Polite and cheerful Chechen mobster NoHo Hank is so singular a character that it’s easy to forget that Anthony Carrigan, the actor who portrays him on the HBO comedy Barry, actually hails from Boston. When SPIN caught up with Carrigan about what’s in store for the upbeat murderer on the series’ third season, it seems like even Carrigan loses the distinction for a second. “I almost slipped into Hank there,” he laughs as the Chechen accent slithers into a description of Hank’s complicated friendship with discharged Marine-turned-hitman Barry Berkman, played by series co-creator Bill Hader.
Not that anyone can get enough of the character that, at one point, was going to be offed in the pilot. Regularly referred to as the show’s scene-stealer, NoHo Hank has become the character whose storylines fans follow with the same anticipation as the series lead. According to Carrigan, it’s worth the nearly three-year wait. “I’m so excited for everyone to see this new aspect to Hank and see Hank finally get what he is looking for, in a certain way,” teases Carrigan. “You’re in for a wild ride.”
No doubt, as the second season ended with Barry taking out the majority of the Bolivian, Burmese and Chechen gangs, leaving the hitman and NoHo Hank in a precarious situation. Carrigan talked to SPIN about what awaits the two in the upcoming season, how he went from one-episode guest star to series regular, and how, on a show like Barry, that still doesn’t mean job security.
SPIN: You were just days from returning to set for the third season when everything shut down for the pandemic. How did it feel to be so close and then just have to sit on it?
Anthony Carrigan: It was difficult. But I think in a weird way, it was actually kind of great to have Barry to look forward to and focus on, and just know that at a certain point we were going to get back into it, if the world didn’t completely fall apart.
My understanding was that Bill Hader and co-creator Alec Berg rewrote season three almost entirely. Did NoHo Hank’s trajectory change?
It’s so funny. I’m not sure if I quite remember what we read back then, because here’s the thing: There will be so many different versions that I’ll hear about. Especially if Bill calls me and he’s like, “Dude, I’ve got the greatest idea.” I’m so excited about it and then all of a sudden the next draft comes out and I’ll be like, “Whatever happened to that idea?” And he is like, “Oh yeah, no, we scrapped that a while ago. That was really funny, but we’ve got something better.” I trust them to choose the right one that makes the cut.
This new season feels really high stakes – and this has never been a low-stakes show.
It’s ridiculous stakes. Because they are getting closer to what they want, there’s a direct parallel to how dangerous it becomes, either getting it or holding onto it. This season ramps up in a way that… I never thought that I would be surprised by how intense it gets, but I was genuinely surprised when I first read them. And I was genuinely just so hyped that the audience will get to see these characters get into even more compromising situations than they’ve already been in the past.
How would you describe Hank’s relationship with Barry after what happened at the end of season two?
Slightly strange. I almost went into Hank there. (Laughs) I, like, split the difference between Anthony and Hank. It’s certainly not lost on Hank that Barry screwed him over and made his life that much more difficult. And Hank is a very trusting and sweet and innocent Chechen mobster for sure. But I think he’s beginning to become aware of when he is being taken advantage of or when he’s burned. And I think that he is getting hip to it now.
Is that really a friendship on any level?
I mean in Hank’s eyes, yeah. He totally sees it as a friendship and I think that he’s just beginning to prioritize himself for the first time, ever. Whereas in the first couple of seasons, you’ve seen Hank basically bend over for others because he’s a bit of a people pleaser. He’s now realizing that he has to look out for himself and he wants to prioritize himself.
Can we talk about what is coming up for Hank, in terms of looking out for himself?
What’s been really rewarding as an actor, this season particularly, has been to see a bit more of Hank’s backstory, a little bit more of who Hank is behind closed doors. And finding that shade, as an actor, has been so cool because up until this point, you’ve basically just seen Hank in a business setting. So, I’m really excited to have people see this new dynamic with Hank, this other texture of the character.
Has what you found out about Hank this season surprised you?
Yes! That’s the really fun thing about not really knowing where a character’s going in general, over the course of a season and of a show, because you’re up for anything. And I felt like I had an idea at the end of season two of what Hank’s trajectory and what his journey would be. But I couldn’t even anticipate where it goes and how off the rails this season takes all the characters.
How collaborative is the process? Do you and Bill talk about where these things could go, or are you just informed?
I probably could, but I like to be pleasantly surprised. I just sit back and see where things go and then try to do my best to honor whatever vision Bill and Alec come up with. If I insert myself too much in terms of where I want the character to go, I would feel like I’d be becoming a writer, which I don’t consider myself to be. And I trust Bill and Alec with where they think this character should go.
What was your favorite Hank evolution up until this season?
At the beginning of season two, right off the bat, we see this new side of Hank, which is ironically menacing and very threatening. And you begin to see this otherwise cheerful and polite and sweet guy take on this edge, when he feels wronged by Barry. I really, really, really loved that there was just an immediate switch and you’re reminded that this character is sweet and lovely, but also really dangerous. That was something that I just thought was so much fun to play with.
You’ve talked about how he was supposed to die in the pilot. When Bill and Alec realized that this character, and you, were scene stealers, do you feel they catered to that? How did Hank’s trajectory change as a result of people loving him so much?
I don’t know how it shifted in their heads or what they had initially envisioned – well, what they had initially envisioned was to kill the character off. So, pretty much anything at this point is just a sweet bonus. But I will say that a sign of a great writer is someone who’s able to alchemize what the actor’s doing with what they had initially planned and then begin to write for the voice of the actor who’s playing this character. When I read these scripts, it just makes total sense to me. So, I think that they did a really wonderful job of seeing what I was doing with the character and really catering to that. I’m over the moon with how lucky I am.
Did the peppy characteristics come from you?
It was a little bit alluded to, because initially Bill had found the spark of his character in Apple employees at the Genius Bar, who are just really concise and polite and just want to make sure that all of your needs are taken care of and in this thorough upbeat way. That, I could glean from the text. But I brought a little bit of flair to him because that was just how I saw him on the page. I remember I was in the audition room with Sherry Thomas, who’s a brilliant casting director, and I just started doing something. Pretty much instantly, I was like, “Oh, okay, this is getting a good reaction. I might as well just keep it rolling.”
Do you feel, now that you’re in the third season, that there’s job security?
I don’t know if an actor ever really feels job security at any point. I mean, especially on HBO, post-Game of Thrones. No one is safe at any time. But it certainly makes me feel really good and I definitely feel all the love from the fans.
This show is interesting in the sense that, so many times I’ve felt like the writers have painted themselves into a corner and you think, “Well, I guess that character had a good run.” And they somehow work their way out of it.
I feel like that’s something that I will never quite grasp exactly, how they’re able to do that, or how they manage to create these impossible scenarios and then just somehow Houdini themselves out of it. But I’m always here for it and I’m genuinely a fan of the show, too. I’ll watch the show and be completely riveted with how they puzzle these things out. And the attention to detail, too. Because I’ve watched the show a couple times, and each time I watch it, I pick up something new, a small little nuance or detail that I had missed before.
How has the show changed your life, personally?
I mean, aside from the numerous fan reactions and people screaming, “Hey, man,” and “50, 50 with Cristobal,” or just start dancing at me, it’s just so cool to be a part of a really intelligent show. The standard of everything that I’ve been looking at in terms of what else to do, the bar has risen. So, I’m excited to hopefully maintain that integrity throughout my career. I make no promises though!