Tony Hale
Living In The Moment
by Pamela Price
A friend once told Tony Hale that ‘you have to wake yourself up 100 times a day to where you are.’ For the Emmy-winning actor, right now it is of the utmost importance to live in the moment, embrace where he is and whatever comes his way. So far, the moments have been filled with plenty of laughter and well-deserved success. Tony is responsible for making millions of people laugh every week playing Gary Walsh, the beyond awkward personal aide to the Vice President of the United States on HBO’s “Veep.” The comedic timing and chemistry between Tony and the show’s star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is a recipe for mastermind comedy. The role has already earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.” It just so happens that stewing up laughs is something Tony’s been doing for most of his life, from High School to his current TV career. Perhaps he was born with the talent to humor the masses. Tony truly made his mark portraying the one-handed oddball, Buster Bluth on the acclaimed cult series, “Arrested Development.” His character has inspired dedicated fan clubs, cult merchandise and even Halloween costumes. Roles aside, Tony is an inspiration himself. He works closely with the non-profit Blood:Water Mission, which fights HIV/Aids and the water crisis in Africa. Lately Tony has been spreading the word on the video/charity platform Chideo. Closer to home, the actor hopes to spread positive messages for his daughter, and is doing so through writing children’s books. While I speak with many actors and my time with them is often brief, I could immediately sense Tony’s genuine and kindhearted nature. I am now not only a fan of his characters, but also the actor himself. After reading the interview, I’m sure you will be too.
You just signed on to a new action/comedy film, “American Ultra.”
I’m really excited about that. I actually don’t know much about it because I think it’s changed a lot, but I know I’m kind of like a tech guy — that’s a good way to put it. I think I start at the end of May/the beginning of June.
Comedy is such a specific talent. I feel like people are born with it. Did you always know that comedy was your shtick?
I didn’t really know comedy was my shtick. I was one of those kids in high school who was pretty insecure (laughs), so I wanted everybody to be my friend. I would go up to different people and think, what do I have to do to make you laugh so you can be my friend? Then I got involved in the theater group called Young Actors Theater in Tallahassee, Florida and it really just became this place where I could discover what I loved to do and make people laugh. That’s why I’m such an advocate for arts in the schools. For some kids like me, I wasn’t into sports – and I was from the south, where sports is like a religion. And I wasn’t really into that, but when I found the arts, it really helped me find who I was and what I love to do. Even if somebody doesn’t go into the arts as a career, that environment can help someone to really find out who they are. It was incredibly beneficial to me.
Have you ever done stand up?
I’ve thought about it. I enjoy when I go on talk shows and tell stories — that’s really fun. When I went on Letterman recently, it was great to tell stories about my daughter. I think if I look at it as storytelling rather than ‘bits,’ then I think it’s something that I could get used to.
Good comedy is something to respect. Especially your role of Gary on “Veep.” It seems like he’s over the moon about possibly going to the White House…
He’s been dreaming about this moment for his entire life. He’s also waiting for the moment when he can marry Selina (Julia Louise-Dreyfus).
Yes! When’s that happening? (laughs)
Exactly, but I mean first of all, anytime people talk about Selina on the campaign trail, Gary’s like, ‘Well of course Selina is on the campaign trail. I mean, the queen should be where the queen is meant to be.’
I feel as if Gary might just want to be the campaign manager. He might just steal that role from someone.
I think he just wants to be in the bosom of Selina… in her lap. He wants to be in her lap. As long he is by her side for the rest of his life, then it is a good life.
Serving her pastries (laughs)
Oh, that is the dream. And you know he makes every single one of those pastries by hand; he makes the jam that goes in the pastry. And anytime people say, ‘Why don’t you sell that?’ He replies, ‘Why? This is my gift. This is my gift to my queen. What are you talking about?’
I feel like you’re really good friends with the role of Gary. Do you feel like you’ve shaped him through these three seasons?
I think the circumstances that the writers give you is such a gift, because they give you these crazy circumstances, so then you begin to see, oh my gosh, he really needs some boundaries. That’s what really opens your eyes to a character; the way these writers give you these just insane circumstances. And also the way Gary treats his bag. He treats his bag better than most people. That’s the only control he has in life. Taking the bag away from Gary is like taking the blanket away from Linus. His foundations crumble beneath him right before his eyes.
What is a day in the life of Tony playing Gary on set? You said they give you different scenarios, so is it scripted with an idea and then you improvise around it?
The writers work incredibly hard to kind of set the foundation, the story and the lines. Then what they do is, about two or three weeks before we start shooting, we workshop the material. We workshop five scripts at a time about two weeks before we shoot, and it gives us the opportunity to find those moments, find if things gel, come up with bits. It’s really a gift, because I’ve never had that experience where you have that much rehearsal time. You have that in theater, but not on TV, so that’s really fun. Once we shoot, it’s typically pretty set because of the rehearsals, but then you never really know where the cameras are going to be, there’s no marks, it’s just this real playground for actors.
The chemistry is off the wall with you and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, so how is it working with her?
Ego sucks creative energy out of the room. And when you’re working with someone who is so ego free and is a huge team player who is collaborative and wants the best and is kind and her family’s her first priority — it’s not this business — that’s all you can ask for. With Julia, you can trust doing comedy; so when you throw the ball, she’s going to throw it back. And nothing is more fun than riding a comic wave with another comic actor. You can feel yourself on that wave, and you’re just in sync and it’s a blast. Those moments are really the best.
