Buster Bluth Speaks
Tony Hale Talks Return of ‘Veep,’ ‘Arrested Development’ & Being Weird
TV’s go-to weirdo tells Kevin Fallon about ‘Veep’s return and teases the ‘Arrested Development’ revival.
Tony Hale is very good at being weird.
The legions of crazy-obsessed Arrested Development fans—so passionate they brought the canceled sitcom back to life—already knew that from his three seasons as the neurotic, quasi-Oedipal Buster Bluth on the cherished sitcom. Now Hale is doubling up on the odd, reprising his role as Buster for the relaunch of Arrested Development on Netflix, set to premiere May 26, and starring as eccentric body man to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s vice president Selina Meyer on the second season of HBO’s political comedy Veep, which premieres Sunday.
“The fact is, I enjoy it,” Hale tells The Daily Beast. “It’s fun to have a venue when you go kind of crazy.”
On Veep, Hale plays Gary Walsh, the vice president’s personal aide. He’s her shadow. Her lapdog. Her beating heart. Her lifeline, her personal punching bag, her can’t-live-without-him man, and the most reviled presence in her life. He’s the man who carries a cup of Selina’s urine through an elementary school and administers an entire bag full of pregnancy tests in it, the man who breaks up with Selina’s boyfriend for her because she thinks it will be awkward if she does the deed.
Hale’s wide-eyed awkwardness, crane-like stalking of Selina, enthusiastic weathering of her profanity-laden badgering, and utter social cluelessness steals just about every episode of the Emmy-nominated comedy. Take the scene from Season 1, for example, in which Gary orbits Selina as she mingles with party guests, whispering factoids about guests she meets to “help” her make witty conversation. “Wife, not daughter,” he says of one. “She’s got a small mustache—it’s really disturbing, don’t stare at it,” of another. He is, as Gary himself says, Selina’s “moon.”
With the pending return of Veep and the upcoming mass release of 15 new Arrested episodes at once, Kevin Fallon chatted with Hale about playing strange characters, comedic sparring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and what to expect when Arrested Development returns—including a smoking scene with Buster and Lucille (Jessica Walter) in which “Buster is asked to do something that no man should ever have to do.”
So you went to Washington to research this show and met real-life body men like Gary?I did. When we were shooting the pilot we went to D.C., and they kind of gave us a behind-the-scenes, which was fascinating. I met a guy who was a body man, like Gary, when he was in his 20s. Hearing him—he’s not doing it anymore—hearing how his life was 24/7 following the person around. They have no life. The sad thing is, my character, Gary, should have left that job in his 20s, but I’m so just completely immersed in her. I pretty much see myself as part of Selina and Selina as part of me. I can’t separate the two. I should have left a long time ago, but the thought of leaving her is devastating.
So the attachment between Gary and Selina isn’t that far from the truth?Yes, in reality these body men are constantly with their politicians. They have to keep up with them, carry around a bag like Gary does that has whatever they need in it. Always, always at their side. That part is definitely reality based. Where it gets into the unrealistic is that Gary is pretty much a lap dog. He’s just can’t separate life from Selina. If she went off to work somewhere else, he would still be right by her side.
Do you think Gary is weird?I don’t. I definitely don’t think he’s weird. I think he has issues. I don’t know if he’s ever found his own identity. He’s very sweet. He always sees the positive side. Even if she’s cussing him out, it’s like he doesn’t hear cussing. He hears a daily devotional book. It’s like he’s not hearing what she’s saying. Even if he does hear it, it’s like it’s erased from his mind a second later. He puts her on such a pedestal and just worships her. So he just genuinely has these rose-colored glasses when it comes to Selina.
Do you think he realizes how much he needs her, and she needs him?I like to think that he thinks she would not be able to survive without him.
So what do you think Gary does in those few free moments he has?He probably spends a lot of time at cat shelters. I think he spends a lot of time at Costco to stock up—because God forbid he ever runs out of stuff in his bag for Selina. I think his apartment is a larger version of the bag he carries around. Say he’s got Altoids in his bag. He’s got an entire room of Altoids at home. He will never be without. So I think he spends a lot of time stocking…and caring for cats.
There’s a lot of intimate physical comedy between you and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. How quickly did you get comfortable with each other?I love her. I love Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The best about Julia is, obviously, you’re dealing with an American television icon. She’s such a comedic force. And what you get is so normal, so kind. She’s a huge team player. It’s all about collaboration on this show. No ego. The fact is, the business is crazy enough that you don’t want to work with whacked-out people. When you get to work with people I get to work with on Veep, it’s just a gift. They’re all normal, kind people who want to do the best show they can.
She’s really, really good at cussing, too, isn’t she?Really, really good at cussing.
Do you feel left out that everyone else gets to let F-bombs fly and you don’t really get to?Oh, it’s coming. One of these days Gary is going to let loose, and it’s not going to be pretty. It’s going to shock everybody.
How much of the show is improv’d?A lot of it is improv’d. A lot of it is improv’d in rehearsal. We’ll have a base script and we just play with it and improv and have fun and see where it goes. A lot of the improv happens in the rehearsal time, which is a couple of weeks before we shoot. On set, there may be things that fly out. But a lot of the improv is done in rehearsal.
That’s different from Arrested Development, right? You’ve said before that there wasn’t a lot of improv’ing on that show.It was just really a completely different process. Mitch, he’s just got this comic matrix in his head, and he just knows where the pieces go. So you just kind of trust the puzzle that he’s working on. We also didn’t have as much rehearsal. And the things they came up with were so specific. Like Buster having a relationship with a Roomba: I don’t want to play with that. It’s fantastic. It’s so extreme that I couldn’t even go more extreme.
