From the Fonz to fatherhood

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First Posted: 5/28/2013

When Henry Winkler played Arthur Fonzarelli on ABC’s “Happy Days,” he was the very definition of “cool.” As it turns out, he still is.

The now 67-year-old actor and father is just as sharp and witty as he was in the ’70s and’80s, most recently acting in “Arrested Development,” “Royal Pains,” and “Childrens Hospital.” Eager to meet old and new fans at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con this weekend, Winkler chatted with The Weekender about becoming the Fonz, writing children’s books, and which young actor he believes is the coolest man is showbiz now.

THE WEEKENDER: What made you choose acting?

HENRY WINKLER: Absolutely, acting chose me. I did not know why it was in my body or mind. All I knew was this is it – this is what I had to try to do.

W: When you auditioned for the role in “Happy Days,” what made you play the Fonz the way you did that helped you secure the role?

HW: That’s a very interesting question. You know, the Fonz is first of all somebody else’s creation. They think of it, then you read it, and then you interpret it, and that is the job of the actor. That is the actual job of the actor, to recreate life in order to illuminate life.

W: Was there something about it that attracted you to that role?

HW: No. There were only six lines; all I did was audition for a brand new show and had no idea that it was going to explode.

W: You really became the definition of cool in that role. What was it that made him cool?

HW: I know exactly what it is. Cool is being authentic. Everybody wanted to be the Fonz’s friend when they were watching the Fonz because he was authentic. He was loyal. As tough as he was, you saw through to his bone. You saw his emotionality.

W: Who do you think represents that kind of coolness today, if anyone?

HW: Ryan Gosling. Ryan Gosling has got to be one of the most talented, most authentic actors in his age range out there… You watch him, you know it.

W: What’s the role you enjoyed playing the most or one that you really got into personally?

HW: I love the Fonz. I loved being in “Here Comes the Boom” playing the music teacher, I love “Arrested Development,” I love “Royal Pains” playing the father. I love “Childrens Hospital,” that’s going to come on again for the fifth year. Last year, it won the Emmy for the Best Short Form Television.

W: On the other side, what has been your toughest or most challenging role?

HW: The most challenging role in life? Being a dad.

W: But it’s obviously something you love, as you’re dedicated to a lot of children’s charities and writing your Hank Zipzer books on dealing with dyslexia.

HW: I knew how frustrating it was with dyslexia to constantly be behind the eight ball. And if a child does not do well, you don’t have to remind that child, you don’t have to yell at that child, you don’t have to punish that child – that’s all going on pretty much inside. The kid knows very well, and so I know that feeling and I wanted to make sure that I can reach as many children as I possibly can to remind them they have greatness inside them. That’s why I wrote the books and that’s why I take the books with me to Wizard World.

W: Is it cathartic in a way to write those books?

HW: No. they’re not self-help books. We write them as comedies and it just happens because I write the emotional truth of what I went through that children write two things. They write, “Wow, you’re funny,” and two, “How did you know me so well?” And reluctant readers read one and then read five in a row. Librarians, parents, teachers have all written us letters about that from all over the world… That’s a great feeling.

W: You’ve played in so many comedies over the years. What attracts you to those comedic roles?

HW: I think my timing. That’s what I do. You don’t learn timing; that’s just a gift that comes along with it, you know? I was lucky enough to get good timing.

W: Were you surprised to see “Arrested Development” get renewed?

HW: No. people have been dying for it for so long, so it was just a matter of time.

W: Can you say anything about your role in the upcoming season?

HW: It’s the same guy, still horrible at the judicial system, still confused about his sexuality, but a very important family member.

W: What brings you to a convention like Wizard World Philadelphia?

HW: First of all, I get to meet people that I would never normally meet who like what I do with my life… I stand on the other side of the table, so I’m facing these people. We’re right there together, and the connection that is made, even in those few minutes, is so warm it’s like a gift.

W: Is there anything you feel you haven’t accomplished career-wise yet that you’d like to?

HW: No. I would like to work until I can no longer work.

W: What’s next for you? Any upcoming roles?

HW: I’m going to New York to do this season’s “Royal Pains.” …It’s fantastic. It’s its fifth year; people all over the world love it. It’s just great.

W: What keeps you motivated?

HW: Mortgage. No matter who you are, that is a powerful reason to do what you do.