Henry Winkler talks Childrens Hospital and NY Times Best Sellers List
Known for his iconic character “The Fonz” from TV’s Happy Days, Henry Winkler became a household name overnight and has since been one of the few coveted names to work with in Hollywood.
Winkler has lent his talents to Adam Sandler films like The Waterboy, Click, and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, while also appearing on recent TV shows such as Arrested Development and Royal Pains. His latest role is that of Sy Mittleman, the administrator for Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital which currently airs Thursday at midnight on Cartoon Network.
SanDiego.com was fortunate to score a few minutes of Winkler’s time and talked about life on the set of Childrens Hospital and his new book that recently entered the New York Times Best Sellers List.
What was the process for you getting cast as Sy Mittleman on Childrens Hospital?
Henry Winkler: There was no process; I was asked if I would like to be in it. It was an experiment going from the web to a live action TV show. No one quite knew what was going to happen; it was going to be on the Cartoon Network on Adult Swim. And I just thought to myself, ‘You know what, this smells right.’ Unlike the apartment they gave me on the show, which is an abandoned bathroom.
What is up with Sy’s butterfly collection and his sexual fascination with them?
HW: I was told that you can cure cancer from the result of sexually satisfying a butterfly. And I thought to myself, ‘That’s really important.’ You have to use a tweezer, but what a great thing to be able to give to mankind.
Will Sy’s ongoing liaison with The Chief ever come to the surface?
HW: I think the Chief has moved on, sadly but true. I think that the Chief has left me in the dust.
Sy is supposed to have a wife and kids on the show; will they ever make an appearance?
HW: That’s a very good question, because I had forgotten that they existed. They are so deeply embedded in the folklore of the show I forgot that I might even have a family.
There’s a lot of making out between the staff of Childrens Hospital. Who have you made out with outside of Megan Mullally’s character the Chief?
HW: I’m usually just left to watch. I don’t have any of the fun.
What’s been your favorite episode to shoot thus far?
HW: Each time I get a script, I look at and I go, ‘Really? No kidding, they want me to do this?’ I actually don’t have a favorite; I just love going to work.
It’d be great to see Sy’s character emerge from his supporting role and take the lead in one of the episodes.
HW: You have to write Rob Corddry. Why don’t we start a campaign, that sounds brilliant. I’m a therapist to some of the cast members in an episode. Then there’s episode where it’s like we did a 1940’s musical and Sy, I think, goes mad.
I noticed that you’re on Twitter quite a lot.
HW: I’m a tweet-aholic. I am a fanatic, I love it. I’m approaching 63,000 followers who sometimes join me on Twitter. I just adore it. I find it very interesting. I was doing a movie in Boston and I was driving from Boston at about eleven o’clock at night to New York where the next morning I would work on Royal Pains, and I did that for two weeks. Sometimes it was really hard to fall asleep, it was 2:30 AM in the east and I got on Twitter and I said, ‘Let’s have a group hug.’ And I got responses from all over the world. And for that moment we were all doing the same thing at the same moment. I found it deeply touching. I thought it was just unbelievable that we could do this on this kind of tiny social medium with 140 characters. Somebody in Finland said, ‘Oh my God! Somebody’s on my foot!’ And I said, ‘Let’s back up a little bit and give some breathing room.’ We were all connected. I just thought it was phenomenal.
Will you be coming to Comic-Con at the end of the month?
HW: I think that I’m traveling or I would be there with bells on. Last year, I was there with Childrens Hospital. I thought it was terrific. It is amazing to me that this has become one of the most important launching pads for modern culture anywhere.
How has the promotional tour for your new book been going?
HW: I've Never Met an Idiot on the River is my first adult book, and we just made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list; it’s very rewarding.
Is all the press you’re doing tiresome or do you enjoy it?
HW: As a producer, I truly understand that if you’re going to put something out there you’ve got to sell it. It’s part of the circle. Making it is only half the circle. There is so much out there now, there are so many channels, so many movies; everybody competing. You have got to go there and make the world know that you exist, and that it’s worth their while.
Have you ever fished in Baja, California?
HW: I’ve never been. I’m looking forward to the San Juan River in New Mexico, but right now the hardest fishing I’ve ever done is in New Zealand, and my place that I dream about is Montana.
Do you ever go back to The Smithsonian to check on your jacket?
HW: I was just there in February, I was given an award by AARP and the first thing I did I went to The Smithsonian to visit the jacket and polish it.
Did they really let you polish it?
HW: No it’s in a case, but in my mind I was there with a buffer.
What is your fondest memory of working on Night Shift with Michael Keaton and Ron Howard?
HW: You know, Ron gave me the choice of either character. And I thought that since I played The Fonz now for ten years, so maybe I’ll do Richie. And that’s how I chose Chuck.
Did you know that Keaton was a stand-up comic?
HW: No; when we auditioned with him was the first time I had ever met him. Let me just say that we met so many people for the role; when he walked in, he owned it. It still holds up I think, it’s one of my favorite films that I ever did.
I remember watching that movie a lot on HBO late at night in the mid 1980’s.
HW: It’s amazing, that’s where it became a hit. It also got the worst ad campaign the year it came out, because they geared it for children and it was really 18 – 32.
Does Henry Winkler have a message for the children?
Henry Winkler: You don’t know how great you are until you find your own gift, and dig it out and give it the world. If you learn slowly, if it is difficult for you; that has nothing to do with how brilliant you are.
Childrens Hospital airs at midnight on Adult Swim. I've Never Met an Idiot on the River is in bookstores now.