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Henry Winkler Says He Needed Therapy to Make ‘Barry’: ‘I Could Not Have Done That Character’ Without It

In the decades following his early superstardom from his run on “Happy Days,” Henry Winkler carved out a niche for himself as a skilled character actor on irreverent comedies like “Arrested Development” and “Childrens Hospital.” But his acclaimed role as disgraced acting teacher Gene Cousineau on “Barry” brought him the biggest mainstream success of the second act of his career.

In a new interview on “Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist,” Winkler reflected on the success that he enjoyed during “Barry,” which won him a Primetime Emmy in 2018 followed by a nomination for each of the show’s three subsequent seasons. He explained that his decision to work with a psychiatrist before the show began helped him access the depths of emotion that he needed for the role.

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“I could not have done ‘Barry’ without having met that doctor,” Winkler said of his therapy experience. “I could not have done that character with that kind of texture. I could not have heard Alec Berg and Bill Hader, and be able to translate what they said into the scene without that doctor. If I didn’t find a character piece to something I was doing before that, I was stilted as an actor. There are some performances I wish I could eat and do it again.”

Winkler also had high praise for the entire creative team behind “Barry,” namely co-creators and showrunners Bill Hader and Alec Berg. The actor explained that their overarching commitment to telling a story with their specific point of view helped elevate the HBO series over similar shows that fail despite having promising premises.

“The show was so original, and it had a point of view,” he said. “When you see a show that kind of is mealy, the writers, they have a great idea, but the commitment is not there, the passion is not there to tell that story.”

Winkler’s comments about Hader echo sentiments that he previously expressed to IndieWire, when he praised the auteur for directing Season 4 with a clear vision.

“I truly believe that one needs a director. An actor who says I don’t need to be directed, I think is really full of baloney,” Winkler said. “Bill is very clear about what he hears, and what he wants. And your job is to try and service the writers, try and service the director’s vision, try and service the creators. Now you’ve got three all in the same person. He’s very clear, and in structure comes freedom.”

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