A bittersweet goodbye to ‘Barry’: The cast on the dramatic turns of the hit man comedy

A black-and-white portrait of the cast of "Barry"
Bill Hader, from left, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root and Anthony Carrigan of “Barry” at the Los Angeles Times studio in April. The cast gathered to talk about the show’s four-season run as it comes to an end.
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

Not many comedies get you to care about the characters in the series, only to have you see them get brutally killed — often by the protagonist, in this case, an emotionally stunted former Marine-turned-hit man named Barry Berkman, played by Bill Hader.

And not many comedies could make you root for him, his handler — a sociopathic and manipulative father figure named Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) — and the other characters in his orbit: NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), a murderous Chechen gangster; Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), a comically narcissistic acting teacher; and Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), the narcissistic but talented actor who becomes Barry’s girlfriend.

And therein lies the question that is the secret weapon of “Barry,” the idiosyncratic HBO series co-created by Hader and Alec Berg about a killer who tries to find salvation in a North Hollywood acting class: Is it really a comedy or is it actually a drama?

Perhaps it’s a drama with farce stakes, though it’s competed in the comedy category at the Emmys for the last three seasons, earning 44 nominations and nine wins — including a supporting actor win for Winkler and two lead actor wins for Hader. In fact, every one of the five actors interviewed here has been nominated at least once for their work on the show.


Bill Hader and dark comedy “Barry” have again raked in a slew of Emmy nominations. He dishes on starring in, writing, directing and executive producing his creation.

July 26, 2022

The five cast mates gathered at the Los Angeles Times in April to discuss the series (which concludes on Sunday), and as they sit around the table, jolly and all dolled up from their photo shoot, they rib each other and laugh — a lot. You’d hardly know it’s one in a procession of bittersweet occasions marking the end of the show they’ve loved working on for four brilliant seasons.

That is, until their elder statesman speaks up.

“Very sad. Absolutely,” says Winkler, in a quiet voice that hushes his “Barry” cast mates. “There are jobs, and then there is this thing that falls out of the heaven.”

“It feels right for the story, even though we’re sad,” says Goldberg about the show winding down. “Feels like we’re doing the right thing for all these characters.”

“The guy with PTSD is not gonna get funnier,” Root says.

“I don’t know if he was funny to start with,” says Hader as everyone laughs. Hader was not only the star of the series, he was also a writer, director and showrunner.

But gathered now, with a touch of melancholy — and obvious affection for Hader — it’s mostly laughter. The following conversation with the cast has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you realize the show was not going to observe genre boundaries?


Goldberg: When I read the pilot, honestly. Every character had a version you’d expect, and then they had a turn. It was really funny, but there was a dark underbelly from the beginning.

Carrigan: And it would seesaw so quickly between one and the other. One moment you’re reading and laughing out loud. Then the next moment, it takes your breath away.

Root: But all the comedy comes out of character; there’s not a joke in any of these scripts. It all comes out of you caring about the people.

There were moments of real heartbreak. Barry killing Janice, Gene’s girlfriend (played by Paula Newsome) that was rough. How did you get to the point where you said it was OK for that to happen?

Winkler: I never said it was OK. [Laughter.]

Hader: I’d get a note from Henry at the beginning of every season when he’s reading the scripts: “I’m at Episode 7; are you going to kill me?” [Laughter.] “Do I die?”

Winkler: My character finally got to a place that he could start to love somebody. [The group hushes again.] And then that person is completely taken away. Janice is dead, but my ego is so big — yes, I want revenge, but yes, I want my career — it all collides. You as the actor have to balance — we’re put on unicycles where it’s very real and shockingly narcissistic.

Bill Hader poses with his face in his hand.
Hader, who co-created and starred in the series, worried he’d done something wrong when people cheered on the title character in “Barry”: “He’s not a good guy.”
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

Did you all see Janice’s murder as a turning point in the show?

Hader: I always felt a big turning point was when Barry killed Chris [his war buddy, an amiable family man who knew too much]. That was kind of the moment.

Carrigan: I was gutted.

Winkler: My jaw dropped in that Chris scene. And the next episode, he’s saving you [Fuches] from the Chechens, and all of a sudden, he’s wearing a white hat. We’re cheering him on.

