Q & A: Henry Winkler on ‘Royal Pains’, ‘Arrested Development’ acting!
Henry Winkler. I could write a dozen openings for this but really, all I need to say is Henry Winkler!
He’s a TV icon; the leather jacket he wore as ‘Fonzie’ is on display in the Smithsonian. He’s a successful producer (MacGyver), written several books and has managed to stay away from being typecast.
He’s now recurring on the hit USA show, Royal Pains. His character, ‘Eddie Lawson’, is the father of Hank (Mark Feuerstein) and Evan (Paulo Costanzo) and he loves playing the character.
Henry’s a really great guy and if you get a chance, you should listen to the audio portion of the interview. He talks about his character, working on Royal Pains, what’s going on with Arrested Development and so much more!
Royal Pains airs on Thursdays at 9/8c on USA.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes
How did you initially get involved with working on Royal Pains?
Henry Winkler: The producer, Andrew, was sitting at dinner and next to him was my dentist and his wife. They overheard them talking that they’re looking for the father for Royal Pains. My dentist’s wife was a fan; she said, “Oh, you know who it should be? Henry Winkler.” A little while later I had breakfast with Michael and Andrew who run the show, brilliantly I might add and they asked me if I would join the cast and I embarrassed myself in the restaurant.
What do you find the most challenging about bringing your character of Eddie to life on screen?
Henry Winkler: That’s a good question. If I had to pick something, the challenge is to make sure that I am toe-to-toe with Mark and Paolo, Jill and Reshma because they are really good; they are the real deal and I want to carry my weight.
There’s such great chemistry between you and, and Hank and of course, Paolo. Really when you’re interacting with them it’s like, –. A true father figure.
Henry Winkler: Yeah, what you see, Jamie, honestly, what you see is what you get. You cannot lie; the camera does not lie. And we had so far the most wonderful time together and we don’t talk about it a lot; you do it once for the crew, , you go through a scene then for the camera placement; you go through the scene for where you’re going to be in the room, how you’re gonna move together. You go and you put your makeup on, you go put your costume on. You come back and then you shoot it two or three times and out of that come these unbelievably wonderful scenes. I honestly believe that some of the best work I’ve done on television are the scenes that I have done with Mark, you know, they are so emotional and layered but also it’s great writing.
You know everybody says that when I meet them on the plane or in an airport of some place in America, people talk to me about Royal Pains and they always talk about how much they enjoy everybody talking to each other. It makes me happy.
In order to bring a character to life … there’s got to be some kind of point where you relate to him. So I was wondering, what do you like most about Eddie and what do you like least?
Henry Winkler: I’ll tell you exactly what I like least first. It is so difficult to look my son in the eye, to look Mark in the eye when he says, “You left when mom was sick and we were nine and eleven.” And I take no responsibility for that. That is the most difficult – those are the most difficult moments to play because it is, first of all, so against my grain and second of all, I particularly don’t like the character at the moment.
I’ll tell you something else I’m not particularly fond of Eddie about. That he dismisses Evan in order to get to Hank. That’s very hurtful when I do that, when I look in Paolo Costanzo’s eyes because Paolo is right there with you, at the moment. He’s right in the moment with you when you are, and he takes it so personally.
Lately you’ve been playing some very offbeat characters like Eddie and your character in Arrested Development. Is it fun to play sort of flawed characters after being best known for a character who is sort of known for being so cool and perfect?
Henry Winkler: You know what is interesting is that I went to college and studied drama. I went to drama school and got a master’s degree. So I really wanted to be prepared; I really love my job. I am filled with gratitude that I get to do my job. The Fonz was as far as me as you could possibly be. I’m playing this tough Italian; I’m a short Jew. He rode a motorcycle and I had trouble with a two-wheeler. So that’s my job, is to create these people and make them come so to life that I’m having fun and you’re having fun watching. So I thoroughly enjoy and I thoroughly enjoy Eddie and I’ll repeat it again because there is this room of writers in Los Angeles and they are young and then there are veteran writers in that room who could, and each one of these people could run their own show.
So when I say it’s well written, it, these people are great at what they do.
Can you talk about your progression as an actor from your first experience on a set and compare it to your Royal Pains experience, how much has changed and what elements are still the same?
Henry Winkler: Do you know what is interesting? I’ll tell you what has changed. The size of the camera, the size of the lights, aside from that, acting is acting is acting. The same process that I did in 1974 on Happy Days is the process that we do on Royal Pains in 2011. And that is absolutely the truth. Nothing changes because the doing of it, the art of it, the tradition of it is exactly the same. What has changed is on the set of Happy Days, which was Stage 19 on Paramount lot, the same stage that Lucy used when she did I Love Lucy. We had a camera that was so gigantic it took three people to move the dolly and now the camera is tiny compared and most of it is tape, which looks like film. You know when I did the movie, Click, with Adam Sandler, it was the first time that they used the Genesis, which was the tape camera designed to make movies. Now, today, they can shoot movies on your home, you know, camera that you take photographs as a family with, through Canon, I think. Isn’t that amazing?
I was wondering if you could tell us how you got involved in writing books and what advice would you give a young person who wants to be a writer?
