All Hale to Buster

Arrested Development and Veep actor Tony Hale talks about a career in the funny business.

Interview by Tom Wofford

Photos by Liesa Cole

Stylist: Elizabeth Rose Russell

Samford University graduate Tony Hale got his first national attention by delivering a flawless, deeply committed lip-synch of “Mr. Roboto” in a 1999 Volkswagen commercial, but appearances on The Sopranos, Dawson’s Creek, and Sex and the City were close behind, followed by cult status for his work as Buster Bluth during the three seasons of Arrested Development. Almost 50 TV and movie roles later, Hale returns this month for the second season of the HBO series Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Myer, a failed presidential candidate turned feckless U.S. vice president, and Hale as her personal assistant, the sweet-natured sycophant Gary Walsh. Next month Arrested Development makes a long-anticipated return with a fourth season of 14 episodes available exclusively on Netflix, the hottest new player in television production. Hale recently took time from Veep production in Baltimore to speak with B-Metro’s Tom Wofford.

Tom Wofford: What do you remember most and miss about Birmingham?

Tony Hale: We didn’t go off [the Samford] campus much, but you know, Johnny Ray’s pie! Hello! Stand in line for that. A lot of my friends still live in Birmingham, and I’m pretty nostalgic, so I love to go back. I have a group of friends we get together once a year. I love going to Five Points, and I love that restaurant Satterfield’s, and I love to see all the stuff that’s popped up downtown. I love it there.

TW: How did a boy born in West Point, New York, and raised in Tallahassee wind up at Samford?

TH: I liked the size of the school, and the campus. I had a great time there, a great college experience.

TW: Since you left Samford with a journalism degree, how did you become the extremely successful actor you are today? [In the past two years alone Hale has appeared in a dozen TV series and five feature films.]

TH: After I left Samford I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next. I waited tables. I moved to Virginia and went to graduate school. I knew I wanted to pursue acting, so I moved to New York in 1995. I didn’t really know anybody there. In the first six months, I moved seven times, slept on couches all over town. First thing I did was not Shakespeare in the Park, but Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, in the East Village, we did Taming of the Shrew.

TW: Even though you didn’t study theater, you had a history as a performer.

TH: My mom and dad had a big appreciation for the arts. My father taught nuclear physics at West Point — that’s where they lived when I was born — and after we moved to Tallahassee, they really encouraged me to perform. They got me into theater when I was in the seventh grade, with the Young Actors Theatre. I performed there until I finished high school.

TW: And [Birmingham photographer] Liesa Cole says you were quite a performer in productions at the church you both went to here.

TH: What did she say?

TW: She said she was laughing so hard at a skit you were performing that it sent her into labor.

TH: I didn’t remember that. Hilarious.

TW: How long before you got work in New York, and how did you get by until then?

TH: My time in New York was fantastic. I lived in Harlem, mostly. I could do four auditions in a day, thanks to the subway. People say they hate the subway, but not me, because I could get to so many auditions so quickly with it. You’re always on a job interview if you want to work. You can’t do that in L.A. — with the intense traffic — audition that often. I got by as a cater waiter between jobs. I was in New York for eight years, and I thought, “This business is such a marathon,” and in a lot of ways, it has been.

TW: You met your wife in New York. Is she a performer?

TH: My wife was a make–up artist on Saturday Night Live, so when I got Arrested Development I had to ask her to give up a pretty sweet gig. Ten days before the wedding we found out it got picked up, so we were off to L.A. [Hale married Emmy Award-winning makeup artist, and Anniston native, Martel Thompson in 2003. Among her film credits is The Royal Tenenbaums. They have a 7-year-old daughter, Loy.]

TW: Buster Bluth is a genuine cult figure, and it seems Gary Walsh is on his way to being one. How do you describe Gary?

TH: Gary is a mess. He’s pretty much been with Selina since she was a senator, and he was in his 20s. And he’s in his 40s now. “Body men,” they call guys like Gary, they usually don’t have this job this long. It burns them out. But his life is so into Selina, so he has stayed. When she cusses him, he doesn’t even hear it, he hears something else, Chicken Soup for the Soul, even. Maybe.

TW: Selina does not always appreciate Gary.

TH: He’s slightly delusional, but extremely loyal. In the scene where Gary blocks Selina from a sneeze, I threw myself on this table in the middle of this conference to block this sneeze, to Gary that was like taking a bullet for her. I don’t think Gary knows that much about politics — he might not know anything political — but he knows tons of odd facts. And he’s very, very sincere. He has lots of cats at home. Everything he carries around in his bag, he has Costco sizes at home. His house is like a bomb shelter.

TW: The show looks like it’s an incredible amount of fun to do.

TH: The great thing is there’s no ego anywhere. Everyone just wants to do the best show they can. We all just unite and everyone’s a team.

TW: This is the third hit series for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Were you intimidated at all to work so closely with her?

TH: It is really hard to keep a straight face around Julia. I am definitely the one who breaks all the time — it’s terribly unprofessional — but sometimes I can’t help but laugh. Julia really is an amazing woman. She really carries that authority of the V.P. Her family is the most important thing to her. She is grounded, normal, and super kind. It’s really nice to work with someone with as much integrity as she has.

TW: Veep has more episodes this time around. What can we hope for?

TH: The second season of Veep will be 10 episodes, we’re wrapping it up right now.

We’re bringing in some new things. Gary might have a little love interest.

TW: What’s the new movie you have coming out?

TH: It’s called Heat, with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. I got to go up to Chicago for a couple of days to do it. I didn’t have a scene with Sandra Bullock, but Melissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people I have ever met.

TW: And to the delight of millions, Buster Bluth and the whole bizarre Bluth family return. What did that feel like getting together with everyone again?

TH: I shot 10 episodes [of 14 total] last fall, and I was loving it every day.

To be able to do that writing again, you’re just handed gifts every day. For this season, each character gets an episode, some get two, so we weren’t all together a lot. But there was this one scene when we all came back, and just to see everyone in costume was a time warp. Mitch [creator Mitch Hurwitz] is a comic matrix, a genius. One thing about that show is that it’s a constant surprise. You just ride this big wave, and they give you these wonderful things to play and play with. It’s like a big playground every day.

TW: What’s Buster’s future? We are all dying to know.

TH: It’s hard to pin down what’s going to happen to Buster, it could be anything. Anything. If Buster knew that people worshipped him, he would pass out, have a lifelong panic.

2 Responses to “All Hale to Buster”

  1. Kerry says:

    “Gary Walsh” “Gary Welch”
    Which is it?

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