Did you know Tony Hale — the man behind everyone’s favorite clingy characters in “Veep” and “Arrested Development” — is a lauded children’s author, too? Perhaps channeling what Buster Bluth would want in a book, Hale co-wrote “Archibald’s Next Big Thing” in 2014, the tale of an insecure chicken (Archibald Strutter) who feels dwarfed by the talents of his siblings and goes searching for his place in the world. (Remember Archibald, the blue on the map is land.)
While plenty of actors find other outlets for artistic expression, what makes Hale’s additional endeavor so impressive is how busy he already is with his first profession. The Emmy winner has eight projects lined up for 2015, from guest spots on “Children’s Hospital” and “Sanjay and Craig” to movie roles in SXSW entry “Night Owls” and the summer action-comedy “American Ultra” (out this Friday). Oh, and he’s also making time for a little show called “Veep.” With nine Emmy nominations in 2015, the HBO comedy is a major player in this year’s race, with Hale himself up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series — an award he won just two years ago.
Hale graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with Indiewire about the sharp-witted comedy. Below, he tackles everything from series creator Armando Ianucci’s departure to what really happened between Selina and Gary on Labor Day.
Gary had a really fun season on “Veep” this year, especially early on.
Yeah, it was so fun!
That second episode where he gets in so much trouble with Selina was as close as he’s ever come to getting fired, but they also kind of teased a Labor Day secret that we don’t know about yet.
I know, and I don’t know either.
So, you don’t even know yet?
No. I have ideas. I know it’s dark. I don’t know if it’s “Dexter” dark, but it’s dark. Something happened.
Do you know if that’s something we’re going to revisit?
I hope so. Are you kidding? I definitely want to read it. Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] doesn’t know either. That’s what’s fun about the show: the element of surprise. We don’t know what’s to come, what the writers will create, but I’m dying to know what happened on that day. He’s already done so many awkward, emasculating things. He’s broken up with boyfriends for her. He’s gone through her trash. He happily does this. Whatever happened on Labor Day took it to a whole new level, so I don’t know what that could be.
Kind of connected to that, we’ve always known that Gary is devoted to Selina, but the nature of that love is obscure. Do you think Gary knows how he feels about her or is he just blindly devoted?
I think there’s an undercurrent of deep, deep love and obsession, but I think he professionally disguises it by being a lapdog. Whatever she wants, he’ll do. I think there’s a huge psychological block happening because I don’t think he hears the abuse that she gives him. I think it’s such a stereotypical abusive situation where he just keeps returning to the scene of the crime hoping for a different outcome, hoping this time will be different. I think he’s just blind to the abuse. He’s just happy to be there in that codependent, dysfunctional relationship. He can’t imagine being anywhere else. I think he thinks about her 24/7. I think it’s just on the edge of stalker, just on the edge of psycho killer. It hasn’t crossed that line, but he just worships her.
In Season 3, we toyed with the idea of Gary finding a new profession, but in Season 4 he went back to his role as Selina’s right hand man. Has he settled in? I was imagining how him not being professionally attached to her could make it a different story.
Yeah, and I don’t think he knows a lot about politics or cares to know. I think he knows a lot about facts with people, like with a senator what kind of ice cream he likes. He doesn’t know much about the system, but he knows everything about her and everything she needs to know to talk to someone to seem personable, when she’s not. I think he goes home at night and probably records himself shouting out things from a bag. He then plays it, puts a blindfold on and just starts practicing pulling them out. [laughs] I think that’s his extracurricular activity, that’s what he does every night. I think he loves it. That’s his joy, to go home and be the best he can be for the next day.
That makes a lot of sense. I can definitely imagine him doing that.
You can imagine when she became president, they had distance. He did not have as much access to her and he would rather have her accost and verbally abuse him than distance herself from him. That was a rough season for him, but then in Episode 2, when she kind of handed over the party for him to handle, that was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m stepping into the first lady role. This is a dream come true.” Then he took it to the extreme and it was a total disaster.
Getting into more of your acting process and the show’s process, this season saw some new additions to the cast. What do you guys do when you’re amping up for the season — extra rehearsal time, blocking exercises, script reads — to get people up to speed on “Veep’s” very distinct process?
I mean, it’s a process I’ve never been a part of and I’m very grateful to be a part of. They write the scripts, and they write them beautifully. They come up with all these twists and turns, and then they really hand it over to us, the group, in rehearsal to see what bits work: what’s jelling, what’s not jelling, giving us the freedom to come up with stuff, to brainstorm. It morphed into what it is and they’re always there tweaking. For instance, there was that scene in Episode 2 where she and I have a fight. That scene was obviously on the page, but it really needed to be massaged to find, “Is this too harsh, or is this too harsh?” He gets really harsh, and then he calms down. To find those specific rhythms took some time, and the fact they give us that time. The fact they give us that space is a huge, huge gift.
It really comes across, because every scene has that rhythm, that very specific movement. It keeps everything tight and flowing. Then you have those subtle little moments where you cut away and have a reaction shot or bigger moments with lengthy dialogue that’s intricately choreographed. It’s something to behold and something hard to imagine, the process of creating that from the outside in.
