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Tony Hale: The Geek Anthem Interview

by Jeff | Categories: entertainment, geeks, television

The lovable actor talks about the sci-fi sitcom you’ll never see, the man he admires most in Hollywood, and what it means to be a geek.

It was a dark and stormy night. Cold, too. Tony Hale had just arrived on a plane from Los Angeles, where it was sunny and 80. He walked into the Denver terminal wearing a t-shirt and light jacket—no match for Colorado’s spring snow. But the chilly weather was no match for Tony’s warmth.

Hale’s as friendly as they come. He’s the kind of guy you could see yourself hanging with at work—or, better yet, after work. The kind of guy that makes you feel at ease and relates naturally to all the geeky things you like to talk about. In fact, the first thing he said when I asked him if he’d be willing to do this interview:

“Geeks are my peeps!”

He’s a good guy thriving in an industry where the bad guys get all the attention. If that makes the good guys the underdogs, then Tony Hale is the king of the underdogs. Which makes sense, considering the fact that he loves both watching and playing the underdog.

“One of my all-time favorite movies is Punch Drunk Love,” Hale said. “Adam Sandler played such a lovable loser in that movie. And I think any geek relates to that in life. Geeks were kind of the quirky sidekick all throughout high school. But we’ve gained our own set of skills and had our own set of victories, so when we see a loser in a movie overcome challenges, we can relate to it.”

Fans of the cult-hit television show Arrested Development will forever recognize Hale as the unstable and lovably awkward Buster Bluth. But he’s also appeared in a variety of other roles geeks can’t get enough of, including Emmett Milbarge in Chuck and Stuart Grundy in the brilliant NBC web series Ctrl.

“I definitely consider myself a geek,” Hale said. “I married way up. My wife is far more attractive than I am. So that definitely puts me in the geek category.”

That makes two of us. What else makes him a geek?

“The things that I like are not so mainstream. There are different levels of geek. I like old TV shows. Maybe I’m a retro geek. I could watch The Carol Burnett Show over and over. My actor icon is Tim Conway. He might be an iconic geek. He was definitely not a leading man. I’ve always looked up to him.”

Tony seems to be following in Conway’s footsteps. He’s mastered the art of comic timing and non-verbal humor. And, like Conway, he moves seamlessly between the small screen and the big screen, although television seems to be his home.

Some of his television work, however, will never be seen. What may have been Hale’s ultimate geek role went, well, nowhere.

Boldly Going Nowhere was the name of a pilot he shot last year with the creators of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Tony described it as “The Office meets space.” That description alone is enough to make any geek drool, but it gets better. His role: an android.

“It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever done. Great script. Great cast. It was a really fun idea and had a lot of potential.”

But the powers that be didn’t agree. What might have been the greatest sitcom concept since Get Smart apparently wasn’t bold enough to go anywhere. Sadly, the irony drips thick in Hollywood.

Speaking of sitcoms (and retro sitcoms at that), it’s a sitcom star that Tony admires most in Tinsel Town.

“Henry Winkler is a person who has been in the business God knows how long. You meet some people [in Hollywood] who are very bitter, very jaded, kind of fake. They’ve learned how to work the system, and they’re not very loving or open to people. Henry Winkler is just the opposite. He was so caring and loving and gracious and open to teach things about the lessons he’s learned,” said Hale.

Winkler starred alongside Hale in Arrested Development, and clearly made an impression on the budding actor that goes much deeper than their profession.

“I told him that he’s very inspiring to me because he was so kind. Ron Howard was the same way—very gracious. It takes work because there’s a lot of egos and crap around you. But they’ve really taught me that it is possible.”

What Hale learned is that it’s possible to work in the entertainment world and not only not be a jerk, but actually be a decent human being.

“I’d rather be remembered for the person that I am rather than the actor that I was. That matters far more to me. I enjoy my work but it’s relationships that matter in life.”

It’s one thing to be a geek on camera. But what does a geek like Tony Hale do when he’s not on screen? He sits in front of it.

“I loved-loved-loved Lord of the Rings. It was such an escape. I loved that story. I’m more Lord of the Rings than Star Wars. More fantasy than sci-fi.”

So would he play Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit if Guillermo del Toro asked him?

“I would totally do that. I could be digitally shrunk!”

But he doesn’t sit in front of the TV alone. He and his wife Martel, a former make-up artist for Saturday Night Live, prefer to watch together.

“My wife is into 24, but I’d rather get lost in fantasy.” They do agree, however, on reality shows like Top Chef, Celebrity Rehab, and Ace of Cakes.

His current favorite recently ended its remarkable six-year run.

“My latest addiction is Lost. Every episode’s been brilliant. You know what amazes me is they can keep people so interested and yet so confused. But they keep that curiosity there,” he said.

If there’s one non-entertainment geeky thing Tony loves, it’s his desserts. He’d be your friend forever if you bought him a Pizookie at BJ’s, a restaurant chain in thirteen states. But if there’s one thing Tony loves more, it’s his family.

“I love-love-love being a dad. I love being a family man. I love my wife. I love my daughter. That trumps everything else I do. It’s both so rewarding and so unbelievably challenging.”

Keep an eye out for Hale in the future. Rumors of an Arrested Development film continue to persist. And that’s something the rest of us will love-love-love.


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