Roll out the red carpet for Tony Hale, and he’d probably be the first to look over his shoulder to see what star has pulled into town.
Though the Florida native recently landed a role as one of the main cast members on Fox’s critically acclaimed Arrested Development, this unassuming actor’s just happy to have a break from the day-to-day grind of auditioning.
“You’re on constant interview as an actor, to the point where auditioning is really the job,” Hale said. “I’m just very thankful to be working. It’s almost like vacation.”
He’s on the phone from a set in Los Angeles and has just finished shooting a scene from the show TIME magazine has declared “Fall’s best new sitcom.”
In thick-rimmed glasses and an all-white suit, Hale’s character, Buster Bluth, is the epitome of quirky. Buster’s made a career out of attending graduate school, filling his schedule with classes on Native American tribal ceremonies and mapping uncharted territories. With a permanent residence at his mother’s home and a tendency toward panic attacks, this character is sure to provide seasons of moments as unpredictable as the path that brought Hale to prime time television.
Though Hale spent the bulk of his high school days onstage, he decided to pursue a journalism degree in college, never believing he could make a living out of acting.
A year after graduating from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., Hale left the unsatisfying thoughts of a career in advertising and packed his bags for Regent University to study what he has always had a passion for—acting.
In the summer of 1995, he moved to New York and began building his professional portfolio, starring in numerous national commercials for Herbal Essences, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, Volkswagen, Sony, Tide and the NFL. He also landed guest appearances on such popular shows as Sex and the City and The Sopranos.
Hale’s role on Arrested Development came as a complete surprise. “I’ve been working in New York for seven years and have always wanted to work in television, but it’s difficult because most shows are shot in Los Angeles,” Hale said. “Sending in a tape of yourself is not the same as meeting in person, but they liked my tape and flew me out to L.A. I had only planned on staying for one night, but they ended up keeping me for three weeks. I had to go buy underwear at Old Navy because I hadn’t prepared to be there that long.”
Before Hale began working with some of L.A.’s finest, including his current producers Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), Brian Grazer (The Nutty Professor, 24) and Mitch Hurwitz (The Golden Girls), he could be found on his knees between Broadway and Sixth in New York City, playing one of the other, more important roles of his life.
Upon his arrival to the Big Apple, Hale saw a need to bring light into what can be known as a very dark and discouraging industry. He, along with 10 others, founded “The Haven,” a Bible study created specifically for the creative professionals of New York—actors, dancers, musicians, writers, producers, opera singers, filmmakers and even educators. Its mission is “to encourage and equip artistically-minded individuals to be more effective for Christ in their various areas of influence.” The group of believers meets at the Lambs Theater in Times Square.
“We called it ‘The Haven’ because we saw it as a safe place for artists. There’s a lot of rejection and uncertainty in this business. It’s a time for artists to give thanks and get the focus off of themselves,” Hale said.
Armistead Booker is one of the nearly 200 who regularly attend the Monday night respite from the rush of the city. He participated in a small group Hale led while working with The Haven.
“Slowly but surely, I’ve come to know both sides of Tony’s life, his passion for finding ministry opportunities in unexpected places and his naturally funny, if not a bit odd, talents on camera,” Booker said.
Though his time with The Haven has been put on hold because of his latest move to California, Hale doesn’t feel like his Christian witness has to come to a stop due to his change of location.
“It’s about showing the love of Christ wherever you are,” Hale said. “In comedy, there’s a lot of cynicism because some of the really good comedy comes out of extreme brokenness. A lot of people in this industry are hurting, and you find it’s a good opportunity to show the love of Christ to those around you.”
Though some might argue that mixing ministry with a predominately secular industry is an impossible feat for a Christian actor, Hale believes it to be a necessary challenge to rise to.
“God is the ultimate creator. He has the most creativity,” Hale said. “Unfortunately, Christians have boxed in God in the entertainment industry. They treat the subject as if God can only be sold in Christian bookstores, but truth is truth anywhere it is spoken. As Christians, we need to stretch ourselves and be more creative, instead of focusing on a certain market. Only focusing on the Christian market is not creative. Shows that are completely sexual aren’t being creative either. There are ways to sell out and cop out.”
While Arrested Development is receiving rave reviews, and Hale’s character has obtained an extended contract, he admitted show business has not brought him endless bliss.
“I always thought the ultimate thing in life would be to have a sitcom, and that would completely satisfy,” Hale said. “Now that I have it, it doesn’t. It’s great, and I’m very blessed to be in the position I’m in, but it doesn’t completely satisfy. Whatever someone’s ‘ultimate’ is, it will never fully satisfy. Only God can do that, and I had Him all along.”
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