Anthony Carrigan, Michael Irby on Playing Gay Mobster Couple « CmaTrends

Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t watched “crazytimeshitshow,” the fifth episode of “Barry” Season 3, now streaming on HBO Max.

In a season that has seen many of its characters at their darkest, “Barry” has given fans a light in the form of NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal’s (Michael Irby) relationship. Introduced in the first season of Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s crime comedy as members of the warring Chechen and Bolivian mafias, the two easygoing and cheerful mob bosses have had many moments of camaraderie with each other, as their friendly demeanors mesh together like chocolate and peanut butter. After a time jump between Season 2 and 3, the show reintroduces the pair as full-blown star-crossed lovers, in a happy, functional relationship they’re keeping hidden from their other criminal associates.

But it’s the world of “Barry,” so things don’t go smoothly for very long for the star-crossed mobsters. Over the course of the season, it’s revealed that Cristobal has a family in Bolivia, and he’s married to the daughter of Bolivian crime lord Fernando (Miguel Sandoval). Although Cristobal is successfully able to keep the situation hidden from Hank for awhile, eventually his wife arrives in America to bring him back to Bolivia, and in “crazytimeshitshow,” she and the Bolivian mob storm his home and kidnap him, leaving Hank heartbroken and crying while hidden in a literal closet.

Ahead of Episode 5, Carrigan and Irby chatted with Variety about shooting episode 5, finding their chemistry together, and what’s next for Hank and Cristobal’s love life.

How did you guys learn your characters would be entering a romantic relationship? Was that something that was planned from the beginning of the show, or did the idea come later?

Anthony Carrigan: I don’t know if we knew prior to this season shooting necessarily, although there were kind of breadcrumbs that you can kind of see if you’re paying attention. It’s pretty obvious, I think. There’s certain moments that are just like OK, yeah, these two are really feeling each other and it only makes sense that that’s the next logical step. But I don’t know if there was a specific moment, aside from Bill just being excited about this storyline.

Michael Irby: Yeah, I don’t think we knew until this season. I mean, the way that we left it in the monastery with me wrapping my leg around the lovely Hank, that could be interpreted in so many different ways. And then when we cut to Season 3, and I got the first script and I see he’s hopping in the shower with me and I’m like “Oh, these guys are in a relationship!” It’s so much fun. It’s so cool.

How did you guys think about developing your chemistry with each other for Season 3?

Irby: We’re both just actors at the end of the day, and it’s on the page. At least for me, the first two seasons, working with Anthony, we already had a certain amount of repartee. A lot of this stuff was improv, and I just had to catch what Anthony was throwing and hopefully I didn’t drop it and would be able to throw it back. You know, it’s been so much fun. And I gotta say, I was a little nervous in the beginning, but this relationship, it just comes so easy, because I trust him. I trust him as an artist, I trust him as a human being. And once you can get past that, you can just play.

Carrigan: Yeah, I feel the exact same way. It’s nothing theat you necessarily have to become too cerebral about because we’ve developed this rapport with each other as actors and as friends where we’re just trying to do the story justice, trying to find real pathos in these characters and, and just do these characters the service that they deserve. And Michael is just such an extraordinary actor, and it’s just so easy to just fall into really honest moments because he’s just so present and so there. I’ve never said this to you Michael, but I think you’re great. I’ve really held off telling you, but you know what? You’re great.

Irby: I think I’ve told you once or twice brother, but the feeling is mutual.

What do you think it is about your two characters that make them a good match for each other? What about Hank and Cristobal works?

Carrigan: I think it’s this aligned philosophy of how to be a very conscientious mob boss. Like, how to exist in the crime world in a way that has a very minimal footprint on the earth and being very kind and considerate of everyone working for you. I think they have this common idea on how to run a business. I think they really jam on a just really fundamental level, so at the end of the day, they just really care deeply about each other.

Irby: To appreciate someone’s energy, whether it’s male or female, we’re on the same parallel journey right now, Cristobal and NoHo. And meeting here in Los Angeles, in the land of the stars and make believe, where you can come out and start your whole life over and nobody knows who you are and you just get to live your best life, it’s so cool to be able to share that with NoHo.

Merrick Morton/HBO

For the first two seasons, we didn’t learn that much about your characters’ personal lives. It was more focused on their “careers,” so to speak. But this season, we’ve learned so much new information about them, particularly from Cristobal. What was that like for you Michael, to dive into that material?

