Not My Job: We Quiz Actor Henry Winkler On Twinklers | WGLT

Not My Job: We Quiz Actor Henry Winkler On Twinklers

Aug 10, 2019
Originally published on August 10, 2019 1:02 pm

Some actors will forever be associated with one iconic role and that's certainly true of Henry Winkler. His performance as acting teacher Gene Cousineau on HBO's show Barry is so amazing that for the rest of his life, people will be calling out when they see him, "Hey! It's the Gene!"

We've invited Winkler to play a game called "Oooh, look at the twinklers!" Three questions about stars. Click the audio link above to find out how he does.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we force people we admire to do something they may not like.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It is a curse for an actor to be associated with one iconic role that people assume that's all he can do. And that sadly might be true for Henry Winkler. His performance as acting teacher Gene Cousineau on HBO's show "Barry" is so amazing that for the rest of his life people will be calling out when they see him, hey, it's the Gene.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Henry Winkler, welcome back to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

HENRY WINKLER: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

WINKLER: How are you?

SAGAL: Oh, we're good, Henry. How are you tonight?

WINKLER: I am standing here with by hedgehog...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...And we both are thrilled to be back on the show.

SAGAL: We're so glad to have you on.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I, of course, am making a little joke because, of course, you played the Fonz 40 years ago. And has it gotten to the point, given the passage of time, that more people recognize you for Gene on the show "Barry" than for the Fonz?

WINKLER: It's at the tipping point.

SAGAL: It is.

WINKLER: Yeah. I don't - you know, people yell out "Barry" and people yell out the Fonz, but I will say I'm wearing jeans right now.

SAGAL: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, there you are.

WINKLER: Because, you know, jeans is a part of both characters.

SAGAL: That's true. They both wear - yeah, there's - one is named Gene. The other one wears jeans.

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: That's very - oh, I didn't realize there's a throughline to your work.

WINKLER: You know what?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I didn't either until you - (laughter) I just thought of it.

SAGAL: I know. It's great. Who knows?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I'll tell you this show, my every - every synapse is firing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It is still amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Like, people still do refer to you as the Fonz even though that was...

WINKLER: Oh, absolutely.

SAGAL: Yeah.

WINKLER: Absolutely. My wife.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But - and I think that's wonderful. But I don't want to talk to you about the Fonz this time. I want to talk to you about Gene Cousineau, this role you play in the amazingly good TV show "Barry." Can...

WINKLER: Thank you.

SAGAL: For those who are not lucky enough to see it, can you describe who Gene is?

WINKLER: I am a teacher of great thespians.

SAGAL: Yes.

WINKLER: And I know they're great because they can pay in cash on time.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: And I teach a young man who came into my class who has kind of, like, another job I'm only finding out about. And he is a - an assassin.

SAGAL: Right.

WINKLER: And he has become like a son...

SAGAL: Right.

WINKLER: ...To me.

SAGAL: Well, what's amazing about the show is even given that outlandish premise that he is an assassin who decides he wants to be an actor and finds...

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: ...An acting class...

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: ...It's really quite moving because, as you say, he does need a father, and your character kind of provides that.

WINKLER: I didn't know that he was a - as big a putz as he was supposed to be.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: And then the two men who run this show saw me as I started to bring Gene alive, and they said, oh, he could also have a heart. And so then they combine the two...

SAGAL: Right.

WINKLER: ...The two parts of my body...

SAGAL: Right, your...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...My heart and lower down.

SAGAL: So that's actually very interesting to me because they conceived the character as more of a jerk. And then they...

WINKLER: Yes, they did. They wrote him dark.

SAGAL: But you're Henry Winkler. You can't play a complete jerk. It's not in you.

WINKLER: Well, you know what? I didn't know that was true, but it seems to be.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I got to ask you because of the - so much of this is set in this acting class, did you ever take an acting class? And was it like this?

WINKLER: You know what? I had 14 teachers in college, in graduate school, in drama school. I did research, and I came across a fact where there was a teacher here in LA who literally forced his students, who barely made enough to take his class, he made them buy his art.

SAGAL: You mean, like, he would paint pictures or whatever...

WINKLER: And then sell it to his students. And I thought, yes, this says everything I need to know...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...About this teacher.

SAGAL: Wow. Do you enjoy that aspect of the character - being a little grasping and cruel?

WINKLER: Do you know what? I actually never thought of that. Because when you do an episode, you do scene by scene, and you concentrate on making that scene perfect. And all of a sudden, you put all these details together, and I watch along with everybody else. I don't see it until it's on the air.

