Prior to Henry Winkler starting the pantomime I was lucky enough to be invited to join him for lunch during his rehearsals to catch up on all his news:-
Luckily I had the marvellous editor of First News Children’s newspaper’s with me who was much better at asking questions than I was. I got a bit tongue-tied. Happy Days was my all time favourite show in the world…so what do you expect? Nicky brought with her an old tape recorder which seemed perfectly normal to me. I have just been transcribing it – much to my daughter’s amusement – here is what she has to say on the matter as she showed me how to record audio on my iPhone:-
Nicky and I didn’t care though – felt very normal – a retro luncheon all round! Here is some of the interview and his additional comments about being in the UK and playing the role of the infamous Captain Hook:-
You’re here until the 12th January then, do you not head back home for Christmas?
No, I only have one day off, that’s Christmas Day – Boxing Day we do two, Christmas Eve we do two, unlike Broadway which is eight performances a week, this is twelve so I call this my Panto Diet. I lose several holes on my sword belt…
Do you take extra vitamin supplements then to keep you going?
No I take em anyway but you know I have to be disciplined, I have a routine – I kind of lolly around, shave, walk, shop, kind of like window shop, get to the theatre, warm up your body and your voice, my heart is always warm, I don’t have to warm that up and then do the performance, shake hands, take pictures, have one meal that I find in a restaurant that I really like that I will have every day, sleep, do the performance again, shake hands, take pictures, go home … and then do it again the next day.
How do you cope with the jet lag?
The jet lag has gone, it hits you about the third day and then I go home, memorise my lines, watch the television, I have some soup, I have a sandwich with some Branston pickle and go to bed.
How long does it take you to come down after the show?
The show is over at 10.30pm. I can be up in the stratosphere until 2am. There is so much energy because you cannot pull back. There are no retakes and I feel and the company feel this way that there are no slackers, there are some children who have never been to the theatre before and so it is our responsibility to make their experience magical and delightful.
Do you scare the children as Captain Hook?
You know what I don’t know because the Captain is a baddie, but he’s a little “Fittootsz”
What does Fittootsz mean Henry?
Yeah, it’s a word I made up which means he’s a little misguided and kind of loses the plot every once in a while.
Is he deep down a nice guy do you think?
Well, he’s misunderstood. Just because he wants to get rid of Peter Pan does not make him a bad man. Peter Pan did cut off his arm, threw it to a crocodile and that crocodile has been chasing him ever since so really that is a good enough reason as any to really piss you off.
Captain Hook gets eaten doesn’t he by the crocodile at the end?
Yup he gets eaten. It had to end really because Peter Pan is very clever and Captain Hook would have spent the rest of his life trying to get him so it had to end.
I need to tell you that it is really difficult to have a sword fight with only one hand. You can’t switch hands and it gets tiring – you can’t swap hands.
Have you ever tried to pick your nose with your hook?
Never, neither have I tried to scratch myself, but I have found that the hook is a great toothpick. I have picked my teeth, but that’s about the extent of it.
So in American they don’t have such a thing as pantomimes do they?
No, they don’t – I’m not sure why, it’s a wonderful form of theatre that is so inclusive – it’s been a tradition here since 1607 and I’m very proud that I am one of the first American’s that was asked to do this years ago.
You would have thought that the Americans would be more likely to shout out that the British public wouldn’t you?
Yes, but we don’t shout out with a discipline – the British audience knows when to shout and when to pull back – knows when to say “it’s behind you” – the American’s just go “woofff woofff Woofff” for the entire time. You’d have to train the audience.
Tell me about what’s happening with your children’s novels about Hank Zipzer, the world’s greatest underachiever?
Well, it’s an amazing thing because the journey is that I thought that I could never write a book in my life and my partner and I have now written twenty four. Two brand new ones are coming out. Hank is now in Year four and it is the story of my life and they are comedies first – that’s the most important thing – they are written to make children laugh and then as a by-product children write to me and they say “wow how did you know me so well” which is an amazing thing. Then, I came here and was in Woking which was my second pantomime and I was introduced to you, Nicky and I told her that I couldn’t find a publisher here in the UK and Nicky said “OK leave it to me” and she introduced me to Helen who was the head of Walker Books, then Helen said I’m to start a television arm of Walker Books and it’s going to be my first production – this has taken a while to fund but we have just shot thirteen episodes in Halifax. Then Helen introduced me to Anne who is the head of Kindle productions who wanted it as a TV show – those women introduced me to Susan and Cheryl at the BBC and they said yes – so we’re now going to be on CBBC starting in the third week in January 2014.
