Even with a ton of screen credits to his name, including appearances in major feature films, popular TV staples, and a number of animated projects, Tony Hale is still best known for his roles as Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and Gary Walsh on Veep, the latter of which has already earned him two Emmy awards and another nomination this year. This week, he makes a trip to the big screen in Brave New Jersey, a comedy about a small New Jersey town whose terrified citizens panic after hearing Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast.
Hale graciously took some time out of his family vacation in Tennessee, where Brave New Jersey was shot, to talk to RT about his Five Favorite Films, mass hysteria, quarter-pounders with cheese, and the amount of abuse he takes on his most popular show.
Punch-Drunk Love is at the very top of the list. Like everybody else, I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. The journey that he took Adam Sandler on in that movie, starting as a guy who is very put-upon and all this kind of stuff, and then love came into his life through Emily Watson. Just to see that journey. There’s a great scene at the end when he just totally stands up to Philip Seymour Hoffman at his mattress store, and there’s that time when Emily’s in the car with him, and he grabs… I think it was a tire iron in the car and swings. It’s just such a great moment. And then that crying scene with the therapist in the closet. I mean, it was just perfection, that entire film, for me.
And then I would say second would be Lars and the Real Girl by Craig Gillepsie. You read the log line and you’re like, “Huh, blow-up doll. Interesting.” But then, the whole movie is really talking about everybody’s desperate need for community. We’re not made to be isolated; we’re not made to be alone. And also how the town embraces the doll. There’s even one time when Ryan Gosling had to let the doll go, and the whole town came and sat in his living room, and they didn’t say anything. Many times, in those kinds of death scenes, people have a lot of talking, but they just kind of sat there with him. I loved that.
I’m going to throw The Goonies in there, because as a kid, that was just the ultimate fantasy. That was every kid’s fantasy. I watched it over and over and over. The fact that they slid through the rocks, and she’s playing the bone piano, and all that kind of stuff. You’re like, “What? Is this really happening?” And it never gets old. I saw it recently with my daughter, and I was still into it.
I’d put The Fellowship of the Ring in there. I just think Peter Jackson did a fantastic job with the movie, and I loved those books. It’s one of those things where, reading the books, and getting so excited about them, and just praying that the movie did it justice. And it totally did, to me. Plus, the relationship between Frodo and Sam, and Gollum, and all of that. I loved it. I’m also a huge fan of The Chronicles of Narnia, and I had the opposite experience with that, where it just didn’t click like it did with The Lord of the Rings. So I just loved what Peter Jackson did with that.
Rounding it out would be Inside Out. I remember seeing that with my family on one of our family vacations during the summer, and just how they interpreted emotions to kids. There’s such an emphasis in society to “Be happy, be happy, be happy!” but you have to give kids the permission to feel sad. You have to give them permission to feel the range of emotions. That’s really healthy. And how creatively it was done, and it didn’t hurt that Amy Poehler was the voice of Joy. It just worked. I’m a huge Pixar fan, and it just completely worked.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: I haven’t seen Brave New Jersey, but I love the idea behind it. Having said that, I know the public panic at the time has been greatly exaggerated in the years since. Do you know if the story is based on some obscure real-life incident that actually happened? Or was it just a fun idea to explore?
Tony Hale: That’s a great question. I know that there was, in New Jersey, a lot of widespread panic that happened, because back then, all they had was the radio. So the family would sit around at night and they would listen to the radio. They got most of their news, they got most of their entertainment from that. It just so happened that this small town in Jersey missed the first part where it was announced that this was a dramatic reading, and they just took everything else as fact and really thought Martians were coming to destroy the Earth, and they were like an hour from where they were in Jersey. So the town just went into hysteria.
I think that’s what initially drew me to it, because back then, they only had the radio, so it kind of made sense that they didn’t have a fact-checker. Whereas today, there’s still mass hysteria, and we have fact-checkers. We actually can check facts and sources. So that was really interesting to me.
Also, just the idea that somebody said, “If today was your last day to live, how would you do things differently?” For my character, Clark, he was a guy who was kind of put upon; he was a mayor that was just going through the motions, and it forced him to analyze what he wants and what he values, and priorities just got knocked into place.
RT: Did you guys do any fun research for the film, like listening to the original broadcast or reading old newspaper clippings of the incident?
