“Happy Days” star Henry Winkler is a late bloomer. The septuagenarian actor won his first Emmy in 2018 for his portrayal of the acting teacher Gene Cousineau on HBO’s “Barry.” And he says he’s enjoying his career more now than he did in his 20s.
Winkler told the Saturday Evening Post in 2019 that his success later in life represents a reversal of sorts from the typical formula. Many actors rocket to success in the prime of their lives only to see their careers fizzle out as they age. But for Winkler, career fulfillment was worth waiting for.
“In my mind I’m still physically 22,” Winkler said. “But the reality is I’m grateful for every knee bend. Men my age are waiting for the phone to ring, and I got an Emmy! I think I’ve flipped the numbers and I’m closer to the actor I wanted to be at 27.”
Winkler Endured a Career Dry Spell After ‘Happy Days’
One might assume that his astronomical success as the Fonz would have opened a lot of doors for Winkler after “Happy Days” ended. But that turned out not to be the case. Winkler said he struggled to find work after playing Fonzie.
“My biggest anxiety is: will I work again? I know what it’s like because after ‘Happy Days,’ no one would hire me,” Winkler told the Saturday Evening Post. “It was like, ‘Oh, he’s got talent, but he’s the Fonz.’”
“I can take anxiety to where you literally see it leaving my body in a cloud,” he added.
When Winkler auditioned for “Barry,” he was more nervous than he’d been in years. Probably more nervous than he’d been since “Happy Days.” Winkler convinced his youngest son, who is a director, to coach him prior to the audition. Still, he said the audition “wasn’t a slam dunk.”
“I did the best I could,” Winkler said. “But it wasn’t a slam dunk. There were weeks and weeks of waiting, sitting on the edge of your chair. Then you get the call that they want you. I’m jumping up and down and telling everybody. Then I go, ‘Oh my God I just got this great role but I don’t know how to act anymore. Why did I say yes?’”
Fortunately, as his Emmy Award attests, Winkler hadn’t forgotten how to act, after all. And besides “Barry,” his later years have also included appearances on “Arrested Development,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Royal Pains.”
Moreover, “Barry” writer, director and producer Bill Hader told USA Today that Winkler, known around Hollywood as a nice guy, was a counterintuitive but ultimately brilliant choice for the role.
“He’s such a nice, warm person that having him play such a narcissistic (jerk) is a funny idea,” Hader said.