As the odd, neurotic and completely attached momma’s boy Buster Bluth in the popular television show, “Arrested Development,” actor Tony Hale embodied a character so weird that it took some time to get back in the swing of auditions after the popular series on Fox was cancelled in 2006. Though still a bit neurotic and eccentric, Hale has moved to HBO where his performance as Vice President Selina Meyer’s trusty bag-man/right-hand-man Gary Walsh earned him an Emmy win last year. In a phone conversation, Hale and I spoke about that Emmy night, his character’s built up aggression, his work on “Arrested Development,” and some directions the show is taking as it enters its third season on Sunday, April 6.
I wanted to start by congratulating you on your Emmy. I know it’s a little late.
I know, it’s crazy. It was a nutty night.
It was so exciting to watch because not only did you have your win, but when (co-star) Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her award, you both went up and accepted in character. Can you talk a little about what it was like to get that win and then have that huge laugh with her speech. You kind of had two moments there.
That night was soooooo fun. And so crazy. It was just like one big ride. The truth is, the simple fact that I was even on that list was overwhelming enough. That was such a highlight to have my name included with all those other guys and be in that category. That was overwhelming. It was one of those things where going into the Emmys I really checked my expectations. In my eyes, just being there was such a gift. When I won, I felt like my mind was exploding. I remember I had to look to my wife for her reaction in order to believe that it actually happened and they called my name. So that was so crazy and awesome and fantastic. And then when Julia won…she had called me that morning and discussed that she wanted to do this bit if she were to have won. It’s one of those things that of course you say yes and I was thrilled, but in the back of your mind you’re like, “Oh crap, this could really bomb.” I could really make an ass out of myself. Even more than I already do in my characters. Once we got up there it was fun. Any time I can work with her and ride that comic wave with her it’s just awesome.
One of the things that I love about “Veep” is how well defined every character is and how the audience is familiar with their qualities so you can find humor in really small things. Can you speak about the character development in “Veep” and being a part of an ensemble of such strong characters?
The whole thing is credited to (creator) Armando Inannuci because he has such a history with “The Thick Of It” and “In The Loop” of political satire. How the writers have developed the characters and storylines and the tightness of the script, that really is a credit to that whole team. To be a part of that team is just awesome. It’s one of those things where the more and more I do Gary, the more I realize that he’s just a mess. He’s in a job that he probably should have left in his 20’s but he’s gone into his 40’s. All he wants to do is be in the bosom of Selina Meyer. He just absolutely worships her. You see a real sweetness in him, too. Where everyone else is kind of positioning for power and trying to get ahead, Gary is very content. I will say that in this season he begins to exercise some other responsibilities. All he ever wants to do is impress her and show off to her. So he is trying to maybe show off a little bit and exercise some other things and obviously that fails miserably. It’s fun, man. What the writers did to Gary, knowing what kind of a character he is, it’s fun to do.
One of the trademarks and best things about the show is this creative cursing that we’ve come to know. It seems like every character except for Gary gets to partake in that. As an actor, does your character not having that tool in your toolbox that your castmates do…does that make it any more of a challenge to find a laugh in different places?
That’s a good question. I haven’t gotten that question before. I like that question. I think with Gary, there’s a lot in the tension of wanting to say something, but he holds back a lot. So just in his civil silence, when he’s being reamed or when he wants to ream somebody else, you can just feel he’s about to explode. I’m tellin’ ya…one of these days Gary is going lose his shit and it is not going to be pretty. It is going to be a hurricane of emotion. He has held a lot in and I think all he wants to do is just absolutely go off on Dan. He’ll never go off on Selina because that’s like going off on the messiah. He’ll never do that. But when it comes to Dan or when it comes to Jonah, one of these days his dreams are going to come true and he is going to lose his mind. And that’s not going to be a pretty day. That’s going to be a day you want to stay home.
I can’t wait to see that.
Me too! Me too.
We didn’t see much of it in Season 2, but there’s an ongoing thing of Gary having a problem with not feeling validated for his job or really even his life. Where do you think that stems from and do we see it come to a head in Season 3 at all?
I don’t know if his father ever comes into the picture, but he’s transferred a lot of his mother issues onto Selina, which seems to be a theme in the characters that I do. There was one line where he said, “My dad wanted a man” or something like that when he was sitting on the bed with Selina last season.
I think it was, “He wanted a man for a son.”
I know! He wanted a man for a son. Such a sad thing. He never acknowledges his own manhood because its never been affirmed enough by his dad. He’s desperately trying to plea through that in a phone conversation in the first season. One of these days I want his dad to show up and you know he’s probably just a detached football coach somewhere. All he ever wanted to do was have his son play sports and all Gary wanted to do was pick out Selina’s wardrobe.
