HBO's Barry, the comedy/drama about a reluctant hit man who wants to be an actor but can't escape his true calling, is anchored by star Bill Hader's exhausted, elastic performance as the titular character. But its supporting actors have been just as essential, including Henry Winkler's egotistical drama teacher and, especially, Anthony Carrigan as the lovable Chechen mobster NoHo Hank.
NoHo Hank is a people-pleaser who got bumped up to the head of the Chechen mob after the events of season one. By episode three of the new season, he's convinced Barry, who he considers one of his best friends, to train his gang in order to get rid of Hank's nemesis Esther, leader of the Burmese syndicate (Esther has been getting in the way of Hank's friendship and alliance with Bolivian mobster Cristobal).
And his line readings on the show are just priceless, like when Barry quietly asks him whether he thinks he's an evil person, and Hank responds: "Oh my God. I mean, absolutely! Do I not tell you that enough? You’re like the most evil guy I know, man!"
Carrigan is as delighted with the attention the breakout role has brought him as NoHo Hank might be. The actor, who lived in NYC for several years before Barry, has been very open about his struggles with having a career in Hollywood while having alopecia, and he wrote in an Instagram post last year that during his lowest moments, he'd write his goals for the future down in a notebook: "I opened a notebook and detailed the series that I would be a regular on. The show would be special, well written and compelling. The character I would play would be fun and unique and would be an outlet for everything I had to offer. I even wrote HBO HBO HBO dozens of times in the same page. After years of hustling, tonight it’s happening. This character, on HBO, in this remarkable series. Fully manifested."
We spoke to Carrigan about the origins of the character, the unexpected movie star who inspired his take, and how he met his wife on the subway, of all places.
What first got you interested in Barry? Was it because of Bill Hader, or the script, or was it the genre? Well, it was pretty much all of those things! The script was just incredible. It didn't really feel like you were reading a script, it felt like you were watching something that was really compelling. And then add into it that it was Bill Hader at the helm, and this just kind of incredible project at HBO, and it's kind of the perfect scenario. So off the bat I was incredibly drawn to it—and also just to play an incredible character like NoHo Hank is a once in a lifetime thing.
NoHo Hank is one of the standout side characters, the "secret weapon" of the show. What does it mean to you when you hear people talk about your work like that? I think it's awesome, I mean I'm really happy that people are getting a kick out of this character. I certainly have so much fun playing him, so I'm happy that it kind of is giving people at least some decent memes to throw down with their friends, that's nice.
Like which memes? From season one, the "hang in there baby" was going around, and also the Bitmoji Hank "gulp." That one was a good one.
My understanding is that NoHo Hank was maybe supposed to be killed in the pilot originally? Yeah, that's right. I don't know at what point they exactly changed it, because there are certain kinda things that you don't know what's gonna happen [when you pick a project].
We shot the pilot, and then we shot the series about a year later, so there's a lot of time, but how it was pitched to me was that there was this role, which "don't be scared" because it may end up being different. So I thought it was shot and I was like, "Oh okay, well let's make him not die."
I talked to Bill and Alec as much as I could. I had such a good time and we really built up such a wonderful rapport, the whole cast and crew. We felt pretty close-knit from the get-go, so maybe that had something to do with it.
How much of NoHo Hank was on the page initially, and how much of him developed because of your performance and your interpretation of him? Well, it's an interesting thing, because when I looked at the page, I was like, "oh, I know who this guy is." Although he was just described as a very polite gangster, I kind of saw many more aspects of Hank that I immediately picked up on. I actually met other people who had gone in for that role, and they were like, "whoa, you did it completely differently from what I did," and I was like, "oh, wow, that's interesting," cause I always saw it as this specifically. It was a good amount was on the page, but I had a good time bringing what I could to it.
Was there anyone you were drawing from for inspiration, like a character in another movie or anything? A lot of Jean-Claude Van Damm in his action movies. Just trying to be a really cool guy. And yeah, I would say probably Jean-Claude at the height of his career in the '80s, probably.
I described him to a friend recently as a "sociopathic mensch."[Laughs] Right! Yeah, totally. That's a very apt description.
How has his role in the show changed going into season two? The power dynamics of the Chechen mob have changed pretty drastically. So leaving season one, Hank is kind of in charge now. He no longer is second in command to Goran. He now has a lot more responsibility, and part of that responsibility is delegating and delegating is kind of a difficult thing to do for Hank. So, even though he works well with Cristobal, I think he feels a lot of pressure as this new leader, and has to exemplify what it means to be a Chechen mobster. So, it certainly sets things up for difficult times ahead because I don't think leading is Hank's strong suit.
