Tony Hale plays the fumbling, fiercely loyal personal assistant to now-President Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep. This season, the stakes are higher than ever for Hale’s character, Gary, as his boss moves into the White House and exhibits less patience with her underlings. Ahead of Sunday night's premiere, Hale spoke with John Horn of Southern California Public Radio's arts and entertainment show “The Frame” about how his role on Veep compares to his Buster on Arrested Development, why he loves going on auditions, and what’s in Gary’s bag. (Listen to part of this interview below, and subscribe to “The Frame” at iTunes or Stitcher.)
I wonder if, in your mind, you’re probably best known for two parts, one on Arrested Development and one on Veep. Are these characters related in some deeper way? Are they cousins?
No, it seems that way. Um, they definitely have common neuroses. I think Buster is probably a little more extreme, because Buster, you know I think he would have a difficult time going to the pharmacy alone. Whereas Gary on Veep, you know, yes, he’s a nervous character, but he definitely, when his woman, who is Selina Meyer, who he one day is dreaming to marry, he will step up to the plate for her, and I don’t think Buster would ever have stepped up to the plate for his mother, as co-dependent as that relationship was.
Is that how the parts were written, or is that a lot about what you brought to them as an actor?
That’s a great question. I think with Arrested, you know, I love television because you work with these writers over time and they really get to know kind of what you brought and the voice that’s brought to it, and then they kind of form after that. So with Arrested, you start doing something and you see where the writers take it, and it’s just this kind of fun ride. So I think it’s really such a combination, like all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, Liza Minnelli’s my girlfriend right now on Arrested Development and I just lost a hand to a seal.” So it’s just these surprises that come out of you that are so fun, and so you kind of see, “Oh that’s where this guy is going.” Same thing with Gary on Veep, is you start something, you kind of put an energy out there or an idea for the character, and then the writers kind of blossom it, and that’s fun.
Are you able as an actor to work within the parameters the writers create for you? In other words, do they have room for improvisation and figuring out where this is going to go in an organic way?
Sure. Veep is very unique because we rehearse two or three weeks before we start shooting, and with television that’s very rare; typically you kind of show up and do it. But Armando Iannucci and all the writers who created the show, they have these scripts at the start of rehearsal, and they’ve done so much work about where they want the characters to go and the structure and the jokes, but they allow us to kind of see if it gels and come up with bits and see where it morphs, and then after it, it kind of becomes something totally new. So it’s a process unlike anything I’ve been a part of. Whereas with Arrested, Mitch Hurwitz, who created the show, he was such a — man, what’s in that guy’s brain, it was just this comic matrix, and it was this puzzle, so we never wanted to really veer off the page because I felt like it could be a part of a joke that’s coming up that we don’t know about. So two totally different processes.
I want to talk a little more about the physicality of Gary Walsh on Veep. A lot of flailing arms, there’s a way of whispering. What’s the body pose that you like in there?
I know Buster always had his hands behind his ears [laughs], and his chin would go back, and he was always in a state of defense where anything coming at him he was just ready to defend himself, ’cause all he ever wanted in life was safety. Gary, um, I think he always just crosses his hands in front ‘cause that bag is like his third arm. So he’s always clutching it. He’s definitely not a guy who’s going to put himself out there, but he’s kind of in the corner, got his hands crossed and over his crotch, and just like, you know, looking around. It’s not very exciting.
What is in the bag, by the way?
What is in the bag? Oh man, what’s not in the bag, John? Well, whatever she needs, obviously. The thing about Gary and his bag is he spent a lot of time on that bag. And he’s probably been home; I’m sure he’s sewn 60 extra pockets in addition to what the bag came with because every single item has a pocket. So it’s some of her unmentionables.
Because you never know — you might need them.
You never know, but also I think he’s got a lot of secrets about Selena that no one’s going to know. Maybe some pills.
Vitamins, right? Not prescription.
Yes, of course, of course. Just a lot of things, but I love how they each have a place. And if anybody says, "I need those green M&Ms," it’s like, I got the green-M&M pocket and they’re coming out.
Now, do you go full Method and actually go to a lingerie store, get some unmentionables? Do you go to a pharmacy in Tijuana and get some Percocet’s? How far are you going with this character?
Well, I will say, oh yeah, we’re completely medicated while shooting.
No, are you going to, like, fill it with the real props?
That is an interesting question because I bet since she’s such a public figure, Gary can’t go to any pharmacy to get this stuff, so I bet he does go online and go to some pretty shady things to get some meds if she needs it. Good question, John, that might be a future story line, by the way. Way to plant that seed.
Okay, associate producer credit, please. You say Buster on Arrested, all he ever wanted in life was safety. As an actor, do you try to figure out what that character’s wants are?
You know, it’s funny. I used to always kind of make fun of that, which I regret. I remember going up to Mitch Hurwitz and saying, “What does he want?” and him saying “safety,” and it really colored everything I did because I always had that in the back of my head. And with Gary I think he just wants to please her. So even if she is screaming obscenities at him, he just doesn’t hear it because he wants so bad to please her. So I love that, having that kind of thought in the back of my head with whatever I’m doing with a character.
When you go out on auditions now, do you say “I’m not Buster, I’m not Gary, I’m so much more”? In other words, does your success become a little bit of an albatross?
Well, I will say, after Arrested finished, there was a — I mean, it’s not like someone’s going to be casting a film and casting a lawyer, and be like, “You know what? The guy who played Buster Bluth. He would be perfect.” So it took time to kind of go out there and showcase what else I can do, and I actually really enjoy the audition process because it’s that time where you can just showcase, and even if you don’t get it or whatever, just to kind of get yourself out there is fun. I used to not be like that, but I’ve kind of gained this love for it.
What was the worst advice you ever had from an acting teacher or director?
The worst advice, I wouldn’t say — I don’t know if it would be advice. The worst environment I had was, I won’t say the school, but it was a school in New York that I went to, some classes I took in New York, and the teacher was so arrogant and everybody was walking on such eggshells around him. That is the last environment an actor needs because we’re just oh-so-desperately trying to please him. You’re not present, you’re not trying to find honesty — you’re just trying to please this guy ’cause he’s such an arrogant asshole. I went to this other school named Barrow Group that was all about playtime, like "Let’s just play, and that’s the way." I mean, it is work and you do want to get work, but when you’re doing it you’ve got to have that attitude of play ’cause then you have the creative freedom to express and kind of get to that place.