Are you constantly learning as an actor?
I used to take classes with Diana Castle in Los Angeles, and I thought she was fantastic. And in New York, I did classes. It’s hard to find time because you really have to be committed weekly to do something like that. However, if a role comes up or something where I need some guidance, I’ll do coaching. Whenever you find yourself going, ‘Oh, I got it,” that’s when you need to question yourself.
I feel like you must have some pretty good anecdotes from the Veep set.
The first thing that always comes to mind — and I’ve said this before — is just how I can’t keep it together. I’m probably the one that breaks the most and “The Carol Burnett Show” was my favorite show growing up because my favorite thing to watch was when Tim Conway made Harvey Korman break. And the way Julia makes me break, because I’m the closest to her in proximity — so I can hear the little sounds she makes… the little comic beats she does that nobody else can hear, and I just can’ t keep it together. It’s embarrassing. And then it becomes a game for her to make me break. She once said she was going to start a drinking game for how many times I turn my back or I look at my bag, because many times it’s because I break!
You really love working on this show.
What’s so fun about this show and with comedy in general, is that you’re given these crazy circumstances. There’s so much comedy to be had when you’re second in command to the Vice President... in the shadow, with no power. There is tremendous fire for comedy. The more the writers come up with stuff, the more the actors are like, ‘Let me do it. Bring it on.’
There’s always some story in comedy and politics.
Oh yeah, and the stakes are always so high with politics. With those high stakes, you have high levels of stress and with high levels of stress come people freaking out and that’s just funny.
Where do you shoot the show?
We shoot in Baltimore. As much as I really love Baltimore, I do not like being away from my family. That’s probably the hardest — it’s challenging, but the great thing is if I’m going to be away from my family, these are the people I’d want to work with.
How did you feel when you found out that Arrested Development was going to come back?
It had been talked about for so long, and you’re kind of cautiously optimistic. And then when the deal with Netflix came through, and you’re like, “Oh my God, this is happening,’ then you just start getting really excited. I will say I hadn’t watched the show since it was canceled, so I had to really catch up and I was like, ‘This is pretty funny stuff!’ I had to go back and refresh my ‘Arrested’ knowledge and that was really fun. Of course, Mitch’s (Hurwitz) writing is just full of surprises. But it was like a big reunion getting back together. It was like being in a time warp. All of a sudden, you’re in the costumes again. I remember my first day on set was the first scene that the whole cast was together and it was very surreal.
From comedy to charity. You are heavily involved with Blood:Water Mission — how did you get connected with the organization?
I actually met them through an artist that I’m working with on this children’s book that’s coming out in August, and the guy who’s illustrating the book is the illustrator for the charity. What they do is fight HIV in Africa and they do that through providing clean water. I love the whole concept because I think the entire idea of HIV in Africa can be so intimidating and can put you in a state of paralysis because you feel helpless and the problem is so large. But what they really encourage people to do is take the gifts that they have and use what that is. For instance, last year I traveled around with Blood:Water and we would screen an episode of Arrested Development with a Q&A, and all the money would go to Blood: Water. We’d sell coasters, have pictures and tell stories. Another great thing they did was sell voiceovers where Buster Bluth would tailor your voicemail greeting.
I feel like that would be an amazing app, too. (laughs)
Stuff like that I just think is so creative because you use what you have, and so it’s fun.
That’s what I like about Chideo, connecting charity, video and celebrity. How did you get involved with them?
My friend, Sarah knew Lash who works at Chideo, and she was telling me about it. There are so many streaming things online that people are watching and Chideo’s idea of saying, ‘Hey, let’s put charity and video together is great. The person who is involved in making the video, chooses the charity. I recently did a blooper reel for “Veep.” If people are going to watch content online, let’s use it to make a difference.’ I loved the idea.
What is the children’s book you’re working on?
It’s very exciting. It’s called “Archibald’s Next Big Thing” and it comes out in August and it really started from a lesson I’ve learned in the business about falling into this trap of what’s next. Like, what’s my next role, what’s my next part, what’s next? And missing the journey — missing where I was and it’s about this semi-bald chicken named Archibald who goes on all of these great adventures, but every single time he’s on an adventure, he says, “I have to get to my next big thing.’ And in the end, because of a bee companion named “B,” he realizes that there are many beautiful things around him, exactly where he is. It’s just that lesson that I have to remind myself daily and I want my daughter to learn that it’s great to have dreams; it’s great to have ambition, but never forget there are great things right around you.
How wonderful to teach your daughter through a book and for yourself to live in the moment.
I love it. People can get updates on
Are you writing it and involved in the illustration?
Yes. My friend Tony Biaggne and I wrote it. And my friend Victor Huckabee is illustrating it with Misty Manley. I just can’t wait for it to come out. I’m so excited about it.
It seems at this point in your career, you’ve really tackled the world of comedy in television. Is there something that you yearn to do in the future? I know that you’ve produced in the past.
I’m really enjoying this child’s book venture. I enjoy producing. I produced a web series, “Ctrl,” a while back, which was really fun. I don’t know — who knows. Life has been so surprising thus far. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m just going to stay right here and stay right in the moment and try my hardest to wake myself up to where I’m at.
That’s wonderful. And focus on family, of course.
And focus on family — that’s what matters.