Barry Breakout Star Anthony Carrigan Swears "I'm Not a Funny Guy"
Spoilers for season 4 of Barry follow.
Anthony Carrigan knows how you feel about Barry. The idiosyncratic HBO tragicomedy has veered progressively darker over the course of its four seasons, upending its initial ratio of belly laughs to gut punches as it draws closer to the series finale on May 28.
Carrigan’s character, NoHo Hank, the quirky Chechen mobster beloved for his rosy outlook and flamboyant fashion sense, has transformed from guileless goofball to hardened crime lord; a turn made irreversible after Hank’s shocking decision to execute his longtime lover Cristobal (Michael Irby) in Episode 4 (“it takes a psycho”). Along with Cristobal dies any last flicker of hope anyone in Barry had for a happy ending. “This season is rather heavy, it’s true,” Carrigan admits with a laugh during a recent Zoom call.
Although some have inferred from Barry’s barrage of heartbreaks that writer/director/leading man Bill Hader has a sadistic streak, the show’s ability to move (and sure, sometimes devastate) viewers ultimately speaks to its success. Each beat feels earned, and the emotional fallout is a testament to the commitment of Barry’s writers and actors, who share Hader’s disinclination to pull any punches. “ Carrigan’s embodiment of Hank was famously so compelling from the jump that Hader quickly scrapped his plans to axe the character in the pilot.
Instead, NoHo Hank grew into the incontestable fan favorite of the show, with Carrigan revealing dazzling versatility and character actor prowess along the way– as both a reliably side-splitting scene-stealer (no small feat for someone on the same call sheet as Hader, Henry Winkler, and Stephen Root) and a deeply stirring dramatic performer.
This week’s episode, “the wizard,” which takes place after an eight year time jump, bypasses the immediate aftermath of Cristobal’s death, and unveils how Hank has coped since then. (Spoiler alert: it’s not going great.) GQ caught up with Carrigan—who in real life, is just as enthusiastic and chipper as Hank, just sans the Chechen accent—to unpack Hank’s journey to this point, and discuss winding down this chapter of his career.
What was your reaction when you read the scripts for Season 4 and saw how Hank’s arc would unfold?
I remember being blown away by them taking it to such an extreme level. The wonderful thing about that though is it's such a novelty to see things that are surprising on television these days. You do not get that very often. Most audience members will figure things out in their sleep. Barry doesn't let you do that. But the price of admission is that it's going to take some really radical turns, and the stakes are incredibly high. Things get rather intense. [Laughs]
Having seen how it's gone in Season 4, I wouldn't have it any other way. Is it surprising? Yes. But is it justified? Absolutely. If you go back and track from Season 1, there are little breadcrumbs all leading to this season.
Can you reflect on how you envisioned Hank in the beginning, and compare that to who we’re seeing now?
I saw him as this pure, energetic force that was so excited about making his mark in Los Angeles, and I was trying to be that contradiction of a sunny, polite mobster navigating his way pleasantly through the crime world. One of the things I love most about Hank is his inability to see anything aside from what he is focused on. For that reason, he's seen as a little bit of a fool, but there are moments of self-awareness where he sees what's happening and begins to put it together.
When Barry calls him an idiot [in Season 2] and you see Hank's response, you see that darkness flare up. That menacing aspect of Hank is in direct relation to his pain and hurt feelings. In Season 4, you see Hank realize that his foolishness no longer has a place at the table, because his mortality was threatened at the end of Season 3. I think he kind of learned his lesson. Which is heartbreaking.
Hank’s evolution as a character and your evolution as a performer have been incredible to watch. Is there a scene this season that was especially rewarding to perform?
The easiest one to single out would probably be the breakup scene in Episode 4, simply because the journey of that scene is so powerful. You really don't get scenes like that very often, that make so much sense and are so human and profound and so utterly heartbreaking.
It was such a wonderful turn to be able to see the consequences land on both of those characters, who are so lovable and goofy and sweet, and then you introduce them to this reality. As an actor, it was a joy to play with those darker tones and explore the real depths of Hank's pathos in terms of what he's going through. It was one of the best things I've ever been able to do.
That, and then the Dave & Buster's scene [in Episode 2] was just a hoot. I loved it. It was like a ballet around that whole table.
What do you remember about shooting that scene with Michael Irby? What was the vibe on set like that day?
The vibe was a little somber. There was a weight in the room that everyone could sense. I'm not a method actor by any stretch, but the stuff that's required for that scene, you have to stay extremely focused in order to be able to tap into that. So I remember isolating myself a little bit, just for the purpose of honoring what I had to do and what Hank had to go through.
When it was Anthony and Michael, we were really sweet to each other, but also taking a little bit of space from each other. Then when it was Hank and Cristobal… I love performing with Michael so much, because he just lifts you up. When you hold onto each other, you're really holding on, and you're not letting go until they yell, "Cut."
