John Pirruccello Discusses HBO’s Barry, Working with Bill Hader & Henry Winkler & More!

Loach, at his desk, with a look of concern on his face.
Courtesy of HBO

This Sunday at 10:30 pm EST, Barry debuts on HBO. I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of the stars of the show, John Pirruccello. Here is the transcript of our conversation. 

AG: This past Wednesday night was the premiere for HBO’s Barry. What can you tell us about the premiere?

JP: Well, it was just a huge blast. It was a full-on red carpet. HBO put on a big show. I got to see all my pals, back together again with the cast and crew. We went inside, and Bill (Hader) and Alec (Berg) thanked us all. Actually, they did something very funny. They said, “We have such a long list of people to thank that we decided to pick one person and have them come up and we’ll just thank that one person with all of our thanks.” That was very funny. One of the assistant editors was called up there, which was great. Then we rolled the pilot and the following episode. Then the big doors opened up and there was this giant tent outside and there were all sorts of activities and picture taking and lovely food, delicious tacos and salads and then an open bar. Then got to mingle and hang out with all these people I haven’t seen for a while.

AG: The reviews are excellent. Everything that I’ve read has been extremely positive.

JP: It’s funny how those things work, that you make it and pretty much every time I make something I’m like “this is great” but you don’t know what it’s going to look like when it’s done. Same thing here, I’ve never had more fun working than I had working on this show. Without hesitation, it was just wall to wall fun. I’m laughing all the time. The cast and crew were all amazing. It really did feel very connected, very much like sort of family, like everybody was on the same team. When they edited them all together, they called us all over to Sony, the cast and crew, and we watched four and then had lunch and then watched the last four and I was like” this is amazing”. This is an amazing, amazing show just like it felt like when I was making it, and I am positive, you’d be crazy not to love this show. Even then you go well, I mean there are people that don’t like Twin Peaks ya know? People that I love and care about that don’t like Twin Peaks, so there’s just no accounting for taste I guess (laughs). It was nice to see really quickly. I had friends texting me and emailing me. I don’t ever read any critiques or anything, so my friends are telling me that NPR is raving about it and the New York Times is raving about it. I’m aware now through Twitter and through friends that it seems to be critically acclaimed as well.

Series stars Bill Hader and Henry Winkler in HBO’s Barry. (Courtesy of HBO)

AG:  Today, I read a few reviews as I said and everything that I read was just extremely praising of the show, calling it a hysterical dark comedy. Would you consider that to be an accurate description?

JP:  Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, it’s a dark comedy. In fact, that might be what sets it apart from other things that I’ve seen, is really how incredibly dark it can be and how incredibly, almost to the point of being silly at times the comedy can be. It’s an amazing accomplishment that Alec and Bill pulled off and all the entire writing staff. Obviously, Alec Berg co-created Silicon Valley and does that with Mike Judge, who was at the premiere. Matt Ross was there and Martin Starr from Silicon Valley were there too.  They come from; I think a very sophisticated humor background — just the height of humor both of those guys. Silicon Valley is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen.

AG: It’s hysterical. It’s fantastic.

JP: Well it’s fantastic, and it’s really, really smart and sometimes those that are really smart are kind of not funny. They’re sort of more pretentious than funny. Like Seinfeld, it’s really smart and really fucking funny, right? And Alec obviously wrote for Seinfeld.

AG: What can you tell us about your character?

JP:  Well Detective Loach, Detective John Loach, oddly enough. Detective Loach and Detective Moss, who is played by Paula Newsome, wonderfully played by Paula Newsome, she’s brilliant. She and I kind of went on this journey together and we are the detectives who are looking for the killer throughout the season.

There’s kind of three camps; there’s the Chechen mobsters, there’s the acting class, which Henry Winkler is stunningly great as the acting teacher that’s this kind of goofy, almost Waiting for Guffman, sort of acting. You know he likes to reign supreme over these budding wannabe actors that are so desperate to make it — he kind of holds court over them. Then the third is the LAPD. Paula and I are the two detectives that are kind of in that circle. It’s like a Venn diagram; they all sort of weave as worlds.

AG:  What’s this year been like? What’s it been like for you to be in two such big projects (Twin Peaks on Showtime and now Barry on HBO) on two such major networks? Playing a cop in both actually.

JP: It’s funny I’m never going to play the cop that Paula played. The cop that’s incredibly good at it, right? I am playing cops, but I think I’m also sort of playing these sorts of everyman type of characters you know? In Twin Peaks obviously he’s not a real positive character, right?

