“Am I evil?” Bill Hader’s hitman-turned-aspiring-actor-turned-hitman Barry Berkman wonders on a recent episode of HBO’s Barry. He’s despondent. “Ohmigod, I mean, absolutely!” his Chechen mob boss–turned-friend-turned–mob boss NoHo Hank, played by Anthony Carrigan, tells him. “Do I not tell you that enough? You are, like, the most evil guy I know!” He means it as a compliment.
There’s no shortage of violent guys with soft sides on TV, but NoHo Hank is a singular and surprising creation. Carrigan delivers a performance so specifically weird and tender, it transforms the “mobster with a heart of gold” trope into something new. (And his Chechen-goes-SoCal accent is so convincing on the show that it is a little jarring to hear his real, standard American English speaking voice.) Barry is a tonally swervy comedy, and Hank’s blend of positive thinking and nonchalance about murder is one of the elements that sounds like it really shouldn’t work, but does anyway. Hank was originally intended to be a very temporary antagonist—Barry was supposed to kill him in the show’s pilot—but Carrigan was so immediately compelling as the smooth-skulled, unfailingly polite criminal that Hank survived, assuming an increasingly large role in the second season. The Ringer spoke with Carrigan about his character’s status as a cult favorite, whether Hank’s tattoos give us clues about his backstory, and whether Hank knows he’s a bad guy.
NoHo Hank is really emerging as a fan favorite on Barry. What has the response been like for you?
It’s been incredible. Hank is such a strange creature, and it’s really awesome to see people getting a kick out of what a multifaceted character he is. I love him—he’s sweet, and endearing, and lovable. I certainly have an affinity for him, so the fact that other people do too makes me happy.
How much do you know about his pre-L.A. backstory?
That’s where it gets interesting. As an actor, you want to come up with certain anchors, certain things you can relate to about the character. So there are certain things you map out, and you can check in with the writers about. But you want to leave enough open so that if certain things change, you’re not going to be caught with a completely fleshed-out backstory that’s totally wrong. So it’s good to have little things in your pocket, but I’m very excited to learn more about the past.
NoHo Hank has such a distinctive look. I’ve noticed a scorpion, chess pieces, and a skull and a star as his tattoos, and I’m wondering whether you know what the meanings are for the character.
They are very intentional. Each of the tattoos tells a story. The keys to his backstory are mapped on his body. So that’s all I can say about that—they do all mean something. I don’t want to give away too much, but they’re very strategically placed.
I thought that the chess pieces were a reference to your wife, who is a professional chess player—do they have meaning for Hank as a character, too?
Well, you can get in really hot water by putting actual Russian prison tattoos on your body. It’s not something you want to toy with lightly. So the way I saw it was that it’s an indication of someone trying to think numerous moves ahead. Whether he’s successful at doing that is beyond the point.
As far as the rest of his look, do you have a theory about where he goes shopping? His clothes are incredible, and his bedroom looks like it was ripped from an Urban Outfitters catalog.
The Glendale Galleria is a huge inspiration for him, and a place that he goes to all the time. North Hollywood and Glendale—I’m sure he knows all of the malls very well.
I enjoyed the dream sequence where Hank dunks on Thomas Friedman. We know he’s read at least part of The Lexus and the Olive Tree—I’m wondering whether you have any ideas about what else he likes to read. Does he have any favorite websites?
There are websites where he likes to order his spy equipment. He has a pair of nunchucks in the mail, throwing stars, some equipment to listen in on conversations that are going on 20 feet away. I’m guessing that he’s got an account with whatever that website is. If there’s a spy website for 10-year-old kids, he’s on that.
Another great moment is the bitmoji that Hank sends Barry, where he’s nervous and it says “Gulp.” I saw that you Instagrammed it. Do you have access to the full Hank bitmoji set?
Not at the moment. But that’s something that I really hope does come around. Those bitmoji can convey so much. I’m hoping there’s a whole selection to choose from.
It’s so easy to root for Hank, and overlook his violence. As a show, Barry seems concerned with poking at stereotypical representations of violence and violent archetypes like the hitman and the mobster. I’m curious whether you think of Hank as a villain. Is he a sociopath in your mind?
I think what Barry does so well is it takes characters you wouldn’t necessarily root for, or see as a hero whatsoever, and subverts them into a place where you are rooting for them, and you do want them to succeed. Is he a sociopath? Well, he definitely has some major, major blind spots. In his mind, it all makes sense and it’s glorified. At the end of the day, he’s a product of a difficult upbringing who is trying to escape that, while still being tied to it.
I think Hank has an idea of what his job is, and of what crime is, and in his mind it’s a spectacle, it’s a cool action sequence. The reality is that it’s dirty and it’s clumsy and traumatic.
I know Hank’s from Chechnya, but you’re from Boston. How did you get started acting there?
I wasn’t acting professionally as a kid, but I was doing stage productions. The first role I played was a pirate in Peter Pan at the Winchester Cooperative Theater. So, from a very young age I went straight to the villains. And then I did Shakespeare in middle school at this place called Project Shakespeare, I did plays in high school. When it came to going to college, I really wanted to learn more about acting and to be classically trained, so I went to Carnegie Mellon. I knew it was what I wanted to set my sights on.
Do any of the scenes in Gene Cousineau’s acting workshops give you flashbacks to your early days?
One hundred percent. It gives me a warm, tingly feeling inside. Henry [Winkler] is such a gem. I would’ve loved to be in his acting class in real life. Anyone who has been in an acting class environment knows that there’s a familial element to it. You feel extremely supported, you’re in a place of real vulnerability. It’s extremely cathartic. You form bonds, whether it’s acting projects or plays, that last a lifetime.
You have a history of playing villains—I recognized you on Barry from when you played Victor Zsasz on Gotham. Is it more fun to play a bad guy?
It’s way more fun. Bad guys are heroes in their own minds. They’re doing what they feel is the right thing to do, they’re just more self-serving. What’s fascinating about villains is that everyone is one or two steps away from doing something horrendous. We’re all capable of real darkness.
Barry follows Game of Thrones, and The Ringer is obsessed with Game of Thrones, so I have to ask: Who would Hank root for to sit on the Iron Throne?
The Spider! Varys! He loves his haircut—and he’s for the people.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.