Henry Winkler uses metaphors—about sand—to interpret his life as an actor.
In 1974, the Emmy-nominated star of HBO’s “Barry” gained international notoriety for his role as Fonzie in the hit American sitcom “Happy Days.” While Winkler wears the producer and director hats from time to time, acting is his major love. “Being a producer is like holding sand in your arms: you never stop the drip. Being a director, you try to get all that sand into one box. And as an actor I get to play in the sand,” he discloses during an interview for Backstage’s “In The Envelope” podcast. From Winkler’s perspective, being an actor is the most fun part of the industry; directors and producers often dictate the amount of control one can have.
So Winkler admits that as an actor you have to face directors with whom you disagree. In moments of artistic dissent, he suggests that an actor verbally accept the direction and then do what feels right. “The director will nine times out of 10 [say], ‘See, didn’t I tell you?’ It’s turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ and you’re saving the director and you’re saving yourself.”
Creative conflicts sometimes begin in the writers room, but can dissipate with open communication between actors and writers. As long as an actor demonstrates civility and respect, Winkler recommends honesty. While working on the 1982 film “Night Shift,” he remembers telling the writers his apprehensions about certain lines and then receiving completely rewritten scenes the next day.
Instead of conforming, Winkler argues that actors need to stand up for their craft. “There are times when you can absolutely turn somebody’s mind around but you know acting is made up of detail.” He expands on this idea with a new sand analogy: “You know when they say the beach is made up of one grain of sand? That grain of sand added to all the other grains is the piece and your character. So sometimes you have to pick a lot of battles.”
Since actors grapple with constant rejection, each audition can seem like a battle. Despite bearing a 40+ year career as an actor, Winkler still auditions for roles (even for his part in Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s “Barry”). The idea of auditioning never offends him, but consistently stresses him out.
Of course, he imagines himself as an inanimate object to ease the nerves and remember that rejection is not personal. “I see myself as that toy that’s like a clown with sand at the bottom and you punch it and it goes down and then—wooshh—it comes right back to center. Because they’re not really rejecting you.”
To listen to this “In the Envelope” podcast interview in full, click here!
UPDATE: Winkler is no longer just a nominee; at the 70th Emmy Awards ceremony Sept. 17, the “Barry” star took home the award for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy!
Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!