I did a panel a couple of days ago and I said something about making it (Twin Peaks) and I said some sort of specific spoiler. Even though the show has been out forever right and my girlfriend was like “you know you kind of spoiled… that was a spoiler”, and I was like really? But in that case, everyone in there had watched the entire show. Like the panel was full. The audience members, everyone in there had watched it.

Still, it’s like I’m now on hyper-alert about spoiling anything. So that’s why I’m sort of inching around and saying well that is not really a very positive character. And you know Loach is a positive character but you know, he means well. He’s really emotional and maybe not as sharp as he could be and he’s not as on the ball as much as he could be. He’s a little bit of a goofball. But he means well and he’s fiercely loyal and fiercely, fiercely protective of his partner.

AG: This year, just to kind of circle back to being in two such prominent projects that are on Showtime and HBO, which are obviously two of the biggest networks in the world. What’s that like for you as an actor? To have been in both of these projects, in less than a year, on such prominent networks?

JP: Well, you know I don’t ever really think about it until somebody asks me about it and I don’t know what that is. I think my first answer is that I feel incredibly lucky and incredibly privileged to. This is my second time on HBO; I was in Phil Spector where I played Nicky Stavros for David Mamet and worked with Al Pacino and Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, so that was a huge leap there from the trenches up to the big stage.

I remember HBO arriving you know? I remember when it showed up. I remember what it was when it came and what a sort of weird little start-up it was. It spoke to what I love, which was movies. It was where you would go and watch movies, and so to me, it felt really cool to be a part of HBO because of the level of work. The level of work on HBO is always really, really high. HBO was home to The Sopranos, ya know? Then Showtime the same thing. On Showtime, you’re on a different level—so this is a long way of saying it feels like a privilege, it feels like a privilege to be at this point involved. I’ve been on both of those channels and done pretty great roles on both of those channels and I just feel very lucky and honored.

AG: HBO for the longest time was known for its dramatic series. You mention The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, just these really ground-breaking dramas and now they’re kind of doing the same thing with comedies. Obviously Curb your Enthusiasm isn’t new but it’s back and Silicon Valley, Veep and others…and now Barry is coming out, it’s really prestige comedy, so it’s a great place to be in.

JP: You know that’s a good word, prestige. They are prestigious networks, that have a very high standard, as far as I can tell. When I look across the landscape of HBO or Showtime, there’s a very, very high standard of work on there. It’s stunning; I can’t even get my brain around it to have Bill and Alec just invite me along. You know Bill Hader, there’s nobody bigger in comedy. Then Henry Winkler…You know, the Fonz was my hero when I was a kid and now I get to work with Henry Winkler.

And on top of that, he’s incredibly generous and nice and kind and thoughtful. Then on top of that, he gave me one of the most brilliant assessments of acting that I’ve ever gotten. I told him a story about how poorly the Barry audition went. The original audition was really terrible, in my mind. I got a callback, but I walked out of that first audition thinking, well not only am I not going to get that job but I’m not ever going to work again. I mean, I don’t even know what I’m doing. This is… it was really, really bad.

When I told Henry that story, he said, “well it’s the doubt that makes you an artist” and believe me I have rolled that over in my head and it is brilliant. Usually, if I don’t understand something, I try to look at the opposite. I turn it around, and I go what’s the opposite? Maybe I can understand it that way and the opposite of that is… what does the actor look like that has no doubt, you know? What does that guy look like? What is the artist that’s completely sure of themselves and completely confident? What do they look like? What is that like? It’s not pretty. Or maybe it’s just a convenient way for me to explain away why I’m such a headcase, you know (laughs)?

AG: Well, either way, it sounds great. For those that are sitting down Sunday to watch Barry for the first episode, what can they expect?

JP: It’s hilarious. It’s absolutely hilarious. It moves, that’s the other thing I’m always so impressed with these guys, with the editors and the story just moves and moves and moves. You will not be bored for one second. You will love the characters, every single one of the characters, whether they have one line or a series regular. They’re all fantastic and compelling. There’s never a dull moment and you’re laughing the whole time. That’s what you can expect.

AG: Anything, in conclusion, you would like to say to those reading this?

JP: First and foremost, what I would say to your readers is that you have an incredible work ethic. That’s my conclusion. I really would encourage people to watch the show and tell their friends about it, whether they like it or not. I am kidding, of course. I think you will like it. It can be violent at times, but it’s really funny, really well made, really thoughtful, very well acted, wonderfully written show and I’m really, really proud to be a part of it, and that’s my conclusion.

Written by Andrew Grevas

Andrew is the Founder / Editor in Chief of 25YL. He’s engaged with 2 sons, a staunch defender of the series finales for both Lost & The Sopranos and watched Twin Peaks at the age of 5 during its original run, which explains a lot about his personality.

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