Actor Tony Hale has been working steadily in the film and television industries for the past two decades, but he is undoubtedly best known as the young-at-heart (to put it kindly) Buster Bluth in FOX’s Arrested Development and the put-upon aide Gary Walsh on HBO’s Veep. This past summer, he joined the all-star cast of the Toy Story franchise as the voice of the new character Forky in Toy Story 4, and when the Disney+ streaming service launches in November he’ll star as the title character in the original spinoff educational series Forky Asks a Question.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Tony Hale for an extended roundtable interview to discuss Forky Asks a Question, how he feels about having become part of the Toy Story family, and what Buster might be able to learn from Forky.
Q: What has the reaction to Forky been since Toy Story 4 was released?
Tony Hale: It seems like the reaction has been very positive. You never really know what it’s going to be like, but it’s really sweet to see kids’ reaction to Forky. When a parent tells their kids, ‘This is Tony, he voiced Forky,’ you can see the confusion of like, ‘I know what Forky looks like. This middle-aged man is not the [same as that] picture.’ [laughs] I tell the kid, ‘Forky asked if he could borrow my voice for his presence,’ and then they go, ‘Oh, okay. I got it now.’ It’s fun, because my daughter’s 13 and this has been the only thing [I’ve done] that she’s been allowed to see. It’s fun for us to be in the mall and see Forky in the Disney Store.
Q: How did it feel to revisit Forky in the context of Forky Asks a Question?
Tony Hale: I’m still reeling from the fact of being a part of the Toy Story franchise. Up until the premiere, I was convinced I was going to be replaced. [laughs] So, for them to want to continue on with Forky is just thrilling. Also knowing how Forky came about, he’s not only obviously very simply made, but he sees the world very simply. And I think this is the perfect format [for him], because he’s not afraid to ask incredibly simple questions. Not to sound all philosophical, but there’s a lot of crazy in the world right now. It gets complicated, and there’s a lot of chaos. And just having a presence that’s like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? What is a friend? What is money?’ Just to bring it down to basics… I know as an adult I crave that simplicity. I think it’s great.
Q: What’s the difference between your approach to a live-action role and stepping into the voice recording booth for animation?
Tony Hale: If I’m honest, it’s very intimidating. I fortunately had a lot of animation experience before Toy Story, but when I first started doing animation, I [was] so used to living in my own physicality, especially with comedy. On Veep, Selina Meyer didn’t even let me speak. She was constantly just like, ‘Shut up, shut up.’ So I had to live in the non-verbal. My face was the only way to communicate, with all the facial expressions. So to go into animation where you just have the microphone, I really learned you do the same performance, the same energy, all that in the booth, and then trust that it gets communicated through the microphone. And thankfully, hopefully, it does.
Q: What are some of the topics that Forky tackles in Forky Asks a Question?
Tony Hale: There is “What is Money?”, “What is a Friend?”, “What is a Computer?”, “What is Time?”… all these really basic things, and what I love about it is Forky has this kind of philosophical turn that he takes in the very end that I am just crazy about. You think it’s going one way, and it’s quirky and he seems off, and he’s like ‘What? What? What?’ And then in the end he’s just like, ‘Oh, but isn’t it about connection or relationships?’ And then Hamm, who’s very frustrated at first, all of a sudden he’s like, ‘Huh. It’s a good point, Forky.’ So I like that all of a sudden he turns into this philosopher.
Q: How has it felt to become a part of the Pixar and Toy Story families?
Tony Hale: I moved to New York to become an actor in 1995, which was the year that the first Toy Story came out. I remember seeing the movie and just being like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this,’ never thinking I would someday be a part of that franchise. So the whole full-circle moment has been very surreal. I’m so grateful to do a voice; it’s such an honor, but the amount of creators behind the scenes that created and wrote and designed this character– to me, they’re the real heroes. Not to make it sound cheesy, but they really are. They put the most work in. I feel very honored even to be a simple part of that process, but they’re the ones I feel like should get a lot of the spotlight.
Q: What other familiar Toy Story characters can we expect to see in Forky Asks a Question? Did you get to record your voice-over alongside any of the returning actors?
Tony Hale: Rex shows up, Hamm, Trixie… Forky has a friendship with a coffee cup. [laughs] He thinks, ‘I’m a spork, I can talk,’ so he just assumes everything can talk. He creates a little friend with a coffee cup, so that’s a new character. The only time that [the other actors and I] all connected was during press when the movie came out, which was very surreal. It was like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen and Annie Potts… and me! Which one of these is not like the other? That was quite a surreal experience.
Q: How did your work voicing Forky influence any other projects?
Tony Hale: I did this children’s book years ago called Archibald’s Next Big Thing, and it became a cartoon. It’s about a little chicken who’s always looking to his next thing and missing where he is. He realizes his big thing is not coming, it’s [wherever he is] right now. So in the series, everything is a big thing. Doing that, [I realized] if it’s not grounded in truth, I don’t think people can connect to it. People have an idea of animation [as] very put-on, very broad and detached from humanity. But you look at the Toy Story universe, and it’s very relational. They’re really talking to each other as human beings would talk to each other. That has that connection point, and that’s always a good standard to get back to, rather than something that feels not human. Forky has such a groundedness to him.
Q: Do you see any similarities between Forky and Buster Bluth? I feel like there’s a naivete in both characters.
Tony Hale: I think Buster could use a Woody in his life. I think Gary from Veep could use a Woody in his life… [laughs] Gary could definitely use Woody. That relationship with Woody is just so dear, because Forky came into this world and he was like, ‘Listen, I’ve got one route. I’m here to help people eat chili and go to the trash. That’s it.’ And then Woody comes along and he’s like, ‘No, you are capable of being loved and to love. You have value and a purpose.’ Who doesn’t want to be told that? I think Gary and Buster could have used that message. Absolutely.
Q: Obviously Toy Story 4 had a very long production process and went through a lot of changes before it hit theaters. What was the difference between working on a big computer-animated feature like that and then this series of three-minute shorts for Disney+?
Tony Hale: There was definitely an establishment of the character [before] the shorts, so it was nice to come in knowing who Forky was, knowing his perspective. [The creative team] had a really strong idea of who he was. When the film was happening, you could really feel the morphing of it all– really trying to find out who he was in the beginning, me coming in and having those discussions. [Forky] comes in having no idea what the universe is about. Anytime the toys dropped to the ground when humans walked in, he was like, ‘Why are you guys dropping to the ground? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.’
What I love [about] Pixar is, even though something starts a certain way, they’re not like, ‘It has to end up this way.’ They’re always open to however it morphs– whatever turns it takes. Even in Inside Out, I think it started where the relationship was between Fear and Joy, and then because of the openness they had it turned into Sadness and Joy. This was the same way: we were finding Forky along the way. And that was really exciting.
Forky Asks a Question premieres on Tuesday, November 12 with the launch of Disney+.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.