If you ask almost anyone about Henry Winkler, they will tell you he's the nicest man in Hollywood. The man formerly known as "The Fonz" certainly seems to have all the credentials, having written 19 children's books featuring a dyslexic hero (based on his own childhood) and been actively involved with multiple charities throughout his long career. He's even been featured on literal lists of the nicest celebs. "He’s the mayor of the world!" as Barry co-star Sarah Goldberg recently summed it up.

And we're happy to say it all seems true: Winkler is indeed one of the kindest people in the industry we've encountered, someone who appreciates the lucky breaks he's had and is generous with the people he meets, doling out advice and encouragement as he answers questions about his comedy career. He puts that generous spirit to good use in his latest role as acting teacher Gene Cousineau on HBO's Barry. In any other actor's hands, Gene could have been a run-of-the-mill sleazy Hollywood type—but instead, his sincerity shines through. He is surprisingly caring for his students, not jaded about his career, and effortlessly charming and sincere with his love interest, Detective Janice Moss.

We spoke to Winkler about drawing from his own acting teachers for his role in Barry, his biggest fears as a young actor, what it's like having his face on a subway ad, his memories of NYC in the '60s, and the new season of Arrested Development.

I got the screeners a couple of weeks ago and I binge-watched the whole thing in two days with my girlfriend. I started watching thinking I was going to dole them out, but then I just got on a roll, especially because of all the unexpected turns it takes as the season moves forward. Yes! And that is the brilliance of Barry and the brilliance of [co-creators] Alec Berg and Bill Hader because let me tell you, we read all eight scripts before we ever shot a day. We read them, they rewrote them, we read them again. We then read them for HBO and then we were off and running shooting the show. What was horrible was that when we read them, we read with everybody. So the shoot 'em ups, the assassin side of it, and the school side of it, we were all at the same table enjoying each other, going out to lunch together. Then you never saw them again.

Right, because you didn't film together. Yeah. Nine months later, I saw Stephen Root. I sat next to Stephen Root in every reading and Glenn Fleshler. These incredible actors, I never saw them again.

It must be really enjoyable and unusual as a TV actor to have the whole story in front of you when you begin. Amazing. And I'll tell you why because now, to do an hour—because I'm also one of the executive producers of MacGyver and I actually sold the show originally—to get an hour of television made is herculean. So a lot of times the script is soaking wet by the time it hits the desk. I don't know if you have ever been involved in writing for television?

Not yet. Well there you go. So you have a plan?

I would love to one day. I spend a lot of time watching, thinking about, and writing about television. Great. It's kind of a natural progression, if you're a creative sort. Terrific. Not everybody can do it. What would your favorite form be?

One of the things I love about a show like Barry is this mix of comedy and drama. Being able to mix the pathos along with— You use that word! I think if you have pathos the way that Bill and Alec do, the humanity mixed in, it fills in the gap where they used to use straw and mud when they would build log cabins. They would fill in the gap. I think pathos is what helps you make the transition from one to the other.

I just thought of it with your use of the word because it is so difficult. People have tried and it doesn't always work. These two guys, Bill is really walking funny. He's just living breathing funny and he is genuinely generous as an actor, as a director. Everything starts with the man at the top and they are totally open to the ensemble.

One of the things that is so delightful about your character, and your scenes in the show, is that despite how increasingly the dark the season gets as it progresses, Gene Cousineau remains solid as a rock. You even get to play a love story. What do you think the secret is to Gene's charm? He could have come off like a huckster, but he is so likable and sincere in an unexpected way. I think I heard Bill say this so it's not an original thought, but whatever it is that Gene can't achieve on the outside, he has built for himself on the inside. Like the audition scene—there's that old expression, "if you can't do, teach." So somehow I picture him as losing a commercial to a gecko, but on the inside they stand up and applaud him. So he's created what he needs for himself within the confines of that school with kids who at least can pay in cash on time.

It seems like he has a very healthy attitude. He's not someone who seems cynical about the industry, or drawn into the existential dread that Barry has. That is interesting. I don't think he, at the moment, in this season, he doesn't have that. I don't know what's going to come in the second season, but he does not have that same dilemma of being torn to shreds, of being great at something and hating it and wanting to do something so badly and being dreadful at it, do you know? What that does to your soul must be incredible.