Hale: Yeah, Jody had really done his research and sent us all that. He sent us the broadcast, he sent us all the articles, so we were able to kind of see the hysteria that happened from this broadcast. Actually, after it, I think Orson Welles did an apology, and from what I heard, it was done very, very well. It sounded very authentic. I mean, if I were put in that position, I would have done the same thing.
RT: You did touch on this a minute ago, and I’m sure you’ve already answered it a million times, so I’m not going to ask what you would do on your last day on Earth. Instead, I’d like to know what you would choose as your last meal, and what would be the one exciting, dangerous, possibly illegal thing or crazy adventure you’d attempt that you never had the chance to do before?
Hale: Oh, good question. That, I love. My sister’s actually in the car, and she’s going to be very angry with this answer, because she’s a very good cook, but it would be a quarter-pounder with cheese, with fries and a chocolate shake. That would, hands down, be it, immediately. My first and final answer. And my wife just said, “Oh yeah, that would definitely be your last meal. Because you would die.”
I don’t know if I would do anything crazy. This is kind of going back to the general question, but it forces you to be present. I think so much of my life is a fight to be present, you know? And so, rather than doing something, it would just force you to stay where you are and be in the now. It wouldn’t be as much of a fight, because you would say, “No, I’ve got to force myself today to at least do that, to at least be present.”
RT: What’s your character in Brave New Jersey like?
Hale: Well, he’s the mayor of the town. I think he was probably pushed into that role. I don’t think he carries a lot of weight; he doesn’t have a lot of responsibility. It’s just in title alone, and people’s expectations of him are kind of low. He doesn’t really step up to the plate. So he just goes through the motions, and I think he very much feels the fact that he’s going through the motions. He’s ready for something to change, but he doesn’t know how to change it. He’s just kind of walking through water a little bit.
When this happens, he’s still trying to figure out what to do, but then he has that moment of, “I’ve gotta step up to the plate. I’ve gotta act. Whatever my emotions, my thoughts, are saying, forget it, and just do it.” He’s a pretty average guy, just living day-to-day in a bit of a fog, and this snaps him out of it.
RT: So, speaking of average, put-upon characters living in a fog, you’re best known for your work on Arrested Development and Veep, and on both shows, you play anxious, put-upon characters who take a lot of abuse. Now, I don’t remember when I first saw you do a live interview, but what struck me was how well-composed, well-spoken, thoughtful, and genuinely nice you seem to be. How do you get into that headspace to play characters like Buster Bluth or Gary on Veep and not come home from a day on set just exhausted?
Hale: Oh, it comes from a lot of pain. A lot of pain. I think the scary thing is that it comes very naturally. Here’s the thing. I can only speak for myself, but when I enter into these things, I have to come from a place where you have to begin believing what people are saying. If I really believed what somebody was saying to me, how would I react? Like, I remember Reid Scott, who plays Dan on Veep, called me “cow eyes” on one of the episodes, and it’s just kind of like, “Wow, that’s jarring.”
But it’s just naturally how I would react. There are so many sexual jokes and crazy things talked about on the set. If I were standing there, in an elevator, listening to that stuff, I would probably have the same reaction. You know, like, “I can’t believe I’m overhearing this conversation.” I can’t say anything — and this is just Tony speaking — because I’m not in their conversation, but even as Gary, he doesn’t really speak up. He doesn’t speak about politics, he doesn’t know anything about politics. So his facial reactions are how I think anybody would respond, like, “Whoa, that was harsh,” or “I didn’t need to hear that.”
What I’m most amazed about with Gary is that he stays, because the amount of abuse that he gets, and then bounces back, it’s pretty fascinating. I mean, that’s incredibly dysfunctional. But he just kind of bounces back. Even though, in the show, you get used to a certain type of dialogue and language, it’s intense language, and I think a lot of it is just acting naturally. That’s how I would respond.
What I get the most joy out of on Veep is, the writers work very, very hard on the scripts, and they give us a lot of material to work with. But when we get on set and we’re in a scene, there’s a moment that Julia and I typically have, where we can find the physicality in the script. “Okay, what if I drop your coat here?” or “What if you fell over the bannister here, and I try to catch you?” You know, stuff that’s not scripted, but we can take it, hopefully, to another level — that, to me, is the most fun, because I love that kind of physical humor.
Brave New Jersey opens in limited release this Friday, August 4.