Hader: We did a screening, and when I saved you [Fuches], people clapped. I was like, “Wait, have we done something wrong?” [Laughter.] I’d say the other big demarcation for Barry would be in Season 3, when he flips out on Sally at work.

Goldberg: Yeah.

Hader: That was very important, that it’s only a matter of time before this starts to spread out to the people he loves. It was a nice reminder that he’s not a good guy. And that’s echoed in all the characters, they have those moments: “Can I come back from this?”

Goldberg: [Janice’s death] spoke to the integrity of the show — that you’re willing to go there. Lesser writers would have kept her in order to placate the audience. But to actually go there so early in the series showed how dangerous the show is. Henry had a point in asking every season, “Do I die?” [Laughter.]


Carrigan: I was almost killed in the first episode.

Goldberg: Can you even imagine the show without NoHo Hank in it?

Hader: We were lining up the shot where you were supposed to get shot, and I went over to our [director of photography] and [co-creator Berg] and I was like, [whispers] “Should we kill him? I don’t think we can kill him.” [Laughter.]

A black-and-white portrait of Anthony Carrigan
Carrigan played NoHo Hank, the beloved Chechen gangsteron “Barry.” NoHo Hank tried to kill several of the other characters, but it was his successful attempt on one character’s life that forever changed how fans saw him. Carrigan’s couture is by Alexander McQueen.
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

Hank had maybe the most heartbreaking moment in the season — the argument with Cristobal (Michael Irby) after Hank reveals he made a deal with the Chechens.

Hader: It’s that awful feeling when you’ve said something in an argument and the other person reacts, and now you can’t take it back.

Goldberg: We don’t know yet how high the stakes are when Anthony’s crying — then you realize.

Carrigan: Working with Michael Irby made a really, really difficult and just heart-wrenching scene really accessible because Michael is such a generous actor, such an intelligent performer. We found the energy of it together. We did a little bit of tweaking too. There is that really palpable feeling of “uh-oh, I crossed a threshold.” It was really devastating.

Hader: It was also hard to shoot because Michael Irby was leaving the show. It’s really difficult to work with someone you like and you have to go, “OK, you’re laying down here ...” Having to stage him dead was — the crew was very respectfully quiet and there was no talking, just letting him do his thing. He was very emotional. It was a very moving night.


The L.A.-based Chechen mob boss “lives in a bit of a fantasy realm in terms of his own capabilities, and how sophisticated he is,” says the actor who plays him.

Aug. 9, 2022

Hank is probably the most beloved Chechen gangster in television history, but while viewers likely excuse his attempts on Barry’s and Fuches’ lives, I’m guessing they have problems with what he does to Cristobal.

Carrigan: In a similar way to Sally, Hank’s priority is safety. After almost being mauled in the previous season, almost having the love of his life taken away, safety becomes the No. 1 priority. But then getting what he really always wanted butts up against that and sets a course for disaster.

Goldberg: You think you know someone, but nobody really knows what they’re capable of, depending on what the stakes are. You don’t know how you’re going to behave in certain situations. I was devastated by that scene. It’s so hard to watch Hank change. But that’s great f— writing.

Hader: You’re always just trying to write what’s honest for these characters, as opposed to fan service. I’ve done fan service, and the show immediately spits it out. We did something, I can’t say what it is, in the finale; I wrote it and Sarah said, “Why are we shooting this?” [Laughter.] But that’s good; hopefully you create an environment where people can come up to you and go, “This stinks.” [Laughter.]

Henry Winkler poses with a hand under his chin.
Winkler won the first Emmy of his career for his work on “Barry.” The show forced its actors into artistic balancing acts, especially his self-centered character: “We’re put on unicycles where it’s very real and shockingly narcissistic.”
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

Henry, you were nominated again for Season 3, but I would argue it was sort of in the wrong category. That was a dramatic performance in a drama. It was dark and explored grieving. It was vengeful.


Winkler: In the beginning of the second season, I read the scripts and, being a short Jew, am always anxious. I spent a lot of time talking to myself, saying, “You’ve got to go and talk to Bill and Alec.” So I finally went up to their office, and I said, “Gentlemen, you’ve given me this incredible gift. But I just don’t recognize the Gene this year from the Gene I created last year.” They said, “We’ll never repeat ourselves.”

