He earned his first big break — and lots of laughs — as panic-stricken mama’s boy Buster Bluth on TV’s Arrested Development. “Getting a sitcom was my big thing,” recalls Tony Hale, 49, of the hit show. “And I got it.”
He’d go on to achieve much more, including two Emmy wins for playing a slavish vice-presidential aide opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep. But success, says Tony, didn’t really make him happy. “When I booked Arrested Development, it didn’t satisfy me the way I thought it would — and that scared me,” he exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “It woke me up to the idea that if you’re not practicing being content with where you are, you’re not going to be content when you get what you want. That was a huge life lesson.”
Tony used that wisdom to write a kids’ book (Archibald’s Next Big Thing) that’s now a DreamWorks Animation series he’s voicing on Netflix. He’s also reprising his Toy Story 4 character in the Disney+ series Forky Asks a Question. Still, Tony’s greatest joy is spending time with 13-year-old daughter Loy (with his wife, makeup artist Martel Thompson, 54). “She’s a really, really wonderful kid,” says Tony, “who teaches me more every day.”
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We’re still sad that Veep ended in May. Do you miss it?
Relationship-wise, over seven years we became really close — it was like a second family. I’m going to miss those guys.
Does everyone keep in touch?
We have text chains and talk about the continued chaos of politics. You don’t need Veep anymore, you’ve got a sitcom on CNN! [Laughs] It’s a kind of mourning, because you’re never going to be together in that space again. That’s why I never rewatch the episodes. I love to watch the gag reels, because that’s what I remember the most — cracking up and forgetting lines.
You reunited with Julia Louis-Dreyfus when she voiced a role on Archibald’s Next Big Thing. How was that?
She plays a space monkey who lives in a space station, and she’s terrified of space. [Laughs] She’s a wonderful person, so she was kind enough to say yes, and it was really fun to work with her in the booth.
What’s your favorite role?
It’s like picking your favorite baby — thankfully I only have one! I just came off Veep, but [playing Forky in] Toy Story 4… just to be a part of it is crazy for me. Up until the premiere, I was convinced I was going to be replaced! And the cartoon I’m doing from [my book Archibald’s]…I can’t tell you the amount of joy they’ve given me.
Was there a childhood moment that set you on your path?
When I was in the seventh grade, my dad retired from the Army and we moved to Tallahassee, Florida. I was not a sports kid and the South is all about sports. It’s like a religion. I was trying to figure out where I could connect, and my parents signed me up at Young Actors Theatre. It was a place where I felt seen, could be stupid and discover who I was. I realized that I really love this world.
How do you look back on your childhood?
If I could go back…you think, “Gosh, I gave a lot of power to how I thought people thought of me,” whether it was someone I thought was really cool in high school, or early in my career. But I play anxious characters, I play sensitive characters. So I’m very grateful for all those challenges, because they make you who you are.
You have two new shows, wrote a book and star in a few upcoming indie films. Anything else you want to do?
It’s funny…but I love talking about this stuff. The older I get, the more it’s about finding joy in the simple things, not so much about career points. I want to continue finding joy in the work!
Good plan. What does your daughter, Loy, think of your animation work?
She’s 13, so a lot of what I do embarrasses her now, but when we were doing the book years ago, Archibald’s sister’s name is Loy, too, and it was really fun to have her help with how she wanted Loy to look. She’s a little young to see Veep. We can start watching Arrested, but it’s nice — like with Toy Story 4 — to share work that I’ve done with her and take her to stuff.
Think she’ll be an actor, too?
She does love to perform. I want her to stay in that space and just find the joy in it.
Anything you’ve learned from her?
Parenthood is a big lesson on powerlessness. You spend a lot of years helping to create a foundation, and have to trust that they remember a lot of that.
What’s your secret to such a long marriage with Martel?
We’ve had a lot of therapy. We enjoy therapy. [Laughs] We had premarital counseling. Marriage is bringing two people’s histories together, and that doesn’t always gel perfectly. The more that we know about each other, the more we can celebrate and be for each other, rather than pick each other apart. That tends to be the goal we have.
Any advice to offer on being happy?
I love these questions! Happiness, for me, is when I can find more joy and miracles in everyday moments.
You’re really good at these questions!
[Laughs] I like to talk about it because this is something I struggle with. Anxiety, for instance, can make me check out and go somewhere different in my head. I have to snap back and say, “No, this is where I am.”
How would you describe your life today?
I was kind of distracted when I was younger. The older you get, the more your eyes start opening up. You’re like, “If I don’t inhabit this moment as much as I should, I’m going to miss it.”
Do you have a motto you live by?
Hang on, can I look at my phone? This is kind of heavy, but I think this is why I really resonate with Forky. [In Toy Story 4] he whispers to Woody, “Everything’s going to be OK.” Even though life goes on many crazy turns, hearing that is very comforting. And I love this quote: “Do everything as if it were the only thing that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.” How you treat, hear and see people — that’s the stuff that matters.
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Reporting by Diana Cooper