'Barry' dials up the pressure on NoHo Hank. And Anthony Carrigan is all for it.

·5 min read
A man poses for a portrait in front of a women's clothing stall.
Anthony Carrigan strolls though Downtown L.A.'s Santee Alley, which doubled as a Bolivian marketplace in a recent scene in "Barry." (Annie Noelker / For The Times)

HBO’s “Barry” is one of television's most unpredictable half-hours, serving up a chaotic blend of violence, barely repressed trauma and broad observational comedy. Despite the presence of “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader in the titular role, the most consistent source of laughs — and the show’s major revelation — has been Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank, the buoyantly optimistic, North Hollywood-based leader of L.A.’s Chechen mob.

Clad in his signature skin-tight polo shirts, Hank spent the show’s first two seasons serving as a comic foil to Barry’s haunted hitman. But over the course of three whirlwind seasons, Carrigan has turned Hank into a richly layered, emotionally complex character. If he survives the remaining run of the show, he’ll be due for a “Better Call Saul”-style spinoff.

Now, after a season that sees NoHo Hank finding star-crossed love with a Bolivian gangster, Cristobal (Michael Irby), and facing a newly extreme set of pressures, the 39-year-old Carrigan has received his second Emmy nomination for the role.

Over breakfast in downtown L.A., the Boston-born Carrigan discussed the art of bringing chill vibes to a stone-cold killer.

What was going on in your career when you auditioned for "Barry"?

The role was extremely life-changing. I was unsure exactly what was in store for me after I made the decision to embrace my alopecia and just kind of rock my new look. I was somewhat resigned to the fact that I was gonna be playing aliens and you know, "Powder." So when "Barry" came along, I knew it was something that I could make really special.

NoHo Hank was supposed to be killed off in the pilot episode, right? How did that change?

I remember being told that this role was probably gonna be toast by the first episode. But my manager, God bless her, said, "Who knows? Doors can always be opened." Then lo and behold, by the end of that first episode, Bill and [co-showrunner] Alec [Berg] liked what I was doing, so in the scene where I get shot in the car, they said: "Why don’t you just open the door and fall out?"

How does someone like Hank become head of the Chechen mob in L.A.?

Blind luck. But I think there's a buoyancy to Hank that has kept him alive thus far, and this kind of winning charm and sense of denial that keeps him moving so quickly and so assuredly that he doesn't really have time to doubt himself. He lives in a bit of a fantasy realm in terms of his own capabilities, and how sophisticated he is. But one of my favorite things about the show is that those fantasy sequences provide a little bit of insight into what this character thinks about himself and who he wishes he was.

A man in sunglasses poses for a portrait in front of a stall selling patches.
"What Los Angeles represents for Hank is hope and this kind of beautiful sunny lifestyle, juxtaposed with where he came from and what he's been trying to escape this whole time," says Anthony Carrigan of his "Barry" character. (Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Did you know his backstory from the start, or is it something you've had to develop yourself over the years?

I had a certain amount that was safely fleshed out, but you never want to go too far in any direction because you never know if that's gonna be completely disproven. My way into it is always little details about the past that can be true no matter what.

Tell me about the origin of NoHo Hank’s name. Was he transformed by L.A.?

I can't speak to the exact origin of that name. But I do think that L.A. for him was very transformative. What Los Angeles represents for Hank is hope and this kind of beautiful sunny lifestyle, juxtaposed with where he came from and what he's been trying to escape this whole time.

I know there was a long break between Seasons 2 and 3. How did you deal with that, and how did you maintain your connection with the character?

Well, we were lucky to have had a table read right before the shutdown. It gave us something to hold on to, and look forward to.

I definitely dipped into Hank every once in a while, just to see if he was still there, just to keep the voice alive and keep things interesting during the pandemic. When I was getting too stir-crazy, I would try to let Hank's optimism shine through.

In Season 3, he's in a relationship with Cristobal — did you ever think that was a possibility?

I didn’t quite know what direction Hank was headed in. But when I read those scripts, it made so much sense. And when you look back at previous seasons… the first time Cristobal calls [Chechen crime boss] Goran, and talks about the book "The Four Agreements," Hank immediately lights up. And then there’s the volleyball game, and the camaraderie that they have, and you can see these little breadcrumbs leading to a relationship that makes sense.

You've discussed your alopecia before, and how it required you to learn self-acceptance. Is there an element of that in Hank as well?

For a lot of my life, I was trying to be someone who was OK with themselves, when I just wasn't. I wasn't OK with my alopecia, and I was trying so hard to cover it up. And all the while when you're trying to cover it up, you're telegraphing this anxiety. You know, Hank is so desperately trying to be this tough guy, who can take care of business. But when the fantasy meets up with reality, it's a much more dangerous and bloody thing than he anticipated.

A man poses in front of a shop selling plants.
Anthony Carrigan says his "Barry" character Hank is in over his head as a Chechen mobster. (Annie Noelker / For The Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.