Henry Winkler – Fine Line Between Pleasure and Royal Pains
ROYAL PAINS — The Royal Pains/Vanity Fair VIP In Store Event at Lacoste Fifth Avenue, New York City, Tuesday June 1st, 2010 — Pictured: Henry Winkler — Photo by: Jason DeCrow/USA Network
Fine Line Between Pleasure and Royal Pains
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s always fun to talk with a television icon – particularly one who you grew up watching. I’d be a huge fan of Henry Winkler even if his wasn’t the first autograph that I ever got from a celebrity, because when I was growing up he was the epitome of cool as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on the smash hit sitcom Happy Days.
Of course, playing such a beloved character on television can be both a blessing and a curse because it is hard for anyone to look at the actor as any other character. Even though, as he pointed out to me in the interview, he was almost nothing like Fonzie in real life, for eight seasons he came into America’s living rooms as the most popular character in the most popular series on television for much of that time. And, Winkler has it harder than most. After all, the slang term for the moment when a television show goes bad, “jumping the shark,” refers to a specific scene that Winkler performed on Happy Days – late in the series his character had to ride a motorcycle over a tank with a live shark.
So, while he has never had another role that hit the pop culture zeitgeist like the Fonz, Winkler has kept on keeping on in Hollywood for the 28 years since that series went off the air. Winkler has played a long series of quirky roles and also pulled the strings behind projects like the TV series MacGyver as a Hollywood producer. He’s also found a huge group of outside interests to keep him occupied, from writing to philanthropy.
In recent years, Winkler has been popping up more and more often in films and television. His current character on the hit USA Network series Royal Pains is one of his best yet. He has spent the second season of the series playing Eddie R. Lawson, the well-meaning con-man father of Hamptons’ concierge medical team Hank and Evan Lawson (Mark Feuerstein and Paulo Costanzo). Eddie is trying to get back into the good graces of his estranged children, but at the same time his get-rich-quick schemes keep landing him in trouble and disappointing his sons.
Recently we were fortunate enough to be one of the websites to take part in a telephone conference call with Winkler to discuss his role in the second season finale of Royal Pains. At least that was the plan, though the avuncular actor was also more than happy to sidetrack and discuss his iconic role on Happy Days, the possible movie version of Arrested Development, his career in films including his work on such classic 80s comedies as Night Shift and The Sure Thing, fatherhood, his series of children’s books, his recent high honor from the Queen of England, his lifelong battle with dyslexia, his charity work for cerebral palsy, his love of fly-fishing in Montana, his favorite current TV series, his trouble with Twitter and where to find the best hamburger in New York City.
The famously friendly actor made a point of getting to know each of the questioners, finding out about where they were from, a bit about their lives, etc. We had to cut much of that from the article just because it was of more interest to the participants than their readers, however, some of it was so golden that we kept it in even if it was a little off topic, like for example when another questioner told him he was from Detroit and Winkler, unprompted, came back with his feelings on Detroit rapper Eminem. Really, how can you not use a quote from the Fonz about the Real Slim Shady?
POYAL PAINS — “Lovesick” — Episode 2004 — Photo by: Patrick Harbron/USA Network
How did you initially get involved with working on Royal Pains?
If I’m not mistaken this is exactly how it happened. The producer, Andrew, was sitting at dinner and next to him was my dentist and his wife. They overheard them talking that they’re looking for the father for Royal Pains. My dentist’s wife was a fan; she said, “Oh, you know who it should be? Henry Winkler.” A little while later I had breakfast with Michael [Rauch]and Andrew [Lenchewski] who run the show – brilliantly I might add – and they asked me if I would join the cast and I embarrassed myself in the restaurant.
Ha ha, sounds like a good idea though, you got the part.
You know what, my wife and I watched every episode; we were appointment television viewers of the show before I ever got the call to see if I was interested.
So you were a fan, then, huh?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I kept bringing up details about the show, I probably embarrassed myself and overwhelmed the producers, but I kept saying, “Wow, that car! It gets its air conditioning from the sun. It’s a solar car. That’s amazing.”
What do you find the most challenging about bringing your character of Eddie to life on screen?
That is a good question. If I had to pick something, the challenge is to make sure that I am toe-to-toe with [series regulars] Mark [Feuerstein] and Paulo [Costanzo], Jill [Flint] and Reshma [Shetty] because they are really good. They are the real deal and I want to carry my weight.
Obviously Eddie is not a character that you’re actually like in real life, but are there ways that you’re similar to Eddie and in what ways are you different?
All right, let’s see. If I’m similar to Eddie, I love my children, I am misunderstood, I am annoying. I have not borrowed $50,000 from my children and then not repaid them. I have not turned my children into the FBI. Aside from that, it’s, I’m so close.
On a side note, it was just announced a few weeks ago that you were awarded the Order of the British Empire so….
Amazing, isn’t that amazing?
… could you talk about it and how it made you feel?
I got a letter that said, “You must keep this a secret. If the Queen decides to give you an award, would you accept it?” I said, “Can I say yes I would.” I would be okay with that. And then six weeks later I get a letter saying, “The Queen of England has graciously agreed to confer on Henry Winkler the order of the British Empire,” for the work that I do in England also with children who learn differently. My books, Hank Zipzer:The World’s Greatest Underachiever that I co-write with Lynne Oliver, are also popular in the UK and I go over there to tour for the books and I’ve spoken to, oh, I want to say a hundred thousand students over there also. And so, my work with children who learn differently is what got me to this wonderful honor [from] the Queen.