Irby: Man, when Bill told me where we were gonna go with this, and then to find out that I actually have a wife and kids and father-in-law, and everyone’s back in Bolivia, I didn’t know that for the first two seasons. And it’s great that I didn’t know it, because you never want to play what is down the road, it allows you to stay in the present. So to be able to play with that, that we are the light in the show. Bill had mentioned that with me in the beginning. He said, “You guys really represent hope this season, while everyone’s life is kind of falling apart.” And even though we might represent hope, as we come to find out later on in the season, I’m living an absolute lie. And not necessarily being gay, or being in a relationship. I’m basically cheating on my wife. It doesn’t matter you know, male or female, I’m cheating on my whole existence back there. But I think sometimes we get overcome with the people in front of us, and it it can lead to some pretty shady circumstances sometimes. But I just jumped into the material, like I said Bill put it on the page and I get to play tennis with Hank, and that is who I want to play tennis with. I love being on the show, and I love being a part of that aspect of the show. Playing with Anthony, it’s so much fun.

What you’re saying about secrets and lies, there’s that scene where your characters are giving relationship advice to Barry, and there’s a tension because the audience knows there’s as obvious unspoken secret being kept hidden. What was it like working with Bill Hader on that scene?

Carrigan: Yeah, I mean, it was so simple, and honestly, the scene just kind of flew by. It was so on the page. And, it was a really wonderful opportunity for the three of us to just improv because I think that was one of those scenes where it started off as as one thing, and then we just began to play around and it found its shape and became something totally different. But that was, personally, one of my favorite things to do, was to just be completely oblivious as Hank, to just feel Michael being so nervous next to me about this dual life that he’s living. And Hank, just to be completely smitten and completely oblivious to that fact was really fun, and also made it quite difficult to make it through the scene with a straight face.

Irby: I think that may have been one of the first days that all three of us had been in the same room together. I think that was the first line I ever spoke to Bill, to Barry. And Bill was hilarious. These scenes, they take on a little bit of a jazz essence because you’re not really sure where they’ll lead. And I don’t really get to play with that much comedy. I won’t say it’s new to me, but it’s so refreshing to be able to play that little bit of bang, bang, bang, bang, when we’re all just rolling and laughing. Bill wouldn’t let me look at him for one of the takes, because Cristobal is just so upset, and I find it so funny that he’s trying to talk to him about what it is to be honest in a relationship, and he’s totally lying.

Later in the episode, there’s the big scene, where the Bolivians come and take Cristobal. For you, Anthony, I wanted to ask about the moment where you’re in the closet and his wife comes in and sees the pictures of Hank and Cristobal together. It’s such a stark scene, with these two characters having very different emotional reactions almost face-to-face.

Carrigan: That’s an example of a scene in which there are so many things happening and unfolding throughout the scene, and you never want to anticipate any of them. So the real challenge there is just remaining as present as possible, and trying to be in a mode of discovery when it’s happening, because you have this realization that that Cristobal knew, and then this booking it to kind of get to safety, then the shame of being safe. Even though he’s safe momentarily, he feels shame at having to run and witness that his love was being taken away. And then, this realization that Elena is who she is, and watching her make the realization of who he and I are together, there’s so many moving pieces to that scene. And just as an actor, it’s a joy to be given something so nuanced, with so much to it, that you can just allow yourself to just watch and try and have the most authentic response possible.

It’s such a different mode compared to how we usually see Hank, who can be a pretty broad character. It’s probably the most serious he’s ever really been.

Carrigan: Yeah, well, it might happen a bit more.

What about you, Michael? How did you approach this scene where Cristobal gets taken away?

Irby: You know, it’s like when you get the rug pulled out from you. We were just kind of living in that space there, and we were just kind of appreciating each other in that space. And then for it to all kind get taken away so fast, for me I didn’t really have time to process it because I thought we were just going to go finish the “Percy Jackson” movie, and I really wanted to make sure that we finished that first. And then all of a sudden, the world comes crashing in and I’m getting bagged and tagged and ripped out the front door. And as I was reading it, the actor reading it, watching that, there’s all this realization happening for these two people who thought I was something, and I tried to explain to them that I am what I am for each one of them. Right? It’s kind of how we put on these faces. And I am exactly who I am for each one of them. And for them to both see that I’m neither one of those people. I just give that up to the actors who had to actually wear that on their faces because again, I was being dragged out the front door.

I’m sure you two can’t reveal anything, but I’m curious what you guys think the future of Cristobal and Hank’s relationship looks like, and when fans can expect an answer. Is he coming back this season, or will we have to wait until Season 4?

Irby: Man, I would be very excited if he comes back this season, because I think we need to know what happens with him. And then what type of journey that puts Hank on. Yeah, I think we may see him before the rest of the season. I don’t know, where or when but yeah, he might pop up.

Carrigan: Yeah, I don’t really have much recollection Michael, do you? Do you remember? I have such a bad memory.

Irby: I mean, I don’t know, it’s been so long.

Carrigan: It’s been so long, you do it, you forget about it. But one thing that I’ve been just continually impressed by in terms of watching the season so far is just how the stakes are ramped up and how these characters are painted into a corner, and you genuinely don’t know how they’re gonna get out of it. And I think that’s one thing about “Barry” that keeps everyone guessing. So, yeah, not gonna give anyone any hints in terms of that, but I think they can certainly expect a very high intensity situation to come.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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