You bring up that episode, which was “Running” and I believe your Emmy submission episode. How fun was it to play that excitement in Gary knowing that it would all come crashing down. That was the one thing he always wanted from that relationship.
Oh yeah. And in show time, it was about a 2-4 hour time where she was saying everything he had ever dreamed of. She wanted to go to his parents 40th wedding anniversary. They were going to dance. She was telling him how much he meant to her. It was the entire emotional bank that he had invested in for the past 15-25 some odd years was manifesting itself before his eyes. And that was his nirvana. He was experiencing his nirvana. And unfortunately it was a drug induced statement because of the St. John’s Wort that he had given her. But in those moments in time, he was on cloud nine. Then it obviously it came crashing down when the drugs wore off and he was back into his deep depression. There was also another moment in Season 2 where they were at Catherine’s party and she made a joke about “if I told you to kiss me, would you kiss me?” She’s joking and Gary took it very seriously and said, “Yeah. Absolutely I would kiss you.” In a perfect world, they’re going to be married, in Gary’s eyes. He’s desperately looking for those moments in time where she can finally wake up to the reality that Gary is all that she needs.
Most of the writers and directors that you work with on “Veep” are British, and yet there is no culture barrier that you find when you watch other British shows. How do you think the writing staff has been so successful in crafting a show that has a British sensibility but everything is in the realm of American politics and culture?
I love it. I mean obviously, because they’re British they’re on the outside looking in to our political system. Whereas we are very used to our political system. So it does bring that perspective. There are a few times when we are reading scripts where we have to say, “Yeah, that’s a Britishism.” Words will come out and we’re like, “We’ve never heard of this word.” We’ve had to replace it with American lingo, but they know a lot more about our political system than I know. Which is sad to say that. They are really in tune. It’s just a perspective that I think brings a uniqueness to the show.
As a diehard fan of “Arrested Development,” actually sitting down and watching the new episodes as they came out after so many years was a completely surreal experience. Was it the same for not only returning but doing press and actually seeing it come out and people talking about it?
It was. It was one of those things where you’re in it, you’re doing press and then you’re just kind of feeling like you’re in a time warp because it had been about seven years since we had finished the show. That’s just weird. You never get a chance to return to something you’ve done. I remember when we were shooting it, which was many months before press, my first day on set was the scene when we were all in the living room. So that was crazy because here I am in costume in my pastel argyle disaster and everybody else is in costume and Portia [de Rossi] has the blonde wig on and you’re kind of looking around going, “I cannot believe it’s been six years since we finished shooting our last episode and here we are.” They completely recreated the penthouse to the tee. It was just odd. It was really odd but fantastic at the same time because you never get that opportunity.
It almost seems like in moments where Gary is mortified or disturbed by what’s going on or looking at his attachment to Selina, there are some Buster Bluth qualities in him. Do you think that they share any of the same character DNA?
Oh yeah. I think there’s definitely some shared DNA. But the thing is, if Buster were in Gary’s environment, he would be rocking in a corner. He would have had about probably 50 panic attacks in the matter of an hour, whereas Gary has gotten very used to the pressure. Obviously he falls apart many times, but he steps up. Selina would never have hired Buster Bluth, but she knows that Gary can handle it at times. There’s been this kind of graduation with characters. Buster was the way he was. Gary is the way he is. Maybe my next character will be a little more into the realm of normality. We’ll see. Or maybe I’ll stick with the dysfunction.
The first non-Buster role I saw you in was in “Happythankyoumoreplease” and I was blown away by how great you were. Partially because you are so great in that movie but I also had you being so ingrained as being Buster Bluth that I was like, “Who is this person?” Do you ever find that people are surprised by your more grounded performances after embodying such an odd character on such an iconic show?
It makes sense to me. It makes sense to me that obviously it’s hard to see beyond Buster because it took some time after “Arrested Development” to kind of get back on the audition trail and showcase what else I can do. It’s not like somebody is going to be casting a movie right after “Arrested Development” was done and have to cast this part for a lawyer and be like, “Oh you know who would be good? The guy who played Buster Bluth.” You have to showcase other stuff and Buster was pretty much animated. He was pretty much a live cartoon. You’re dealing with those kind of extremes. I was so happy to do it, but with playing that kind of dysfunction, that’s always going to be attached to me as an actor. I had such a blast doing it and to be able to do it again. I’d do it again and again and again.