Henry Winkler: Oh, that’s a good question. I got involved, somebody said to me, there was a lull in my acting career; who knew there would be a lull in your acting career. And he said to me, “Why don’t you write books for kids about your learning challenges?” And I didn’t immediately picked up on it because I literally thought I have nothing to say, I can’t write a book; I’m stupid. I was told I was stupid; I was lazy. Two years later he said the same thing and this time I said, “Okay,” and I met Lynne. He introduced me to Lynne Oliver and since 2003 we’ve been writing together. And how we write is I go to her office every day; it usually takes about two-and-a-half months to write a novel. They’re 133 pages long. And I walk around her office and she sits at the computer and we literally argue over every word. We literally write it together and what I would say to young people is this. There is more than one way to get to where you want to go; there’s always somebody who can help you do what you don’t know how to do. And just sit in front of your computer if you can use one and write five minutes a day; just write whatever comes to your mind. And pretty soon, you’d be shocked at what you have.
Of all the roles that you’ve taken on in movies and film and etc., what’s your favorite?
Henry Winkler: Wow, all right and this is the absolute truth, I don’t a favorite. Every time I think of a project, I always think, “Wow, this is great, no, no, no, this one is great.” It’s like my children; I don’t have a favorite. I’ll tell you what, I live with gratitude. I wanted to do this since I was seven; I’m actually still doing it and I earn a living doing this. I am so grateful I don’t even know how to explain it to you.
If I were to give you two words, I would give you tenacity, which helps you get where you want to go and gratitude, which allows you not to be angry when you get there.
So is that the advice you would give to someone wanting to go into acting?
Henry Winkler: Well I would also give them the advice of preparation. Do you know there’s so many young people they think that it, I don’t know what has gotten into the culture, but they think that, oh, I can do that; I’m just going to do that. And I think if you’re going to do something you want to be there for longer than a minute. You have to think of yourself as a forest ranger. You plant a tree and you want to tend that tree for the next 75 years.
You know what? My advice to actors is think of yourself as pasta and throw yourself against the wall until it sticks.
I like that; I’ve never actually heard that, that’s good. Now, when you approach a scene, be it a comedy or drama, what is the main thing that you do first?
Henry Winkler: Ah, the first thing I do is. I have to read it very slowly because reading is still difficult for me. But what I look for is what do I want and from there, I then build. Because when you know what you want you can get it and you have to figure out how to get it with somebody else’s words on that page.
What kept you going throughout the years to not allow yourself to be stereotyped?
Henry Winkler: Well, there’s a phrase, that was first said in 1946, and my whole life, that, that when I give a speech, in public speaking, my speech is based on it. It’s if you will it, it is not a dream. And I now know that is the truth, the cosmic truth. It just works, at least in the western hemisphere, it is the truth.
You’re an actor, producer, director, author, you’re kind of a philanthropist, I don’t think you need to work. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Henry Winkler: Well, all of that gets me out of bed. I do need to work because when you have a daughter with a credit card, trust me, you need to work. I love my job. I love my job.
I am a huge fan of your work on Arrested Development. It’s one of my favorite shows, I still think it’s a shame it was canceled. Ah, I know the movie’s still in pre-production and it has been –
Henry Winkler: Well let me just say this. All of the actors have said yes. We are completely dependent on Mitch Herwitz. It is when, Hugh just did a series with Will Arnette.
Now maybe that that is the nature of that series has changed, maybe he will now turn his attention to the movie.
So you are planning on reprising the role of Barry Zuckercorn?
Henry Winkler: I still have my chiffon underwear in the drawer waiting.
I’m glad to know that was yours.
Henry Winkler: It was, now, talk about understanding a character. I don’t know who the hell he is. All I do is say the words.
So one thing you haven’t talked about yet. I know you’ve produced a lot of it. Can you talk about working on McGuyver?
Henry Winkler: The greatest day of my producing life was when Richard Dean Anderson walked in the door. We had met every handsome, wonderful, star, leading man and then all of a sudden Richard Dean came in and he couldn’t read the script without his glasses. At that moment when he was searching in his bag for his glasses he got the part because he was flawed. He was not perfect; he was and then turned out to be an unbelievable leader on the set for seven years.
Do you have a dream project or dream role that you would like to either work on or play?
Henry Winkler: Wow, that’s, that is a good question. I would love to play a mute that I would have to communicate everything only through my body without words. So I’ve thought about that for a very long time. When I was younger, I wanted to be Zorro.
But I’ve given that up. So my dream really is to continue working and to be finished with acting before acting is finished with me. That is my dream.
How did you get your start in acting?
Henry Winkler: The Yale Repertory Theater. I made 120, 172 dollars a week as a, an actor at the Yale Repertory theater after graduating from the Drama School. And from there it just grew, but that was my very first professional job, June 30, 1970 in East Hampton, Long Island, at the John Drew Theater, the Yale Repertory Theater did a Summer of Story theater. And that was my very first job and I had a Pontiac Lemans with a bad oil tray or something like that. I wanted to beat it into submission, this car, brand-new, got it, didn’t drive, hated it.
It was just announced a few weeks ago that you were awarded the Order of the British Empire. What is that about and how did it make you feel?
Henry Winkler: Amazing, isn’t that amazing? I got a letter that said, “You must keep this a secret. If the Queen decides to give you an award, would you accept it?” I said, “Can I say yes I would.” I would be okay with that. And then six weeks later I get a letter saying, “The Queen of England has graciously agreed to confer on Henry Winkler the order of the British Empire,” for the work that I do in England also with children who learn differently. My books, Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever that I co-write with Lynne Oliver, are also popular in the UK and I go over there to tour for the books and I’ve spoken to, oh, I want to say a hundred thousand students over there also. And so, my work with children who learn differently is what got me to this wonderful honor. The Queen.