How Anthony Carrigan Made Noho Hank the Best Part of 'Barry'
On the HBO series Barry, Anthony Carrigan plays Noho Hank, the sweetie-pie Chechen gangster who dreams about arguments with Thomas Friedman and always offers a submarine sandwich. Noho Hank is usually dressed in incredibly tight polos that show off his tattooed arms, and some sort of fitted shorts or pants. He never seems to wear socks. "Depending on where you are in Los Angeles, you can absolutely see that kind of guy," Carrigan says. "It's almost like you can smell the cologne on the shirts."
On a recent weekday afternoon at HBO's midtown New York headquarters, Carrigan has traded in Noho Hank's form-fitting wardrobe for a sweater everyone gathered for our small photo shoot thinks is great. (It's Rag & Bone, he says.) He's also lost the thick accent, although I sometimes think I hear it in his inflections.
About six years before Barry came along, Carrigan was having serious doubts about the future of his acting career. His bald head is not just a character choice; he has alopecia, and as his hair began to disappear he was warned that his career would do the same. Now, he's emerged as the actor behind the most lovable character on the acclaimed series about a tortured hitman who gets the acting bug. In comparison to Bill Hader's Barry Berkman, whose inherent violence is damaging everyone around him, there's something downright lovable about Noho Hank, a guy who does bad things but just wants to hang with his friends.
Carrigan and I nestled into seats in the HBO theater to discuss how he created the super great Hank.
Thrillist: There's a moment in the most recent episode when Barry points a gun at Noho Hank. My heart stopped and I realized how genuinely devastated I would be if your character died. You and Noho Hank have been inspiring a fervent response from people. How does that feel?
Anthony Carrigan: It feels amazing. When you create a character, you're creating almost like a best friend that you really just love hanging out with. I loved going to set every day and putting on the costume and the tattoos and embodying this character that I really care about. So it's really cool just to have people resonate and appreciate him and really get a kick out of him.
Bill Hader recently said in an interview that Noho Hank was supposed to die in the pilot. When you auditioned, what were you given and how did you take it from there?
Carrigan: Initially it was like a Chechen mobster who is very polite and is very considerate. I was like, OK, cool, this is like a fantastic jumping off point. Already off the bat it was very unique and very different and I was like, I have an idea of what I want to do with this. I really just drove straight into it. I had no idea if it was actually going to work. Then Bill called me after seeing my tape and he seemed really positive. So that was good. He did keep on telling me specific moments which were great, and I was supposed to go and do my final test. And nothing ruins a performance more than being told when something works. Then you have to recreate it and it's a nightmare.
By the time you filmed the pilot was there still some fear he might die off?
Carrigan: It was kind of pitched to me as, yeah, they are talking about building this out more. There are no guarantees for anything. Add on top that, this is HBO and literally Game of Thrones people die every 10 minutes.
And you are on a show where there are mobsters.
Carrigan: And it's about people dying. So obviously job security is very questionable. But no, once we got the ball rolling and started playing around on set and improvising and lifting things off the page, we all started to develop a really great rapport. I could feel they were really excited and I was really excited too. I'm really happy we kept the ball rolling and that Hank did not die.
I've come to love the way Hank says "Barry." How did you work on the accent? Is there a Noho Hank version of the Chechen accent?
Carrigan: In terms of research, I did a lot of rabbit hole-ing down the YouTube. That was certainly a huge resource for me. We also had a dialect specialist come in to help me with specific sounds, but for the most part this is also a character who moves to the United States and really wants to acclimate.
That brings me to the name: Noho Hank.
Carrigan: Spoiler: Probably not his real name. Most likely not his Chechen birth name.
Do you imagine "Noho" came because he just loves North Hollywood so much?
Carrigan: Yeah, I think that's exactly what it is. I think he landed there and he was just like, "Oh yeah, oh baby." This is now who I am.
In terms of this character's strange proclivities, was there something that has become part of him that was created on the fly?
Carrigan: Before we shot the pilot, I talked to Bill about the tattoos. And the tattoos were something that I was, like, "Well, now that we have the time to actually think about it, this is actually probably pretty meaningful." You know, obviously there are people, maybe like in Williamsburg, who have tattoos for no reason or whatever -- they're ironic and don't mean anything. But I feel like Hank's tattoos are very meaningful and tell a story. As far as on the fly, that was maybe a little bit more premeditated but certainly a huge thing in terms of informing the character.
Can you tell me some of the story of those tattoos?
Carrigan: A lot of those tattoos are representative of time in prison and time in crime. What you went to prison for, how many years you served, if you served three out of six years -- that's one of the tattoos. One of the tattoos is a scorpion which meant he did time in the hole. Hank has certainly had a hard life, which is kind of not necessarily what his nature would depict.
The show does have this darkness, but Noho Hank comes on the screen and lights it up for a minute.
Carrigan: He lights it up for sure. He's a beaming light.
The scenes with Noho Hank are almost more of the comic relief than the stuff in the acting class. And you would think it would be the opposite.
Carrigan: Leave it to the Chechen crime boss to have a moment where you can relax and laugh for a little bit. But that's what Barry does so well. It totally flips it on its head and makes you kind of question what exactly you're rooting for, and makes you wonder, what is this dynamic? But it's a dynamic that's pulled off so well and it's so largely in tribute to Bill Hader and [co-creator] Alec Berg with such a clear vision, who are able to walk this tightrope tonally which is so different.