Well, there’s such great chemistry between you and Hank and of course…
Royal Pains — “In Vino Veritas” Episode 2006 — USA Network Photo: David Giesbrecht
Yes, Paulo and, really when you’re interacting with them it’s like, a true father figure.
Yeah, honestly, what you see is what you get. You cannot lie; the camera does not lie. And we had so far the most wonderful time together and we don’t talk about it a lot; you do it once for the crew, you go through a scene then for the camera placement; you go through the scene for where you’re going to be in the room, how you’re going to move together. You go and you put your makeup on, you go put your costume on. You come back and then you shoot it two or three times and out of that come these unbelievably wonderful scenes. I honestly believe that some of the best work I’ve done on television are the scenes that I have done with Mark, you know, they are so emotional and layered but also it’s great writing. You know everybody says that when I meet them on the plane or in an airport of some place in America, people talk to me about Royal Pains and they always talk about how much they enjoy everybody talking to each other. It makes me happy.
Well, as a fan of the show and also a star of the show, why do you think people keep tuning in to watch it?
Do you know what? I think because of what you said; I think that they, first of all, I imagine in the middle of the winter there’s this beautiful blue sky show that just takes you away to a place you want to be. Number two, I think because it is well written because after everything is said and done no matter how good the actors are, if it’s not on the page, there’s a famous expression, if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. If it’s not written well then we actors, it’s hard to memorize; it’s hard to make real. It’s hard to get going, so I think that that combined all together made me a fan.
Tell me, do you know if the show has been renewed for next season?
Oh absolutely, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, the show is the highest rated on USA and the third-highest rated show in all of cable. I think USA when I saw them at the press junket in Los Angeles, a few weeks ago, were just thrilled. So yes, we’re renewed. I would not be surprised if we’re renewed for the fourth year.
That’s really, really fabulous. I have been a fan of the show since the very beginning.
Can I ask a question? Can you hear my answers to the other?
Yes I can.
So do you agree with me? Am I in the right area of why you think the show is a hit?
POYAL PAINS — “Lovesick” — Episode 2004 — Photo by: Patrick Harbron/USA Network
Oh, absolutely. I think the writing is absolutely stellar and the relationships between all of you come across as so genuine. And, Mark is just so adorable.
Oh, my God, he is so adorable. He has got more energy. There must be 15 people lying on a dog bed because he’s got all their energy. Curled up somewhere, I’m not kidding. He is an incredible leader on that set, always filled positively. And that’s not joke, I mean that just is the truth.
So tell me how do you envision a different Eddie R. next season or will Eddie not be different?
Do you know what? I don’t know that; I thought about that and I don’t try to second-guess the writers because they are so precise. They are there all the time; the writer of the episode, now the writer’s room is in California, the set is on Long Island. And the writer who writes the episode is flown out so that they can be there on the set so that if you turn to them and you say, “Oh, my gosh, I need to say something about this,” or, “I can’t say that, but how about this,” they will rewrite on-the-spot. Andrew and Michael are very clear and I think that’s another reason that the show is so successful because you have to have a point of view if you’re going to stick and those boys do.
What would you like to change about your character if you could?
I’d like to be in more episodes, thank you…. I’ll be here all week, try the veal. No, I, that’s if I had to change, I would like to be in all episodes.
Ah, well, we would love that, too.
Thank you, I’m just, I’m starting a write-in campaign.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, I will be the first one.
I just started and I’m going to start a Twitter campaign.
What is your Twitter ID so I can friend you, follow you?
Hwinkler4real. I try to write funny things. My friends Rob Corddry or Rob Huebel, they write funny, funny things every day. This morning I wrote, “It’s hard for some of us to say no when we should.” I didn’t get a lot of laughs.
With Royal Pains having a health and medical theme I’m wondering how is life when filming. Is the food healthy and exercise encouraged?
Well, you know what? Exercise is encouraged; I try to exercise. I have literally walked on the treadmill once in the 90s and I’m going to do that again in 2011.
ROYAL PAINS — The Royal Pains/Vanity Fair VIP In Store Event at Lacoste Fifth Avenue, New York City, Tuesday June 1st, 2010 — Pictured: (l-r) Photo by: Jason DeCrow/USA Network
So how’s the food?
The food, on the set?
Well I will tell you the food on the set is not bad. Now there are some caterers out there that are incredible, but because we shoot in New York and I stay in New York for long stretches of time, not only do I get to see my granddaughter, but I have found the best hamburger in New York City, a great cheeseburger, which is in Le Parker-Meridien Hotel and it’s called The Burger Joint. So if you like cheeseburgers…. It used to be PJ Clarke’s [by Lincoln Center], but this one has now overtaken it.
Good to know.
The little sides, I thought maybe we would be interested.
I’m sure a lot of people are going to be interested in that little fact. And I’ve got to know, what is your secret to aging well?
Wow I don’t know. I would have to say genes; it’s one of the better things I got from my parents.
So you just got lucky.
Yeah. They didn’t give me encouragement; they gave me good genes.
Good … though right?
You know what? I’m thrilled to death. At least I don’t yet need a walker.
You were talking about aspects of the character and how you play him and I was just wondering. In order to bring a character to life … there’s got to be some kind of point where you relate to him. So I was wondering, what do you like most about Eddie and what do you like least?
I’ll tell you exactly what I like least first. It is so difficult to look my son in the eye, to look Mark in the eye when he says, “You left when mom was sick and we were nine and eleven.” And I take no responsibility for that. That is the most difficult – those are the most difficult moments to play because it is, first of all, so against my grain and second of all, I particularly d