If you’re in your thirties, the chances you know Tony Hale as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development are high. And if you’re the parent of a small child, the chances you know Hale as the voice of Forky in Toy Story 4 or as Jerome Squalor in A Series of Unfortunate Events are probably even higher. And now, Tony Hale is back tackling the proud tradition of being a cartoon chicken with some serious Buster energy. This week, Netflix has debuted the animated series Archibald’s Next Big Thing, which follows the misadventures of the titular, optimistic chicken, voiced by Hale.
“Most of the characters I play are a mess,” Hale says candidly on the phone. And if you look at the past year, it’s hard to argue with him. From the skittish Jerome Squalor in A Series of Unfortunate Events to the existentially-challenged Forky in Toy Story 4, the man who made playing a “mother boy” famous certainly doesn’t always play super confident characters. Which, is why, his newest character — Archibald — is something of a departure. As an optimistic and forward-thinking chicken, Archibald seems to always see the best in every situation.
Fatherly caught up with the beloved actor — for the second time this year — to discuss his next big thing as Archibald, how he copes with being a pessimist parent and why parents and kids can benefit from the philosophies of improv comedy.
Are you reclaiming the role of a great cartoon chicken? It seems like it’s been a while since there’s been a great cartoon chicken.
First of all, I love that question. And yes. I remember being at an art show years ago, and I met Victor Huckabee, the artist who created Archibald. I was very drawn to him [Archibald] because I was a huge Beeker fan from the Muppets and my favorite color is yellow. So I was like, I like this chicken. I like this chicken. There’s something great about Archibald, he’s super wide-eyed and open to the world. Hilarious. Got good timing. He brings a lot of joy to me.
The in-the-moment energy of the character feels like a real toddler. Is there a connection between the “yes-and” of improv comedy and being a parent?
Oh totally. I mean, what this originated from was Arrested Development. There I was on a great show and I was looking for my next thing. It was this whole lesson of trying to be where you are, living in the moment. When my daughter was very young, she always embraced every single moment. I mean, the older kids get, the more distracted they get, but there’s something about fully living where you are and making the most of it. That is what this character is about. It’s so much more about the journey over the destination. And, having done Veep and Arrested Development, I’ve been around a lot of comics and the comedy world; and that’s where the yes-and attitude comes from. Whatever comes this character’s way, he’s like: “Yep, I’m in. I’m all in.” And that’s something I aspire to be. He sees the best in situations and sees the best in people. In today’s world, I feel like we’re just seeing the worst. So, I love introducing him to the world because he has such a great attitude that I aspire to. Pretty much my role model is this chicken.
As a parent of a two-year-old, I struggle with seeing the best in the world. You’ve got a teenager. You’re a little ahead of newer dads like me. How do you struggle with pessimism about the future?
I mean, ever since I had my daughter it’s been difficult not to work from a fear-based mentality. You always have ten different narratives of what could happen to your child in any given situation, and you try to be prepared for all of them. But, what that kept me from was being there with my kid. And, also living in the “what if” prevents you from seeing the joy in the situations. And, if I’m honest, I think I lived in the “what if” a lot. Someone like this character doesn’t see the world that way. He sees more possibilities.
Is Archibald the opposite of Forky?
Forky learned his own lesson, I think. He started off thinking “I’m trash. I have only one direction.” And then he kind of comes out it. Which, in a meta-sense, is like anyone thinking they are only made for one thing. With Archibald, he starts off at the place of optimism, but then makes a tremendous amount of mistakes. But it’s his attitude towards the mistakes that blows my mind. It’s that “yes and” attitude. And those mistakes always have a bigger purpose in the overall story.
Do we lose some optimism from our childhoods when we become parents? How do we reclaim it?
I can only speak for myself, but I have to avoid what I put in my mind. I know a lot of people love them, but I’m not a big fan of horror movies! Or thrillers. Because, on some level, I’m like, “well that could happen.” So, why would I want to sit in a room, scared, when I could just watch CNN and be just as scared? But with the flood of media, it’s tough to continue to be optimistic. And this is something I struggle with every day. This isn’t a lesson I’m done learning. But, having worked on this show for two and a half years, I learned that who you surround yourself with is very important to how you become. So yes, being around this chicken has really effected my attitude and the way I see the world.
Archibald’s Next Big Thing is streaming now on Netflix. The show is great for kids from 2 to 5 years old.