‘Barry’s Henry Winkler On The Moment Gene Cousineau Snapped, Prison Theater, His “Dreaded Fear” Of AI And Takeaways From The WGA Strike: “America Has Literally Eaten Itself” – Deadline FYC House + HBO Max

Please note, the following interview was done outside of the FYC event series as there was no cast panel or screening. 

Talk about going out with a bang.

After a four-season run that saw him claim an Emmy and three nominations, among numerous other major accolades, Henry Winkler’s time with HBO’s Barry has finally come to a close.

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It was on May 28th that he took his final bow as Gene Cousineau, the acting teacher of Bill Hader’s hitman Barry Berkman, who sought, but never made the effort to earn, redemption for his crimes. Barry managed in the end to escape all responsibility, leaving Gene to take the fall for his many misdeeds after he was shot and killed by his one-time mentor.

But even if Cousineau is now serving life in prison, Winkler on Saturday took full advantage of his freedom by heading over to Canter’s Deli, a favorite spot of his character, where he’d mingle with TV Academy members over pastrami and reuben sandwiches, as part of the Deadline FYC House + HBO Max event series. Deadline caught up with the actor that morning to get his take on Barry‘s finale, and he explained during the conversation why his years with the show comprised “one of the most wonderful adventures” of his life, also touching on what Gene is up to behind bars, his thoughts on (and predictions for) the WGA strike, and more.

DEADLINE: It’s been a couple of weeks since Barry came to a close. How are you feeling, now that the dust has settled?

HENRY WINKLER: Sad. I’m very sad. I took Bill out for breakfast for his birthday. I saw Bill on Friday night because his child and my grandchild graduated from the fifth grade, and that was exhilarating. So, it is nice to see him, but I’m sad. I spoke to Stephen Root, I spoke to D’Arcy [Carden], Sarah [Goldberg], and I miss these people a lot.

DEADLINE: You’ve spent six or seven years working on this show. What has it meant to you?

WINKLER: We started in 2016, and it’s been one of the most wonderful adventures of my life. You do The Fonz [of Happy Days fame]; you think, are you ever going to do anything as meaningful again? Then, I get to do all this stuff in between, and then boom, Barry fell from the heavens.

DEADLINE: Did you find out how the finale play out from reading the script, or how did that play out? Had any details been teased earlier on in your time with the series?

WINKLER: We did the first season and we got great response. We read the second season around a table, and I said, “I have to talk to you, Bill and Alec.” I said, “I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure I see Gene that I created last year in these scripts.” They said, “We will never repeat ourselves. We will take care of you, I promise.” And then I learned not to expect anything. Just go with the flow. Because with those two men, they are so creative. They are so individual that you don’t think, oh, you know what? We’re with our old friends that we know from Barry, and we know them every year in the same way. That’s not the television these guys make.

DEADLINE: They, in the end, took each character on an incredibly dramatic and unexpected journey, with each season taking the viewer to…

WINKLER: Another place. And then in the middle of the fourth season, we’re shooting a scene and Bill says to me, “Hey, we just cracked the eighth script, last script of the show. Want to know how it ends?” I went, “Sure! I’d love to.” Then, he told me; then, I started to shake, and I immediately had myself a decaffeinated cappuccino and an avocado toast. Because who saw that coming?

DEADLINE: How do you feel about Gene at the end of the day? He’s not always the easiest to root for, but you get the sense that he isn’t viewed in the universe of the show as comparable in corruption to Barry. And yet he ultimately goes down in part for Barry’s crimes.

WINKLER: Do you think I should take that personally? Bill says he’s a friend, and I had to really question [that]. Because people have come up to me all over…You know, I travel all over the country speaking and stuff, and they say, “You got set up! You didn’t do anything.” The Raven walks off into the darkness, [Sally] teaches using my technique, and I am in jail for the rest of my life.

DEADLINE: Part of what he’s charged for is the murder of Barry, a violent criminal who has intruded into his home. You’d think Gene’s attorney would be able to make a claim of self-defense and get the story straightened out.

WINKLER: Apparently that line of defense did not work. No one believed that it was self-defense. But [it was] shocking. There was never a lack of shock.

