LOS ANGELES – Could Fonzie finally win an Emmy?
Actually, it’s Henry Winkler who’s in the running this year and, yes, yes he could.
Nominated for playing the oh-so-serious acting teacher in HBO’s “Barry,” he helped bring an audience to the comedy starring Bill Hader as a hit man who finds his “community” in an acting class.
So taken with the part, Winkler said he even auditioned for it.
“We couldn’t believe Henry read for it,” Hader told television critics.
Winkler’s take? “The executives turn over so quickly you have to audition a lot,” he said. “There are a lot of actors who say, ‘Oh, they know my work. Here, send in my tape.’ But these young people don’t trust, necessarily, that you can do what they need you to do because their jobs are so tenuous.
“I would go to auditions and sit in those metal chairs and the young actors would say, ‘What are you doing here?’ I’d say, ‘I’m looking for a job. You?’”
Thanks to “Arrested Development,” producers are seeing Winkler in a different light. Now, he’s a natural for darker roles – like Gene Cousineau in “Barry.”
In a heartbeat, the 72-year-old Winkler said, he related to the character.
“I have had a lot of acting coaches,” he said. “I went to college and graduate school in acting. Gene was written really so well, I just took everything I knew and he popped out.”
In the comedy, Cousineau fuels the dreams of wannabes who probably don’t have a shot at even getting cast as an extra. Yet, he keeps stoking their fires and acting like it’s possible. Meanwhile, Hader’s Barry agrees to kill people with the hope he’ll one day get out of that business and into another, equally cutthroat one.
The show was nominated for 13 Emmys, including Best Comedy, Best Lead Actor (Hader) and Best Supporting Actor (Winkler). While Winkler has won Daytime Emmys, he never has won a Prime Time Emmy – even though he was nominated three times for “Happy Days,” the series that gave audiences Fonzie.
This shot left him speechless, he told reporters, and could be the one that brings it home for him.
The work, though, was “effortless.”
“I never saw (creators Alec Berg and Hader) ruffle their feathers,” he said. “I never saw them get upset. They solved each problem. They kept us comfortable all the time…and that is a major achievement. That’s a lot of jobs to do in a very short amount of time. And, to do it that well, I thought was astounding.”
Winkler, though, is frequently considered the nicest man in Hollywood. Indeed, he always takes time for people, greets fans openly and speaks warmly about the business.
“Henry is just this beautiful kind of light in the room,” Hader said. In the acting class scenes, he took the newcomers under his wing. “And he was so sweet to everybody. If someone had a line or did something, Henry would go, ‘I saw what you did and that was really good what you did there.’ And that becomes infectious.”
For Hader, who starred on “Saturday Night Live,” “Barry” was more than just a vanity project. It was a way to show audiences what he’s capable of when the broadcast isn’t live and millions of people are watching. “If ‘SNL’ was just like this, I would have been really good on that show,” he said. “Just having a camera go on and…I’m like, ‘Oh, all my friends in Oklahoma are watching me right now.’”
The series also gave him a chance to show the kind of world he faced when he first came to Hollywood. Hired as a production assistant, he got a crash course in the mundane world of the business.
“People in Tulsa, at least where I grew up, if you knew about some cool indie movie or whatever, you felt like it was a secret society or something,” Hader said. “And then you would come here and the guy at the checkout counter is like, ‘Yeah, I know what ‘Fargo’ is, dumbass.’”
Now working on the sequel to “It,” Hader will likely jump back into “Barry” and give Winkler another season to shine.
The script for the first season of “Barry,” Winkler said, “was like wearing cashmere instead of a blend. I never thought, ‘dark’ or ‘light.’ I just thought ‘wonderful’ and it proved to be right.”
“Barry” will find out if it’s a big Emmy winner Sept. 17.