Over the course of this run of Barry, Gene Cousineau, the pompous acting teacher played by Winkler, has essentially sold his soul. Gene’s attempt to confront co-creator and star Bill Hader’s titular hitman about the murder of his girlfriend goes awry, but eventually leads to Barry, in an attempt at retribution, getting Gene a bit part on a popular television series. Suddenly, Gene’s long-dormant career has been revived as he’s credited with helping rehabilitate a struggling veteran — Barry — through acting. So Barry killed the person he loved! Who cares? He gets to be a star again. “Honest to God, and not even trying to be cute, it is exactly America,” says Winkler, whose Twitter account swings from progressive activism to fly fishing. “Money will move emotion out of the way.”
The question Winkler says he asks Hader and co-creator Alec Berg at the beginning of each season is whether he is going to die. So far, Gene has evaded murder, but he’s tiptoeing up to the edge. They are planning to start shooting the fourth season in August, which means Hader is busy planning what kind of man Gene will become. “I wanted to go to breakfast with Bill,” Winkler says. “I said, ‘Hey, you want to go to breakfast?’ He said, ‘I’m writing. I’m under the gun. We can go for a walk.’ “
Winkler has learned to put his trust fully in Hader and Berg, whose instincts can diverge from his completely. “I get the script, I read it, and I think, ‘I have a sense of what I’m going to do,'” he says. “And then you talk to Bill and / or Alec. Their thoughts were nowhere in my mind when I was doing my homework. And you learn, they are both at the top of their game and they are both creme de la creme, each in their own way. ” When I ask for an example, Winkler leads me in a quasi-acting exercise using a scene from Episode 6 where Gene’s agent, played by Fred Melamed, breaks into his house and sits on his bed to wake him up and tell him good news. Winkler asks me what I would do if I was in that situation: “Would you remain lying down?” I explain that no, I wouldn’t. “I thought for sure, ‘I am now going to jump out of bed,'” he says. Berg and Hader told him to do the opposite.
While Winkler still has dreams of acting opposite Meryl Streep and being directed by Martin Scorsese, he’s relishing the opportunity to work with filmmakers like Hader, who are just at the beginning of what are sure to be long careers. And likewise, these creators have seemed to recognize something beneath the lovable facade Winkler’s projected on and off screen since Happy Days. He appeared in comedian Jerrod Carmichael’s debut feature On the Count of Three in a small role as a child molester. As for getting into the psyche of the monstrous and craven: “I never think about it,” he says. “It’s my job.” His job, he explains, is to further the visions of “geniuses” like Hader and Carmichael. He recently did a project with a first-time filmmaking team in Israel. “I’m able to hear, and then try and give them what it is they want,” he says. “And I know enough now to be able to be part of that process. I adore it.”