Henry Winkler Talks 'Royal Pains,' His New Book & Being The Fonz

April 27th, 2011

TV Squad

by Pat Gallagher, posted Apr 27th 2011 9:00AM
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Henry Winkler — the man who turned ‘Happy Days” Arthur Fonzarelli into The Fonz, one of the coolest, most iconic television characters of all time — is a seriously busy guy. He’s got a new book, a new Twitter obsession and he’s enjoying acting on the small screen again.

On the USA dramedy ‘Royal Pains,’ he’s Eddie R. Lawson, an unreliable deadbeat dad who’s trying to get back into his sons’ lives 20 years later, while also wooing wealthy Hamptons women.

He’ll get more face time this June when the show returns for its third season. Winkler, who is coming back as the irresponsible (yet loving) con-man father of Hank (Mark Feuerstein) and Evan (Paulo Costanzo), left the audience to wonder if he really checked into prison in the season two finale after being sentenced for illegal activity.

Winkler — who also joined Cartoon Network’s live-action comedy, ‘Childrens Hospital,’ last season — is continuing to write as well, with his new book ‘I Never Met an Idiot on the River’ out May 1.

AOL TV caught up with Winkler to talk about life as The Fonz and his post-‘Happy Days’ career as an actor, author and husband.

You have to, on some level, take credit for creating Fonzie. Where did that come from inside you?
The Fonz was everybody I wanted to be that I wasn’t. It’s funny, every actor has a different key to get into their character. Some actors, very famous actors who worked on the stage, would have to put putty on their nose and create a different nose which would change their face when they looked in the mirror, and that would help them. For the Fonz, all I did was change my voice and my body position, and all of a sudden that unlocked this wonderful adventure for me. Because I thoroughly enjoyed playing him.

Back in the day, when you appeared on talk shows, you always had a firm rule that you would not do the Fonz. Was there a reason?
Well, I’ll tell you exactly. I could never live up to the magical thinking of what that character was. I could never live up to the image of what people had in their mind so I couldn’t even go there. The other thing was, I was asked once to go on one of these variety shows, and they were going to pay me $10,000 and I was going to give the host the secret to being the Fonz. I was going to teach the host how to make the famous ‘eh’ sound. And I thought to myself, W oweee — $10,0000 at that time was a lot of money. But that’s like a magician showing how to do the trick. All of a sudden the trick doesn’t work so well any more. The people tuned in to ‘Happy Days,’ the Fonz lived in the midst of that family. That’s where he existed, and that’s where I left him.

Hank Zipzer booksAfter you left ‘Happy Days,’ I’m guessing for years fans would come up to you to tell you how much they loved the Fonz. Do you hate that or do you embrace it?
I love it, because look at everything that I get to do. Soon I leave California, I go to Boston and start a new movie [‘Here Comes the Boom’] with Kevin James and Salma Hayek. A new book is coming out. There are 17 Hank Zipzers. My partner and I finished another children’s book Sunday, the beginning of a new series. I do ‘Royal Pains,’ I get to do ‘Childrens Hospital.’ I am over the moon. I am just busier than I’ve ever been.

You are busy now as an actor, but you didn’t go into another television series as a regular for many years. Did you want to continue acting after ‘Happy Days?’
I did, but I have to say that type casting is a real [pitfall]. And I had to deal with that from ’83 to ’91 maybe. You can either be destroyed by it or you can be tenacious and find the hole in the dam to squeeze yourself through and get on to the other side. So when I always say if I were to give somebody two words to live by, they are: tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity will eventually get you where you need to be, and gratitude will stop you from being angry when you get there. I really have found that that is not just a nice phrase, but it’s honestly the truth.

After ‘Happy Days,’ did you have to audition for roles?

How was that?
You know what, I’ll tell you what it was like. Some actor said to me, “I won’t audition, they know my work. If they want me, they’ll call me.” And I thought if I want the work and auditioning is the pass, I’m going in that room. If that’s the way the game is played, I’m going there. It was so funny, because it was adorable. I would sit on these metal chairs in the waiting room with all these other actors waiting to go in to read, and they would go, “Why are you here?” I said, “I’m here for a job. You?” And, yes, I would audition, and that’s just the way it is.

We’re so glad you’re back on television on ‘Royal Pains.’ When you did ‘Happy Days,’ there were three major networks. Now there seem to be hundreds of channels.
Oh, my goodness, yes. It is the most complicated business I think.

‘Royal Pains’ on USA

Do you worry that there are too many choices and people won’t discover ‘Royal Pains’?
You know what I’ve found? I take the other television show just for example: ‘Childrens Hospital.’ It is the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life … smart, funny, funny people, and it was a webisode. You build it, they will come. And if it’s good, they find you because people want to find the good to be entertained. People will find you, and word of mouth is still the strongest way to get people to see your show. You just do the best you can possibly do. You commit yourself to what you’re doing. You love what you’re doing, and it jumps off the screen.

Your Hank Zipzer children’s books were inspired by your problem with dyslexia as a child. Were you frustrated growing up?
It was very frustrating. It was frustrating because you don’t want to not do well. You want to read, you want to keep up, you don’t want to be a distraction, you don’t want to be distracted. You can’t figure out how — you keep thinking, oh, OK, I’m going to do it differently today, and of course you can’t.

What makes you happy now?
Fly fishing for trout, my granddaughter, going to the movies, going to see plays on Broadway, good food, acting.

Henry Winkler & wife StaceyYou and your wife Stacey have been married 33 years. What’s your secret to a happy marriage?
I’d like to say I think that the center of the relationship is the ear. Listening is probably more important than anything.

Henry Winkler’s new book: ‘I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River’Do you and your wife like to do the same things?
Yeah. We go fly fishing together. We’ve been fly fishing for 20 years. It’s fantastic. That’s where the book [I wrote], ‘I Never Met an Idiot on the River,’ came from.

Do you set goals now?
I do. I have a goal. I truly believe that one of the most important things for a human being is to continue to feel relevancy — being relevant in the world, never losing sight of that.