DEADLINE: What do you think was behind Gene’s decision to shoot Barry? You felt an anger there, to be sure, more so than fear. 

WINKLER: The thing is that I was already in a state, and I had to be in a state in order to not have any idea where I was in time and space. I think I snapped in the scene in the hotel room when I thought it was going to be Mark Wahlberg, and all these people said, “Well, we don’t trust you. We don’t believe you, and you are a liar, and you [killed Janice Moss].” My inability to speak, for a very verbal fellow, I think said it all. So when I’m in my house, all of a sudden, my vision is tunnel. My vision is small. My vision is, this man made my life untenable, and I didn’t even think about the consequences. You know, I think of Gene as having mirrors in his brain, and everywhere he looks, he sees Gene. “I took care of this man. I taught this man. He was my son.” And that he would then do that to me was more than I could live with. More than I could bear.

DEADLINE: What do you imagine Gene is up to in prison?

WINKLER: I think that he started a theater class in prison. I believe they were putting on [Finian’s] Rainbow. Or The Music Man would be the spring musical, I think.

DEADLINE: What do you make of the way Barry ends, between the fact that Barry escapes the consequences of his actions, and the film that totally misconstrues the nature of him and Gene alike? What does that say about who we are as a people?

WINKLER: That is deeper than I am. [But]…as a people, we have never left the eighth grade. We are mature adults with an eighth grader running chaos in our mind and body. That’s what I see. Just look at the way that people are trying to run this country, or take the country over in order to run it. It’s like, I don’t know, a bigger version of Go Fish.

DEADLINE: As with almost all great entertainment, the success of Barry was contingent on the strength of written material….

WINKLER: Writing is the beginning and the end of everything. 

DEADLINE: And we’ve now moved past week six of the writers’ strike….

WINKLER: How many days is six weeks?


WINKLER: I think you won’t see any movement until 71 days.


WINKLER: Because I think at that moment, force majeure can be called. 

DEADLINE: Right. Another pivotal moment…

WINKLER: I will say it makes me very sad, but [striking] is a necessity because you make a living, you’re lucky enough to make a living. Your child is in school, you have a house. Whatever your lifestyle is, is completely thrown into chaos by greed. There’s enough to go around. I will say, and I don’t mean to be political, but America has literally eaten itself down to the wrong ‘P.’ Profit is much more important than population, and the individual no longer has status.

DEADLINE: So, there’s a much greater sense of urgency to you this time around than with strikes past?

WINKLER: No, because the first strike I was in [was in] 1980, when my daughter was born, when the ERA was also coming to the fore. Every strike is important. Every strike is for a better life, I think. But this one is really important because the business is changing so fast. Now, people bring up AI. I don’t know yet about how fast AI would make entertainment, but I know that my dreaded fear is that AI would very quickly, completely be the demise of human beings.

DEADLINE: This is the moment, to me, where it feels like the future has arrived.

WINKLER: The future has arrived. I mean, HAL, the computer [from 2001: A Space Odyssey], is all of a sudden no longer on celluloid. He’s joined the world.

DEADLINE: What gives you hope in this turbulent moment?

WINKLER: Humanity. I’m hoping that we are in a cycle like the cicada, that the cicada has come out of the ground, is now eating all of the vegetation, and then will fade back into the dirt. 

DEADLINE: What does the cicada represent to you?

WINKLER: The lack of listening, the lack of respect. I am overwhelmed by the lack. You know, my image in the last while has been…there is a cataclysmic social event. Everything you own is underwater. You’re sitting on a roof; a boat is coming toward you. Are you now going to ask the boat what their political affiliation is? What their sexual preference is? What the color of their skin is? Or are you going to say, “I really need your help”? We need each other, and we’d better start just seeing each other. 

DEADLINE: What are your goals as you look to the next stage of your career?

WINKLER: I want to work until I can no longer work. I love my job. I never know what it is I want; only my stomach knows, when I hear it, or read it, or meet the human beings involved. 

View additional snippets from our interview with Winkler below. To watch videos from the Deadline FYC House + HBO Max event series, click here.

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