And from that day on, I never thought about, “Ooh, how am I going to do this?” Or “Ooh, this is different.” I just go to the set, and Bill takes me to another country.

“It’s the most outrageous, intense work I have ever done,” the one-time Fonz says of his role as terrible acting teacher Gene Cousineau.

May 31, 2022

Hader: It’s a collaboration. Sarah and I were talking about our scene in prison in Season 4, and I said, “Why did she come back?” And she said, “I think he makes her feel safe.” [Which ended up being the key line in the scene.] That came from just chatting with Sarah.

Goldberg: He’s the only person who’s seen her ugliest animal side and chooses to love her anyway. Whenever we got scripts, they always wanted our opinions, our voices. And we’d get so much time to rehearse.

Root: Yeah, sitting around the table [reading and rehearsing] is invaluable because before you get to set, you already know the tone of the scene. Getting the tone of the scene was everything.

Hader: Because of what happened to Hank at the end of Season 3 [when he almost suffered a horrible death], he has a darker tone this season. I’m like, “I’m trying to figure out how he can still be Hank,” and Anthony was like, “When you go through that, you almost hide it. You almost act more of yourself.” And there’s certain scenes where it’s almost Hank doing an impression of Hank.

A black-and-white portrait of Sarah Goldberg
Goldberg’s character Sally was no one-dimensional portrait of a flighty actress: “I don’t care what we do,” she told Bill Hader early on, “by the end, I wanna go full ‘Woman Under the Influence’ or ‘Opening Night.’”
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

For Sally, I feel like this is her “Woman Under the Influence” season.

Goldberg: [Beaming at Hader] Way back in the beginning, Bill was talking to me about where I wanted the character to go — which is very kind; not every showrunner does that. I was like, “I don’t care what we do; by the end, I wanna go full ‘Woman Under the Influence’ or ‘Opening Night‘” [John Cassavetes’ psychological dramas starring Gena Rowlands in tour-de-force performances as women slowly cracking under pressure]. He went, “All right, you got it.” And he held true to his promise.

Hader: Cut to Episode 5, she’s in a bathroom ... [Laughter.]

Goldberg: What a gift for an actor to get to do that episode. The tone of this show is so elastic that it can hold something like [the bathroom scene in which she steers a sexual encounter into disturbing territory]. I was thrilled. It’s what I wanted to do [laughs] this season.

For all these characters, Anthony said it, they cross a threshold and there’s no going back. When Sally kills that man at the end of Season 3, her life as she knows it is over.

In “Barry,” Sarah Goldberg plays Sally Reed, an aspiring actress who practically vibrates with neediness.

April 19, 2019

Hader: It’s like that line Jessy [Hodges, as Sally’s agent, Lindsay] says: “You could do a podcast and have more money than God, but you’re a pariah and you have integrity.” [Laughter.] “So sorry.”


The other thing about having great actors is we could go to Stephen and say, “You’re gonna do the Raven. [Laughter.] You’re gonna be this different guy, covered in tattoos. I want him to be sexy.” [Laughter.]

Root: And I said to him, “I would never be cast in this role. I would never be up for this role.”

Hader: The first time we saw him with the black nails, we said, “We gotta show off the nails!” And you did this whole thing with the hair back ...

Root: He’s full “Cape Fear.”

Hader: The thing Barry wants is love, and the one genuine place he gets it is from Fuches.

Root: It is genuine love.

Hader: So when you see Fuches with Barry as a kid, you see how long they’ve known each other — but he manipulates him for his own s—. It’s all gray area. You’re both things.

A portrait of Stephen Root wearing glasses
Fuches is put through the wringer in “Barry” — though some would argue he deserved it. As Barry’s ultra-manipulative father figure and handler, it’s sometimes unclear to the audience how real his affection is. Not to Root, who says his character’s love is real: “He could be standing there with a gun in Barry’s mouth saying, ‘I love you.’”
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)

Stephen, what percentage of Fuches is that genuine dad figure who really loves Barry, and what percentage is that sociopathically manipulative — whatever? And how aware is he of it, versus how aware you are?


