Interview: Tony Hale
Veep’s Bagman Up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy
On Veep, the hit HBO comedy series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the pressure of politics is relentless. It seems like some kind of fantastic setback or affront hits Vice President Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) on average about every three minutes. When things go this wrong this often, you need a bagman, and that’s where Tony Hale comes in. Hale plays Gary Walsh, the VP’s personal aide. It’s a job that doesn’t exist much outside of Washington D.C., but it’s taken very seriously there. Usually referred to as the “body man” or “body person,” the personal aide goes everywhere with their official, typically standing within a few yards at all times so as to be available for requests, and to observe and run interference on any incoming challenges. Most people would do a job like this when they were young and full of energy, and then quit after a few years, but not Gary. For Gary, carrying the bag that contains Selina Meyer’s stuff and picking up her shoes and sliding them under her feet when someone barges into her office is all part of what it means to serve.
Tony Hale, who many of you will remember from his uncanny turn as the neurotic amputee Byron “Buster” Bluth on Arrested Development, has taken the Veep body man’s bag and run with it. He is nominated for an Emmy this year in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Hale spoke about the nod and the work by phone last week.
What’s going on with Gary Walsh? He’s so devoted, there’s something almost mysterious about it. Yes, well, in Gary’s ideal world, I think that he and Selina would be married, because already it’s like he is married to the job. At one point, when the story took a turn that made it look like he would be let go, I don’t think Gary knew what he would do after that. He has the job he wants. I imagine that his home is like a Costco version of the bag, with extra supplies of all the stuff he carries.
You are working with a talented creator on this show, Armando Iannucci, who has taken a strong interest in its production. How has that affected the show? The great thing about this production is that HBO has given Armando Iannucci the freedom to do what he does best, which is this particular style of show. It involves a huge rehearsal process — something that another network might not want to pay for — and those improvisations are then scripted. It’s quite fantastic really. There are British writers capturing what we say and writing it all down.
The profanity can get pretty thick on the show. How does that make you feel? It’s horrible to me how much they all cuss. But I know there’s a lot of truth in it. Anytime you put someone under that much pressure, they have to freak out, so I think in a way all the harsh language actually shows the humanity of these public figures.
Is it fun working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus? The reaction shots to her lines are often cutaways to you. Julia can do even the smallest thing, like these little noises that she makes when she’s listening to someone, and she makes me laugh. There are so many layers to her performance. And she’s a fantastic team player and she has a great understanding of comedy, so that creates opportunities for everyone around her. As for my reactions to her in character, well, there’s a lot going on in the body of Gary’s, so maybe that’s what you are seeing.
I enjoyed the episode with Dana, Gary’s girlfriend, and especially the lunch you had with her and Selina. What was that like? Ah, that was a career high point for me — a full scene with Jessica St. Clair, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and me. Not bad. It was a hard moment for Gary, though, because I don’t think he was ready for the gift. To give him another bag, after how many hours he must have spent sewing all the special pockets into the first one, it just shows how unaware Selina can be of what Gary does. And Jessica was hilarious as Dana, so overbearing. You know that is exactly how Gary’s mom treated him as well.
Some of the show’s funniest bits occur while other people are talking as you and Selina interact physically, like with the shoes that you are constantly finding for her. Do you enjoy the movement stuff? I love physical comedy. My favorite show is Wipeout. That’s the most fun of the role for me, because Julia is an incredible partner in that. You can have absolute confidence with her, and that allows you to go crazy, because you know that whatever you throw out there, she’s going to catch the ball and send it right back at you.
The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be held at the Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, September 22. The deadline for returning at home ballots for the telecast awards is Friday, August 30. For more on the Emmys, visit emmys.com.