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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
<i>Barry</i>’s Anthony Carrigan on being an Emmy nominee, a role model, and a future rom-com lead

Barry’s Anthony Carrigan on being an Emmy nominee, a role model, and a future rom-com lead

Photo: John Lamparski/WireImage (Getty Images), Graphic: Natalie Peeples

The world of HBO’s Barry is as absurd as it is brutal, and no character moves through it quite like NoHo Hank. A Chechen mobster by trade, Hank is the kind of guy who would also organize his crime outfit’s Secret Santa gift exchange—he’s equally motivated by ambition and a desire for meaningful connections. He’s the antithesis of a reality-TV contestant: NoHo Hank did, in fact, come here to make friends.

Hank is a singular character on a show packed with them, and that’s in large part due to Anthony Carrigan’s performance. The Gotham alum absolutely nails the role of the somewhat deluded gangster, who’s just as concerned with solidifying his standing as a drug lord as being a real friend to Barry (Bill Hader) and Cristobal (Michael Irby). Carrigan’s verve and knack for improv haven’t just made Barry one of the best comedies in recent years, but they also helped rewrite NoHo Hank’s fate—the character was supposed to die in the pilot. With his Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy, Carrigan finds himself in what he describes as a “classic NoHo Hank” moment: exulting in his success while also rooting for his co-stars, Stephen Root and Henry Winkler, who happen to be his competition. The A.V. Club spoke with Carrigan, who’s currently filming Bill & Ted Face The Music, about awards, opportunities, role models, and why he sees a romantic comedy in his future.

The A.V. Club: So first of all, congratulations on the Emmy nomination.

Anthony Carrigan: Thank you, thank you very much.

AVC: How did you find out? Were you up early keeping an eye out for the announcement?

AC: No, no, not at all. I slept in as late as I could before having to wake up to go get ready to be on set for the third Bill & Ted movie. [Laughs.] I had remembered the night before. I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s tomorrow.” But I kind of just put it out of my mind because I considered it to be, I don’t know… just not really that possible. It was such a long shot for me, so I figured I’m not even going to pay attention to it. So I completely forgot about it that morning, and then [Bill] Hader texted me saying “Congrats, dude.” And I was like, “Oh, the show got nominated, right?” And he was like, “No, no, you got nominated.” And I just thought, “Uh, okay.” [Laughs.] I didn’t really know how to deal with it because it was such a surprise to me. I was overjoyed but also incredibly confused.

AVC: Now, you picked the episode, “Past = Present x Future Over Yesterday,” that was submitted for consideration.

AC: Yeah, I submitted the third episode [from season two] for it with encouragement from our whole team. But again, I literally had no idea—you kind of just toss your hat in the ring and see what happens. I had no expectation. I didn’t even tune in. That’s how little I was expecting.

AVC: That episode is actually one that Bill Hader recently highlighted while talking to Conan O’Brien. He was asked to name a moment where he just couldn’t stop breaking during shooting, and he said it was your ad lib of “king of suckballs mountain”—just that whole exchange.

AC: Oh, right. [Laughs.]

AVC: He said it was just one of the funniest things he’d ever seen on set.

AC: Yeah, it was a really, really fun scene. I mean, that scene took a lot out of me. It’s an incredibly well-written scene, but there’s so many beats to it. I mean, it goes from trying to shoot who you consider to be your best friend to having a gun pointed at your face to vomiting out of sheer nerves, to then dancing the lezginka because you feel like you’ve succeeded. [Laughs.] It’s a lot going on. And the fact that it’s on a rooftop in 100-degree weather, that certainly took it out of me.

AVC: What’s also great is Hank’s reaction to that resolution—he’s so excited at the prospect of being equal partners with Cristobal. He isn’t even thinking like, “Oh great, I’ll get to take over the whole thing.” Barry is offering him so much more, but Hank is just repeating “50-50” to himself. For NoHo Hank, a criminal enterprise really seems to be the friends he made along the way.

AC: Exactly. I think what’s way more important than the monetary value is the value of these long-lasting friendships. [Laughs.] Because, you know, I don’t think he’d be very happy if he had 100 percent and no Cristobal.

AVC: [Laughs.] No, that would somehow be worse. It goes to what you’ve said before about how Hank is someone you immediately played against type. He’s not a tough guy gangster, through and through, although he does have this traumatic past that hasn’t really been explored yet. But he also wasn’t originally supposed to live beyond the pilot. Was it your idea to make him someone who is more interested in making friends than he is in advancing in… whatever we’d call this type of business?  

AC: Right. Well, I think what was on the page already was this just super polite, well-meaning, and thoughtful gangster. And so there was already so much to kind of draw from, because it’s not very often that you get a very authentically polite mobster. It just doesn’t happen very often. I feel like the times where a mobster is super polite is when he’s just about to kill you. [Laughs.] And that’s about it, you know? But with Hank, I think he really does mean well. He really does abide by this set of ideals that he lives up to. So yeah, it was kind of from that politeness that I began to, I don’t know, find this kind of flamboyance and this positivity and this—I don’t know, eagerness?—to just impress people and make friends. It’s been an absolute joy, the entire process.