Root: I think he’s not aware of it at all. He’s on a revenge cycle: “Barry’s not doing what I want him to do, that we have successfully done.” I don’t understand it. What he does understand is his innate, deep love for Barry. We do a circular motion of his revenge — “I love you, I hate you!” “My sister, my mother!” [a reference to Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”]. [Laughter.]

His love for Barry, it never goes away. It never will go away. He could be standing there with a gun in Barry’s mouth saying, “I love you.”

Hader: That sums it up right there! [Laughter.] And that whole revenge army thing [in Season 3, when Fuches tries to get victims’ loved ones to kill Barry] happens basically because Barry won’t apologize to him. It’s petty, but it’s very human.

That’s why I find that whole motorcycle chase so funny — ’cause this whole thing happens because this guy wouldn’t apologize to another guy. [Laughter.]

[Duffy Boudreau, who wrote the episode,] was like, “He’s on the other side of the world, angry that another person’s not thinking of him.” [Laughter.]

The motorcycle chase has splitting lanes, freeway crashes, dropped guns and a rooftop shooting. And it’s all pretty funny.

Aug. 10, 2022

Is there a key scene that perhaps made you understand a character better?


Winkler: My scene with Robert Wisdom [Jim Moss, Janice’s father, who interrogates Gene in a garage] where I thought I could deal with this man, then realizing I am a paper skyscraper blowing in the wind. I had no defense against that power.

Goldberg: When he gets nose-to-nose, that oner [one very long, uninterrupted camera shot].

Winkler: I did not know where I was going to end up. That was a revelation.

Hader: You cried. You cried in that scene.

Winkler: I couldn’t keep the lie going. He tore everything down.

Hader: Here’s how smart, how good Robert Wisdom is: He said, “You know this [the nose-to-nose repeated dialogue] is an acting exercise. I’m gonna do this interrogation, but a bit like an acting exercise.” And I was like, “I’m so glad.” [Laughter and ahhs.] That’s him playing the theme of the show.

Carrigan: The dinner scene between Hank and the Raven, when the Raven is just baffled that Hank is deluding himself into not being responsible for Cristobal’s death. Hank is so deeply in denial that when Fuches brings that to the forefront, it rattles him so deeply. I loved doing that scene so much. The Raven is really just asking him to be honest. That’s also a huge theme in the show: Can you be honest with yourself?

Root: It’s so unusual for Fuches to give a compliment — I just want to compliment you; I don’t understand why you don’t want to take it.

Winkler: And you did the whole thing holding that woman’s hand. [During the dinner-table confrontation, Fuches never lets go of his new girlfriend’s hand.]

Hader: Fuches wants a family. He’s never gotten that. He wants the same thing Barry wants.

That moment with Anthony on the couch [after Cristobal dies], where he sits down — that was unbelievable. These are the moments from all four of them where I sat in awe. When he sat down, I cried at the monitor. I got emotional, and you [Carrigan] went, “I wanna do another one.” And I was like, “Oh, f—.” [Laughter.] “No, we got it, we got it.”


Henry, that moment with Robert Wisdom, same thing, where you go, “This is just pure acting. This is being open.” The way you mumble it. It’s all so internal. You allowed yourself to go there.

Sarah, I talk about it constantly: After you kill the guy, and I’m like, “Just say Barry, Barry Berkman did this. Barry did this,” and we had a close-up of her face. I’d never been a part of anything that was transcendent before. That wasn’t a shot that we planned.

Goldberg: It wasn’t scripted that you kept repeating it. So that was also like, again, an acting exercise.

Hader: Then Stephen — I can’t explain it because it’s in the final episode — he gives a look. There’s a moment with Stephen — it’s an amazing performance between him and one of these other people. These are the moments with these guys where I was like, “I’m so lucky to have these people for this thing that I wanted to do for so long, write and direct and do this. I’m so lucky.”

And none of those moments were funny! [Laughter.]

The cast of "Barry" laughs together.
Sometimes they do laugh: Goldberg, from left, Hader, Root, Carrigan and Winkler.
(Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)
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LA Times Today: Henry Winkler on the dramatic turns of the hit man comedy ‘Barry’

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