A repeat Motherboy dance champ turned bagman to an ousted President, Tony Hale has never met a humiliation he couldn’t meekly endure or a compliment he couldn’t quiveringly dish out. On screen. Off screen, life mocks art rather than imitating it. In person, the two-time Emmy winner gets different descriptors. Eloquent. Thoughtful. Attentive. Maybe it’s because he didn’t become famous until his 30s or because he’s 48 now and spends his free time hanging out with a 13-year-old daughter who doesn’t know his work as an actor, but Hale is utterly bullshitless — famously shit free. He’s a nice dude who purposefully, but not inevitably happened into a nice life.
“I’m so grateful for the gig,” he laughs. “The entitlement is not there. I can’t believe the craft services food is free. I don’t have to pay for it!”
As shocked as Hale is to have found mainstream success, he’s not shocked about the dad thing. He never went through a rock and roll stage. He never went wild and wound up with a mug shot. He always wanted to be a dad and worked hard to be a fully formed adult — the antithesis of sycophants like Gary on Veep and man-child Buster Bluth on Arrested Development. He’s been through therapy. He’s been through countless auditions. He’s emerged on the other side.
And here’s what the other side looks like: A grown man, recognizable to those around him, but maybe hard to place, strolling around a mall with his teenage daughter. This is what Hale, a product of Tallahassee, Florida, does for fun. He’s a creature of the retail ecosystem. He’s the guy looking at the department store display window and chatting about it with his kid. Put differently: He’s a happy dude.
Fatherly spoke to Hale about why he loves malls, why he loves being a dad even more, and whether he and Selina Meyer ever find eternal bliss.
Do you get cool dad points for being on TV? On the one hand, I think you would. On the other hand, I’m thinking about your characters and… maybe not.
My daughter has never seen Veep or Arrested, but she loved A Serious of Unfortunate Events.
How has being a dad changed you? Becoming a parent can be transformative and you came to it sort of as you got famous.
When I booked Arrested, it was my dream. It didn’t satisfy me the way I expected and that scared me. I’d given it too much weight. I hadn’t been present for most of my life. I was always looking ahead to the next thing. When I had my daughter, I realized in that moment that I was forced to be present because I had to keep this child alive. What children do is they constantly wake you up to the present. It was a reminder to stay right here.
That’s so hard. How do you do it?
I need to stay here and I can’t be somewhere else in my mind. It takes work to be right here. Post-therapy, I tell myself, ‘Not now’ if I start to think ‘What if?’ They encourage you to feel a chair, which is grounding.
This seems vaguely related to your new character in Toy Story 4, which is a piece of plastic cutlery with an existential dilemma. Is that a fair description?
I play a fork who’s having an existential crisis. He always wants to go back to the trash. He’s new to this world. He was made by the little girl. He doesn’t want to be a toy. It’s a beautiful story.
For you, what’s the coolest part of being a father?
My daughter and I are big mall walkers. We love to walk around the mall. I feel very proud to walk around the mall with my daughter. I feel very empowered walking around with my daughter.
I don’t know if cool is the right word.
Wait, back up. I need to hear more about this. Do you speed-walk? Do you shop?
It’s not a speed-walking thing. I was raised in malls. I’m from Florida. My happy place is the mall. When she was a baby, we would go to the playground at the mall. She learned to walk in the mall. There’s something about the smell. It’s better than a new car smell. The food court — I like options. I’ve never been to the Mall of America. That would be my nirvana. I need to do a mall tour of the country.
There’s a lot of talk about raising strong, confident women — most of which doesn’t touch on mall walking. What’s your approach?
My daughter is 13. In discussing things, I really see the power of giving them ownership of stuff. When topics come up, I ask my daughter’s opinion. That gives her agency. My own middle school experience wasn’t great and my daughter is now in middle school. It’s hard not to put my middle school experience on her. She lets things roll off her back. She goes out into the world feeling like she has a good foundation.
Do you see her going into acting?
She loves to perform. She’s in that space that I want her to stay in of just loving the process. She loves learning her lines. She loves rehearsing. It’s all of that joy. I didn’t get into this business until my late 20s and it’s a lot of rejection. For a kid, that’s tough.
Speaking of tough, tell me about the last day of shooting Veep.
It was so emotional. We were all crying. Every time someone’s scene wrapped up, we’d gather around the monitor and hug. We lived life together. marriages, babies were born. We deeply care about each other. It’s the relationships I’m going to miss. We do still hang out. We’re all going out to dinner tonight. We love each other.