'Barry' 's Anthony Carrigan Was Told to Quit Acting, 'You're Not Attractive Anymore' Because of Alopecia

Carrigan stars as Chechen mobster NoHo Hank in the Emmy-winning HBO series Barry

Anthony Carrigan
Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Anthony Carrigan has accepted himself, fully — even if other people haven't.

For this week's issue, the star of HBO's Barry talked to PEOPLE about his journey toward radical self-acceptance and how it was necessary for him to succeed in acting.

At age 3, Carrigan was diagnosed with alopecia areata, a disease that causes hair loss. In his early twenties, he was forced to face what had long been "the most terrifying outcome" of the disease: career rejection based on his appearance.

"There was a moment where my alopecia had progressed so much so that I had lost pretty much half [of] my scalp, both my eyebrows [and] all my eyelashes," he told PEOPLE. "It really threw everyone that I was working with, and no one knew what to do with me."

As the people around him were "scratching their heads" as to whether he could still have a career in acting, Carrigan, 39, had also lost his confidence.

"I was told by a number of people, you're not going to be able to do this. You're not attractive anymore. You will fail if you try to do this," he says. "And I'm one of those people that if you told me that I can't do something, I will. Period."

The moment of adversity ended up being the catalyst he says he needed, because it stripped away his fear. "What was left was just this kind of burning passion to do it anyway — to make it happen anyway."

The Gotham actor got his start in acting doing children's cooperative theater at a young age. As an "extremely shy" kid, theater was an outlet for him to be bold and confident when he didn't feel that way in his own life. When he realized acting could be what he did for a living, not just for fun, he says "there was no other option." It was "life changing."

As he grew up and continued to pursue acting, he had to come to terms with his alopecia — but it was not an easy process. "It was a series of baby steps to accept [it]," Carrigan says. "Talking about it was very therapeutic for me. And even talking about it now, I'm strangely very grateful for this experience and how much it taught me about radical self-acceptance."

Ultimately, it was his own self-acceptance that made him the actor he is today, he says.

"It made me a better actor too, because I wasn't hiding anymore. I wasn't hiding under wigs, or makeup, or this projected self confidence, and instead what was replaced was real confidence."

While alopecia is not life-threatening, Carrigan calls it "life-altering." But the result of it can be a "pathway to relinquishing what other people think of you."

"We're told, you know, accept yourself, be who you are," he says. "But we're also in a society that's constantly telling us to change. And my take on it is: you want to feel good about yourself, and that has very little to do with what you look like. It has everything to do with expressing who you are."

For more on Anthony Carrigan, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newstands Friday

Anthony Carrigan
Merrick Morton/HBO

Carrigan is now in his biggest role yet, starring as fan-favorite character NoHo Hank in HBO's Barry, alongside the show's creator, Bill Hader. He calls Hader and co-creator Alec Berg "so dialed in, so smart, and so lovely."

"This is a unicorn job," he says. "The writing is incredible — it's absurdly genius."

Hank plays a Chechen mob boss who has evolved into a beloved character on the Emmy-winning show. Carrigan says it's "so much more fun" playing the bad guy, but part of why fans love Barry so much is that it's never really what you expect.

"What's interesting about this show is it really blurs the line of, who are you rooting for? And are they the hero or the villain?"

That line is especially blurred when it comes to Hank, who Carrigan describes as "the sunniest, curious, kind of most innocent person on the show," despite his involvement in the mafia.

That dichotomy is what Carrigan loves about working on Barry so much. "It really messes with your expectations, and what you deem to be good or bad," he says.

Hank is also on his own journey toward self-acceptance, much like Carrigan has been. Hank is grateful, Carrigan says," to be "living his own life, and not necessarily just people pleasing all the time, but finally looking out for himself."

Season 3 of Barry airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO.

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