A hole lot of Winkler
by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2003-10-27
Henry Winkler in Holes
Pop to the cinema and you might just catch a glimpse of the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, in the new Disney adventure Holes. Based on the children's novel by Louis Sachar, which became a best-seller when it was published in 1998, the film follows the fortunes - or rather, misfortunes, of the Yelnats family, who have been hit by bad luck ever since one of their descendants had a curse placed on him in his native Latvia.
As such, youngest family member Stanley Yelnats IV (played by teenage actor Shia Laboeuf) is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and sent off to a prison camp in the desert to dig large mysterious holes for a sinister warden (Sigourney Weaver). The reasons for his odd punishment become clear in a series of flashbacks revolving around his great grandfather and the family curse. Meanwhile, Winkler - playing his dad, inventor Stanley Yelnats III - is left at home in Texas trying to perfect his latest creation - an odour-free pair of trainers.
Winkler is perfectly cast as the eccentric Yelnats (the surname being Stanley spelt backwards), and although he isn't in the film that much, he steals every scene he's in with his frantic attempts to create fragrant footwear. As the film's director, Andrew Davis (best known for the Oscar nominated The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford) reveals, Winkler was not an immediate choice for the role.
"I don't think we chose Henry until we got Shia, which was at the very end, because we needed to make sure the father and the kid had some similarities," says Davis, "I don't remember how exactly it happened, but I was so taken by his acting, because of course we all know him as the Fonz, but I've been lucky to work with some actors who are incredible at improvisation, and he was so sharp, he was coming up with all kinds of stuff on the set. We were just very lucky, the way it all came together."
While Winkler's Jewish origins are well-known, it could be that Holes is one of the most Jewish-friendly children's films for a long while. Not only does it feature co-stars Patricia Arquette and Tim Blake Nelson (director of Holocaust drama The Grey Zone), but LaBoeuf, who does bear something of a resemblance to Winkler, claims to have a Cajun-Jewish background, while fellow cast member Khleo Thomas (who plays his incarcerated best friend Zero) is the son of a Moroccan Jewish mother and African American father. And let's not forget Davis himself, who is of East European descent and whose father, veteran character actor Nate Davis, also appears in the film. As Stanley Yelnats II, coincidentally.