Henry Winkler Reveals Accent Trick That Landed Him Fonz Role
Speaking with CNN’s Chris Wallace, Winkler told of his surprise when he was cast as the cool, leather-jacket-wearing Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, who the producers of the Milwaukee-set sitcom originally imagined as “a taller Italian kid.”
“And they got you know, this short Jew from New York, but all I did Chris, all I did was change my voice,” Winkler recalled. “I introduce myself as Henry, and then as I started to do it, something overtook me… and I changed my voice like this, and it unleashed me.”
While he was only 27 years old and felt like “a bowl of jello that had not congealed yet,” Winkler said the tough New York accent made him a braver actor, and so, he just stuck with it.
Winkler does have one regret, though, as he revealed he was offered the lead role of Danny Zuko in Grease and is a “damn fool” for turning it down. “I only realized years afterwards,” he said. “I thought, I’ve played the Fonz; I don’t want to do it again. I’m already typecast.” In the end, the iconic role went to a young John Travolta.
“I go home… and I have a diet Coke. John Travolta, who has done the movie, goes home and buys a plane,” Winkler quipped.
Travolta cemented his leading-man status after his performance in Grease, which became the highest-grossing musical film ever at the time of its release, generating over $396 million worldwide. The movie’s soundtrack also became the second-best-selling album in the U.S. in 1979.
Despite turning down Grease, Winkler has gone on to have a long and successful career in acting, starring in shows such as Arrested Development, Royal Pains, The Practice, and, more recently, HBO’s Barry, which earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor.
Barry, Seasons 1-3, Streaming, HBO Max