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'Veep's Tony Hale Lives to Serve

The comedian talks bag-men, beta males and what his 'Veep' character has in common with Buster Bluth

April 4, 2014 4:30 PM ET
Tony Hale gary veep
Tony Hale as Gary on 'Veep.'
Paul Schiraldi/HBO

There are people who are natural born leaders, who breathe in the rarified air of political power and powwow with high-ranking policy wonks and senators. And then there are the folks who make sure those same government movers and shakers have the proper lip balm, a hot cup of chamomile tea and Kleenex they need on a nanosecond's notice. That's how you'd describe Gary, the official "bag man" to Vice-President Selina Meyer on HBO's comedy Veep; shadowing Julia Louis-Dreyfus' perpetually frustrated, a-heartbeat-away-from-being-POTUS politico, this superloyal lackey caters to the V.P.'s every need (toting a massive bag dubbed the "Leviathan") while enduring massive amounts of abuse. In the power-hungry D.C. world of Beltway backstabbers and buffoons that showrunner Armando Iannucci and his writers have constructed, Gary stands out as the ultimate beta male: A nice guy who possesses a moral compass and lives to serve. No wonder people step all over him.

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"He's a lap dog stuck in a pack of alpha dogs," Tony Hale says regarding his Veep character, before letting out a high-pitched laugh that immediately brings to mind his best-known comic creation: the rubber-handed, mother-fixated Buster Bluth from Arrested Development. Like that other runt-of-the-litter posterboy, Gary walks a fine between inviting viewers' sympathies and inspiring folks to throttle him; the part also offers Hale another chance to work in a crack comedic ensemble that play off each other like bebop jazz musicians.

Hale has promised that "there's a different side to Gary" that will make itself apparent in the show's third season, premiering on Sunday, April 6th. So Selina's longtime right-hand man will finally cut the metaphorical apron strings and start asserting his own identity, then? "Has he grown testicles, you mean?" Hale deadpanned. "No. That has not changed." He then filled us in on what Gary has in common with Buster and the secret behind that showstopping bit he did with Louis-Dreyfus at last year's Emmys.

What was your first impression of Gary when you read the pilot's script?
My first impression was: This guy really needs to find an identity away from his boss. You know, the environment that he operates in is filled with people who are trying to get ahead. Whereas Gary, he's really just a sweet guy who lives to be Selina's whipping post. Although he probably hit the wall around 15 years ago and just stuck around. I get the feeling he's used to being in an environment where he constantly disappoints women. [Laughs] I don't know that he could survive in a healthy work place. He's devolved out of necessity.

He lives to serve…and disappoint.
Yeah, but more importantly, he lives to get Selina's approval. The high point of his life may have been that episode where Selina is in a drug-induced stupor and she told him everything he's ever wanted to hear. Then the drugs wear off and reality comes crashing back, and [makes deflating sound]. I admire the way he gets knocked down and gets back up, gets knocked down again and gets back up again. He has an amazing recovery process. [Pause] It's a very codependent recovery process, but a process nonetheless. 

Did you shadow a real-life political "bag-man" the way that actors in cop shows go on ride-alongs?
Before we shot the pilot, most of the cast met our real-life counterparts, and I talked to a guy who, when he was in his twenties, worked for a well-known politician. He had no social life, he never saw his family; he lived this politician's life non-stop for two years. Eventually, he left and went on to do other things. Gary has not quite got to that point. He's now in his forties with no social life, he never sees his family…essentially, he's the guy I met if he never left. He's become his job.

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Is there a secret to being a good poltiical bag-man?
Well, there's the healthy way of doing it and the unhealthy way of doing it. The healthy way is to have something outside of the job that does not involve the person you serve at all. The unhealthy way is to do it for 20 years and lose your identity. That's where Gary is.

It's almost as if someone was an actor and they played a beloved part that made them famous — then they became so identified with that character that if they, say, kept getting called that character's name in public, they might start to feel the role had taken over their lives. 
[Laughs] I have no idea what you mean.