To explore that and get to surprise and riff off of each other made that scene quite magical. It was not the lightest day for sure, but I certainly got the sense that everyone was so supportive and on board, and that we were creating something truly unique.
It’s a highlight of the series for sure.
You never get to do stuff like that, ever. Ever! You never get something as heightened and so well-written, where you get to justify what is on the page. It’s absolutely absurd and so heartbreaking and intense, and you're tasked with, “Make it believable, make it make sense. Make an audience understand both sides of these arguments.” What an opportunity that is, truly.
When we catch up with Hank in Episode 6, there’s something haunted about him. Like a light has been extinguished. What do you imagine he’s gone through in the eight years since Cristobal’s death?
You can't make a decision like that and not have it affect you. I think what you see in the last few beats of that scene in Episode 4 is this kind of calcification. Hank swallows his emotions, hardens himself, and I mean, I think we've all learned enough about trauma to understand that just because you're suppressing something doesn't mean it doesn't exist anymore. If that is what you're choosing to repress, you have to do a lot to keep it together. I think that has been his journey: justifying what he's done, lying to himself, and ultimately portraying a version of himself that he doesn't even recognize anymore.
What is he experiencing in the dinner scene with Fuches?
Well, I think he's being exposed. This lie that he's told himself, that Cristobal was killed by his rivals, gets completely unearthed by Fuches within a moment. And all of those things that Hank was trying to keep down got flooded to the surface. All of that pain and grief and anguish got the button pushed on it.
A big theme in Barry is about whether or not people can escape their true nature. In your eyes, what is Hank’s true nature? Is Cristobal right that he’s a psychopath?
It's easy to dismiss any of these characters as psychopaths, [but] from what I've learned, psychopaths don't actually care. They don't empathize. I think that these characters are making decisions based on the life that they want, and the reality that they want for themselves requires them to double down again and again in the most atrocious of ways. And the impact is that it changes them.
I don't think Hank’s true nature is one of real darkness. It's not him being a total badass. I think that's what he was posturing as. But he takes the path of a gangster, and that comes with certain consequences.
In terms of performing heavy, dramatic material versus the comedic moments, is one mode more difficult than the other?
Apples and oranges, I think. I love both. I love getting to fluctuate between those two textures. The challenge with comedy is keeping it fresh. When you do something that makes everyone laugh, it's a double-edged sword, because you get feedback saying, "That joke really worked. That was great." But then, you do it the exact same way, people don't tend to laugh. It's these fleeting moments you can't really hold onto. You gotta keep exploring, or else it'll get stale.
With the heavier stuff, you have the difficulty of taking that same character that was just being a goofball and then finding that gravity while still keeping true to the character. So there's challenges in both, but I love the fact that I've gotten to do both on the same show, sometimes in the same episode. You never get to do that. It's so rad.
You seem to have a natural comedic sensibility, in your timing and physicality. Where do you think that comes from?
I'm not kidding when I say the writing. I really do think the writing is the roadmap. It's the blueprint. I just understand what it needs to sound like. If Bill writes something, or Emma Barrie, or Liz Sarnoff, or Alec Berg, you can hear the music in it. So when I read it, I'm like, "I get this 100%." The comedy is imbued there.
What's also imbued is, if it's music, what key are you playing in? If you're playing in this key, how can you deviate while still staying within that realm of what they've written? So I wouldn't necessarily say that I have great comic sensibilities, so much as I really listen. I pay attention to what has been expertly crafted, and the closer I can honor it, the better.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it, although that’s a proficiency I would argue unfunny people don’t have…
I guess I'm just resolute in saying that I'm not a funny guy. I'm not a comedian, but I love comedy. I love playing other people's jokes! Love it.
In closing this seven-year chapter of your career, how has it felt for you to say goodbye to NoHo Hank?
So many emotions, but the biggest is gratitude that my character was not killed off in that first episode. [Laughs]
We’re all grateful for that.
I mean, it's like losing a limb when you have to put down a character that you've so thoroughly enjoyed playing over the course of seven years. But gratitude wins out in all of it, because you never get stuff like this. You never get material like this, or a character like this, or writing like this. I think I've done a good job of not taking any bit for granted, and really soaking up every little bit of it. Making the most out of every moment I've gotten on the screen and off screen. I want to carry that enthusiasm with me into whatever I do next.
Do you hope people will stop shouting Hank lines at you in public, or are you prepared for that to go on forever?
No, I say bring it on. It's one of my favorite things, honestly. When I see the joy on people's faces, and what Hank has brought to them, it makes me really, really happy. I'm also excited to see if people are not so happy with how things have panned out, or their confusion or whatever. As long as people have been moved in a certain way, or in a myriad of ways, I'm going to be really happy about that.
Originally Appeared on GQ