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Interview with Emmy Award winner Tony Hale of “Veep” and “Arrested Development”

UPDATES: Since this interview took place, Tony Hale has won an Emmy Award for playing Gary on “Veep” and Christina has gotten to meet Tony in person at a PaleyFest panel for “Veep” in Hollywood (he was just as nice as she suspected).

On May 10, 2010, LTM’s Executive Editor Christina LeBlanc had the pleasure of speaking with Tony Hale, who played Buster Bluth on FOX’s hilarious cult favorite “Arrested Development” and has recently had a recurring role on “Chuck” and guest stints on “Numb3rs”, “Law & Order”, and “Justified”. Tony was kind enough to talk to Christina about playing Buster and his new movie Happythankyoumoreplease (coming out in August), as well as what he’s got in the works for the future.

CHRISTINA LEBLANC: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me! I really appreciate it.

TONY HALE: Oh, sure, it’s my pleasure.

CL: What was the best part about playing Buster? He’s such an original and awesome character; what were your favorite parts about playing him? TH: I remember having a discussion with Mitch, who’s the creator, and we discussed that the only thing in life that Buster ever wanted was safety. And anything that threatened that safety was… he would just, you know, lose his mind. And it was fun to constantly be that hypersensitive. To be constantly that on-edge, all the time. Somebody could give him the wrong pencil and he’d, you know, lose his mind. It was just kind of funny to always react to everything. And also, just, I think my favorite part was the surprises that were thrown at me. You know, constantly… that was what was so great about the show was that every week, it was just a surprise. We had no idea what was coming at us and, you know, sometimes in shows you kind of get into a typical formula or a typical routine, but we just had no clue what was coming at us and that was a blast to do.

CL: How did you react when they told you a seal was going to bite your hand off? Because, I mean, that’s kind of out of the ordinary.

TH: Oh, I know! I was super excited, because again it was something I never thought was coming at me, and initially I had a “hmm, I like to use my hands when I act”. But then it was just, the multiple comic possibilities with it was really fun. And I love that he never really stuck to one prosthetic, whether a real hand or a hook or whatever. He had his choice daily, whatever he was in the mood for.

CL: So funny. Kind of along those lines, do you have any favorite episodes or favorite Buster moments that happened?

TH: I have so many scenes with Jessica Walter, who played my mom.

CL: I loved you guys together.

TH: Yeah, we had this co-dependent, disastrous relationship and that was really fun to play off of. Along those same lines, I had Liza Minnelli as my girlfriend. And I had such a blast doing the character… I haven’t seen the actual episodes in a long time but if I do watch something on the DVD, I like to watch the gag reel. I just had so much fun laughing at everybody else. I mean, Will Arnett, who played Gob, just made me cry, and David Cross, just like Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica… it was just constant, you know, eye candy. It was so fun.

CL: You can’t lose with that group! There’s always someone to make you laugh.

TH: Oh, I know.

CL: The fans, obviously, are extremely intense about loving the show. What do you think it is about the show that people are so attached to?

TH: It’s interesting. I have some friends of mine that live in Virginia and they were saying that, actually, they watch it a lot and they said that it’s comforting to them. I was thinking, that’s so interesting. And I wonder if it’s that the height of dysfunction is just, um, it’s kind of an escape because it’s so crazy and so heightened that I think people can just laugh and forget, just laugh at the absolute destruction of the family.

CL: We have a question from a fan, which is are there any aspects of your character or experience on the show that you carry with you into other roles or other aspects of your life?

TH: Not now… I will say, I probably – when I was doing the show – my wife will probably tell you that I was a little more hypersensitive than I need to be. Like, I would always come home a little bit on-edge. When you’re in that character so much, every now and then you bring it home. But carried over? [Laughs] Hopefully nothing, he was such a colorful guy. But doing it, it was interesting, cause you are just this emasculated man-child constantly, so… it’s an interesting place to be.

CL: [Laughs] And in terms of the movie – I’m sure you get bugged with movie questions – but is there anything you’d love to see happen? Like in terms of plot, or anything you want Buster to get into?

TH: You know, I kind of go back to the surprise aspect, because I remember I was telling someone – I had an interview a while back – and they were kind of asking me kind of the same question and I said, I remember giving Mitch the idea of “what if Buster is on American Idol or something?” and he was like, “yeah… I’m gonna have a seal bite off your hand”. And I kind of gave up on having ideas. Now I just love the surprise aspect. Because, you know, if we were to do the movie it would be, timeline-wise, five or six (or however many years it takes if we ever do the movie) after that and I just want to be completely surprised as to what happens to Buster. I mean, I can’t imagine what that guy is getting into. So I’m just really excited about the surprise aspect.

