In his latest Broadway role, “The Fonz” plays a porn star (no, really) with a heart of gold
By Rachel Sokol
When one hears the name “Henry Winkler,” what often comes to mind is a leather jacket, a thumbs-up, an “aye!” and a best friend named Richie Cunningham.
But Henry Winkler, porn star? Well … not quite. But he is playing an adult film actor. Winkler couldn’t resist taking on the role of adult film star Chuck Wood in Broadway’s newest comedy, The Performers, which opened Nov. 14 at the Longacre Theatre. It was the shock factor that drew him to the role.
“People asked me, ‘Are you really going to say some of these raunchy lines?’” laughs Winkler. “I say, ‘Oh, absolutely!’ The writer [Toronto native David West Read] tapped into something that is so clever; with hilarious sexual innuendos.”
The show—which follows the lives of eccentric actors working in the adult entertainment industry—has an ample amount of MILF, boob job and “kissing is cheating” references, so “there’s something for everyone,” says Winkler. His own character is a charming womanizer who wins all the “adult entertainment” awards, much to the chagrin of up-and-coming porn performer “Mandrew,” played by Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson.
Winkler likes to gauge which lines will draw the most laughs. “You never know. I just finished up a preview matinee with an older crowd. They stood up and clapped,” he says. “They really enjoyed the show. I like anticipating where the laughs will be—it varies from show to show.”
Winkler’s co-stars in the comedy are Ari Graynor and Jenni Barber, who, along with Jackson, play the “adult” actors; Daniel Breaker plays a nice-guy journalist writing an article about Mandrew; and Alicia Silverstone plays Breaker’s math teacher wife, who befriends Wood after meeting him at a hotel bar.
“The audience can tell we all enjoy each other’s company—it translates onstage,” Winkler explains of the six-person ensemble. “And it’s a family show. Backstage, everyone brings their family to the set, Alicia brings her young son … everyone is brilliant in the show; perfect. We naturally come together. The laughs, the smiles—it’s all genuine.”
Winkler’s natural charisma shines through when he’s onstage, and despite being “measured to every inch of my life” into tight, outrageous costumes, it’s obvious he’s enjoying every second of his role.
Winkler—whose Broadway debut was in Neil Simon’s Dinner Party—says the characters in this comedy are just like everyone else. “They want to be loved, they want to be heard. Their lives may have taken them down a different career path, but they’re essentially good people—and that’s why the audience connects with them,” he says.
Best known as “The Fonz” from the classic TV series Happy Days, Winkler’s a man for all ages, recognized for his variety of acting roles and as a writer, producer and director. When walking down the streets of New York, which is his favorite thing to do, he often encounters fans who connect him to a specific role.
“Some people know me from Happy Days or The Waterboy or Arrested Development. But you never know. The other day I was walking down the street, and a boy around 10 years old approached me. I asked if he read any of my books, since I write children’s books as well,” Winkler recalls. “Nope. Turns out he’s a huge fan of Royal Pains, and that’s how he recognized me. It’s stuff like that I find wonderful; the specific association people have to me.”
For more information about The Performers, visit www.theperformersonbroadway.com/
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