SAGAL: Right, so you have no idea.

WINKLER: I am thrilled. I just love going to work.

SAGAL: Aw, that's - I wonder what that would be like.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Sounds great, though. It does sound great.

WINKLER: (Laughter).

SAGAL: You - and I'm so proud - you won an Emmy for the first season.

WINKLER: Yes, I did.

SAGAL: And I was amazed to discover this - that was your first Emmy. You've had a lifetime of television, and you've only won this Emmy.

WINKLER: And I have it on my dining room table.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really? Is that where you put it? You put it right in...

WINKLER: I do. And it's opposite the front door. So when the man...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...Delivers the medicine from the pharmacy...

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...I point out to him...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: ...The Emmy.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh, that old thing.

WINKLER: And anybody else who comes in the front door, I lead them through the dining room first.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I want to ask you something. So you were in the show a few years ago, made a wonderful time. And Paula Poundstone said that she saw you once in public, just, you know, in the way that you do.

WINKLER: We were flying on the same airline on the same plane.

SAGAL: And she said that she thought to herself, there's a happy little fella.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So I mean...

WINKLER: Is she referring to the fact that I'm short?

SAGAL: I don't - I think...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm not quite sure what she was referring to, but I did want to ask you, do you think that's an accurate description?

WINKLER: It is. I have - I live by two words - gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go...

(APPLAUSE)

WINKLER: ...And gratitude doesn't allow me to be angry along the way.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well, Henry Winkler, it is always a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game that this time we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Ooh, look at the twinklers.

SAGAL: So...

WINKLER: Oh, wow.

SAGAL: ...As a Winkler, you winkle (ph). But what do you know about things that twinkle - stars?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about twinklers (ph), or stars. Get two right, and you win our prize for one of our listeners - any voice they might like on their voicemail. Bill, who is our friend Henry Winkler playing for?

KURTIS: Cyndy Metcalf of Dallas, Texas.

SAGAL: All right, Henry, you ready to do this?

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: Oh, yes. We've learned some interesting things about stars since we started venturing into space, including which of these - A, stars can get bored, B, stars smell like burnt steak, or C, stars, they're just like us?

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I would have to go with stars are just like us because I'm a very normal person.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Actually, stars, they're just like us is a feature in Us magazine. The real answer was stars smell like burnt steak. We didn't know this - it's literally true - until astronauts went out into space in spacesuits and came back and sniffed their spacesuits and felt weirdly hungry...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Because it turns out that stars give off a number of chemicals, one of which smells like burnt steak.

HELEN HONG: What?

SAGAL: It's true.

WINKLER: Wow.

SAGAL: It's the smell of space.

WINKLER: I'm so glad I'm on this show. I never knew that before.

SAGAL: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you still have two more chances. Here's your next question.

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: Williamina Fleming classified tens of thousands of stars during her decades-long career at the Harvard Observatory.

WINKLER: Yes.

SAGAL: Before that she had another job. What was it? A, one day the head of the observatory got frustrated with his staff and said, my Scottish maid could do better. He hired her, and she did.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, she was a theater critic who said people are boring. I want to watch something else. Or C, nobody knows. She just showed up one day wearing a silver suit and said, I can help you.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: All right, I'm going to eliminate C.

SAGAL: Yes.

WINKLER: I'm going to go...

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A, that she said I - my Scottish maid could do better. You are right.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Turns out she was one of those undiscovered geniuses who became a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. She discovered, among other things, the Horsehead Nebula. She is a hero. All right, you have one more question.

WINKLER: No, I was going to hire her, but she took that job.

SAGAL: I know. It's a shame.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And she died 90 years ago. But other than that...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...She would've been fabulous. Last question - our sun is a star, of course. For about 30% of people, staring into the sun will cause sneezing fits. What is the scientific name of this reflex? A, squinty sneezing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, solar snot.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, autosomal compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst, or achoo.

(LAUGHTER)

WINKLER: I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C, autosomal compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst, or achoo. You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

HONG: Wow.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: That's what they call them. Bill, how did Henry Winkler do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You know, Henry, two out of three right is a very good score. That means you have won.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Henry Winkler is nominated for another Emmy for his role on HBO's "Barry." He has a children's book "Alien Superstar" coming out this fall. Henry Winkler, what a joy to talk to you. Thank you so much...

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: ...For coming back with us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(APPLAUSE)

WINKLER: Thank you for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES BRADLEY SONG, "CHANGE FOR THE WORLD")

SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill says I moo. It's a matrimonial listener limerick challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.