In 1938, upstart wunderkind and future revered filmmaker Orson Welles concocted a radio play that put H.G. Wells's visionary alien invasion novel "The War of the Worlds" into a contemporary setting. The verité-style broadcast, delivered in authentic-sounding news bulletins, would subsequently rattle a portion of the listening audience -- many of whom missed the program's disclaimers that it was all in good, dramatic fun -- and send them into a doomsday tailspin, fearing that Martians had overtaken the Earth.
That's the jumping-off point for Hale's new film "Brave New Jersey," in which he plays one of the many panicked small town New Jersey citizens who come to believe the end may indeed be nigh and suddenly found themselves forcibly awakened to aspects of their lives they can no longer tolerate living.
Hale, who was recently nominated for an Emmy in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy category for his stint as "Veep" lead Selina Meyer's obsessive aide, Gary (he's previously taken home two trophies for the role), joined Moviefone to discuss his quirky new film, along with his experience on the show during recent topsy-turvy real-world politics, and his impending return to the role that made him a star: "Arrested Development's" Buster Bluth.
Moviefone: Were you familiar with the historical "War of the Worlds" situation from 1938, and what resulted in the real world because of it?
Tony Hale: I was familiar with it, not to the extent that I kind of found out later. The director had sent us the broadcast, and all that kind of stuff, and then told us a little history. He did all this research, so I found it very interesting.
What was wild about it was, back then, all they had was the radio. So families would sit around the radio at night and listen to broadcasts. As the movies explains, everybody at a certain time ditched the part that talked about it being fiction. And then heard this very dramatic reading of these aliens heading down and just mass hysteria happened. That was just really interesting.
Tell me a little bit about exploring the human response to a doomsday scenario, real or imagined.
I would say, in terms of, yeah, that kind of a doomsday feeling and thinking what it did in the film, and what I think it would do for me if that happened to me, is it just simplifies things. All the crap that I put anxiety into, all that kind of stuff means nothing -- it's fleeting. Stuff that doesn't really matter, it just knocks all that out and puts your priorities back in place.
I liked seeing you get a nice somewhat traditional romantic lead role.
Right! When does that ever happen?
Was that part of the lure for you to do this, is to kind of explore a territory that you don't always get to do with your television characters?
Yeah, totally. You mean not to be like a "bitchy mime" that I play on "Veep"? I was a bitchy mime this last season. I was like, "That's about right." It's fun. I remember doing this movie called "Happythankyoumoreplease" years ago, and it was another time that I was kind of able to kind of do that and kind of explore different things. That's what's great about independent film. It's always great.
We shot this in four weeks. "Happythankyoumoreplease" was, like, six weeks. So it's a very short period of time, but you can kind of have fun, and do something you haven't done before. Film, in general, kind of gives you that opportunity many times. Not that TV doesn't, but when you're on the show, if the show does well, thankfully, you're on that show for a very long time. You stay in a certain character, a certain storyline. So the film kind of gives you the opportunity to kind of branch out of that.
You've been doing a lot of movies over the last couple of years. Is it nice to have a schedule that gives you some freedom to step away and explore some other kinds of roles?
Definitely. Honestly, I'm just thankful for gigs. I'm thankful to be working. I've been doing this for over 20 years, and never one not be thankful for gigs that come along, whether it's TV, film, whatever. I'm very grateful for it.
There's a little extra to be grateful for this year. Congratulations on yet another big Emmy nomination for the show and for you.
What has that come to mean to you? You've been through the process before, you've come away with some trophies. At this stage of the game, what does another nomination mean to you?
Honestly, it's a list, to this day, that I never thought that I would be on. I don't know. It's even somebody saying, "Oh yeah, you've got a nomination," it's still like, "What? What are you talking about?" It's still very overwhelming to me. Even allowing me into the door at the Emmys: "I can sit down?" It's still baffling to me. I still get excited about the free food at the party.
So, I don't know. If it stops being overwhelming, I think somebody needs to, like, hit me, because it's nothing that you're supposed to get used to. If somebody ever gets used to it, then it all needs to stop, because that's just bullsh*t. You don't get used to that.
This most recent season of "Veep" was a little singular in that sometimes you had to stop and wonder if the storylines were tame compared to what we were getting in reality.