The thing I’m so thankful about is that we all really like each other, and we all really trust each other. If one person goes, “This isn’t feeling right,” you know two or three people are going to say, “I hear what you’re saying. Something needs to happen. This line needs to be given to this person, or we need to find a different whatever.” When there’s something in you that’s like, “No, this doesn’t feel right,” you know you’re going to get backup.
Do you end up shooting a lot of alternate versions, or do you work most of it out before the cameras start rolling?
They give us about two or three weeks of rehearsal before we shoot. We work out five episodes, and then we’ll rehearse again a month or so later. We do a lot in that rehearsal room, and I’m really trying to find those places so on the day it’s a little more concrete.
Speaking to that cast dynamic, and outside of that the larger dynamic with everyone involved with “Veep,” how do you feel that Armando Iannucci’s departure will affect the show going forward? Was there ever any consideration to end the show when he decided to leave?
I think there’s the foundation thing, where it’s sad. You’ve created this family dynamic. I have massive respect for him to take the choice he made, since his family is in the UK and it’s really tough to be away. I love that his family is his first priority. I have massive respect for that. It is sad because that family unit breaks up and you get used to each other’s personalities and chemistry. However, David Mendel is coming in. I’ve met him a few times and Julia has worked with him, and he has a lot of dialogue with Armando, so we have complete assurance going into this next season. He knows the process, his gifts with his writing style, his comic history — we’re excited about it. I don’t know how it’s going to be different, but we’re excited about what’s coming on.
The reason he gave for leaving is such a commendable thing and not something you hear too often in the industry. It’s hard to get mad at. The show has had such incredible success at the Emmys, including yourself and Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, but it hasn’t won Outstanding Comedy Series yet. I was curious if there was any importance in doing that this year while Mr. Iannucci was still the showrunner.
That’s a hard question, because it’s very humbling to be something that’s even on that list. I am such a fan of the show, I love the process and I love the people, so I would love for them to have that recognition. Just to be in that company. I know that sounds like the perfect PC answer and I don’t mean it that way. It’s also so subjective because what someone’s choices are for comedy, it’s obviously not like one show is better than the next. You’re dealing with such different styles, where people howl at one thing and then don’t laugh at the other, love this show and don’t love this show. Each person has such different tastes. It’s hard to say, “This comedy is the best.” They’re all so different. I believe in “Veep” so much, to be recognized as a part of that group with the nomination — that alone, I love that people saw that, if that makes sense.
I saw you submitted Episode 2, “East Wing,” as your episode for Emmy consideration. Obviously that was a great choice, but what was your process for deciding that? How involved were you? How involved was the network?
They asked me which episode I would like to submit and it immediately came to mind because it was just a fun process to get those scenes right. It was also the first time Gary stepped out and let loose. When she told him that, “You’re just a middle aged man who sanitizes my tweezers,” that was something he never expected. He knew that she didn’t probably admire him as much as he admired her, but he thought that it was much more than that. I loved all the turns that episode took, and as an actor it was really fun to do that and find those beats and to work with Julia on that seat. It was just such a first memory, which is why it came to mind.
Was there a Season 4 scene outside of Episode 2 that you are particularly proud of? Maybe a smaller moment for Gary, or just something that you worked much harder on than others?
The bummer is this is triggering my lack of memory.
I have the worst memory. I think another fun process was called “Testimony,” it was the episode where we were all on trial. They set it up to look very much like a CNN broadcast of a trial. We weren’t allowed into the room until we were shooting, so they set up everyone inside. We couldn’t even see who was inside, how big the room, how many people were inside. They brought us in one by one and he wanted that reaction of what we were stepping into. I just had never done something like before. You didn’t know what was coming. I didn’t know what to expect. It was fun to play off of. I don’t know if that would be a sufficient one, but I remember it being a really, really fun time.
That one was really great for fans, and I remember when it began latching onto that different format and how it was being told, how it fit in with your rhythm and styles. That was an incredible episode, I’m glad it’s received the attention it deserves.
I think that was 52 or 54 pages, and we shot in a day.
Wow, good Lord.
It was in one day. I had never done that! [laughs] When you’re doing it you’re going, “How is he going to do that?” But they choreographed it so beautifully, and each person was given a time limit so you knew that there were only a few takes and you were on the clock. We just did it.
I think I’m going to ask the next question to just about everyone I interview from now on, and I’m sorry if I’m testing your memory again.
No, no. I love it. Do it! I need to be challenged with my memory.
I just wanted to know what your favorite insult was from the Jonad Files. It was just this giant gift they gave to fans and having them all at once like that was such a feast.
Poor guy! The verbal abuse he has had kind of breaks your heart. I have a hard time remembering exactly what names were called in that episode, but I can remember generally what names were called. There should be some kind of pamphlet put together of the names that have been given to him. To read them all would be pretty incredible. I would say I have a couple that are my favorites. I’ve always loved human scaffolding. [laughs] I’ve always loved the largest single cell organism.
Those are great choices.
I don’t know if those came up, but they were always my favorite.
“Human scaffolding” in particular speaks to the kind of attention that’s paid to these insults, the energy and creativity that goes into them.
I know! [laughs] The vault of insults these writers have, it’s so creative. It’s to the point where you go, “I hope I’m ever in a situation where those writers have to do insults for me, because what are they going to come up with?” That’s terrifying!