Yeah, I think we get an impression of that pretty quickly. A lot of the themes of the show are about the dichotomy in people's personality—the way they view themselves versus the way other people view them and their actions. That is reflected in the split between comedy and drama in the show. I was wondering what your thoughts are on that in general with Hank. Like Barry, it seems he views himself very differently than the world views him. Yeah, for sure. I think there's a kind of common motif there of working against one's true nature, and having your true nature kind of win out in the end. That's a common theme that is exemplified through many of the characters and through Hank. He's trying so hard to be this thing that he's not, and so that makes things extremely difficult for him and it gets him in some hot water.
A lot of critics and fans loved season one so much that they weren't sure there could or should be a season two. Did you or did anybody in the cast have any trepidations about that? I honestly do trust Bill and Alec inherently. Sure, there are a lot of people who believe that things shouldn't be stretched on and on, and I understand that, because we live in an age of prequels and sequels, and sequels of prequels, where everything is being milked for all its worth, up until the point where it just loses the magic of what made it work in the first place. But what's cool about this season and about Bill and Alec is they have a fresh approach this season. And I imagine they're gonna have just as fresh approach to the third season as well.
Do you have an idea of where the story is going already, have you all discussed that? No, I have no idea. I better call Bill. Better call him.
I usually ask people if they have a particularly memorable or weird subway experience to share, and I understand you have a particularly memorable one. I sure do, that's right. Yeah, I met my now-wife on the subway. It was the summer solstice [in 2015], and the hottest day of the year, and I come down to the subway platform, and I see her standing there, and I was thinking to myself, "That's cool, don't ogle her too much." Then we both get on the train.
What station was it? Broadway-Lafayette, a great station. Very roomy, absolutely. Very metropolitan.
So, we both get on the train, and then when I got off [a few stops later], I wasn't really paying attention, and I realized that I got off a stop too soon. I definitely did not want to walk in the New York heat that day, so I was like, "whatever, I'll just get back on the platform and get on the next train." And I can see that she's standing there too, so I go up and talk to her. It turned out she had gotten on the wrong train. And yeah, the rest is history.
Generally, it's pretty rare for New Yorkers to talk to strangers on the train— is that something you've done before with strangers, have you ever hit on someone before in the subway? No, no, that was the first time on the subway. It was really cool, you know? And I'm just really, really happy that I did and that I made a move.
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WE GOT MARRIED TODAY!!! Fun story. Three years ago I met this gorgeous Serbian chess master on the subway in New York City. I had gotten off at the wrong stop and she had gotten on the wrong train and we were the only two on the platform. I went up and talked to her and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. @gia_olimp you’ve made me a better man, you inspire me, you have more character and heart than anyone I’ve ever met and I’m so so so grateful to have you as my wife. Volim Te ❤️❤️❤️🍾🍾🍾😍😍😍💯💯💯💍💍💍
Did you have any other weird subway experiences? Perhaps not as romantic? Yeah, not as romantic? Um, I chased a purse snatcher in Brooklyn. This guy had grabbed this woman's purse, and was running up the stairs, and she was just like, "He's got my purse!" And I was like, "Okay!" So I started running after him, and running after him, and running after him not really knowing what I was gonna do if I caught him. He's way bigger than me, but I was just like, "Drop it!" And thank God he did, he just dropped it and kept running. So, I got the purse, gave it back to her, and all was right with the world.
Were you living in New York at that point, or were you just visiting? I was living here, I lived in New York for three years. I lived in Williamsburg, very hip of me. Then like in Clinton Hill.
Is there anything in particular you miss about living in the city? Oh sure, I really miss the changing seasons, because in Los Angeles you don't really get that—and I feel like New Yorkers, and really all East Coasters, they really earn their good seasons. They earn when the weather's hot, they earn when the leaves start to change. It's not the easiest times during the dead of winter or the height of summer to kind of get through it, but they do, and they're well deserved, you know?
In that sense, it's a meteorologically well-balanced city. Do you have any Utopian ideas on how to improve life in New York City? Ah, yeah, make the subway free. That would be a good one. And then also, there's this really cool idea that was making it like a musical, like taking the subway turnstiles and making it musical, I thought that was a really, really cool idea.
And, what else Utopian...you know, New York is such a huge city and I think that if anything can maybe really make a dent in climate change, it's New York. So it would be really cool to see New York do something massive to really offset carbon footprints.
To lead the charge, like with banning cigarettes indoors? Yes, exactly, to lead the charge. New York is such a super power, New York can do anything, you know what I mean? They could do anything! When New Yorkers band together, they can really change the world.
Since you haven't been living here for a little while, are there any places you'd be devastated to learn had closed forever while you were gone? Yes, gosh, let's see. I would be pretty devastated to lose the Cloisters, cause that place is just so gorgeous, I'd be devastated to lose this place called Miss Lily's Caribbean food, it's so good. I'd be devastated if that place went under. The Russian and Turkish Baths, the 10th Street Bath House, that place is just such a staple. And McSorley's, I love that bar. It would be really weird if McSorley's weren't here.