Tony Hale’s role as Veep‘s Gary resulted in four Emmy nominations and two wins.
If you think you know Tony Hale’s performance as Veep‘s subservient Gary, think again. Even I took it for granted. It wasn’t until a second viewing really turned me onto the sheer brilliance of Tony Hale’s physical comedy. Your eyes gravitate toward star Julia Louis-Dreyfus or toward the bumbling, Keystone Cops White House staff members, but Tony Hale’s Gary is laser focused on the action. Gary often seems to live in an alternate universe, busying himself with who knows what so emphatically that it almost becomes a story behind the main story.
Talking to Hale about his turn as Gary made me realize that he’s so much more than a gifted comic actor. He’s a brilliant interpretive actor, always able to provide what he calls Gary’s “stink-eyed reactions” when he sees those working against his beloved Selina Meyer. Tony Hale and the talent team of Veep writers created a character so completely devoid of his own backstory and personality that he becomes a brilliant mirror of the action around him. It takes far more than comic skills to convey that with such incredible gusto.
Tony Hale may have won two Emmy awards already, but you cannot count him out for a third after Gary’s nuclear meltdown at the end of Season 5. Just like you cannot ever count out Tony Hale as one of modern comedy’s greatest working actors.
How was the transition for you from Armando Iannucci to David Mandel for Season 5?
When they told us that Armando was leaving and a lot of the writers were leaving, I highly respected their decision because he was away from his family, away from the UK. It was tough, though, because we’ve become family. They understand the characters so well. They write for them so well. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “I’m happy for you, but I’m worried about the show.” But then when Julia told us about Dave Mandel and her history with him working on Seinfeld and stuff and we got a chance to meet him, I felt like the transition was really smooth. Once everything started moving, I was just so impressed on how they jumped into the tone and the vibe of the show. How seamless it was.
Yes, it was remarkably consistent. If anything it got better…
Yeah, totally. A lot of that credit goes to David and his team of writers because they spent a lot of time communicating with Armando and watching the show. All that combined really helped.
Let’s talk about Gary. When you’re working out your performance as Gary, what generally do you think makes Gary tick as a character?
I just pull up a lot of my own pain. [Both laugh]
Sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at your pain.
Well, it’s taken years and years of therapy… I dunno. It’s one of those things that’s a real combination. He’s been with Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) way before she was even vice president. He’s just one of those guys who’s latched onto someone else and doesn’t have his own identity. And then when he found Selina – and I’m sure there are a lot of “mom issues” there – her identity became his identity. He so desperately wanted to be around her, and he ignores a lot. He ignores the verbal abuse she heaps on him. He just kind of has blinders on. It’s very much like a domestic abuse situation where he bounces back and ignores all the behavior that was directed towards him. Also, what’s fun about Gary is that he can’t really say a lot since he’s not a guy who speaks out about policy and doesn’t really have a lot to say. He non-verbally expresses a lot of what’s going on around him. When she wants to say something but she can’t or express something that she can, he’s expressing it on his face right behind her. He can’t speak up, but he says a lot on his face.
That leads really well into my next question. One thing I noticed re-watching the season was your hilarious side moments portraying Gary in an entirely different world than the central action. Are all of these moments scripted or are you allowed to improv more than others?
Some of it’s scripted. He can’t ever speak out and say what he wants to say, so whatever other way he wants to express it – his eyes or his face – that’s the way he expresses it. Sometimes, that non-verbal is so loud that Selina tells him he needs to chill. He will just give death stares or try to be a comforting presence to her. He will give a stink eye to a lot of people and hope that they pick up on that. That’s what’s so great about that last episode where he had that opportunity to let loose because he was able to finally say what he’s been wanting to say all these years but never had the opportunity. He’d reached his last straw. He’s held the belief this entire season that why didn’t people just hand her the presidency? She’s obviously the best candidate. He thinks they have Jesus in front of them, but they just don’t realize it. And he knew how no one was stepping up to the plate, and they screwed up. He’d had it, and he just blew up.
That scene was amazing. Was it your favorite of the season?
I don’t know if it was my favorite. One of the most fun moments was when her mom was in the hospital and eventually passes away. He’s unable to handle all of that. And then that last conversation in the chapel. But there was something about that last moment in the season that was really gratifying as an actor. I love playing out that anxiety and constant sitting at attention, but there’s just something about letting loose. Those moments are very rare, but when they do happen it’s really gratifying.
He’s held the belief this entire season that why didn’t people just hand her the presidency? She’s obviously the best candidate. He thinks they have Jesus in front of them, but they just don’t realize it.
I’m so glad you brought up the “Mother” episode because, whether it’s politically correct or not, I love that moment when you can’t handle the conversation between Selina and the doctor and you crumple in the chair. Selina turns and calls you “Stephen Hawking.” It’s so funny, but so wrong, but so funny.
So. So. Wrong. What’s also funny in that scene is watching Sarah Sutherland sobbing in that scene. She’s such a loud crier.
Yes! This season has been really tremendous. Everything really snaps. Given what happens at the end of Season 5, what happens to Gary in Season 6? No spoilers, of course…
[Laughs] Honestly, I couldn’t give you spoilers if I wanted. I have no clue. There’s something where they’re focusing on Selina post-presidency. It’s really her desperation to remain relevant. At once, she’s the Queen of America, and then it all goes away. They’re going to look at what that does to her and what it does to Gary. Gary will fight to the end to still carry her purse. He will do whatever it takes to stand next to his woman.
So, this is your fourth Emmy nomination. How is the Emmy experience different for you as compared to your first?
Well, there’s really no difference. It’s still this incredibly shocking event to me. I’ve been an actor for over 20 years, and I never thought something like this would happen. To have the opportunity to work with this cast, to work with these writers, and then to get recognition by the Emmys is like living in an alternate universe. It literally never stops being overwhelming or exciting to me. It’s insane.
Tony Hale and all five seasons of Veep are available on HBO Go and HBO Now.