Barry Actor Michael Irby on Cristobals [SPOILER] and That Sandy Scene: I Was Pulling Sand Out of Places I Cant Speak of
SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 4 of “Barry,” now streaming on HBO Max.
Cristobal Sifuentes, the former leader of the Bolivian mafia, NoHo Hank’s boyfriend and wannabe sand kingpin of Los Angeles, has narrowly evaded death multiple times throughout HBO’s “Barry.” But, in a tragic betrayal, he was killed by Hank’s Chechen henchmen in Sunday’s episode.
The happy couple seemed to be on a straight and narrow path after putting their lives of organized crime behind them, and devoting themselves to the sand business. But Hank (Anthony Carrigan) still had dreams of leading the powerful Chechens — ones he didn’t share with Cristobal (Michael Irby). With both Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), having escaped from prison, and the FBI hot on his feels, Hank took the Chechens up on their offer, and ruthlessly orchestrated the murder of his and Cristobal’s makeshift gang by trapping them in a giant silo of sand. Cristobal nearly succumbed to a similar sandy death — after taking a selfie with his henchmen — but made it out alive at the last second when Hank returned and pulled him out.
After he realized Hank had been keeping his desire to lead the Chechens a secret from him, Cristobal tried to break up with him — but Cristobal knew too much, and Hank had become too powerful. In a heartbreaking scene, Cristobal walks out of his and Hank’s mansion and attempts to drive off, but Hank hugs him tightly and refuses to let go. With his apologies and I-love-yous not working, Hank goes back inside and breaks down in tears. A Chechen goon enters, and tells Hank, “Sorry, we were hoping that wouldn’t happen.” The door opens, revealing Cristobal’s dead body surrounded by armed bodyguards.
The rest of the episode is just as lighthearted: Fuches (Stephen Root) gets beaten to a pulp in prison after Barry betrayed him, and Gene (Henry Winkler) accidentally shoots his son while hiding out from Barry in Big Bear. After fleeing prison, Barry shows up at Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) house, and they agree to run away together. And in a bizarre final scene, it appears that an older Barry and Sally are living as a couple in the desert and have a young son. We’ve seen some odd flashbacks this season, so how real is this ending?
We bid farewell to Cristobal in this episode, and speaking with Variety, Irby discusses the character’s death, how the “Barry” team shot that sandy silo scene and how long it took to empty his pockets of sand after filming.
What was your reaction when you found out Cristobal was dying this season?
I gotta be honest with you, as much as I was heartbroken about it, I knew it was something that kind of had to happen. I was here a lot longer than I ever thought I would be, so that was all a gift. When Bill shared with me that Cristobal was gonna find his way to the other side, it was kind of exciting. I was looking forward to reading it, and I wasn’t sure how they were going to do it, but I knew that the fans were going to be quite traumatized with all this. The NoHo and Cristobal story has become kind of a fan favorite, which is neat to be caught up in.
How long did you originally think you’d be playing Cristobal?
I showed up as a two-day guest star in the very first season. I read that Cristobal was into the Four Agreements and this whole progressive way of doing this gangster stuff. I’ve taken a lot of jobs where you don’t really know what the overall plan is, and some of the little conversations that we had from getting off the plane and talking to NoHo on the phone and then the volleyball scene in Season 2 and we see a little twinkle in the eye, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. And I’m so grateful to Bill and the casting directors who were able to see me do this character — because I couldn’t even see myself doing this character, to be honest with you. The way it’s all happening has been quite beautiful. Life and this career has always been improv for me, and I like to say yes, and I just keep saying yes and it’s been a beautiful circle.
His death is even more heartbreaking because Hank is involved with it. Did that change how you viewed their relationship?
I believe the relationship was always damaged, even from the start. The fact that I had a whole family in Bolivia with children, Cristobal truly has a secret, and he’s also a fractured human being. As much as Bill, Anthony and I created that story, we knew it was always going to be broken. Our human nature fights for hope and love — I think that’s what propelled that.