CL: Definitely. I imagine that would be fun.

TH: I know. I just have no clue, and that’s what’s fun about it.

CL: I also loved you as Emmett on “Chuck”.

TH: Oh, thanks!

CL: You’ve also done some guest-starring roles on a couple of more dramatic shows as well [like “Justified”, “Law & Order”, and “Numbers”]. A fan wanted to know, when you take a role that’s not like the comedy we’re used to seeing on “Arrested Development” or some of your other projects and do a more dramatic role, how do you get in the zone? Is it a challenge or do you enjoy doing something different?

TH: It’s definitely a challenge. Like I’m doing a movie right now in Waco, TX and it’s a dramatic role, and I did a “Law and Order” and I played a dad whose daughter gets kidnapped to Brazil by my ex-wife and to get to that zone, you kind of have to imagine – cause I have a 4-year-old daughter – if somebody were to take my daughter. It’s a total challenge. It was based on a true story, and you kind of feel like you’re representing somebody out there who has been through that. And it was fun… well, I don’t know if fun is the right word because it wasn’t necessarily fun to be in that zone. It was a challenge.

CL: Satisfying, maybe?

TH: Yeah. It was very, very, very, very, very satisfying. But it wasn’t like… I have a lot of friends in New York and we shot for two weeks in New York, but I wasn’t, like, going out with my friends at night because the next day I’d have to bawl my eyes out in the courtroom about my daughter being gone.

CL: Is there any role you haven’t been able to do yet that you kind of dream of playing?

TH: Um… god, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’m trying to think… I’ve had the opportunity to do a wide range of stuff, a lot of different characters and they’ve all had their own kind of thing. I don’t know if there’s one crazy thing I haven’t done. [Laughs] Buster’s about as extreme as it gets. So… I don’t know what the dramatic version of Buster is… some hypersensitive psycho killer or something. But, that’s a good question. I just like to keep working. If the gigs can keep coming, then I’m satisfied.

CL: Another fan wanted to know about “Awkward Situations for Men”. Is there anything you can tell us about that? And how was it working with Danny Wallace?

TH: He. Is. The. Best. He is the coolest guy. Before the show, I didn’t really know his work and so, from getting the show, I’ve kind of become his internet stalker – reading all of his stuff and watching all of his videos. Not only is he so funny, but he’s just an incredibly kind man and we had such a blast working on the pilot. The whole story of the show is – he has a book coming out in June called Awkward Situations for Men – and the pilot is based on his experience as a Brit coming to the states and dealing with the American culture. And I play his American best friend who gets into trouble a lot of the time. It was just so much fun. And Laura Prepon was on the show as well, and Matt Letscher, and we had a great, great time and we’re still waiting to hear what happens with it. But it was just such a blast to do and I’m really thankful for that gig.

CL: That sounds really exciting so I hope we get to see it!

TH: I know, me too! [Laughs]

CL: Any other upcoming projects you want to tell us about? Where can we see you in the future? I know you said you’re in Texas right now working on a movie.

TH: Yeah, I’m in Waco, TX. [Laughs] I know, which is exciting. I went to a Wal-Mart in Waco the other day.

CL: Wow!

TH: I know, it was awesome. The film I’m doing now is called Sironia, and it’s directed by a guy named Brandon Dickerson. And it’s just a really great story about this guy who was in LA trying to make it as a musician and kept on hitting walls and decided to move back with his wife to Sironia, Texas. There’s music throughout; people kind of compare it to Once… I mean, it’s different, but there’s a lot of music involved in the movie. I play his Southern brother-in-law. And it’s just a really, really sweet, powerful story. And then in August, there’s a movie called Happythankyoumoreplease that I did.

CL: Oh, is that Josh Radnor’s movie?

TH: Yeah. And that’s coming out in August. I was able to see it at Sundance and Josh has done such a fantastic job. It’s just this story of six New Yorkers and of their lives and I play kind of loveable – or, I don’t know if I’m loveable – but this kind of awkward office worker who’s in love with Malin Ackerman. It’s just a really sweet, good movie, and it’s coming out in August, and then we’ll see what happens after that! It’s always a surprise! This business is always an adventure.

CL: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, I really appreciate it.

TH: Oh, thanks!

CL: And best of luck with everything, I look forward to seeing your upcoming projects!

TH: Thanks so much Christina, I really appreciate you taking the time.

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