Henry Winkler has managed to stay in the comedy zeitgeist for more than 40 years, from his star-shot to fame on “Happy Days” in 1974 to the fourth season of “Arrested Development” on Netflix. These days Winkler continues to make recurring appearances on the USA series “Royal Pains” and the Adult Swim series “Children’s Hospital.” Additionally, he continues to publish children’s books and act as a spokesman for issues as diverse as dyslexia and the use of therapeutic Botox in stroke victims.
With the latest episodes of “Arrested Development” freshly streaming online and his “Ghost Buddy” books expanding into foreign countries (Italy being the latest), Winkler recently shared a few thoughts on his career with Show Tracker.
I imagine every interview you’ve had over the last seven years has involved someone asking about more “Arrested Development” in some way.
That is so true. No matter where I go in the world. I was just in Italy, introducing our children’s books, and they asked me that question. That was three weeks ago. I said, “It’s coming!” My Twitter is ablaze.
Have people started asking you about when the movie is coming now?
No, because you know what happened? I had a long talk with [‘Arrested Development’ creator Mitch Hurwitz], and he said, “I want to do the movie” — and this was before the television show — “but how do I get the three or four years that the show has been off the air and bring all of those characters up to date in two hours? It’s impossible.” So then he thought of doing all these episodes; each one or two episodes is a character. He was able to bring them up, and possibly a movie will follow. But I have to say, at this moment, it’s so successful on Netflix, I’m hoping there’s another season.
What’s your preferred viewing order for the new episodes?
I always start from the beginning. My wife is a stickler about, if we have something TiVoed and there are three or four of them, I cannot watch the most recent one. I must watch them in order. With something like “Arrested Development,” I’d go in order, because it’s confusing enough as it is. Someone said, “Hey, where’s the logic?” I said, “That word has never been used about this show in its entire career.”
You must have a pretty good instinct: “Happy Days,” the first “Scream” movie, “Children’s Hospital.”
We just finished “Children’s Hospital” last week for the new season. Again, I show up, I don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. I just say the words and sometimes say, “Could you explain this to me? Because I’m not getting it.” There’s no logic there. It’s just brilliant.
Does one job lead to the next?
I don’t know if there’s a progression. I am invited sometimes to be part of a cast. I’m going in July to do “Royal Pains.” You go for a few episodes. I was only hired on “Arrested Development” to do one episode, and all of a sudden, Barry stayed for three years. And now I’m in the new episodes. I live a charmed life. The honest truth is I love my work — and that I get to do it every day. And then out of that, I’m invited to be the spokesperson for the therpeutic use of Botox for stroke victims. And then I think that sounds good. Then I go on the road for the last three years and I meet patients who have had the therapy. I meet caregivers, I meet family members and I see the result. And I fell into this unbelieveable thing. I met a woman who said, finally, after 2 1/2 years, it was the first time I was able to put my arm around my daughters. It’s really incredible. Because Botox has only been thought about as cosmetic, and originally they started using Botox neurologically. Now it’s for the muscle structure.
You must be on the road quite a bit.
I am. I think I travel 88% of the year. I just got back from Italy, where I introduced my children’s books to the Italians for the first time. Now they’re in seven or eight countries.
In your days after “Happy Days,” I read you had a hard time figuring out what your next purpose would be and how difficult that was. Do you still have goals or things you’re setting out to do, or are you just taking things as they come along?
That is my goal. My goal is to be open enough and healthy enough so that whatever comes down the road, I can get into that car and see where it takes me.
Any talk of any reunions for the 40th anniversary of “Happy Days” next year?
My producing partner and I did a reunion in 2006. At that time, it was the definitive reunion. But I swear to you, I don’t know what will come along. For us that lived it, it’s a pretty big event 40 years ago. And people are still talking to me about it as though it was on yesterday.
Has Barry Zuckerkorn replaced the Fonz as the first thing people bring up with you?
I swear to you it depends on the generation. People all over the world asked me before the show started, “When is the movie coming? I’ve seen every show 90 times!” Younger kids talk to me about the books. They only know me as an author. Other people know the adult book I did, about fly-fishing for trout, “I Never Met an Idiot on the River.” So sports people talk to me about fly-fishing for trout. People love “Royal Pains.”
Do you find it easy to be able to slide between all these different types of people?
I live by two words. “Tenacity": That gets me where I want to go. And “gratitude,” which doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way, so that I can be open to all of these wonderful people that come and say hello to me.
So many of your roles seem to come about mainly through your friendships in the industry. Is that how it’s worked out for you?
It’s true, I must say. “Children’s Hospital,” they asked if I would consider it. I said, “Consider it? I’m so appreciative that you thought of me!” And I’ve been there for five years. Last year, Rob Corddry and the team won the Emmy for best short-form TV show on the air.
I understand that when you started playing the Fonz, the network was nervous about you wearing a leather jacket. But you could only wear it when you were in a scene with your motorcycle?
Garry Marshall made that deal. On his way back from Century City to Paramount Studios, on the way up Melrose, he stopped, because there were no cellphones back then, and said, “You will never write an episode without the motorcycle again.” ABC thought I was going to be associated with crime. I auditioned for Michael Eisner and Barry Diller, who were at the network at the time. Before they ever came to Paramount to take over. Amazing.
Do you ever face restrictions on how you create your characters these days?
No. Remember all three are on cable. So there are much less restrictions. Now, in order to fight cable’s drain of the audience, you’ll notice network television is becoming much more open than it’s ever been.
What would you say is one of the biggest risks you’ve taken in recent years, performance-wise?
Just saying yes. I just did a Broadway play, in October/November. It was called “The Performers.” It was the Academy Award night of the porn industry. It was unbelievably well-written, funny, great cast. Ari Graynor, who is now in a new show called “Bad Teacher.” Cheyenne Jackson, who was just in “Behind the Candelabra.” We closed in seven performances. You don’t know. All you do is take the risk to say yes. I always see myself as working Las Vegas. I’m the chip. I put myself in the slot. I reach over. I pull the handle and slide in. And sometimes it’s a bonanza. And sometimes you lose.