Were you worried that there would be some Buster haunting Gary?I think there is a similarity as far as intimacy issues with strong women in their lives. The thing is, Buster has so much fear in life. Him even leaving the house, going to the pharmacy, is a massive trip, whereas I believe Gary, to protect his woman, would step up to the plate. He would do what it takes. Would Buster do something to protect Lucille? It’s questionable. I would hope that he would step up, but there’s a lot of fear circulating in that body.
Was it easy getting back into Buster again?It’s funny, I was just talking about this with somebody. I rewatched the show with my wife. There was a lot of expectation, and insecurity trying to match that expectation, getting back into a character that people had seen over and over. It really was, like, once you get the argyle sweaters and all the pastel colors Buster wears and the fake arm, it was just like a riding bike again. Also, he’s so constantly in fear of everything. It’s like he’s just being shot at already. He’s just taking bullets right and left and constantly reacting. Once you get into to that rhythm, it’s not hard to ride that wave again.
Rumors about Arrested Development being revived popped up for years. Did it get exhausting having to constantly respond to all the speculation?Yeah. The thing is: it kind of kept it alive, which was fun. Our whole cast has such an appreciation for the show and an appreciation for Mitch and all the writers that anytime people were talking about it, it felt like it kept living, it kept being alive. Because we all wanted to do it again. So having people talking about it and then talking to us about it was nice because it felt like the possibility was still there always.
Was it surprising to you that there was such a push to get Arrested Development revived considering that low ratings were the reason it was canceled in the first place?I think it’s just a testament to the fans of the show. The fans of the show are what kept the show on air in the first place. They were so supportive. This whole time, they’re the ones that kept it alive and given the, not force, the stuff to get it going. I don’t know the word that I’m thinking of. But they made that happen.
Since there was such a big push to bring the show back to life, how daunting were the expectations?I think maybe Mitch felt it the most because he is obviously writing the story and has this puzzle and matrix in his head. I mean I know the word “genius” is thrown around a lot, but he really is a comic genius. I think he probably felt a lot of pressure, but what I’ve seen and what I believe is coming, he’s matched it. It’s going to be fantastic. It really is.
What did you make of the way it’s being revived, on Netflix, of all places, instead of a movie? It’s an unusual arrangement.Yeah. I, like everybody, was thinking more of a standalone movie. More episodes didn’t even play into my thinking. I was surprised, but I think people watch Arrested Development in chunks, so it made sense for Netflix to air them all at once. That’s how people have been watching them this whole time. Then I was like, well, yeah, that makes sense. Because when I’ve seen it or when my friends have seen it they watch three or four episodes at a time. So it makes sense that they release them all at once.
Between Buster and Gary, you’re getting pretty well known for playing odd characters. How does it feel to know that you’re so good at being weird?The fact is I enjoy it. It’s really fun. They’re just quirky. I think many times, for instance, Buster or Gary are playing out or saying things that most people might want to say but don’t. It’s fun to have a venue where you kind of go crazy. When I was doing commercials way back in New York, I was always the quirky guy and the guy who was not all there. And it was fun. A blast. And when you get to work with someone like Julia, whose comic timing is just solid, it’s like you do this comic dance. You trust the other person and they trust you. It’s fun to just ride the comic wave together. And then someone like Jessica Walter, who plays Lucille on Arrested, her timing is solid. You’re just doing this comic dance every day. It’s a blast.
What’s the most outlandish thing we can expect when Arrested Development comes back?There was this—I won’t say too much—but this smoking scene that happens with Lucille, where Buster is asked to do something that no man should ever have to do. I actually haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it. I think it sheds a whole new light on their relationship. It’s pretty crazy. And that’s another thing. With Mitch, I would not know what’s going on. I would read it and be like “what’s happening?” And you just trust that Mitch has this matrix in his mind and it will all make sense. But you’re just doing this stuff and having a blast and being like, “all right!” Just not really getting where it’s going. I don’t know—that man’s mind is just fascinating.
What about on Veep?We did go to Helsinki, so there’s that. That’s another thing I love about Veep. We’re given these crazy scenarios, and then you find that place where you have to make it real and believable. It’s just such a fun combination. It’s covering just craziness in a real, organic way.
Has being on the show changed your view on politics?It’s given me a huge new respect for politicians. These people make massive decisions, they’re a container for so much pressure. I’m amazed that they do it, and with Veep one of the huge things I love about the show is because we expect our politicians to be perfect. We expect them to have the perfect soundbites. The perfect photos. All that stuff. And if they make a mistake, it’s like, “Oh my God!” We can’t believe it. Like, really??? You’re shocked? Because in that position, I would be losing my mind. You see that these people have to go behind the scenes and have freakouts. They have to get insecure. They have to freak out to somebody, and Veep shows that. It takes the camera behind the scenes and says these people are human and normal. Obviously we take it to the extreme and satire, but it’s not really that extreme, I bet.
I’d like to see more of that in real life, personally.Personally, I want a human politician. I don’t want a robot. We expect them to be a robot sometimes. The fact is we sort of don’t want to see it because it takes away our perfect picture of, like, they’re not human. They’re the president. They’re the vice president. Nope! They’re still human. They don’t need our judgment. We need to kind of realize—we need to give them more of a human stance.