Tuesday, March 1, 2011

So Many Reasons to Love Henry Winkler

Photo by Patrick Harbron/USA Network 

This needs to be stated matter of factly from the get go. Henry Winkler is the nicest guy in Hollywood. We had met him several years ago at a book signing for one of the installments in his Hank Zipzer children’s book series, and we walked away feeling all warm and fuzzy about The Fonz. So when we got the email last week about an upcoming conference call interview with the Happy Days icon, we were very excited. Not only did he not disappoint us, we could tell the every single person on the phone was genuinely touched by his kindness of spirit and generosity of time.

He might have been there to promote Royal Pains, which he did with grace, but he touched on a career full of pop culture jewels, gave some heartfelt advice and even gushed a bit about our home town. He covered so many great and diverse topics that rather than add a lot of our own subjective filler, we just thought we’d let the very eloquent man speak for himself.

So without further ado, here are some of the highlights of our chat with Henry Winkler.

1. His Philosophy on Life
“There’s a phrase, that was first said in 1946, and my whole life… that when I give a speech, in public speaking, my speech is based on it. It’s ‘If you will it, it is not a dream.’ And I now know that is the truth, the cosmic truth. It just works, at least in the western hemisphere, it is the truth.”

2. On His First Professional Role
“I made… $172 dollars a week as an actor at the Yale Repertory Theater after graduating from the Drama School. And from there it just grew, but that was my very first professional job, June 30, 1970 in East Hampton, Long Island, at the John Drew Theater. The Yale Repertory Theater did a summer of Story Theater. And that was my very first job and I had a Pontiac Lemans with a bad oil tray or something like that. I wanted to beat it into submission, this car, brand-new, got it, didn’t drive, hated it.”

3. On Preparing for His Parts
“The first thing I do is, I have to read it very slowly because reading is still difficult for me. But what I look for is what do I want and from there, I then build. Because when you know what you want you can get it and you have to figure out how to get it with somebody else’s words on that page.”

4. On Being Cast in Night Shift
“Ron Howard said, “You can play either, just be in the movie.” And I thought, well, I just played the Fonz for a lot of years. I’m going to play Richie and that’s how I picked Chuck.”

5. On His Favorite Role Ever
“This is the absolute truth, I don’t a favorite. Every time I think of a project, I always think, ‘Wow, this is great, no, no, no, this one is great.’ It’s like my children. I don’t have a favorite. I’ll tell you what, I live with gratitude. I wanted to do this since I was seven. I’m actually still doing it and I earn a living doing this. I am so grateful I don’t even know how to explain it to you… and that is the truth… If I were to give you two words, I would give you tenacity, which helps you get where you want to go and gratitude, which allows you not to be angry when you get there.”
6. On His Professional Dream
“I would love to play a mute that I would have to communicate everything only through my body without words. So I’ve thought about that for a very long time. When I was younger, I wanted to be Zorro. But I’ve given that up. So my dream really is to continue working and to be finished with acting before acting is finished with me. That is my dream.”

7. On Advice to Aspiring Actors
“My advice to actors is think of yourself as pasta and throw yourself against the wall until it sticks.”

8. Discusses Producing MacGyver
“The greatest day of my producing life was when Richard Dean Anderson walked in the door. We had met every handsome, wonderful, star, leading man and then all of a sudden Richard Dean came in and he couldn’t read the script without his glasses. At that moment when he was searching in his bag for his glasses he got the part because he was flawed. He was not perfect. He was and then turned out to be an unbelievable leader on the set for seven years. I’ve got to tell you something else about it. The most difficult thing I’ve ever done as a producer, trying to find sources for MacGuyverisms.”

9. On Reprising the Role of Barry Zuckercorn for an Arrested Development Movie
“Well let me just say this. All of the actors have said yes. We are completely dependent on Mitch Hurwitz, who just did a series with [Will Arnett]. Now maybe that, that is, the nature of that series has changed, maybe he will now turn his attention to the movie… I still have my chiffon underwear in the drawer waiting… Talk about understanding a character. I don’t know who the hell he is. All I do is say the words.”

10. On Dyslexia
“In each area there are places, the university, a lot of universities have entire departments dedicated to kids who learn differently and they can lead you. What I know is this, one out of five children have some sort of learning challenge. It’s hereditary so it is, you’re born with it, it’s not your choice. You learn to negotiate it and what I have said and I will say over and over and over again, no matter how a child learns, their brilliance has nothing to do with that. Because it is difficult for them, it does not mean that they are not brilliant.”

11. On Hank Zipzer and His Latest Writing Project
“I got involved, somebody said to me, there was a lull in my acting career. Who knew there would be a lull in your acting career? And he said to me, ‘Why don’t you write books for kids about your learning challenges?’ And I didn’t immediately picked up on it because I literally thought, ‘I have nothing to say. I can’t write a book. I’m stupid.’ I was told I was stupid, I was lazy. Two years later he said the same thing and this time I said, ‘Okay,’ and I met Lynne. He introduced me to Lynne Oliver and since 2003 we’ve been writing together. And how we write is I go to her office every day. It usually takes about two-and-a-half months to write a novel. They’re 133 pages long. And I walk around her office and she sits at the computer and we literally argue over every word. We literally write it together… We finished the Hank Zipzer series. We did 17 novels, and honestly, yesterday at 2:48 in the afternoon, Lynne Oliver and I finished the first novel of our brand-new series for Scholastic, which will be out in 2012. So we’re writing a whole new series for kids, very funny and the underpinning of it will be about bullying.”

12. On Advice to Young Writers
“What I would say to young people is this. There is more than one way to get to where you want to go. There’s always somebody who can help you do what you don’t know how to do. And just sit in front of your computer if you can use one and write five minutes a day. Just write whatever comes to your mind. And pretty soon, you’d be shocked at what you have.”

13. On His Upcoming Photography Book
“I love taking photographs, but I’m so dyslexic, I’ve never actually turned a knob in my life on a camera. But I took pictures while I fly-fished for trout. And those are coming out in a book on May 1… So that was inspiring to me that that would actually happen.”

14. On His Work for Cerebral Palsy
“When I was doing Happy Days, Leonard Goldenson was sill alive — the man who created ABC, who was the founder of ABC. His daughter had cerebral palsy and he came to me in my dressing room and he said, ‘Look, I want to do this telethon. We’ve done it for one year kind of on a trial basis. John Ritter does it because his brother has cerebral palsy; would you consider being our co-host?’ And I said, ‘Okay, you know, the man who founded the network that I’m on asked me a favor, I don’t think I’m going to say no.’ So I went and then we did it for like ten years together, and, and I miss John every day, but that’s how I got involved with that telethon and with helping CP.”

15. What He Watches on TV
You know what I love? I love The Good Wife… Oh, my god, Modern Family. That is, that’s a killer. What else do I watch? I love Royal Pains, we talked about that yeah, and I like Rachel Maddow… Yeah and you know what else I like? You know Burn Notice? I think that’s a really good show.”

16. On Where He’d Like to Live
I will tell you that Boston is a great city, because it is large enough to learn your independence and small enough to make your own. Connecticut as a whole is a gorgeous state. I love the lobster in Maine. New Hampshire is fun to drive through to get to the lobster. But I’ve often thought, I’ve asked my wife this, ‘Where would we live if we didn’t live here?’ because I never really attached to LA. My children were born here. My dogs are Los Angelinos. I work here. But my heart is in New York. And my soul is in Montana where I fly-fish for trout.”

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