The return of “Arrested Development” − thank you, Netflix − reminded me to revisit one of my favorite interviews. In July 2008, actor Tony Hale, who plays Buster, the Bluth family’s hook-handed man-child, came to Macon because his dad, Mike Hale, was the director of the college’s Warner Robins campus (the elder Hale retired in 2010).
This was one of my favorites because Tony Hale was such a super nice guy who let me interviewed him in person and didn’t mind going off-topic to get deep about the church. If I remember correctly, intern Whitney Grey accompanied me on that day at the Market City Cafe for coffee talk with Buster Bluth.
Enjoy a few of our exchanges.
from 11 Questions with Tony Hale in the August 14, 2008 issue of The 11th Hour. The cover story that week was a look at the next five years in Macon, which I might revisit on its own later.
Chris: I’d read that you started a support group for artistically-minded Christians while you were in New York. I don’t know what’s more impressive, that you’re a Christian in this field or that you did this in New York City.
Tony Hale: Or a Christian on “Arrested Development!” (laughs) What I found when I moved to New York is that there were a lot of artists who were Christians that weren’t really supported by the church. There wasn’t a support group. I don’t know about being outcasts in the church, but if it wasn’t the next “Left Behind” they weren’t excited about it.
11TH: So you and Kirk Cameron aren’t bros?
TH: I’ve actually seen him in an airport once. He looked like a nice guy. But anything that wasn’t blatantly Christian, people just weren’t encouraged to pursue. The church just didn’t know how to embrace it. They kinda saw it as “Is that the dark side, or…?” So, we just started bringing people together—it’s called The Haven—and people were allowed to do what we called “Inspirations,” where they did a dance or read something they wrote. We went to each other’s shows, prayed for each other, and it just grew into this fellowship. Some people were definitely still in the Christian bubble, or ghetto, or whatever, but the majority wanted to pursue their art outside the church, and do whatever inspired them.
11TH: Are there things you’d allow your character to do that Tony Hale never would?
TH: I think, for instance, that truth is truth. That’s one thing that a lot of people in the church are afraid of. Truth isn’t always pretty. That’s something I don’t have a problem with. If I agree with something as truth, I’ll say it. It might not always be in the prettiest package. You have to look at each thing individually. You can’t draw these clear lines—I won’t do this, I will do this.
11TH: So you’re open to porn?
TH: Yes. I do Christian porn. It is really fantastic. I have a huge audience. (Laughs.)
11TH: You grew up in South, right? Is it harder for you to identify yourself as a Christian or as a Southerner in this industry?
TH: Hm. That’s good. For me, it’s a little more about being a person of faith. The South, in the church, has a certain way it likes to do things. I shouldn’t limit this to the South—it happens everywhere—but down here, there’s definitely a Christian prototype and if you don’t match up to that you can be seen as different, odd. That’s something that, growing up here, I had some trouble with. Like, if you don’t love football, you’re clearly from a different planet. Football is pretty much a religion down here. You watch football, you go to a Baptist church, you wear your lace collars, you’ve got your docksiders, pastel shirts, play golf. Initially, I found myself being more judgmental down here until I realized that was ridiculous. It’s just a cultural thing. I’ve come to admire the folks who feel called to do “Left Behind.” Everybody’s got their thing.
11TH: Did any of this ever come into play on “Arrested Development?”
TH: There was one episode when a pastor’s wife fell for Jason’s character, and everyone was saying, “Oh, she’s falling for his secular ways!” The word “secular” was used like 50,000 times in that episode. But I remember thinking then that I wished that everyone in the church could’ve seen that episode because they don’t realize how much *they* use that word, secular. It creates such an us-them mentality. We’re all in the same boat. I think that “Arrested Development” was such a brilliant show; there was so much truth in that show. Of course, we were a really dysfunctional family but if we’re speaking of truth, every family is so effed-up. Every family’s got their stuff and the show was an extreme version of that—but there’s so much truth in that.
I’m starting to worry about this article. The whole church is going to turn against me.
11TH: So… how did you get involved with “Arrested Development” in the first place?
TH: It always happens when you least expect it. I got the audition and I saw the script and I was fascinated because I am such a fan of Christopher Guest and that style of comedy. So I went in for Buster Bluth and he was such a man-child. I did something that triggered their interest and they flew me out for the callback. I ended up staying to shoot the pilot, having to go to Old Navy because I didn’t have any underwear. It was all pretty exciting because I’d never been on a callback, and never thought I would’ve got it.
11TH: When did you find out whether or not the show was going to run?
TH: Well, I got married a month, I think, after the pilot was shot. And the show got picked up ten days before I got married, so it was like, “Hey, we’re moving to LA!” See, my wife had been a make-up artist on Saturday Night Live for seven years. This was a big transition for her too; she’d lived in New York for 13 years. But now we’ve been out there for five years and we really love it. We have a daughter—she is just such a stunning child. (He proves it, showing us pictures on his fancy phone.) Isn’t she sweet?
11TH: Were you ever intimidated when you saw the cast you would be working with on the show?
TH: No, I think we were all just riding a wave together. We loved the writing. It always surprised us. Week-to-week. It’d be like, “Oh, Liza Minelli is your love interest.” And, “Oh, you have a claw for your hand.”
11TH: So you didn’t know about that beforehand?
TH: No. We were doing some publicity thing, and Mitch (Hurwitz, the producer) said, “We’re thinking about cutting your arm off.” I remember, I fought it at first. “Really? I kind of like to use my arm. I’m kind of an expressive person.” But eventually, I just trusted them. Originally, it was going to be the whole arm, but then it was just the hand, which I was grateful for.