Let’s just put this out there: Barry is probably the best comedy on TV right now. And what makes it so absolutely unique is the way it satirizes the vapid, cringy narcissism of a group that’s very easy to make fun of: wannabe Hollywood actors. But instead of just mocking them, the show takes the angle that these characters–especially these characters–can channel their truth to tap into some deep vein regarding the human condition.
Ironically, the best example of this comes not from our titular character, hitman-turned-wannabe actor/ Lululemon sales associate Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), nor his coterie of equally delusional theater class. Instead, this ethos is embodied in NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), a Chechnyan mobster whose people-pleasing persona is a direct contract to his chosen vocation.
We sat down with Carrigan at the Muddy Paw Coffee Company, where we took a break from admiring the multitude of dogs at the pet-friendly Silverlake cafe to discuss violence, comedy and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Collider: As much as Barry focuses on the lies we tell ourselves and how that house of cards can crumble any minute, it’s just as much about the truth we inadvertently broadcast to others.
ANTHONY CARRIGAN: Oh, absolutely. You can totally quote me on what you just said, that sounds, that’s perfect. No, that was great.
What do you think the story is Hank tells himself about the kind of person he is?
CARRIGAN: I think when I envisioned Hank, I saw him as a little boy in Chechnya who got all of these VHS tapes of all of these American action stars, Jean Claude Van Damme and he just watched all of them and that was what his vision of being a badass was and being a crime superhero. He had this vision and he’s like, “It all happens in the United States”, and he couldn’t wait to go. I think he still holds this idea of the spectacle and all of how cool it is. I think that is ultimately what he sees.
Hank is somewhat innocent in a way that I think Barry wants to be innocent. When he asks “Am I evil?” and Hank’s response is “Ohmigod, I mean, absolutely! Do I not tell you that enough? You are, like, the most evil guy I know!”
CARRIGAN: I think this goes right over his bald head. Because what Barry is asking for is some emotional support.
But in the context of the movie Hank is living in, an American action film, that’s totally the correct response.
CARRIGAN: Right! “Now let’s go blow up this helicopter.”
We got a hint at the darker side of Hank at the end of the first episode this season. After Barry tells you off in the Lululemon and you show up outside of his class that night to confront him. Every light-hearted moment Hank had, the way he’s been set up as comic relief, it all drops. Suddenly you see Hank as dangerous, like, “Okay, well, you’ve pushed me far but now it’s my life versus your life. We’re friends, but you disrespected me, and now I’m going f*cking die.”
CARRIGAN: I feel like that what’s interesting is I think you’ve seen that kind of confrontation before when it comes to the crime boss disrespected. But the funny twist that Barry has on this is that Hank is under a lot of pressure, he has a lot of responsibility and his feelings were hurt. Barry really hurt his feelings. And I think that game is driving that kind of anger and that resolve.
Do you think he’s a lonely person? Because I feel he’s the kind of guy who, he doesn’t want to be the head of the prime family. He wants to have a friend. He wants to have somebody to bounce off of.
CARRIGAN: He wants his bros. I think he does want a sense of family. I think he wants really good friends ultimately. And I think when Barry hurts his feelings, calls him an idiot, he becomes really wounded. I think that is what drives Hank a lot. That’s why he’s a people pleaser because I think he’s, not to get too deep into it, but I think he just wants people to like him especially Barry, who he sees as Jason Bourne from Cleveland.
That’s what it is. It’s people pleasing but it’s also he doesn’t necessarily want to be the Jean Claude Van Damme. I feel like he wants to be next protected and loved by Jean Claude Van Damme.
CARRIGAN: He wants to be best friends with Jean Claude Van Damme.
Which is a very specific outlook. It’s not “Get out of the way! I am pushing you down the staircase, Showgirls-style.” It’s “I need somebody to look up to.”
CARRIGAN: Exactly. And so I think being in a position of power is not easy for him.
Vulnerability is a dangerous place for Hank.
CARRIGAN: It is a dangerous place. When you have to be the leader, you’re not supposed to show vulnerability.
Contrast that to the scene in the third episode, where you’ve tried to snipe Barry in his own home but he puts a bullet in your guy and goes to confront you on the roof. He’s got his gun on you, your guy is wounded and again there’s that moment where you just drop the cheeriness and it’s like, “You might as well kill me, I’m dead already.” Which in itself is basically a trope.
When Barry drops the gun, Hank’s reaction is so…not that trope: he immediately drops the act, is so relieved and giddy, and then immediately stress vomits. It’s so perfect. You realize: of course Hank’s words sounded familiar…it’s what a tough guy in a movie would say!
CARRIGAN: Yes! And it just all falls away and it was such a strain on him.
One moment you’re shooting at someone or about to get shot, the next you’re dancing in excitement. It’s life. It’s like everything in life just summed up in a little five-minute scene of a dark comedy.
CARRIGAN: I know absolutely. So I think there is hope for Hank yet in terms of just retaining his joyful and naïve, innocent demeanor because he has a memory of a goldfish. Something traumatic happened and then the next minute he’s like, “Let’s go get ice cream.”