Every Season, Henry Winkler Asked If Bill Hader Was Going to Kill Him
For most working actors, getting jobs is a matter of survival. You could say the same thing for Henry Winkler’s character Gene Cousineau on Barry. But it’s not simply a matter of what ordeals he might suffer in a given episode or season. Winkler genuinely wants to know if Cousineau will survive. “I ask Bill (Hader) every year,” Winkler confessed to Slate. “I say, ‘OK, I only have one question. Am I dead? Did you kill me?’"
Slate argues that it would have been impossible for Hader to kill off the Cousineau character, calling Gene the show’s “guiding light.” But Winkler argues that you never know. “So many people have died on Barry that you never know who's expendable, and so I just ask every year to make sure that it wasn't me.”
But just because Cousineau has survived so far doesn’t mean he’s coming out a winner. Sure, Gene has had his moments of bravery, of trying to do the right thing. So has Barry, for that matter. “I think everybody in the whole piece tries to redeem themselves, and some of us get there and some of us don't,” Winkler says. “Gene tries with all his might and just can't help himself to fall right back into Gene ... It's like you're trying to climb up the slide in the playground, and all of a sudden you just slip down. You don't quite make it to the top. I'm a slipper.”
Winkler now has 50 years in the acting game under his belt, debuting on an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show back in 1973. He showed up as Rhoda’s date to Mary’s dinner party, invited because he recently lost his job. Throughout the episode, he introduces himself as “I’m Steve Waldman. I’ve just been fired.”
The Lords of Flatbush and Happy Days quickly followed, earning him a decade in a leather jacket. And like most working actors (and Rhoda’s date Steve Waldman), Winkler still doesn’t know where his next job is coming from. “I was hoping you would have that answer,” he tells his Slate interviewer. “I don't know. I just would like to keep doing this until I can't anymore.”
Winkler draws on that actor’s need to survive. “The work, the industry is so tenuous. Executives have the same life expectancy of rock stars, either 18 months or 19 months,” he says. “Everybody works on fear. You as the artist have got to beat that fear into submission.”