‘Happy Days’ Icon Henry Winkler Beat Out Fellow Hollywood Legend John Lithgow for ‘Barry’ Role

by Chris Haney
(Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

While speaking about his recent Emmy-winning role on HBO’s Barry, former Happy Days actor Henry Winkler shared that another Hollywood icon almost beat him out for the job.

HBO released Barry back in March 2018 to critical acclaim. So far, only two seasons of the dark comedy-crime series have aired. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed Season 3 of the show. But fans are eagerly awaiting its return, which will likely come out sometime next year. In fact, recent reports confirmed that the cast and crew have one more month of filming and the new season will be complete.

The show follows depressed hitman Barry Burkman played by SNL alum Bill Hader. Burkman reluctantly accepts a contract in Los Angeles, but while in town he realizes he has a passion for acting. Winkler’s character Gene Cousineau is Barry’s acting coach in the show, and he’s earned rave reviews for his portrayal of the character.

In fact, after decades of working in Hollywood, the Happy Days star finally broke through with his first major award in 2018. Winkler won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his Barry role. However, there was a possibility the character could’ve been played by none other than John Lithgow.

“I never found out, but backstage at a John Lithgow play, he asked how I was doing. I said, ‘Better’ and that I had this part,” Winkler explained in a June 2021 interview. “He said, ‘Oh, you got it. I wanted that.’ Wow. Oh my God, that was the greatest thing. Wow, wow! I’ve seen him in everything on Broadway. And I’ve written him notes, his Churchill in The Crown was divine.”

The ‘Happy Days’ Star Once Joked About Where He Keeps His Emmy Award

During an appearance on Good Morning America in 2019, the Happy Days star opened up about winning an Emmy. Anytime an actor wins a major award, interviewers love to ask where they keep it at home. We often get amusing answers such as the actors using their award as a paperweight. As humorous as Henry Winkler is, there’s no surprise he had a little fun with the GMA hosts while answering.

“I’m making a chain right now so I can wear it around my neck,” Winkler joked before revealing its actual location. “You know a lot of people say they use it as a doorstop or it’s in the bathroom. Mine is on the dining room table.”

It seemed like all of Hollywood was happy for Winkler when he was finally recognized for his talent by the Emmys. Although Winkler is 75 years old, winning an Emmy will get you an audition on just about any project. But that wasn’t always the case for Winkler. After Happy Days concluded in 1984, for the next eight years he struggled to find acting jobs.

“As an actor I went from the mountaintop – 55,000 letters a week – and slid right into the valley for the next eight, nine years. I started to produce because I couldn’t get hired as an actor from 1983 all the way to 1991,” he said in the same interview this summer.

Yet roles started to trickle in by the mid-’90s. Winkler starred in multiple Adam Sandler movies and had numerous roles on popular TV shows. He continues to have a late-career resurgence, and you can’t help but be happy for the actor.