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Interview: Actor Tony Hale Talks ‘Toy Story 4’

June 17, 2019Ben MK

Perhaps best known as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, actor Tony Hale has carved out something of a career niche for playing oddball, neurotic characters. And his latest role — as a piece of disposable, plastic cutlery come to life in Disney and Pixar's Toy Story 4 — is no exception.

In this addition to the ever-popular Toy Story franchise, we reunite with Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), as they and the gang embark on a whole new animated adventure. This time, they're also joined by a neurotic arts and crafts project named Forky (Hale), a true-north-strong-and-free stuntman known as Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and an antique doll by the name of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks).

I sat down for a roundtable interview with Tony Hale ahead of the Canadian premiere of Toy Story 4, to chat about what it was like taking on the role of Forky, and to find out what he wants audiences to take away from the film. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

Forky is suffering from an existential crisis, but he's also a blank slate. What was the character creation process like for you?

Hale: They showed me a picture of him when I first came in. And I did have a moment of like, "Ha, not what I was expecting." [laughs] But then they just started to talk about his tremendous simplicity, and just how he saw the world so simply. And it all just made such sense to me.

If I'm honest, I feel like I immediately connected to Forky, and I still connect to Forky. Because he asks, "Why am I here?" And I feel like I'm constantly questioning, "How did I get here?" He's overwhelmed; I'm very overwhelmed by this process. He just has this very child-like wonder to him. Everything is new to him. Somebody says, "Bo Peep," and he's like, "What's a Bo?" He doesn't even understand the rules of the universe. They all drop to the ground when humans walk in, and he's like, "Why are you guys dropping to the ground?" I love that he's just one big sponge/spork.

How did you become involved in the film, and how did you feel when you saw the completed product for the first time?

Hale: I heard they were interested in me, and of course you're like, "What, this is crazy." Cuz the first Toy Story [opened] in 1995, and that was the year I moved to New York to become an actor. I remember seeing the movie and being like, "God, this animation is on another level." And I would never have thought I would be a part of this franchise. But they brought me out to Pixar, which is a creative wonderland, and then they just started describing him to me. They were like, "We thought of you, he has this neurotic energy." [laughs] And I was like, "Check." But they really just broke him down — and I just thought about my daughter, when she was probably 4 or 5. She had so many questions, just one question after the next. Just constantly absorbing everything around her.

I'm still overwhelmed. I just think Keanu, me, everybody — we're so thankful to be a part of this — but we are a very small piece of this pie. The artistry that has gone into this movie is the pie. They have put hours of labor into this. And it is a work of art. I was looking at it, and it looks like magic to me. I don't understand how someone can make Bo Peep's face look so much like porcelain. You're looking at that and you're like, "I don't get that." It just seems like a masterpiece to me.

Why do you think the Toy Story franchise has had such a lasting appeal?

Hale: I think one [reason] why Toy Story has lasted is you see this gang of characters who are all incredibly different, but they're for each other, and they root for each other, and they have each other's backs. And I just feel like we're not meant to do this life by ourselves; we need each other. You see this gang of misfits who see value in each other, and I love being a part of that journey for them. It was also really cool to share with my daughter, who's 13, cuz she can't really see a lot of my work. [laughs] So it was nice to share that with her.

Comedic timing is an important part of your character. What was it like crafting those smaller moments?

Hale: I think it did help that I was coming from Veep, where I felt like so much of my character [Gary] was just these odd noises that [he] would say. Because Selina Myer on Veep did not let me speak [laughs] and so I just had to speak in these grunts and moans. I think I brought a lot of that into Forky. But it's tricky, because with comedy, you're used to using your physicality; you're used to using the non-verbal — an eyebrow up or a look or some small thing. And when you just have the microphone, it's intimidating at first.

You get very used to working off the energy [of] another actor. Typically, when you do animation, you're very set apart, and there's this sheet of glass between you and the creators. You have your headphones, you do your lines, and then everything goes silent, and then you just see these mouths talking about you; and this wave of insecurity comes over you. Pixar keeps you in the same room as the directors and the producers and the writers, and so you feel like you're a part of the collaboration, so you don't feel so set apart. At least you feel a part of the process, and that really gave [me] ownership over being in the story.

You just touched on the challenges of working in animation, but what do you enjoy most about working in the genre?

Hale: I did this children's book years ago called Archibald's Next Big Thing [that's] gonna become a series on Netflix, and it's about a little chicken who's always looking to his next thing and missing where he is. And this bee travels around with him and he's like, "You gotta just be, man." But I love that the stories you can create don't have boundaries — you can just go anywhere with it. And to bring it back to Toy Story, it's like this very simple craft project can have this whole life. And then as you're watching him and as you're watching these toys, you start investing in their lives. And then if you take a step back, you're like, "I have invested a lot of emotional energy into a talking dinosaur." But that's how the fiction and the world can just suck you in.

When all is said and done, what do you want kids — and viewers, in general — to take away from your character and this film?

Hale: I really do love that aspect of however you're feeling, however you see yourself, you're so much more than maybe a moment where you feel like you're trash, or anything like that. But that you have purpose and you have value. Cuz we've all had those times, where you just kind of feel down on yourself. And I think nowadays there's so many things coming at you that can define you a different way. And no, the truth in you — the real core — is you have unbelievable value. And I love that.

Toy Story 4 is in theatres June 20th, 2019. Photo credit: Captive Camera.

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