Right.
I remember when I'd just finished that first run of Arrested Development and I'd go on auditions for other things, I'd go out of my way to try and do something 180-degrees different. Which is kind of silly when you think about it, because let's face it: If a casting agent is looking to fill the part of a lawyer, they're probably not going to say, "Oh, you know who would be really good for this? The guy who played Buster Bluth!" [Laughs]

"I want a lawyer with that Buster Bluth kind of feel!"
"We need to Bluth-anize this part!" Look, Buster was basically an animated character. He could have walked straight out of an Adult Swim cartoon. That was one of the reasons he was the most fun part to play.

Do you still have people coming up to you in the street saying "Hey, brooother"?
The one bad thing about that is that I used to say "Hey brother!" to everybody; it was just the usual greeting I used every time I ran into somebody. Now, I find myself going, "Hey brother, what's going…argh!" People think I'm doing a bit from the show. My greeting has been robbed from me.

Now, I tend to get a lot of people saying, "Oh, I could really use a Gary in my life." No. No, you couldn't. Not unless you want keep an in-house therapist as well. [Laughs] You're going to be adopting a lot of baggage.

So have you embraced the fact that people think of you as the beta-male guy? Is it more like, "Well, this isn't a bad niche to be in?"
If the niche is "recessive males with maternal issues that are really well-written," then yeah, I'll take that. The thing is, it's actually a blast to play both of those guys. My comic idols were Bob Newhart and Tim Conway, who knew how to sustain comic tension by just staring straight ahead. There's really nothing better than being in a situation that is chaotic and batshit crazy, and you can just work that awkward, uncomfortable sense of tension for as much as it's worth. There's so much to be mined from that, and Gary and Buster are endless sources of that. Especially Buster.

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The thing at the Emmys that you and Julia Louis-Dreyfus did onstage….
…When she won, yeah. 

Was that planned in advance in case she won or was that an impromptu thing?
Basically, Julia called me that morning and said, "Hey, if I were to win, would you carry my bag up to the stage?" My first thought was, this sounds fun. My second thought was, my god this could completely bomb. It's like doing theater on live television with no script and no idea where it's going to go. But you say yes, because it's Julia and you know she won't let you down. I was glad it worked out but yeah…very daunting.

Has anyone approached you about doing a Gary line of Leviathans?
[Laughs] They would never do that. He's very exacting about how a Leviathan has to work, to the point of being totally annoying about it. Keep in mind that if Gary saw Tony Hale carrying a Leviathan, he probably be filled with nothing but contempt. It'd be a huge multi-pocketed bag filled with nothing but water bottles and gum wrappers. Plus he's customized Selina's bag to an extent that no mere bag could ever be duplicated on a mass scale. He's had special leather flown in from Italy and sewn in by only the finest craftsmen. 

Gary has that bag down pat.
It's the one thing he has control over in his life.

Do you think the show taps into a certain frustration that people have with our government…that it really is run by petty tyrants and idiots?
Obviously, we're a satire, but I like to think that it actually shows that government is populated by regular people who freak out and are insecure and anxious. Really government is just like high school, in that the closer you are to the popular people, the more power you feel. It's just that on a much bigger scale. I mean, it's a pressure cooker in D.C., so anyone who steps into that ring…my hat is off to them.

Do you have a favorite insult from the show?
That's a tough question. We have a writing team that's completely made up of Brits, and they have an insult vocabulary that is astounding. I tend to rotate the same four or five cuss words but these guys…they find the most creative ways to just tear you apart. I'm pretty partial to anything that gets directed at Jonah. There was one line where [actor] Zach Woods calls him a bag of dicks…

"You're a Frankenstein monster, if the monster was made up of dead dicks."
[Laughs] If you can insult somebody like that, you're a genius. You deserve to be in office.

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