Interview: ‘Barry’ actor Anthony Carrigan, TV’s nicest mobster
“You can put that on the record!” was Anthony Carrigan’s response to me telling him what a huge fan I am of HBO’s Emmy-winning comedy Barry and his incredibly weird and funny portrayal of “NoHo” Hank, the flamboyant Chechen mobster (who’s Emmy-worthy himself) that just wrapped its second season last weekend.
I chatted with him this week about the show, the evolution of one of television’s funniest and weirdest characters and how what could have been a setback put his career in motion.
AW: Hey, so how about that finale?
AC: I know! I warned people, I warned them that it was going to get dark and they were like, oh, okay. Right. Sure. No, but really though it does. I mean, it was an incredible episode and I actually hadn’t seen it. I had a screener of it, but I kind of wanted to wait and watch along with everyone else. I was just blown away. I thought Bill Hader did an incredible job directing that.
AW: Absolutely. The show is doing a lot to deconstruct both comedy and the idea of a crime drama on top of being this huge commentary on PTSD and trauma.
AC: It’s remarkable. It is. I feel like it kind of walks that tight rope of exploring all of these really multifaceted issues like trauma and PTSD, like you said, and violence but also kind of somehow miraculously in keeping it a comedy and keeping it funny.
AW: This season is certainly a testament to that. As dark as that finale was, it was NoHo Hank that probably provided the best comedic moment. I need to get a clip in gif form that I can use from now until forever when I want to back out of a conversation.
AC: (laughs) Totally! He’s just kind of nervously laughing and disappearing behind a giant golden Buddha. Oh my God. Yeah, that was something. Hank takes it all incredibly seriously and I think that’s where the comedy really comes from.
AW: I think that’s exactly right. I think one of the things that’s fascinating and funny about him is how sincere he is and that just bleeds into the absurdity of what’s going on.
AC: Yeah, absolutely. The thing that I love about playing Hank is just how deeply committed to each moment and each kind of relationship he is in. He’s just so fully invested and I he thinks that he has a much better idea and he has a much better kind of grasp on the situation then he actually has, which I love.
AW: He’s a Chechen gangster in Hollywood, which is already such a great setup just on its own. How much a creative freedom did you have in creating such an enigmatic character?
AC: When I first got the pilot script it was already laid out; this kind of beautiful character, this total juxtaposition of this incredibly polite Chechen mobster. And you don’t see parts like that very often. Everything is, I dunno, I hate to say it, but a lot of the time you usually written very heavy-handedly, if that’s a word. With Hank, I just feel like there was opportunity to play this very nuanced character and expand upon it with my own twists.
AW: Something that was really interesting in the second season is the show began playing with crossing characters and storylines, starting to merge the worlds with each other. Like Gene (Henry Winkler, who won an Emmy for the role last year) and Fuches (Stephen Root), which was pretty remarkable and certainly a buildup in that finale. Who would you want to see Hank potentially interact with?
AC: You know, that’s a great question. I think one of the things that I love about the show is when that type of thing happens, when those kind of people from different worlds that are kept so separate and so compartmentalized, when they kind of touch, when those worlds touch, everything becomes very dangerous and very volatile, especially for Barry. I think it’d be obviously incredible to for NoHo Hank and, and Gene Cousineau to cross paths. And what would that look like? That’s a fun game I like to play in my head.
AW: I can see NoHo Hank actually really wanting to be an actor and unlike the hesitance that Barry has, he would jump in head first all the way.
AC: Oh, for sure. I think the lovely thing about Hank is he’s got such an open heart, even though he’s committed all these awful deeds. His very essence is one of meaning well and wanting to make friends and so I think yeah, he would probably just eat it up in an acting class.
AW: Is there a backstory to Hank that that the world needs to see in season three?
AC: I think so. The thing about being an actor and having a backstory, creating a backstory for a character, is that it can be kind of tricky territory because you want to have enough that you can kind of anchor emotionally for yourself but you can’t iron out the details too much because you don’t know necessarily what’s going to be written in the future.
AW: Sure, and with a show like this, you don’t even know if you’re going to be alive in the next episode.
AW: So what’s been the biggest motivator in your career?