AVC: Well, to that point about camaraderie, how do you feel about competing against Henry Winkler and Stephen Root in your Emmy category?

AC: I don’t see it as a competition. I really don’t. I’m sure a lot of people say that and they just don’t really mean it. But I actually mean it. It’s just the idea of competing in the arts doesn’t really make any sense. It’s like, “Who gave the best performance?” I think that it’s kind of a strange thing to do, but I also couldn’t be happier for my fellow castmates. I mean, you know, Henry, Bill, Stephen, and Sarah [Goldberg] all being nominated—that’s a huge win already for me, personally, because I admire them so much and I want all of them to win. I don’t really care that much about winning. I’m just happy that we’re all there together. In really classic NoHo Hank fashion, I’m just happy that we’re all good friends. [Laughs.]

AVC: We’ve talked about how NoHo Hank’s personality came to be, but what inspired his look? It’s distinctive but also a little difficult to describe, because you’ve got the loafers and the slim-cut suits that have almost a Rat Pack vibe to them but are also so far from that kind of classic fashion. Were you able to inform that?

AC: He definitely has a distinctive look, and I think that, you know, there’s a certain type of Russian or Eastern European that you can kind of totally see rocking this kind of outfit, you know, with loafers and super-tight pants and the tight polo. But it’s this kind of thing where I put on the costume and immediately I embody him. The tattoos are cool, too—we spent a lot of time going through those and not picking out actual, like Russian prison tattoos, because you can get killed over those. But things that are certainly meaningful to Hank, and I think also tell his story a little bit.

AVC: At this point, they haven’t started breaking the third season yet, so you wouldn’t necessarily know what Hank’s going to get up to. But season two ends with Barry leaving Hank’s gift in the trunk of Detective Moss’ car, so he’s basically pinning her murder on the Chechens.

AC: Right, literally.

AVC: So drawing from your experience of playing Hank these last two years, what do you think is going to bother him more: the possibility of going to prison or the idea that maybe he and Barry aren’t very good friends?

AC: Probably the latter, I think. I mean, yeah, I think being betrayed by Barry again is going to feel like just a huge pain in the neck for Hank. [Laughs.] It’s like, come on already. Just commit to the friendship!

AVC: We talked a little earlier about one of Bill Hader’s favorite ad libs, but do you have a favorite moment from set, improv or otherwise?

AC: God, I’ve got, like, a ton. I mean, one of the ones that’s kind of coming to me right now, one that was interesting that wasn’t during a comedic moment… I mean, it was kind of fun, but the scene where Hank confronts Barry at the acting class. I can’t remember what the initial line is, but it’s basically like, “I told you to kind of get out of here,” or something. Or wait, the initial line was something like, “I told you to fly like Bugs Bunny in Space Jam,” referencing what he said in the first season, right? That was the original line, but I don’t know, I just thought, I kind of want to say something else, and in earnest, you know? So I came up with, “I told you to get out of the Dodge.” “Get out of the Dodge, which is like, “Get out of the Dodge Caravan,” or you know, “Get out of the Dodge Charger.” [Laughs.] Like, get out of the Dodge car. I don’t know where that came from, but that was a fun one. And it was cool, too, because it was an ad lib for a more serious moment.

AVC: You didn’t have a ton of comedy credits before signing on to Barry, but you wouldn’t know it from watching. When you began filming, did you think, “It’s time to dig deep and find the comedian,” or did it just feel like business as usual for an actor?

AC: Well, I mean, it was business as usual in the sense that you want to just be authentic. That’s all it really is, is about authenticity and honesty. A lot of people play into the comedy of it, like trying to make people laugh. And, you know, that’s hollow. That’s kind a hollow way of doing it. In fact, you kind of have to play it as dramatic as possible. That’s what is so funny about it, is Hank’s so absorbed in his own world and he can’t kind of see outside of it. And it’s what allows other people to kind of laugh at it, you know?

AVC: Before playing NoHo Hank, you were Victor Zsasz on Gotham, which made you kind of the Barry of Gotham City.  

AC: [Laughs.] Yeah, I guess so.

AVC: Did that help with the shift at all? That is, did all the carnage of your work as Victor on Gotham prepare you for the carnage of Barry?

AC: Well, I found this pretty drastically different from Victor Zsasz. For my work on Gotham, there was this volatility that I kind of carried around with me as that character. It was really fun, and I just loved my time working on that show. But you know, this—[Laughs.] It’s like, if I were to describe NoHo Hank, “volatile” is not one of the words that I would use. Although, he certainly can—when pushed—become very dangerous.

AVC: So how did you prepare to play someone like NoHo Hank?

AC: The script was the blueprint that gave me everything that I needed, essentially. But then I got to do the fun stuff, which is kind of coming up with who this person was: his mannerisms and his opinions about things. And that’s just fun imagination stuff. Yeah, I watched a ton of ’80s action movies, because I feel like Hank sees the world of crime as this kind of spectacle, which is embodied in those movies, you know? What he sees is just really cool and explosions and spy gadgets—I don’t know, I feel like that’s what he’s plastered on top of that world.

