For four seasons, the dark comedy-drama Barry has given HBO audiences something to look forward to on Sunday nights. What began as something more humorous, slightly dark became a bleaker meditation on desperation and finding a place in the world, using the world of the L.A. acting community and mixing it with a life of crime to find humanity within its characters. While its titular character is obviously the main priority, the supporting characters have never been pushed aside, always providing three-dimensional looks at the people in Barry’s life.
One such character is beloved NoHo Hank, a Chechen mobster who assumes leadership across the mob as the seasons pass. Hank is always surprising, whether it be what he’s wearing or what he’s saying. At the center of this character is Anthony Carrigan, who has been both Emmy and SAG-nominated for his performance in the series. Carrigan carries the character with ease, infusing a melancholic aura into the almost-absurd Hank as the seasons pass. He finds love, then pushes himself to the extreme in the final season and makes a near-impossible decision, ending in the death of the man he loved. Hank’s journey over the course of the series has been an interesting, mostly hilarious one, and Carrigan deftly captures Hank’s thoughts across pivotal moments in the series.
I sat down with Carrigan to discuss his performance in the series, Hank’s possible attempt at atonement for Cristobal’s death, and what it was like working with Bill Hader for the entire final season of the show.
Tyler Doster: What was preparation like for the final season in comparison to the previous three?
Anthony Carrigan: I think if anything, I just wanted to make sure that I was not going to space out at all or not take any of it for granted, because knowing that it was going to be the last season, it does fly by quick, and if you don’t take all of it in then… I just had this feeling that it was going to be over before I knew it, and I really wanted to just relish in it because it doesn’t happen this often that the writing is this good. The characters are so wonderful, the actors portraying them are bringing their absolute A-game, and overall it’s just a real unicorn of a situation. So going into it, I just wanted to really go above and beyond as much as I could, knowing that it was the last season. In terms of preparation though, it was just basically all the same rehearsal, just exploration and trying to find the best possible way to do it.
TD: Obviously Bill Hader had directed multiple episodes of the show before, but what was it like working with him throughout the entirety of the final season as a director?
AC: I loved it. I loved it so much. Bill I think has such insight into the tone of this show. He has such insight into what it needs to be, and I’ve even watched him figure out midway through a take that we only needed a little piece more so we would cut before finishing the scene because he was already editing in his head what was required. And so when you’re in the hands of someone like that, you just know that he’s getting exactly what he needs and for that reason we also just go so quickly. A lot of the time we’re just shooting half days, which is you’re being spoiled.
TD: Has there, from Bill or any other director on the show, been any piece of direction that has stuck with you throughout filming?
AC: It’s probably something really simple. Let me think. His notes are usually just very… his best notes are usually just very succinct. Yeah. Honestly, I think the biggest thing that he would tell me or that he told me, it was just like, yeah, just keep it loose. Just keep it loose. When you loosen up, when you let go of any kind of preconceived notion of how it’s supposed to play out, and you just allow for the moment and allow for just listening, it’s going to really elevate the scene. You’re going to be accessible, you’re going to be more present, and yeah, you’re going to be able to adapt. So yeah, keep it loose.
TD: How did Cristobal’s death and Hank’s involvement in it affect and inform your performance for the rest of the season?
AC: Well, I think that it is certainly… Probably, I mean, it’s just heartbreaking, and I think that in a way, how can someone really move beyond that? I think without having to compartmentalize somehow or try to justify it, try to lie to themselves about what it is that they have done. I would say that it completely informed the rest of my performance. And, in a way, it was like, was that scene really heartbreaking to shoot and to shift gears in a certain way? Absolutely. But I think the wonderful thing about this show is that anytime a character dies, it’s not just swept under the carpet, that those deaths are continuously brought up. They’re continuously referenced, and there’s made a point that the grief never goes away. So I think that that is also highlighted throughout the rest of the season.
TD: Speaking of what you just said, Hank approaches most situations, if not every situation, with an unabashed excitement and almost this fierce optimism about it, how when you were performing in those final few episodes, Cristobal is gone at this point, but he’s still the same Hank. At what point did you have to switch into humor, and at what points did you have to switch into, wow, this man is still grieving over this?
