This interview contains spoilers for Barry Season Four.
In the opening of Barry‘s fourth season, Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank is on the lam, attempting to blend in with Santa Fe life. His outfit for this incognito occasion? Multicolored poncho, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses with a chain. Such a serve is a testament to Hank’s journey on Barry.
The Chechen mafioso was originally just an oddball supporting antagonist. Now, as we’ve reached the final episodes of the HBO comedy-thriller, Carrigan has made NoHo Hank the gay, Eastern European Lex Luthor to Bill Hader’s Barry. The 40-year-old actor, quite simply, is one of the greatest character actors working in television right now, shooting rockets in the desert like Wile E. Coyote with emotion one moment, then bringing you to tears with a gut-wrenching breakup the next.
“I had no idea that it would unfold the way that it did, but I knew off the bat that this was going to be something so special,” Carrigan tells me over Zoom, days before the premiere of Barry‘s penultimate episode. “Even though this character is providing this kind of ridiculousness in this show, you begin to see Hank’s pathos over the course of the seasons. You see who he is as a human being and not just as the stereotypical goofball-type guy.”
That pathos is heavy in Barry’s final season. NoHo Hank has not only been forced to kill his lover, Cristobal, but he’s setting a trap for his former friend and confidant, Barry. Episode Seven teases a climactic showdown—but knowing Barry, this all might just end in a practical mishap. “I think that [fans are] going to be genuinely shocked,” Carrigan teases. “With Barry, it’s played so brilliantly and you really don’t know what is coming next. They’ll be surprised, but at the same time, they’ll also be given something that tracks with the entire show. It’ll all make sense. Once you see it, you’ll be like, Oh, it always had to go that way.“
Until Barry‘s series finale this Sunday, Carrigan spoke to Esquire about his the inspiration for NoHo Hank, his character’s heartbreaking and zany journey to become the show’s main villain, and what he hopes to do next.
ESQUIRE: I just want to say: NoHo Hank really is one of the best characters on television. I’ll miss him.
ANTHONY CARRIGAN: What was on the page was a very well-meaning and polite gangster. That was my jumping-off point. So, I felt this impulse to really take that to the extreme, in terms of offering sandwiches and Sunny Delight. That was where I got to really play—and make this character not just polite, but a people pleaser. I began to find all these different colors of who this character was. I watched a lot of ’80s action movies because I felt like Hank had an idolized version of what the crime world was. He saw it as this action movie. He looks at Barry and he sees Jason Bourne. He sees Sylvester Stallone. I think Hank is living in a delusional place.
Throughout the series, your relationship with Barry had been kind of touch and go. But Season Three really brought you two together, so when you have the phone call with him in prison this season, it’s heartbreaking. Did it feel like you were breaking up with Barry?
It did, actually. Funnily enough, that was a major source of what was underneath the conversation. In Season Three, when Barry shows up to Hank and Cristobal’s love nest and he’s just like, Hank, I need help. I’m having a hard time. The way Bill [Hader] described it to me was, Your ex is showing up to your house and wants another chance. Your partner, who you’re really happy with, is inside. That scene over the phone, yeah, it was a kind of come to Jesus moment. Hank, who does have a lot of love for Barry, is aware of what his pattern is and is not willing to be screwed around by him anymore.
Of course, there’s your other big breakup in the series, with Cristobal. It’s so devastating that Barry essentially kills him twice.
I know. I know. Brutal. It’s absolutely brutal.
I feel like the sand pit kill is a top ten murder device of all time.
It’s horrifying. Just pure nightmare fuel. There’s this really ominous thing about Hank leading all of these gangsters, who have really begun to trust him and Cristobal. It’s like they put their guard down and Hank is leading them towards the sand silo like the Pied Piper, and they’re just following him. It’s actually a really beautiful misdirect, too. Because you think Hank is really stressed out about the fact that Barry broke out of prison and is going to come murder him. But what Hank is actually stressed out about is committing this double-cross and murdering all of these people. But at the same time, I mean, he had little choice in the matter, right? The Chechens were going to wipe them out. What were his options, really?
Yeah. They should try that on James Bond. It felt like an elaborate Bond trap.
Oh, it’s such a good Bond trap! Absolutely. Well… we used it first. [Laughs.]
When I think about Barry, I hear Barry’s name in NoHo’s Hank’s voice. Is it hard to film scenes when you and Michael Irby—who plays Cristobal—are doing these absurd voices at each other?
At times, yes. But that’s the challenge—to have this absurdity, but really try to ground it in reality. Because otherwise, you take a scene that’s as heartbreaking as what happens in Episode Four—and if you can’t ground it, you’re just laughing at these people. So, it’s about finding that balance of: Are these comedic characters? Absolutely. But are they also human beings with real faults and real hangups? Absolutely.