I was reading an interview in which Bill Hader said that the show was partially inspired by that concept, the fact that he would get a lot of anxiety at SNL before he would go on. Yeah, he's famous for that. And would you ever know?

Right, you have no idea. He seems so natural at it. He told me that at lunch once. I nearly flipped out. I couldn't believe it. He was so in charge and you see... Have you ever met him yet?

I haven't yet. Well you will. You will. Eventually you're going to interview him and he's just a delight. And I cannot tell you...he has such generosity, I would have to say. Generosity and funny and precision.

In your career, have you ever had that feeling? Have you ever experienced this idea of being so good at something, but not enjoying it? No. I'll tell you what my terror was: knowing who I wanted to be as an actor. Knowing what I wanted to achieve as an actor and knowing deep down, really knowing deep down, I wasn't there.

So I'm 27, I get the Fonz, I enjoy it. I love it. I love him, but I know what I want and I can't quite achieve it. I am now 72. I flipped the numbers and I am closer to where I wanted to be at 27. Some people, it just comes to them. Ryan Gosling can do it at however old he is and for however long he's been doing it. It took me quite a journey to get better. That was my terror. Does that make sense?

It does. So when you were projecting ahead, what sort of work did you want to do? Were you always interested in doing sitcoms and comedy? To me there is no difference. I loved doing commercials when I did commercials. I made a living. I worked in front of a camera. I could do plays for free. I am a practical human being. I use everything I know on every job I do.

Speaking of using everything you know, did you draw from your own experiences with acting teachers for Gene? I did, I did. Some of it is, believe it or not, some of it is the way I would be as an acting teacher myself. Some of it is watching other acting teachers, having them, hearing about them, researching them online, listening to the stories. I mean there are acting teachers who use these poor children...My kids they're young adults, but they're working really hard at whatever they're doing, being a barista, whatever it is. And this one acting teacher forced them to buy his artwork. With what?

That seems like it's crossing a boundary. Did you have any bad acting teachers? I did and then I had great acting teachers. I had one woman in drama school who called me up in front of the class and she said, "You're trying to undermine my class." I said, "Madam, I don't even have a point of view on who I am. How am I undermining your class? I'm flopping out here in the breeze like spring wheat. What the hell are you talking about?" And then I had Bobby Lewis who was one of the founding members of The Group Theatre in the '30s, who just was walking talking teacher. A real teacher. What he taught me was invaluable. Also Stella Adler. The size of these people. The knowledge of these people having had done it in every shape and form.

What was the best acting advice that you've received? Acting is relaxation, concentration, and listening. That was Bobby Lewis.

What's it like having your face on a subway ad? For a lot of New Yorkers, that would be a dream come true. Do you know what? First of all, I only knew about it because other people told me about it. Marlee Matlin, who is like my second daughter, was here doing Quantico. So she took a picture of it and sent it to me. The producer of Royal Pains, who's now doing Instinct on CBS, took a picture and sent it to me.

But the bench ad [in L.A.] with the phone number, if you call the phone number, I will talk to you about my acting class. It's on the ad and HBO came up with it. It's one of my most favorite things.

I saw a Reddit thread where people mistakenly believed you were teaching under a pseudonym, because of the ads.[Laughs] Yes! Right.

Have you ever thought about actually teaching? I've only taught four classes. A master class years ago, maybe 15, 20 years ago, at Northwestern. And three classes when I was doing Here Comes the Boom in Boston at the school I went to, Emerson College. I loved it, but my approach is completely different. I believe you can move a student from doing what they're doing or a habit that probably they should break, and having them taste something brand new in that class with love. You can do it with support. I was strict, but you can do it with compassion. You can move them in the same way that you can where you're just like sadistic. You're just mean to the person. That is really over stepping your power bound.

If I'm not mistaken you live in L.A. now right? I do. I've lived there in my body since 1974. My heart lives here in New York. My soul lives in Montana. It's where I fly fish for trout.

