkler

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros March 27, 2019
Actor Henry Winkler, Godlen Gloeb winner

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Henry Winkler has been acting since the 1960s, but it was his Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli - Happy Days' tough biker in a black leather jacket - that made him famous and brought him two Golden Globes in the 1970s.  Several TV shows-Children'ss Hospital, Royal Pains, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development- followed, complemented with directing, producing and writing children’s books.  “This is my metaphor, producing is like holding sand in your arms, you never stop the drip.  Directing is like getting all that sand into one box. And as an actor I get to play in the sand,” he tells HFPA journalist Vera Anderson.

Now in his 70s, he is again in the limelight.  He was surprised when he got the role as an acting teacher on the HBO comedy series Barry, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. “I was so happy when I got the role and then, of course, the first thing you think of is, why did I say yes, I don’t know how to act anymore.  What happens if I…oh my god, I have no idea what I’m doing.”

He works closely with series creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader, who also plays the leading role: a hitman from the Midwest who moves to Los Angeles and starts taking acting classes. Sometimes Winkler’s jokes end up on screen.“I tell them a story and all of a sudden there’s a scene about the story I just told.  Or they say, could you go back to what we wrote?”

He welcomes fame. “A lot of the time it feels so good because I get such extraordinary warmth from people I meet everywhere in the world.  Two, it is truly pragmatic, if I’m doing well I continue working and I want to work until I absolutely can’t anymore.  So that’s what fame means to me.  Also, I was able to put a roof over our head and my children through school.”

And this is how the man who wants to win a Tony describes himself: “I am an optimist who thinks pessimistically.”

Listen to the podcast and hear what is his passion; what makes him nervous; whether he has acting teachers like Barry's Gene Cousineau; which musician he met at Whole Foods; why he thinks he made a fool of himself when he met Mick Jagger; what kind of job he gave to Frances McDormand; what happened when he hired Angela Bassett; how dyslexia has shaped his life; what would he do, if he did not work in the entertainment business; how he got inspired to write children’s books and a book about fly fishing; why he doesn't write parts for himself; when he eats tacos; what he reads between scenes; where he sees himself in 10 years; why he is not good at Shakespeare; what kind of cook he is; what he would say to his younger self; what he does with his free time; and when he is the happiest.