AVC: It’s almost like a look that he’s trying on. He’s just really committed to it.

AC: Exactly. He’s very committed to it.

AVC: You’ve spoken about your alopecia and how early on, it might have limited the kind of roles you were offered. But it also feels like you’re breaking free of those limitations. NoHo Hank is really personable, and you’ve lined up roles in the new Bill & Ted movie and Fatherhood with Kevin Hart. How does it feel to maybe be poised to be a role model for kids who grew up like you?

AC: I don’t know. To a certain extent, I think I’m still just like a big kid with alopecia. So when I meet other people with alopecia, it’s not so much viewing myself as a role model to them or mentor to them, but just as seeing them as people who get it, who understand what that experience is like. The first time I met another person with alopecia was when I was, gosh, like 25? 26? I hadn’t met a single other person with alopecia until I was that old. And so, as far as my work with alopecia, I feel like I have an opportunity to tell them what I wished I had heard when I was little, and given them the confidence that I wish that I had had. I just let them know that that’s always available for them.

I like to think of myself as able to shape-shift in certain ways, and I like to surprise people, too, no matter what I’m playing. If I’m playing a villain, I want to do something interesting with it and not just play a kind of mustache-twirling bad guy. I mean, I don’t have the mustache to do it, so it’s kind of impossible. But I like the idea of finding the humanity in my characters—I think it gives a character dimension. There’s also an ancillary benefit or byproduct, which is that people can then see another side of you and think, “Oh, I can actually see him as a pretty cool guy, or as a pretty decent person.” Or as like, “That guy could easily just be a normal dude,” you know? So slowly and surely, I’m kind of moving—shifting people’s perspective to different places and having them look at me as potentially other characters that they might have not expected.

AVC: Agreed. And I hope it didn’t feel like I was putting you on the spot about changing the way Hollywood thinks–

AC: Oh no, it’s okay. I mean, it’s a lot. It’s hard to quantify, you know? It’s hard to encapsulate it in, like, one sentence. But I like the idea of—okay, you know bald guys usually play the villain. They’ve just always, like, been cast as that. That’s cool and all, but I feel like I’m ready to play different types of characters. And already I’m seeing that now, that I’m being offered these amazing characters that aren’t someone’s arch nemesis, you know?

AVC: Yes—and speaking of that, you recently said that you’ve got an eye on the tentpoles, that you would be open to an offer from Marvel. Have you thought about any specific characters? Not to stick with bald superheroes, but I would like to point out that James McAvoy isn’t signed on to play Professor X anymore… 

AC: Wow. [Pauses.] You know what? That’s a funny thought. I feel like… yeah. I mean, Professor X is incredible. That’d be super cool. And I would love to kind of do my own spin on it, you know? There’s so many comic books and characters out there, though. I feel like what’s cool is that my look lends itself to, you know, to these other characters as well, especially in the Marvel universe. So I am very curious to see what’s out there and when it’s going to happen.

AVC: You mentioned you’re working on Bill & Ted Face The Music and Fatherhood right now. Can you kind of talk about your role in either one?

AC: So, with the Bill & Ted movie, I really can’t talk about it too much, but I am playing the bad guy, and it’s been so much fun. It’s been an absolute blast to work on thus far. With Fatherhood, that was really just hysterical. It’s just a wonderful script and a wonderful director, Paul Weitz. I’m also working with Kevin Hart and Lil Rel Howery and Alfre Woodard. [It’s] the best. Absolute best. My character in that is pretty much a normal-ish dude.

AVC: What’s it like jumping into something like Bill & Ted, a franchise that is so well-liked and highly referenced?

AC: I grew up with those movies. I grew up just loving them, and I still love them. And you want to live up to it—you want to live up to this kind of cult-classic status and not blunder it. You just kind of match the tone and then dive in and play, because those movies are so playful, and they’re just so wild and silly and cool, you know? It’s an honor to be a part of it, honestly.

AVC: Are there any other projects or roles you’re eager to play?

AC: I don’t know. It’s funny, it’s this game of being curious to play something, but then you never know exactly what is going to come across your desk. I do feel like, at a certain point, I don’t know when—if it’ll be the next job or the 10th job—it would be cool to be a romantic lead at some point, you know? Or something kind of offbeat and fun. I can see that. That would be fun.

AVC: The people in romantic comedies tend to have these unrealistic jobs and living situations. It’s like, “I’m an architect who happens to have a giant apartment,” or, “I’m a weekly columnist with this giant apartment.” What job would you give your character if you led a romantic comedy?

AC: Oh, what kind of job? That’s a good one. That’s an important one, too, because I feel like it kind of informs exactly who he is. I don’t know. Maybe a video-game designer? I think that would be fun.

AVC: This thing is already half-written.

AC: I think so. You know what? Yeah, totally. It’s ’80s video games. All right, cool. I’m going to sit down with a pen and paper or a keyboard and figure it out. [Laughs.]