Even with all the heavy stuff, sometimes Barry feels like a playground. Scenes like the cameo with Guillermo del Toro were just so funny.
I was giddy as a school child. I mean, I had to stop myself from basically asking about every single one of his movies. When you’re in the presence of someone as iconic as Guillermo del Toro, you’re just taken aback. He’s not just this genius filmmaker and artist—he’s a lovely guy. He’s an expert in his craft. He can’t help but see those things through his lens. The whole set benefited from his being there. His reveal when the sand truck comes in—and then, he’s a distance, just standing there with the fedora. Cristobal saying, “Toro.” It’s perfect.
Did you know, when you were looking at the scripts, that the the assassin NoHo Hank sends to kill Barry would be played by Fred Armisen?
You know what? I didn’t know it was going to be Fred. I remember when [Hader] told me that Fred was going to be making a cameo. I was just like, Oh, well, that’s perfect. It’s done. No one else will do it better. I was not disappointed. I mean, the sheer intensity that Fred brought to that scene made it a thousand times funnier than what anyone else would do. That’s just what Bill does—he really picks just the right people to round everything out.
The joke in that episode—about how Armisen’s character has a podcast where he reviews defunct products, and then the gun explodes in his hand—was one of the most intricate gags I’ve seen in a long time.
I’m happy that you picked up on that, because there’s all these little subtle things that—if you pay attention—they’re constantly being referenced. One of my favorite moments is Guillermo getting really sensitive about it, because he actually does have a jacket that cooks s’mores in its pocket and he happens to love it.
We have to touch on Hank’s outfits, because they’re the best they’ve ever been this season. The Sante Fe poncho look went absolutely viral.
Oh, I know. The irony of that look is that it’s Hank incognito. That is Hank trying to blend in. He’s just wanting to look like a local and failing miserably. Yeah, no, the looks are just absolute fire this season. They have been the entire time. One of my favorite things about Hank is just his flair. Those costumes are unbelievable.
What do you think your favorite look has been throughout the series?
It’s probably a toss-up between the Santa Fe look and the desert Island of Doctor Moreau-type getup—where he’s got the big floppy sun hat and the zinc sunscreen. He’s dressing for the occasion every time.
Yeah, the Nohobal green suit, especially. That was so great.
Oh, yeah. He shows up every time for it. It’s amazing.
Tell me your acting origin story.
I remember when my family first got the Disney Channel and we were watching The Magical World of Disney on Sunday nights. I just loved it. I mean, it was so cheesy and ridiculous. I wanted to find that magic and find out why it made me feel the way that I felt. And I watched a lot of television growing up. I was just glued to the TV. It’s so funny because I was always thinking, Gosh, this probably isn’t doing anything for me. And yet, it was just slowly preparing me for my career.
What kind of roles were you envisioning for yourself back then?
Well, it’s funny because back then I looked completely different. I had this long hair, kind of brooding Johnny Depp thing going on. So everyone categorized me as just that—the young, mysterious brooding Johnny Depp-type. It’s so funny because I never really felt like that. I mean, growing up doing children’s theater or whatever, I always gravitated towards the more interesting characters, the more character actor-type roles. I was always pretty bored with the leading man-type stuff. Now it’s weird, because I feel like I’m now getting to do all the things that I really want to do. But it would be nice to go back to the leading man-type thing, at some point.
Was it tough to find roles when the alopecia started and you were getting used to a new look—or did you feel like you were able to use it to your advantage in a way?
An interesting lesson I learned was that no one is going to give you the opportunities that you yourself are not open to. The first step in my process, when all my hair started falling out, was to essentially do some real brainstorming and figure out all the different things that I can do. Because, no one’s going to look at you and say, Oh, you know what? I’ve got the perfect thing for you. No, you need to lead the charge in terms of what’s possible. I mean, I just started coming up with certain ideas and really selling people on those ideas. I’m not going to be right for everything. But you know what? I do what I do extremely well. That was certainly helpful in terms of opening the door, but I had no idea that a character like Hank would be around the corner.
I’d love to know your plans post-Barry.
Well, the beautiful thing to me about playing a character like NoHo Hank was that it was so surprising that a character like that was out there. I have a lot of people asking me, Do you feel pressure to come up with something as distinct or that will pop in the same way? Not knowing what’s out there for me is the most exciting thing, because I have a lot of faith in myself that I can stretch in such different directions. I can surprise people. I’m excited about finding things that are going to really keep everyone on their toes. My hope and my dream is that people are going to say, Wait, that’s the dude from Barry? No way. That’s amazing.
Josh Rosenberg is an Assistant Editor at Esquire, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day. His past work can be found at Spin, CBR, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.