TV

Henry Winkler: "Every day is a happy day for me!"

Henry Winkler talks about his dyslexia, the problems with education - and how we can all be like The Fonz

Monday, Tuesday… What’s your favourite day of the week?

I am very happy to be alive so every day is a happy day for me! I’ve been filming the third series of Hank Zipzer and I’ll tell you something, it is really a wonderful thing. For a show to get picked up in the first place and then to get to year three is pretty amazing.

Yes, it’s rare that a show gets so far without ‘jumping the shark’ – a phrase you invented in Happy Days when you literally jumped over a shark. Do you watch for shows making their own leap?

I’ll tell you why I don’t. As an actor, a producer, a director, I know how difficult it is to think up a show, sell it, get it on air and keep it on air, so if I don’t like something I don’t watch it, that’s all.

In Hank Zipzer, based on a series of books you wrote, you play Mr Rock, inspired by one of your teachers.

Yes, he was my music teacher. I was in the bottom three per cent of students and he was the one who said: “Winkler, if you ever get out of here you’re going to be okay.” Just before I came to the UK I found a letter he wrote after watching Happy Days at the very beginning.

Was he writing to say his prediction had come true?

Absolutely. It was very touching.

Another teacher is called Mrs Adolf. Something suggests you liked her less.

She was a real teacher and that was her real name – I think they were related. You’re not supposed to talk ill of the dead but let me just say she was the worst teacher on the planet.

You had trouble at school because of your dyslexia. How would your life have been different had teachers understood the problem?

You know, I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have the same fight in me to succeed, the same fire and will in me to show ’em.

You visit schools in the UK and US to talk about dyslexia. Do both countries face similar problems?

Teachers are overwhelmed. There are too many kids in one classroom and the teacher has to teach the smartest kid and the slowest kid the same amount of information in the same amount of time. That is almost impossible. Somebody is going to fall through the cracks. One in 10 kids has some kind of learning challenge and every other kid has their own challenge – they’re too tall, too small, they’re not good at athletics, they don’t make friends easily, they have pimples…

Henry Winkler plays Mr Rock in the TV adaptation of Hank Zipzer

Does dyslexia still affect your life?

Every single day. Reading scripts on set, if I buy a sandwich I have to trust the person giving me change is honest. Driving home, it is very possible for me to miss the physical cues and pass my house. I’m amazed every single time because I look so diligently.

How old were you when you read your first book?

I was 31 and I believe it was called The Clan of the Cave Bear. It was excellent. Every book I read is a triumph. They are lined up on my shelf like trophies. Unfortunately I travel with a Kindle so I have to buy a copy to put on my shelf, even if it’s not the one I turned the pages of.

Did playing The Fonz let you be the person you’d never been before?

I think that is true. He was so in control and I never felt like I was in control of anything.

How can we all learn to be a little bit like The Fonz?

I found a phrase along the way: “If you will it, it is not a dream.” If you really know what you want without ambivalence, it will be yours. I’ve lived with that since 1976.

Hank Zipzer is on CBBC

 

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