Tell me a little bit about that experience when everybody was all of a sudden politicized, and you guys are in the thick of a show that's been going on for a while, making fun of the political situation. It had to be an unusual convergence of real life and your professional life, in ways I can't even imagine.
I know. It's one of those things that -- man, it's hard to put words in. I will say that I'm glad that Selina was out of the office, because I don't think if she was in the office, we could compete with what's happening in politics. It's its own political comedy. Like, "There's another political sitcom to watch!" So the fact of her being out of the office gave us the opportunity to not have to compete with what's going on, and to just kind of explore what happens with a president after they're president, an ex-president, where it's like they're dealing with getting a book, they're dealing with getting a library, a foundation, all that kind of stuff. You don't really see that side of things, so that was fun.
And I will say this: even though, yes, we're doing a political comedy, and what was going on in politics was very tough for people to laugh at. It was really crazy and nutty. I think our show afforded -- it's like, yeah, you can't laugh at the news, but here, you can laugh at our show. So if you feel guilty about laughing at the news, don't feel guilty about our show, because we're just being stupid.
Is it just me, or is Gary losing his grip more than ever?
Oh my gosh -- it's a kind of slow descent. Poor Gary, man! He is, but it's also, what I love about it, because the more it goes, the more you begin to see who he really is. This past year, we went home. We went home for his 40th birthday party. So I was able to see, "Oh, wow, that's what his dad's like, that's what his mom's like, that's what his world was like." That helps, like, bring definition to why he's acting the way he's acting. But it also gets sadder, where you're like, "Gosh, that's coming from a lot of pain."
It also must be pretty amazing to again see "Arrested Development" be a gift that keeps on giving. We got the news that we'd see the Bluths together again. What's got you excited about returning to that show and that great cast of actors, and being a part of that all over again?
It's very weird. This journey has been going on ... We started in 2003. It's been 14 years. You know that when you do a show, you do the character, and you move on, and, thankfully, it's been nice because people have really loved it and stuff like that.
Going back though, there's always a little bit of hesitation. I haven't done the character in five years. I wonder if I'll be able to step back into Buster's shoes again. However, I will say, when I come on the set, and I hear Jessica Walter's voice, who plays Lucille, it's almost Pavlovian, where I'm like, "Oh, there he is!" She has this like passive-aggressive degrading tone to her voice to Buster. It just like sends me right there. Where it's like, "Yes, mother?" So that typically gets me in. So it's like once I get on set, I'm just going to step aside with Jessica and just ask her to keep talking, and that'll get me back.
In the last revival, you guys worked out very clever ways -- because everybody's schedules were so busy and tricky to pull together -- to make this show work. Are you guys going to be together more this time around, do you think? Do you have to still do the tricky scheduling, or is it going to be a little easier to get everybody in one place at one time?
I think it's going to be much easier. That's the goal, to really bring everybody together more. I miss having scenes with Tobias and George-Michael and Gob and all those guys. There was a chemistry there that I missed. Gob and I are so different, but that allowed for a lot of fun bits. I did miss that this past time.
What are you looking around for right now as far as acting challenges that haven't been thrown your way yet? You've got the resume. You've got some validation and some trophies. But what do you want to do that you haven't necessarily gotten a chance to do?
It's a great question. After doing this for 20 years, I'm so thankful to be working, as I mentioned. Honestly, I think each story that I'm offered is different. Each story is different. I think each thing is a challenge. Because it's not necessarily a genre type of thing that I want to be doing.
It's opening myself up to different stories, if they'll have me be a part of them. I think each of it has challenges. It's not necessarily a certain style or something, but seeing what's out there, if that makes sense.
Now that you're not always having to audition and scramble around looking for work, away from your job, what's your favorite pursuit that keeps you normal, and grounded, and sane?
Oh man. I love that question, because that's everything. Definitely my family and my friends. I just love, love, love spending time with my wife and my daughter. I love friends. I'm a big homebody. I don't know if it's because I was an Army brat, where we moved around so many times. I like staying in one place. I love going to the mall. [Laughs] I love a good food court! It reminds me of where I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, with a good food court.
I just kind of like the simple things. That's very grounding, because life is fleeting. My friends, my relationship with God, everything just to keep everything very simple.