Do you get to come back to New York much? I do. When I'm driving over the bridge and you see the skyline of New York, my blood runs faster through my body. I can't wait to hit the pavement. To get out of that car and walk in the city or have a cheeseburger at Burger Joint.

You used to live in NY right? I was on 78th and Broadway.

How do you feel about the way the city has changed between then and now? It's a little more crowded. It is way too expensive, but it is the most wonderful city on the face of the Earth rivaled only by maybe Kyoto.

I haven't been there. Oh you will love it. I'm telling you if you ever plan a trip to Asia, Kyoto, I would say to you, is the only stop you must make. Everything else you'll enjoy.

I will remember that. Have you gotten to ride the subway much lately? I do. I ride it all the time. Well, I haven't ridden it this time because we just arrived last night, but I'm going to take it to the theater tonight.

What are you seeing? Tonight we're going to go see Three Tall Women. And then we just saw The Band's Visit. It's wonderful. Then I'll tell you a play you really should go and see is Come From Away.

I haven't seen that either. Oh my Lord. It won the Tony. It will jettison you out of your seat.

I also read that your first acting job was on a game show in New York that paid you $10? Yes! Yes!

I was wondering: what game show was that? That is a good question. I have got to research that. I knew it...and then I have forgotten it. [After that] of course I saw Dick Clark do like a rock and roll show at 44th Street Theater. It was terrific. But what was the game show? I want to saw The Price is Right or something like that. As an extra, I got $10.

I'm really fascinated by what the New York City acting hustle was like during that period. Because I read you did a lot of commercials... I did a lot of commercials and I walked up and down Madison Avenue and I auditioned. I lived on 72nd Street and West End Avenue. $174 for a one bedroom.

I can't imagine. It's so different now. Yeah. I tried out for plays. I tried out for movies. I got a movie called Crazy Joe starring, oh my God...I can't remember the game show, I can't remember the name... Oh my God. He was in the movie, he was the father in Everyone Loves Raymond.

Oh Peter Boyle! Peter Boyle. Thank you.

Young Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein. So it was starring Peter Boyle—

Young Peter Boyle. So I came in. You're an Italian director and this is what I did. [Winkler proceeds to get out of his chair, mimics walking in the room and shaking hands, then walking out without saying a word.] "Thank you."

And you walked out. Now two days later I get a phone call, "you got the part." I hung up. And they call me back and said, "No, no, no. You got the part." I said, "You've got to be joking. My tush didn't even hit the seat." And I played his bodyguard driver. This kind of small guy for, I don't know, ten weeks for that summer. I got $500 a week. Holy moly.

Was that your first big gig? This was pre-Happy Days right? Yeah. And then I did Lords of Flatbush. I got $2,000 for 12 months work.

Which I'm sure could cover your apartment pretty okay. But what kinds of commercials were you doing then? What did I do? H & R Block Taxes. American Airlines. Talon Zippers. Sanka Decaf Coffee. All Madison Avenue. All the firms were on Madison Avenue and I would just go and audition.

I think my conception of the Upper West Side back then is sort of based off Mad Men. I don't know if you watched it, but there was a whole storyline about Peggy moving up there and her parents freaking out about it, calling it a "cesspool." And now it's one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Yes it is, and it was always great. The only thing is that Riverside Drive Park there are courts there, basketball courts, so I had my Schwinn bicycle stolen. Some kid said, "Hey can I ride it?" And I naively said, "Sure." And I watched him ride off into the sunset.

Do you think of yourself as a trusting person with strangers? I do. I do. I was more than I am now. It is like I was a bar, a slug of Swiss cheese, and I have now filled in a lot of those holes. So now I am a really delicious French muenster.

Lastly, I just wanted to see whether there are any updates on the new season of Arrested Development. It comes out mid-summer. It's all done, we shot it. Now heres the great thing. The season before was, you know, "take to the sea." Now the young man who played me was actually my son Max. So I'm doing a scene with Jeff Tambor and Jessica Walter and they are x's, they are tape on light stands. This year everybody was in the same room at the same time.

That must be so much fun Yeah. Well I love Jason Bateman and I'm so proud of him. I mean, what a great job he did on Ozark.