October 3, 2023

Henry Winkler explains the ending and future for Gene

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the series finale of “Barry,” now streaming on Max.

Sunday night on HBO marked the end of two major series after four seasons each: “Succession” and “Barry”. The shows launched just a few months apart in 2018 and now they ended on the same night. After “Succession” concluded less than an hour earlier, Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root and Anthony Carrigan have now said a blood-soaked farewell to their characters.

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After loading weapons, Barry (Hader) furiously drives to rescue Sally (Goldberg) and their son John (Zachary Golinger) after NoHo Hank (Carrigan) kidnaps them in the series finale. Along the way, Barry prays to God, hoping that his past sins will be washed away and he will be redeemed after his abusive life. But when he arrives at Hank’s hideout, he’s missed all the action. Before he gets there, the potential peace offer between Hank and Fuches (Root) to band together against Barry has fallen apart and their gangs have been slaughtering each other. Fuches wanted Hank to admit that he killed his own friend Cristobal (Michael Irby) in his quest for power, but he refused. Hank dies against a golden statue of Cristobal, and Fuches helps John and Sally escape before disappearing.

Barry, Sally and John are finally reunited, but Sally wants Barry to turn himself in after reading that Gene Cousineau (Winkler) has been named the prime suspect in the murder of Janice Moss, which took place in the Season 1 finale. Barry doesn’t think that God wants him to, even though of course he’s the one who killed Janice. The next morning, Sally and John leave without telling Barry. He drives to Gene’s house, thinking Sally and John are hiding there, only to find Gene’s talent agent Tom Posorro (Fred Melamed). Just as Barry tells Tom he is giving himself over to the police, Gene enters his room and shoots him in the head and chest – “Oh, wow,” says Barry as he dies. With Barry dead, Gene sits on the couch in chilling silence.

And then the finale takes an even more shocking turn. There is another time jump, and “Barry” cuts to an audience applauding a stage performance. An elderly Sally takes a bow as the director of a high school play, and a teenage John (now played by “It” star Jaeden Martell) sits in the crowd. After the show, he asks his mother if he can go to his friend’s house. With his friend, John illicitly watches a movie called “The Mask Collector” – a movie that depicts the “true” story of Janice’s murder. Actors playing Barry, Gene, Janice, Sally, and even young John show how Gene killed Janice, framed Barry, and killed him. Now Gene is serving life in prison and Barry was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

It’s a shocking reversal, with the whole world believing that Gene was Janice’s killer and Barry was an innocent veteran who just wanted to be an actor. John ends the film with a worrying smile on his face: does he believe the film’s propaganda or does he know the truth about his father?

Of VarietyWinkler explains how he and Hader shot the pivotal scene where Gene kills Barry, what Gene’s prison life is like, and how he interprets that final shot with John.

Did you notice that this is the last weekend of Barry?

It just hits me now that I don’t get to work with this group of people anymore. This great character is now part of my history, not my present. I am sad. I understand it was time for Alec Berg and Bill Hader to move on. They had different kinds of fish to fry, and you have to respect that. I’m thankful I had this.

When did you find out that Gene would be the one to kill Barry?

They rewrote the scripts as we went, so halfway through the season, Bill said, “Hey, you want to know how it ends?” I said sure. He said, “You shoot me,” and no words came out of my mouth. I had no idea how to cope with killing the man who shot the woman I loved, and the man I thought was more my son than my son – whom I also shot. I was like [Winkler mimics his mind being blown].

That’s also a good impression of what happened to Barry’s head. How many takes did the shooting scene take?

I shot him twice and I think we only did it twice. I shot him once and he said, “You don’t have to do this, Mr. Cousineau,” and I shot him a second time. But in the final he went “Wow.” Just wow. It’s still overwhelming.

Why do you think they went for the shorter line?

Until the last moments of the season, he always believed that he was my son and that I loved him and he loved me. He never claimed that he killed the woman I loved and that would have affected me. It never got through to him. When I was brought into that room and blamed on me and somehow they found out it was me, I just went crazy. I think at that moment, at the end of that scene when I’m out of words, the switch flipped. I think the light went out in my brain.

After Gene kills Barry, he just sits there in silence. Was any dialogue ever written for that moment?

I always just sat down. I imagined not even processing what had happened and what I had done. I just sat there and stared into the abyss that would become my prison cell.

There’s a scene before Gene kills Barry where he grabs a gun in his room and looks like he’s pointing it at himself. How close was Gene to making that decision?

I never thought of that. I never thought about actually committing suicide. I am too valuable. Gene and his own mind were just too valuable to commit suicide. There’s always another student with Barnum and Bailey.

What would Gene think of his portrayal in ‘The Mask Collector’?

Gene wouldn’t have cared about the way he was portrayed, that he was just a crutch and cog in a wheel. He is the wheel.

I would like to know your opinion on the last scene where John is watching the movie. Do you think he understands the true story of what happened between Gene and Barry, or does he believe the movie’s version?

He saw enough. He was aware that his mother had given him vodka to put him to sleep so that he wouldn’t bother her. He saw his father and heard him talk crazy in the desert. He watched his mother slowly fall apart before his very eyes, take him to LA and have a plan that didn’t exist and put him in immense danger. My instinct is, of course, this is what it was. This is what he lived.

Barry ends up dead but portrayed as a hero, while Gene is in prison and his reputation is destroyed. Who has a worse ending?

It’s amazing, isn’t it? He’s dead, he’s no longer alive, what kind of life would Barry have had? Gene has no life, he’s in a prison and can’t defend himself. He will be beaten to a pulp. Someone is going to put a collar around his neck and show him around. Except, if he ever comes to his senses, I see him starting a theater club in prison. And I should say that cigarettes, fresh coffee, sweets are all tradeable.

Do you think he gets visitors?

Who is going to visit them? Maybe Sally will feel comfortable in her life and feel sorry for him because I think she loved him. I think she kind of got something from him because the first time she starts her acti
ng class, she becomes him. So he must have somehow invaded her essence.

After Gene accidentally shoots his son, where do you think their relationship will go from here?

I wonder if blood is deeper than hate because every time I approached him no matter the season he put up a wall and I was able to knock it down. Maybe he’s visiting my grandson, so now I have three visitors.

Is there another story to tell with Gene? Will he just live the rest of his life in prison?

Well, he’s a killer and it’s his first time. I don’t know the law, so I don’t know if he would get out for good behavior and then go back to what he knows.

Gene almost heard Barry say he was going to turn himself in. What would have happened if he had heard Barry say that?

He would have been happy. He would have been standing at the door of the courthouse when Barry walked through. But you are where you are. So I can’t imagine he would be any different. He’s a street hawker with limited talent, and I think if he hadn’t gone to prison, that’s how he would have lived his life.

This interview has been edited and shortened.

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