A One-On-One Interview with Emmy Award–winning Actor Tony Hale
Tony Hale, the Floridian behind Gary on Veep and Forky in Toy Story 4, found his calling on a Tallahassee stage.
You know him best as Gary and Buster, his characters in Veep and Arrested Development. But two-time Emmy Award–winning actor Tony Hale, 48, began his acting career on a small stage in his hometown of Tallahassee, where he moved with his family when he was in seventh grade. Despite both of his long-running, wildly successful shows coming to an end this year, Hale says he’s not mapping out the future, but rather, focusing on living a more present life. Flamingo Editor-in-Chief Jamie Rich caught up with Hale on a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles, where he now lives, to talk Veep, malls and what he loves so much about the Sunshine State. These are some highlights from their conversation.
You grew up in Florida, right?
TH: I grew up in Tallahassee. I’m a massive fan of Florida, so I love talking about it. The thing that people do not understand is when you step into Florida, you know immediately it’s Florida. There is a smell about Florida that’s a very good smell that is unlike any others. It’s a saltwater smell. It’s also a smell of a lot of malls, and I love a good mall.
Why do you have such nostalgia for the mall?
TH: Just because I’m clearly against nature or something. I don’t like fresh air, clearly. No. No nature, no fresh air. Just a lot of recycled air. So I don’t know. I think I grew up—there was this place called the Governor’s Square Mall in Tallahassee. It was a place that we would always go to after school, and then we’d meet our friends there and all this kind of stuff. I have many happy places, but these places were always kind of the go-tos. One was the mall, one was this theater that I grew up in. Some people like Disney, I like the mall. That was my happiest place on Earth.
Did you have a favorite memory at the mall in Tallahassee?
TH: There was always some kind of holiday show. This is sounding so pathetic, so you can feel free to judge me at any time.
You moved there when you were in seventh grade?
TH: My dad was in the Army. And so he retired in Florida when I was in the seventh grade, an absolutely ideal time to move to a new place. Seventh grade is already awkward, so I’m sure it was a bit challenging. But that’s why this theater, this children’s theater that I was involved in was such
a gift. I was not into sports. Every parent wants their kid to find that thing that they’re really interested in. And so they found this theater. And it was just my thing. And it was a tremendous gift.
Tell me about the theater.
TH: The theater was called Young Actors Theatre. And it’s run by this lady named Tina Williams. I went to Leon High School, and I enjoyed my experience at Leon, but most of my social group was at this theater.
This is where you blossomed?
TH: Yes. I mean, I was kind of a spaz. And it was a place that didn’t judge that. I felt very embraced. I didn’t feel odd. I really enjoyed theater. I really enjoyed making people laugh, so it was a real gift to me. I tell people a lot, even if somebody doesn’t make a career out of the arts like I have, a lot of kids need that environment to grow. They need an artistic environment to really find who they are, whether they go in the arts or not. And so I was one of those kids.
Do you remember some of your first performances at the theater?
TH: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That’s pretty much all I remember, actually. I was the mayor of Oz in the Wizard of Oz. I did not get the scarecrow. Billy Sutton got the scarecrow. I was not happy about that. And then, there was Oliver. I wanted to be the Artful Dodger, but Tina Williams, the director, said I was too obnoxious. So I got one of the orphans.
What do you mean by too obnoxious?
TH: I was just kind of an obnoxious kid. Tina Williams, who handed out the work—we’re very good friends to this day—she actually came with my wife and I to the SAG Awards last year. We just joke about it all the time because I was a spastic kid. And I didn’t get this one part because I was too much of a spaz. I need to kind of chill out a little bit. But then, as time went on, I was able to kind of take it a little more seriously and not be so obnoxious. I was Allie Hackam in Oklahoma! I was a part of this thing called Studio Singers, which was like a show choir. And we wore the cheesiest, most obnoxious outfits. We wore these blue sparkly vests that never need to see the light of day again.
Do your parents still live in Florida?
TH: They just recently, this past year, moved to Vero Beach. We vacationed as a family kind of near there. I love it. It gives me a good reason to go back to Florida. There’s a lot of power in being around a place that you have history with. It’s very, very comforting to me. So I try to always go to the high school reunions. We’d obviously go to the mall. And we’d drive by our old house. I don’t know. There’s just something incredibly grounding about that. And also being around friends you have a lot of history with.
You do a lot of nonprofit work. How did you get involved with the International Justice Mission?
TH: A friend of mine, years ago, through my church, invited me to a kind of a conference that International Justice Mission was throwing. And I went, and didn’t really know much about the organization. And then I heard the stories about not just the horrific act of human trafficking in adults but also the stories of children who were half my daughter’s age being trafficked for sex—I mean, just absolutely horrendous. One thing the International Justice Mission does is not only do they save them but they help restore them. Because there’s so much PTSD. And so, to be able to talk about what they do, that’s the least that I can do.
You have a deep faith and then your characters are so wacky and irreverent. How does that square up?
TH: Life is really messy, honestly. And the art that I appreciate is the work that sometimes puts a mirror up to society. But the comedy and the work that I resonate with the most is stuff that is satirizing or simply just putting an honest mirror up to what’s going on in the world. And when you do that kind of work, most of the time it’s not going to be very clean because it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to have a pretty bow at the end.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Is that obnoxious kid still in there?
TH: The truth is there’s a lot of Buster and there’s a lot of Gary in me. I struggle with anxiety in my life. What’s fun about these characters is you’re able to play characteristics of these people whose issues are 1,000 times greater than your own. But there’s still hints of myself in them, and that’s where you always want to find those honest places. Because I think if you don’t resonate with something in a character within yourself then it’s very difficult to bring honesty to it. And also just finding things in other people. Like someone that you can’t stand, if you can find something in that person that’s also within yourself, it will decrease the judgment within you. It’s hard. By the way, I suck at it. It’s easier to do with characters. It’s harder to do in life, but hopefully, I’m getting a little better at it.
With two career-defining roles ending in the past year, how are you feeling?
TH: When Veep ended in December, I mean we cried hard, because we’d been together for eight years. And we got really close the first four years because we were shooting in Baltimore and all of us were away from our families. And so we kind of became each other’s family. There was also a real respect for each other’s talent, and we each brought such different things to the table. And with comedy, you just have to really trust each other.
TH: Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] and I, most of our stuff, it kind of became its own choreography or comic dance that we would do with each other. She would just trust that if she dropped that purse, I would be right there to get it.
Did you know Julia before Veep?
TH: She did a guest spot on Arrested Development. But we got really close on Veep. I really treasure our friendship. Julia, who was obviously the star of Veep, she created a real family environment, because whoever is number one on the call sheet really sets the tone for the whole experience. And she created a real team environment, where you always felt free to lob out ideas. She kind of had a no-asshole rule. And Jason Bateman was the same way on Arrested Development. He’s incredibly gracious, and he’s so kind. I mean, I’ve been thankful to be a part of shows where both leads of both shows were incredibly kind, grounded people.
I know that you aren’t big on pontificating on what’s next. But what kind of roles do you want to have?
TH: Yeah. I appreciate you saying that. I don’t know. I’m very thankful to have the success I’ve had. But it is more challenging for me to be present than it is to look ahead. My default is not at all to be present. My default is to constantly be somewhere else. I’ve never written down a five-year, 10-year plan. Of course, I’d love to try other roles and stories. And I’d love to continue making my living as an actor. But whatever does come next, I want to be more and more in a space where I can really be present with it, because it just makes it that much richer.