Photo: CR: Publicity photo of Henry Winkler and co-author Lin Oliver
Photo: CR: Publicity photo of Henry Winkler and co-author Lin Oliver

Henry Winkler (MJCCA 10/30) said he’s in creative groove with new ‘Alien Superstar’ book, Emmy turn on ‘Barry’

Originally posted Wednesday, October 23, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Henry Winkler is thrilled and a bit surprised his acting zenith is happening now  in his early 70s, more than four decades after his breakthrough as leather-wearing cool cat Arthur Fonzarelli on ABC’s “Happy Days.”

And he has HBO’s hit show “Barry” to thank. 

“I am at a point where I’m just starting to become the actor I dreamt of being when I got the Fonz in 1973,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I am grateful.”

His delightfully caring acting coach Gene Cousineau has been a perfect foil to Bill Hader’s morally confused hitman and wannabe actor Barry Berkman. The result: Winkler won his first Emmy ever last year after multiple nominations over the years.

“I’ve had 14 acting teachers in college and graduate school,” Winkler said. “I heard about teachers I’ve read about teachers. I put them all together and out came Gene.”

Winkler will be back for a third season though he has no spoilers in terms of how Gene handles his increasing knowledge of Barry’s double life. 

“I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going to happen,” Winkler said. “When I saw Bill, he said, ‘We’ve really written ourselves into a corner!’”

Winkler is coming to the Marcus Jewish Community Center with his children’s book co-author Lin Oliver Wednesday, October 30 to promote the first in a new series called “Alien Superstar.” (Buy tickets here.) Targeting middle-school kids, the story follows a six-eyed alien named Buddy who is mistaken for an actor playing an alien and becomes an overnight TV star. 

While many actors come to Hollywood and toil for years in obscurity before breaking it big, Winkler arrived in town and won the Fonz  role within two weeks of arrival. It’s a miracle of sorts that he still feels almost embarrassed to discuss. The Fonz, in fact, was not meant to be a big role at first but he made such a big impression with viewers, the character became the star.

“I was lucky,” Winkler said. “It’s like the role dropped out of heaven.” 

So in a sense, Buddy and Winkler are not all that different. 

For the longest time, Winkler felt like a “stranger in a strange place” in Hollywood. And it’s a feeling all kids feel at some point in their lives, he noted. “Alien Superstar” will eventually lead to at least three books as Buddy adjusts to life in Hollywood and is then pursued by the alien society that he escaped from where creative arts and feelings are repressed. 

Books like “Alien Superstar” may have dark undertones (like “Barry”) but is ultimately a comedy. “We trying to create life-long readers,” Oliver said. And that means not “sentimentalizing childhood” like many adults are wont to do. 

“Being an eight year old is hard. Being 10 is hard. Being 13 is impossible,” she added. “We don’t want to talk down to kids or whitewash the experience. We want to show the joy and the pain.” 

Indeed, Winkler’s career hasn’t been all glory and fame. He hit a career trough after “Happy Days” and for a time focused more on directing and producing than acting. Juicier roles on shows such as “Arrested Development” and “Royal Pains” came much later. 

Even now, at this elder statesman point of his career, Winkler said he isn’t just bestowed great roles on a platter. He had to fight to be on“Barry.” He prepared hard for it. And he had to battle self doubt about himself and his abilities. “You’d think at my age that wouldn’t happen anymore but it does,” he said. 

One of the joys of being on the set of “Barry,” he said, is the ability to ad lib while keeping in the spirit of his character.

“I know I’m on the right path is when I make Bill Hader laugh in the middle of a take,” he said. “If he doesn’t, they cut it out. If I crack him up, it’s in!” 

BOOK TALK

Henry Winkler and Oliver Lin in conversation with Holly Firfer

7:30 p.m., Wednesday, October 30

$32 with a book, $75 for VIP

Marcus Jewish Community Center

5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody

www.atlantajcc.org

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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