I was captivated by HBO’s ‘Barry’ from the moment I saw the first trailer for Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s paradoxical and ambitious brainchild. The eight episode dark comedy follows Barry Birkman (‘SNL’s’ brilliant Hader), a former Marine turned hit man who stumbles into Gene Cousineau’s (hilariously portrayed by the always delightful and riveting Henry Winkler) acting class and gets bitten by the acting bug. Well, crushing on the class ingénue, Sally Reed (‘Hindsight’s’ enchanting Sarah Goldberg), may have also enticed him to stick around.
In the series premiere, Barry explains to his boss and longtime family friend, Monroe Funches (Stephen Root), that he’s feeling depressed again. Funches gave him a job as a hit man to provide him with a sense of purpose after the Marines. Barry puts his skills to use by taking out douchebags and generally bad people. However, this life of killing has grown stale. He needs a new purpose and he feels like he’s found it when he follows his latest mark into an acting class.
Hollywood hopeful, Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore), really screwed up when he had an affair with a Chechen mobster’s wife. Barry’s job gets complicated when he’s enlisted as Ryan’s scene partner. As the class applauds their efforts, he feels like acting may be his new calling. Things get even more awkward when Ryan encourages Barry to join the class. He even gives Barry his copy of Gene’s advice book on acting, ‘Hit Your Mark and Say Your Lines’.
Each chapter cleverly serves as the title/lesson for every episode. You have to admit, “Make Your Mark” is the perfect place to begin. Barry has made his mark, but will he still be able to hit it? You’ll have to tune in Sunday’s at 10:30 pm on HBO to find out.
The first three episodes screened at the SF FILM festival and were received by an audience roaring with laughter and gasps. Hader’s performance, writing and direction keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. We are hanging on the perfect balance between laugh-out-loud comedy, suspenseful thriller, heart-breaking drama and a dash of heart-warming rom-com. As Stefon would say:
Every performance is superb and the ensemble’s chemistry is palpable. You can tell that everyone involved is having the time of their lives. You even find yourself liking the villains of the story. Anthony Carrigan and Glenn Fleshler are hysterical as Chechen mobsters, NoHo Hank and Goran Pazar. These foreboding tough guys operate out of their home, which always seems to be hosting parties for their young daughters. Their oddball personalities provide a fascinating foil for Hader’s mellow and fearless Barry. The only time we see the hit man at a loss is when he’s on stage.
Considering the fact that Barry walks a fine line between his life as a hit man and his aspiring career as an actor, you can’t help but wonder if those lines will blur throughout the course of the season. I posed this question, along with a few other inquiries, to Winkler and Goldberg on the red carpet before the screening. Enjoy our interesting interview:
The SF FILM audience was also treated to a panel with Winkler and Goldberg after the screening. Here are highlights from the engaging discussion:
- Henry Winkler auditioned for the role of Gene.
- Winkler praises Hader as a cinefile and applauds his ability, along with ‘Silicon Valley’s’ Berg, to create two shows in one – a shoot ‘em up and a comedy- all within 28 minutes.
- Winkler on getting the role and playing Gene: “I did two scenes with Bill…I made Bill Hader – who I watched with my wife Stacey on SNL for six years – I made him laugh. I went home and I waited. I waited so long that I thought, for sure, my name had slid off of the possibilities. Then Bill Hader called and said, ‘I wrote two scenes last night, you want to come in and play?’ In my mind I went ‘Nooo! I don’t want to come in and play. What if I screw up like the first time?” But Winkler’s son Max directed both of his auditions, which put him more at ease. The crowd laughed as he plugged Max’s new film, ‘Flower’ like a “Jewish Mother.”
- Goldberg met Winkler at her audition and thought she was hallucinating. He wished her luck. Winkler jumps in with his Fonz impersonation saying, “Hey, you’re going to be great!”
- Winkler ran an acting class as an ice breaker for the ensemble. They did an improve class together all afternoon.
- Winkler, “All of a sudden God looks down and says, ‘You’re going to work with this unbelievable ensemble and Bill Hader and Alec Berg. And I’m telling you now, you see for yourself that this is not hyperbole and it only gets better from here. There are eight episodes in the first season and it is…I cannot get over how grateful and appreciative we all are to be together.”
- Goldberg says they were able to get the script for all the episodes. “Bill said once you’ve read them, call me.” He wanted their notes, saying “You know the character better than we do now.”
- Goldberg: “The lack of ego and the open nature of the way they ran our set is extraordinary. Everybody’s voice was heard and everybody’s offering was met.”
- Winkler says the whole cast read together and would go out to lunch together, but when they started shooting he didn’t see half of the cast again. He says, “There was no drama on set other than the drama on the page.”
- “It was like water skiing on a lake at 5pm. There was not a ripple.” Winkler knows how to work a crowd. Boasts how he’s the only one in network history to jump the shark twice, once on ‘Happy Days’ and again on ‘Arrested Development.’
- Gene’s book: ‘Hit Your Mark and Say Your Lines.’ What is the best or worst acting advice they’ve been gifted or paid for? Winkler: “Listening is the beginning and the end of acting.” Along with relaxation and concentration. Goldberg: Focus on the group, not just yourself.
The panel opened to fan questions and there were a few fascinating one:
- Fan question about if the culture of Hollywood has changed: Winkler “You learn your craft in the theater…You apply that to every other form.”
- “There are idiots and there are lovely people. Which do you choose to be?”
- Winkler says the culture of Hollywood has not changed, saying “The only thing that changes in technology.”
- Goldberg agrees and adds that “they’re telling a story.” “Connect with the person you’re telling the story with.” “Theater and film are not that different, it just takes a second.”
- Winkler, “The camera doesn’t lie so you have to be as real as you can be.”
- Fan question about Sally and Barry’s differences: Goldberg, “Sally is actually this full blown narcissist…In terms of her falling for Barry, I don’t think that she can even see him. She just sees a reflection of herself. Somebody thinks she’s great…Here you have this guy who’s willing to support her. … They’ve done a clever thing between the private and the public…You get to see characters at their high status and low status.”
- Fan question on if they continue to encounter weird acting teachers: Goldberg say three years in London drama school was enough, but she learns from the people she works with. Winkler says Bill Hader’s first job was assistant director on the set of The Bachelor and he fell into improve. He says, “The good lessons stay with you.”
What do you think? Will you continue to watch ‘Barry’? If you haven’t seen it yet, will you give it a go? If you’re already fan, what do you love most about the show?
UPDATE (4/12/18): ‘BARRY’ HAS BEEN RENEWED FOR SEASON 2!
— HBO (@HBO) April 12, 2018
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‘Barry’ airs Sundays at 10:30 pm on HBO.