Barry: The Breakout Actor Behind The Ray of Sunshine Mobster

We chat with Anthony Carrigan, who stars as Noho Hank in HBO's hit dark comedy Barry.

To pull off a show about a hitman who becomes an actor, HBO’s new dark comedy Barry had to excel at switching tones. One of the best examples of that comes from the Chechen mobsters, led by Goran (Glenn Flescher) and his associate, Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan). Bill Hader’s Barry is so good at being a hitman that he makes these seasoned mobsters look like amateurs. It’s not that the Chechen mob is bad at their job, after all they capture Barry and torture Funches by filing his teeth, but ego certainly gets in their way. Goran and Noho Hank could be actors themselves. The way they approach their mafia duties is theatrical, and it’s even more satisfying that their follies air on the same network that shaped how we view the modern-day mafia with The Sopranos.

The Chechens are fan favorites in what’s proven be a character-driven dramedy. It’s not shocking considering the show was created by Bill Hader, who is a master of character acting and impersonation. Yet with Barry, Hader plays a quiet, reserved character while everyone around him is basically out of their mind. One of the show’s best pairings is when Barry shares the screen with Noho Hank. The character’s description reads “incongruously polite” as he’s juxtaposed against the scarier members of the Chechen mob and Hader’s no-nonsense Barry. Whether he’s texting emojis and reminders to kill people, or sending a message to his enemies through DHL, Carrigan has a lot of fun with the happiest mobster around, Noho Hank. We spoke with Carrigan (Gotham, The Forgotten) about the role, working with Bill Hader, and where the character could go next.

I think everyone kind of expects one thing out of Bill Hader, but in Barry it’s been fun to watch Bill play the straight man while everyone around him is this over-the-top character. Were you surprised by that when you first got the script?

No, not really. It was kind of on the page when I first got the script. Here are all these incredibly colorful and vibrant characters who were just all so grounded in reality because it’s Los Angeles and Los Angeles is full of characters. And I think one of the things that Bill really kind of shines at is playing off people. He does an amazing job. All of the casts are just fantastic and brings their A game.

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This is a dark show, but your character Noho Hank is kind of this little ray of sunshine in the middle of it. 

Who knew that the Chechen mobster was going to be the ray of sunshine in the midst of everything? But that’s what’s so funny about it is it’s a very unexpected show. You go in with certain expectations and they’re just gonna all be shattered by the end of it.

Did you get to add your own wrinkles to make Noho Hank more outlandish than he already was on the page?

The script already had kind of laid out this really interesting kind of architecture for it. I feel like I had an idea of what I wanted to bring to it from the beginning. But over the course of kind of getting to flesh out the character and work on him more, I really just had fun. I just started picking and choosing from different things I feel like I should know in order to get me prepared for this character. And that really helped seal the deal with it all.

How did you work on the accent?

Well I was winging it at the audition. I tried my hardest but I’m not sure if that should necessarily resurface. It was still pretty similar. But then we had an expert come in to help us with the specific sounds. Especially when you’re kind of having to improv as well, you need to have all those current tools in your tool belt just to make sure u have it all taken care of.

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How much did you get to improv with some of the guys on the set?

A decent amount actually. It was really fun. It was one of those things where the script is so good off the bat that you don’t want to mess with it. But those guys love to kind of play around and see what the best possible outcome will be. So yeah, they were encouraging that from the very beginning. It was just a very loose and free environment.

Bill Hader directed, wrote, and obviously starred in the pilot. What was it like seeing him wear all those hats?

I think he actually handled it incredibly well. If he was overwhelmed at any point, he certainly did not show it. I think he had such a specific vision in mind with creating this with Alec [Berg]. And I think he knew what he wanted. When it came time to do it, he was very specific. It was very fun because I think he’s an actor’s director. Which is fantastic. And he made the overall process just really lovely.

What’s an actor’s director?

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Someone who can actually understand what an actor is going through. Panic. Fear. Judgment. And kind of put all that stuff to ease. When he would give you a note, it wouldn’t be a super technical note that only a director would be able to understand. He would put it in terms of acting. So it would be much more understandable.

Did you ever do any acting classes like that similar to one Barry attends?

I went to acting school. I went to college for acting. Pretty much every day was like, “How do you act the color of yellow?” And “Let’s be a duck today.” I’m like, “Alright. Cool. Sign me up. I’m into it.”

What’s one of the craziest things you had to do in acting class?

Oh boy. Let me see ’cause there’s a lot. I’m going through the encyclopedic reference of all this stuff. I think it would probably be the animal projects that we did which were super fun. Where you choose an animal and you go to the zoo and you watch them a then you become that animal. And you walk around your house and you eat like that animal. I was a duck. It made things quite difficult for a few weeks. Yeah, that probably was one of the weirdest things.

A few weeks of being a duck.

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Yeah. I would kind of break character, sure. I would go to the movies and stuff.

You’d just quack instead of applaud?

Yeah, I was immersed. Very immersed.

What did you eat as a duck?

Bread. Can’t eat Ramen all the time, you know what I mean?

So I was wondering if DHL is giving you discounts now?

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No that I know of. They’re happy to reach out to me. We certainly threw them a solid perk. I mean NoHo Hank I think really loves DHL. And the way they conduct business.

Absolutely. I love his fixation on the bullet scheme. Where did that come from?

That is really just one of those fun aspects of it that show how nuanced the show is. These little funny moments and I think it’s just funny having these mobsters who want to present themselves in a certain way to come off as dangerous. And when you do that, it comes off as just hysterical and comedic. But the fact that they take it all seriously is what makes it funny.

Pretty much everyone on the show puts a mask on and hides behind something. Is Noho Hank using his colorful, outgoing personality to hide something?

You know he’s still a mobster so he definitely has a probably dark past. To rise up the ranks in that way means he’s probably done some shady things. I think that there’s definitely a new life for him in Los Angeles and he’s trying to maybe escape from his past and trying to live a life of polite, considerate organized crime.