The children are great – smart and good-looking. Do you know an actress by the name of Felicity who played the mousy secretary in the Alan Partridge show? She went from that to Mrs Adolf who is the worse teacher on the planet. Her skin is grey, her breath is grey, her soul is grey – the meanest woman I have ever met – my real teacher and Felicity brought her to life and I play Mr Rock and Mr Rock was the one teacher in High School who said “Winkler, you’re going to be OK” – every else said “well good luck to you, you’re not much”.
So Hank has learning challenges like you did then?
Yes, he’s dyslexic, but he’s funnier than I am and this kid, Nicholas James is so clever and so cute and the child actors are fantastic and these two very young directors Matt and Bex have done an incredible job. They shot all of my ten episodes out of my thirteen in eleven days and it’s going out on TV.
How does it feel to have something that you actually wrote go out on TV after having acted in lots of different things before?
You know that what is amazing to me is that it is still surreal. When the first book came out I was sitting at a long table with very important book sales people and telling them my story and I looked down and saw a book with my name on it and my brain stopped and I picked that book up smelled it, rubbed it all over my body – I turned the pages and I couldn’t believe I was seeing a book with my name on it when everybody told me I would never achieve anything and that was gigantic.
People don’t get it – like Hank they would say, but you’re so funny, you’re so smart, you’re so verbal, so good with your mouth – you must be lazy and I wrote that over and over and over again. The TV series hasn’t hit me yet – that these books are actually going on the air and when they do I’m going to pick up the small portable TV, smell it and rub it all over my body.
Will it come out in the States?
Lets take this one step at a time. If it’s really good and does really well, somebody will pick it up.
So how are you liking living here?
Britain has been incredible to me in every way. It’s very warm to me. They stop me on the streets. They’re kind. They come to the pantomime. They buy the books and come to the signings. It’s pretty great.
What do you think about the fact that a whole new generation are going to know you as Mr Rock and not as The Fonz?
Oh I don’t care, as long as I make them laugh. Parents will know me as one thing and the kids will know me as another. In NYC I am in a show called “Royal Pains”, which is on here somewhere and they recognise me for different reasons. But if Hank is a hit, I might flip out.
So you don’t find it hard being away from home for this long period of time?
Well, I don’t think about it – I am very very grateful. A lot of men my age are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and the ageism is unbelievable – here not as much – here you’re able to be who you are and have some sort of credibility because you know life. In America everything is thirty. That’s it. Everything is geared to that. The baby boomers have money to spend but they don’t care about that demographic – it’s too old. They want a younger demographic. It’s crazy.
So how do you define yourself these days?
I am an actor/writer. That’s what I am. I did so many jobs that I found myself split and nothing was really working so I’ve reduced it to writing and acting and I speak publicly and do pantomime. You never know what’s going to happen in your life, when one door closes and another door opens so watch this space. You never know what’s round the corner – I am such an optimist, but I’ve learned not to count your chickens before they hatch.
Thank you so much Henry for taking time out of your busy schedule, thank you for lunch and good luck with the show! See you there.
Happy happy me:-
Richmond Theatre are pleased to announce that legendary TV and film actor Henry Winkler (OBE), best known for his role as The Fonz in US TV series Happy Days, will be the bad guy everyone loves to hate as he takes on the role of the dastardly Captain Hook in this year’s swashbuckling spectacular of a pantomime, Peter Pan:-
Winkler who has played the role of Hook to great acclaim in previous pantomimes says Captain Hook, with his sword fighting, singing off-key, and a crew that couldn’t sail through a bathtub, is so much fun to play. “I am filled to the brim with dastardly anticipation not only to be in Richmond’s 114-year-old theatre, but also in pantomime at Christmas time”.
“We are extremely privileged that such an iconic international star will be leading the cast in this year’s traditional pantomime here in Richmond, and we look forward to welcoming him to our theatre”, said Richmond Theatre’s General Manager Kate Wrightson
Completing the line up for this year’s pantomime and appearing alongside Henry in the title role of Peter will be West End star Jeremy Legat (Wicked) and Sky TV presenter Victoria Tyrrell as Wendy. They will also be joined on stage by panto stalwart Dermot Canavan playing the role of Smee.
Peter Pan will run at Richmond Theatre from Friday 6 December 2013 to Sunday 12 January 2014, and is the perfect adventure for kids, and adults who never grew up!
Join Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys as they take on the villainous Captain Hook and his band of pirates. Enter a fairytale world that will captivate the young and the young at heart, where all your Christmas wishes will come true. With all the stunning sets, glittering costumes and audience participation that you’d expect from a Richmond Theatre pantomime, this year’s production is set to be the highlight of our year once again.