It seems like Noho Hank just wants to have friends. Barry says to him, you could take the whole mob, and Noho Hank's dreaming about going 50-50 with the Bolivian boss Cristobal.
Carrigan: That's more important to him. It's so funny. As far as a character study, it's really endearing. I feel like a lot of people who are involved in crime are in it for themselves and are in it to make their name and really rise above everyone else. Hank doesn't want to do that, he wants to keep his friends around, he wants that sense of camaraderie. Cream rises to the top but let's make sure you guys are all creamy, too.
You've talked about your alopecia and how that framed your path as an actor. You were on Gotham, but where were you before Barry came along?
Carrigan: It was a really crazy time. I was really unsure as to what I was going to be able to do. There was a long time where I felt like I was at the whim of an industry that I couldn't fit in. I did a lot of pacing in this apartment in Brooklyn, just wondering how I was going to get back into the scene. Once my hair started to really fall out, I was actually told by a ton of people that I was never going to work again and that I wasn't attractive anymore. I was dealing with that but I also felt this voice inside my head saying that I think there is a niche market out there. I just decided to take a leap of faith and reinvent myself as an actor. At first people were looking at me sideways being like, Wait, you're Anthony Carrigan, I know you from, whatever, Parenthood, and you have hair and eyebrows and eyelashes. I just wanted to embrace myself. I didn't know how it was going to work out. I really didn't.
When was this?
Carrigan: This was about six years ago, I think. It first of all was very freeing to just accept myself. Because for the majority of my life I was hiding my alopecia. And so to kind of just give into it and say yes to it was sort of very freeing. It made me a better actor too, honestly, because it's hard to act when you're hiding something, you know?
There are these designations like "character actor." Was it a choice to become more of that?
Carrigan: Well, I've always considered myself a character actor. It was always really hard for me to envision myself as this leading-man heartthrob-type thing. Character actor is such a funny term. People call someone a character actor if they don't look generic, you know what I mean?
Carrigan: They can give the most straitlaced performance and, whatever, be cast as the romantic lead in something. But if they don't look like, whatever, square-jawed Chad, then they'll be labeled as a character actor. But I think a character actor is someone who actually creates characters, who actually stretches themselves in different directions.
One of the moments people really latched onto happened in the first episode with the wig. What was doing that scene like for you?
Carrigan: It was hysterical. It was absolutely hysterical. We were laughing so much throughout that scene. So it was really hard to actually get through it. And it was also funny. The irony didn't escape me that I was actually doing a scene with the wig on. When my hair fell out a while ago I used to use hairpieces and wigs to cover up. And here I am using a wig as totally something else. But that scene was just absolutely hysterical. We made it through, thanks to that little button at the end when Barry tells him he's an idiot and you see Hank just break. It's kind of hard. Everyone feels for him in that moment.
You don't want to wear wigs for jobs full-time anymore?
Carrigan: Not right now. I suppose in the right kind of context, but I kind of like my look right now, and I think it's something that has a lot of mileage. I'm not averse to wearing wigs, but I think for a long time I had this idea of having to wear a wig. That kind of eclipsed things quite a bit for me. But now I'm open to it for the right character. Whatever you need, essentially: prosthetic noses, glasses, anything. I'm up for all of it.
Did you play around with what type of wig Hank would choose?
Carrigan: We had a lot of options. There were brown wigs that were kind of more surfer wigs like Spicoli. That would have been a very interesting direction and would have probably led to a lot of different memes. Once I put that one on it was like, cool, Malibu Ken. He's right out of one of those 1960s Beach Party movies.
How much input have you had in his wardrobe? It's super-specific, like the very tight shirts.
Carrigan: And don't get me wrong. There were things that were tight and I was like, we can go tighter. With that pair of shorts it was like, we can go tighter and we can go shorter. I really leaned into that. It was such a wonderful experience with wardrobe because it's such an integral part of playing a character. You really do rely on the wardrobe to make you feel like the character. And you start to see things like Oh, I would wear this, not that. Immediately things make sense.
Where do you put him on the villain spectrum? Hank's so lovable.
Carrigan: He is so lovable. I think his idea of crime does not match up with the reality of it. It's like we're all bros. And we're all doing this cool stuff. And it's like spy gadgets and like weapons and like action montages. That's how Hank sees it, but it's actually a lot more gritty and real and it doesn't always work out.
Did you find it weird that bad guy roles were being offered to you given your look?
Carrigan: I think honestly bald guys throughout history have played the bad guy.
It is that frustrating?
Carrigan: It is what it is. And frankly this industry doesn't have too much of an imagination. It's starting to actually take some risks as far as casting goes. I think it pays off. People are bored with the same old formulaic, stick this person in here -- I think it's way more interesting to kind of switch it up and surprise people. I think it leads to much cooler things. Ultimately, I guess my next mission is also to just play normal guys, romantic leads, or the brother, or the computer scientist. I can see all of that happening quite clearly.
And Barry itself is dismantling so many of these tropes especially in the crime drama.
Carrigan: It certainly does. It's kind of poking fun at and exposing simultaneously the world of crime, but also the world of acting too. It roasts this industry in the most brilliant way. It roasts it but you understand why people want to become an actor.
Finally, do you have a favorite Noho Hank-ism?
Carrigan: Obviously, "Hey, man." That was the first thing that I said as the character, and in that first episode that we did everyone started saying it. Everyone on set would just start saying it. The sound guy who was mic-ing me up was just like, "Hey, man." I was like, Whoa, OK. Everyone is doing this. I was partly expecting a pull-string doll that's going to have all these Hank-isms.