When Cristobal found out about NoHo, I didn’t really know where he was going when he’s saying he has to get out of here. That was always a bit of a mystery to me, and I left it kind of vague even for myself as the actor. I just needed to get out of that space, and that reality. It did kind of hurt as the actor. As Michael, I can always see things from two sides, and I know what the story needs. But as the actor, it was just betrayal when someone cheats on you or when you get dealt with that dishonesty and you’ve given up your whole self. Cristobal is all in at every moment of his life, which goes all the way back to the Four Agreements about being present and taking nothing personal and not making assumptions. I felt like Cristobal was always in discovery mode, so that even surprised him that NoHo would do that to him.
So is Hank the one to blame for Cristobal’s death?
I don’t think the blame was with Hank. I think we felt like we were doing the right thing. So there’s really no blame. Sometimes that’s just life, like an accident. I don’t think that Hank can take the blame because he was being puppeteered by his own mobsters. I think Cristobal was trying to create his own future. Maybe we could have changed that if there was a Season 5, or if this story had kept going. We could have gone legit!
I want to get into the sand pit scene, where Cristobal almost dies earlier in the episode. Was that all real sand?
That was pretty incredible. I came in the day before for a safety rehearsal, and I walked into one of these stages in Culver City and it was the hugest thing I’ve ever seen. It was this massive silo and the walls could come in and out of it. The actual sand was ground corn husk, so it was much lighter than real sand. The first time I’m just going to go for it, I get in there and feel the space and I took it a mouthful of this corn husk. I did all my heavy breathing with my mouth closed. It was a pretty traumatic scene, as much as it comes off a little funny with the physical aspects. It’s a very high celebratory moment that wags the dog on us. We’re all looking one way, and then all of a sudden the ground falls out from beneath us. As actors, we all know it’s coming, so we had to stay in that discovery space and just allow it to happen like it’s the very first time.
What did the sand taste like?
It was just kind of like plain corn nuts or something like that. It tastes like the bottom of a bag of corn nuts.
Were you actually encased in all of that sand?
There was a little box they had built at the bottom of this sand, and it had a very thick, heavy rubber wetsuit. They had cut five or six slits in it, so the sand would stay on top, but when I got my legs through there, I could kind of reverse birth and go back into the womb. They had a little thing set up down there so when I fell into it, from my waist up there was air so I could breathe. But it was pitch black, and I just had to go down there. I’m not very claustrophobic, so it was all cool. When I felt NoHo’s hand blast through the rubber, I could feel his hand there and we could grasp onto each other. I had a little bit of space to stand on underneath, so when I stood up full you saw the upper half of my body and I was standing on this platform right beneath me and then he pulled me out there. We did that about 15 times.
Are you more hesitant when you walk on a beach now?
You know, sand is different to me. I grew up in Palm Springs, so I have been around a lot of sand, and I hear my father talk about how the sand has changed and there’s no good sand anymore. I’m out here in California, and I’ve been to the beach since we shot that scene and I guess I do have a little bit of a different relationship with sand. It’s cool. I have a different relationship with so many things thanks to Bill and Anthony.
How long did it take to get all the sand out of your clothes?
They had a little bucket and each time I would go over there, I was pulling sand out of my pockets. I was pulling sand out of places I can’t even speak of. I had to go and take a shower right when I got in my trailer. It was hilarious. The first time, I just stood in my little box and I just started pulling out my pockets like rabbit ears and it was coming out of everywhere. I was covered in corn husk. It was in my socks, my shoes, my hair, my mustache, absolutely everywhere.
How much is Cristobal’s death going to weigh on Hank?
It’s going to push his life choices. I don’t think you ever forget the love of your life. Sometimes it makes you do bad things, sometimes you feel guilt-ridden and sometimes you feel like you have to make it right.
I think it’s going to put Hank in a very complex situation. I think it changes his whole existence from here on out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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