June 2005

Alumni Spotlight: Actor Tony Hale

"...As Buster Bluth, the youngest son of a profoundly and hilariously dysfunctional family, Hale has created one of the richest comic characters on television..."

Actor Tony Haleby Sean Flynt

Actor Tony Hale '92 portrays Buster Bluth, the overwound man-child of the Emmy-winning Fox television series Arrested Development. As Buster, the youngest son of a profoundly and hilariously dysfunctional family, Hale has created one of the richest comic characters on television.

The character of Buster has not so much evolved as mutated, developing in unpredictable but fascinating ways. Of these, perhaps the strangest is his romance with his mother’s friend Lucille Austero, portrayed by a loopy Liza Minelli in one of the oddest romantic pairings in TV comedy. Hale said he never imagined himself playing a romantic role opposite Minelli, but relishes the experience. "She was awesome," he said. "We had a great time and hopefully, if we get picked up for a third season, she'll be back next year."

If there's a note of uncertainty in Hale's hopes for a third season of Arrested Development, it isn't only professional humility. The innovative show--featuring multiple, outrageous story lines, narration by Ron Howard and the confidence to eschew a laugh-track--is regularly praised by critics, and has received concrete validation in the form of prestigious awards. But it is often described as a "cult favorite," a phrase suggesting a relatively small, if loyal, following and, as a subtext, inevitable commercial doom. Has the audience for high-quality programming shrunk to such an un-influential size? "I don't know, actually," Hale said. "I do think our show breaks the typical sitcom format and style, so it may take some time for audiences to adjust and enjoy it. People say the show is too smart for television but, actually, it's a pretty goofy show with a lot of physical comedy and crazy characters which, I believe, can entertain a widely diverse audience."

Buster arguably is the craziest of the Arrested Development characters and Hale’s favorite in a career that already has included guest appearances on Sex In the City, The Sopranos and The Street as well as national television commercials and film roles in Fortunes and My Blind Brother. "Buster is so incredibly out-there and it's been a blast playing out his unique neurosis, but of course I'd love to continue and do as many interesting characters as possible," he said. "We'll see what happens."

What's happening next is filming for the movie Stranger Than Fiction, in which Hale will appear alongside Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. He said shooting for that film--directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball)--will begin this summer.

As quickly as Hale is rising in his profession, he seems only geographically removed from his Macon, Georgia, roots and Samford education. He remains a devout Christian, for example. "Having a spiritual foundation in your life is an absolute necessity," he said. In fact, Hale met his wife Martel Thompson (an Emmy-winning makeup artist) when she attended the Bible study group Hale founded to support Christian actors and artists while he was living and working in New York City.

Hale returned to Samford's campus a few years ago and still has fond memories of his experience here, especially of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Jon Clemmensen ("very cool guy") and hanging out in the cafeteria with friends. "I also have great memories of getting ready for Step Sing," he said. Hale also recalls the stress of graduation and offered words of hope for the Class of 2005. "I remember getting so freaked out about graduating from college and not knowing what I was going to do with my life...," he said. "I would encourage all the graduating seniors to try and relax. Anxiety does nothing. It's all going to work out, and everything unfolds itself in time."

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