TV/film/theater actor Tony Hale is the voice of Forky in Toy Story 4 but is perhaps best known for his long-running TV roles: the overeducated youngest son and mama’s boy Byron “Buster” Bluth on Arrested Development and the loyal bag-toting aide to the vice president on Veep. As Guy in Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey, Hale plays an everyman nearing death, engaging audience members to explore the question, What would you do if you only had a few minutes left to live? See it at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater January 23–February 16.
Because Buster famously lost his hand in a seal attack, the entire staff wants to know if you would be afraid to swim in San Francisco Bay.
(Laughs) Both Buster and I would be afraid to swim in the bay.
You are originally from Florida, right?
Tallahassee. My dad taught nuclear physics at West Point (in New York) and I was an army brat for a while. We settled there when he retired.
What is your connection to the Bay Area?
I am crazy about San Francisco. My wife and I have been there a lot to record Forky for Pixar and I also visit for Sketchfest.
How did the opportunity to be in Wakey, Wakey come about?
Pam MacKinnon called me up and asked if I was interested in doing it. I hadn’t done theater in something like 17 years but had been doing theater in New York before that. Timothy Simons (Jonah Ryan on Veep) had seen it in New York and raved about it. It is very existential-thinking and a communal piece with the audience, asking them about moments of gratitude in their lives. It is daunting but thrilling to be back in theater.
How did your background help you prepare for the role?
In New York, I was always off off-off-Broadway, but I loved it. Having done TV and film for all these years, which is so start and stop, I realized recently that I missed the intimacy and energy of live performance. Everybody in the theater is going through the story together and they become a family almost. I love that.
When I read about Wakey, Wakey, it reminded me a lot of how the story arc ends for your character Gary on Veep.
The cool thing about the ending of Veep: that funeral was for Gary. She had sent him to prison and then he gets a bit of a wake-up call at the funeral to forgive her, to release himself from this place. I think Guy in Wakey, Wakey is much healthier than Gary, more self-aware, but definitely an ending in both cases.
How has life changed for you since winning two Emmys (for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Veep in 2013 and 2015)?
It was such an honor, but in all honesty, it wasn’t a big change. The thing that is a truth about this business is it is always a hustle. You are trained to always be looking to the next job; the challenge is to be present. I’m so grateful to still be working. We are all freelancers wondering how the path is going to unfold.
When people recognize you in the city, what do they say to you?
It’s a tie between Arrested and Veep. Now, parents will come up and say to their kids, “He is Forky,” and they don’t get it. I always say “Forky asked if he could borrow my voice for the movie” and then the kids get it. Animation is not your body at all, which is the opposite of what was needed for Gary on Veep, where so much of the communication is nonverbal.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the business?
Two big things I always say: when I booked Arrested, it was my dream, but it didn’t satisfy me enough because I looked at the dream to be the ultimate and you can’t give something that much weight. I tell actors starting out to ground yourself by touching your coat or a table and practice being where you are. When you practice the discipline of being present, then whatever unfolds, you can enjoy what comes a lot more. Second, to really invest in your community before you invest in your career. Show business means a tremendous amount of rejection; when the community sees you beyond how the business sees you, that’s what gives you longevity. The rejection is tough and can eat you up. Community is gold and that can encourage you to press on.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her child’s school, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.