As Arthur Fonzarelli on “Happy Days,” Henry Winkler gained worldwide recognition. The Fonz is one of the most iconic television characters of all time, and he was very nearly played by another actor altogether. But these days, it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Winkler embodying the lovable, motorcycle-riding greaser.
How exactly did Henry Winkler do it? How did someone with such a different personality portray such an iconic one on screen? The answer is imagination, according to Winkler himself, at least. And we’d go so far as to add talent to the list as well.
In an interview with Bobbie Wygant from the late 1970s, young Henry Winkler talked about what the internal drivers were for Fonzie and how the character looked at life. He compared and contrasted the “Happy Days” character with a character he played in the 1978 film “The One and Only.”
“The Fonz stands on his own two feet. He’s taken care of himself since he was very young. He has a point of view in his own morality. Andy does not have such a morality, you know? Andy has an idea that he can be successful, but he doesn’t have any direction. The Fonz always has a very clear-cut vision of what he wants, you know?
The discussion inevitably led to how Henry Winkler himself compared to the characters he played on screen. We are always fascinated by the acting process because it seems like everyone does it slightly differently. Some are simply playing a slightly altered version of themselves. Others successfully portray their polar opposite.
To the “Happy Days” star, however, the mysteries of acting aren’t very mysterious at all. And they’re more universal than we want to give them credit for.
How Was the ‘Happy Days’ Actor Different from Fonzie?
Even though their personalities appear very different on the surface, Fonzie was apparently not all that different from Winkler at the source. The character started internally, and then imagination took over and ran with him.
To Henry Winkler, that’s how it goes for every actor, in some way or another.
“Every actor, doing any part, starts with himself. And then, just by imagination, by tuning your imagination, you add on conditions and build a character, you know?” Winkler continued in the interview. “But every character ever written in literature is in every one of us. And you just have to peel away parts of you to open it up, you know? So that you can become the man that you’re playing or the woman that an actress is.”
In the end, Fonzie’s psyche was Henry Winkler’s psyche. It was just dressed up in a leather jacket, riding a motorcycle, and invented to some iconic catchphrases.