AC: I looked at it from a different perspective that it wasn’t so much switching back and forth, that I think that it almost goes back to the end of season three and the traumatic events with the panther and the Bolivian dungeon, that a common symptom of trauma is disassociation. And so when someone dissociates, what they do is they try to become what they thought they were. When you don’t feel like yourself and you project for the world what you think you used to be, and so that was an idea that I played with with Hank in those final few episodes, that he was really struggling to put up a facade of who Hank is in his mind. So I think in a way that lent itself to him being Hank, but it’s also coming from a place of deep, deep pain.
TD: It’s interesting that you bring up the psychology of his life at this point, because he’s so interesting. As you were reading these scripts, as you were being given them for this final season, and you were reading through, when you read what happened to Cristobal, what did that do for the episodes prior? Did that inform anything going into those moments that you knew about Hank now that you might not have before?
AC: I think that, yeah, for sure, when you go backwards it does really track, and it does make sense that especially that heated moment in four when Hank stands up and gets really fiery about this whole idea of having to make the tough decisions and being walked all over. And then when you go back from there into things that have happened to Hank, his naivete and his sweetness and his innocence have really gotten him in trouble. He almost got burned alive on a bus. There’s a number of things, you got a blow dart in the neck, almost eaten by a panther. There were a number of things that his trusting kind of nature really almost got him killed. So thinking about that really informed just the power of that scene, thinking about the shame surrounding what a fool he’s been in the past led to his anger in that scene, and I think drove a lot of it.
TD: So I have to bring up NohoBal, which is an incredible name for a company, and also an incredible relationship name.
AC: (laughs) I know. Too late, I’m afraid. Too late.
TD: Yes, a little too late. Maybe Hank should have thought of it a little bit sooner. What do you think about Hank’s possible attempt at atonement in this way that he’s memorializing Cristobal? Do you think that’s what he’s doing, or do you think it’s just to pay tribute to the man he loved?
AC: I think that he’s certainly trying to make it look like he’s paying tribute, but he also knows deep down in his heart the dark secret of the truth. And in a way that’s what Barry’s really all about, is what is the truth underneath, and are you able to face it? Are you able to acknowledge who you truly are? And so, in a way, I think that Cristobal really represents this false idol, this monument to a lie. And so he’s keeping up appearances and making himself look like a really wonderful kind of business partner, but underneath it all is the truth.
TD: Do you think a character as funny as Hank invites more empathy from the audience?
AC: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know. It’s been an interesting thing to see all of these people who were just really rooting for Hank and really wanting to see Hank win and all these things, like to see the guy really start to become a mobster in a way, and how heartbroken everyone is that he did, they were rooting for him. They didn’t want him to do these evil things. They wanted him to open up a chain of hotels. But at the same time, I really wouldn’t have it any other way because if Barry does anything, it pushes the envelope of expectations. And it is, I think, the most surprising thing on television. And in order to be the most surprising thing on television you have to be willing to take huge risks and at times disappoint people in order to really move people deeply.
TD: Hank is presented with an opportunity and takes it in episode seven of this final season and kidnaps Sally along with her and Barry’s child, John. Do you think that Hank always knew that he’d do something of this nature if given the chance to seek revenge on Barry?
AC: No, I don’t think so. I think that it’s, and it’s not necessarily just specific to Hank. I think that desperate times call for desperate measures, and it’s when we are most desperate that we do the most insane things. I don’t think Hank would’ve ever anticipated doing something like that. I think he’s just continued to double down again and again and again, much like Barry, and that’s the curse that Barry has set on all of these people, is that in order to get their way, they need to double down. They need to keep doubling down and in doubling down they’re just digging and digging and digging themselves into a hole further. But no, our sweet little Hank? Absolutely no, absolutely not (laughs).
TD: What are your hopes for the legacy of this character?
AC: Well, for the legacy of this character I hope that people will see that this character on the whole has been able to make sense in the full trajectory and also in the full trajectory that people were able to laugh really, really hard, but then also experience anger, experience really deep sadness, that this character was able to bring a whole spectrum of emotions to audience members. Ultimately, as an actor that’s the greatest gift when you are able to do all of those things over the course of one job. And it doesn’t happen very often, and I know it might disappoint people in certain ways because they want it to just be one thing, but my hope is that by encompassing all of them, that it’s really something special in that regard.
TD: And I hope the same because it’s truly a special show. So, thank you so much for your time today.
AC: Yeah, thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
Anthony Carrigan is Emmy eligible in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for the final season of Barry.