AC: Oh, that’s a great question. The biggest motivator in my career I think is, I kind of find acting to be an exercise in empathy. If you’re empathizing with a character that’s been written by someone who is kind of empathizing with another part of themselves or someone that they’ve seen throughout their lives and they’re drawing on, you know, drawing on you’re then empathizing with a part of yourself that is connecting with part of the writer’s brain and you’re kind of bringing it to life. Then when the audience gets a chance to see it, they’re emphasizing with that character too. So I find the whole, that whole interplay very fascinating and really, really beautiful.
AW: Speaking of empathy, you’ve been pretty outspoken about body positivity, especially with regard to having alopecia [an autoimmune skin disease, causing hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes on other areas of the body]. Can you talk a little bit about that?
AC: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my journey has been a very interesting one. I’ve had alopecia since I was three years old and I was always very shy as a kid. I never really, I was always trying to keep it very hidden and never really wanted it to come out that I had alopecia.
But funnily enough, I got the acting bug. I really desperately wanted to express myself and acting was a way in which I could express myself and could kind of step into these really fun characters and find my voice. When my alopecia began to kind of like really get to a point where I couldn’t hide it any longer, I realized that like I had to embrace it and it was the best possible thing that could have done. Reaching out to the alopecia community, but also any community in which, you know, people are just holding on to shame. I try my best to convey to them that they don’t need to and that it’s a waste of time and energy and that their lives can be so much more fulfilling without it.
AW: I can think of fewer ways to confront shame or shyness than to put yourself out there in a way that is the most vulnerable.
AC: It takes a lot. It takes a lot of courage, and sure, there are certainly shifty acting teachers out there, but I think that anyone would benefit from taking an acting class, that’s for sure.
AW: Speaking of, how did you develop your Chechen accent for NoHo?
AC: I watched a lot of YouTube videos, a lot of YouTube videos. We also had specialists who came in to kind of help me with the sounds and the dialect and also the language as well. It gets very tricky when you have to, you know, improv because when Bill [Hader] throws you a curveball, you gotta be able to connect with it.
AW: Is there a balance to strike between authenticity and humor?
AC: I think humor requires the most authenticity. You have to kind of dive in fully because if you have any kind of self-awareness of the comedy, it doesn’t play. It’s always kind of a burden when, and this is just an actor thing, but like when someone comes up to you after doing a take and they’re like, ‘oh man, when you said that line this way, that was so funny.’
Then you go and you do it again and you try to replicate it. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it kind of carries that self-awareness. So you just have to kind of dive in so deeply that you kind of forget what you did last time.
AW: I guess this might be a little bit of side or backstory but does Hank have a love life outside of what we see? His crushing on Cristobal seemed very apparent.
AC: Oh, absolutely. The fact that when Esther came in and threatened that, I mean, that’s a huge insight into NoHo Hank.
AW: Yeah. We’ve all been there.
AC: We’ve all been there, for sure. It’s very relatable when the other mob boss shows up and threatens your relationship with your, you know, crime syndicate partner. I think everyone can relate to that.(laughs)
AW: What do you want to see next for Hank?
AC: I trust Bill Hader and Alec Berg. I like to just let them come up with something really astoundingly cool and different.
We got to see kind of another side of Hank this season, especially in episode one where he’s backed into a corner and you see this kind of other side of him come out. So I don’t know, I would love to see kind of just other facets of Hank’s emotional life kind of come through. I’m not sure what that’s necessarily gonna look like, but I’m thrilled for it.
AW: What do you want next for Anthony Carrigan?
AC: Hmm, wow, great question, let me see. I love stretching myself in different directions with characters and I think it’s very easy to be kind of typecast as the villain. I mean, bald guys have notoriously been seen as the villain for ages and ages. As an actor with alopecia, I would love to just kind of play normal guys as well. But compelling stories are just number one on my list. I’m very spoiled with Barry and how good it is. We’re all so proud of it. We all just love the project so much, and jobs like this, they don’t come around very often where they’re so good with such good people. There’s not a bad apple in the bunch.
AW: And now with Veep over, Barry is kind of HBO’s flagship comedy. No pressure.
AC: Yeah, no pressure. None at all. (laughs)
AW: Thanks for chatting with me today, Anthony, it’s been a real pleasure.
AC: Thanks so much Erik, I appreciate it. Have a good one!
Barry airs on HBO and can be seen with the HBOGO app on your Smart TV, desktop, laptop or mobile device.