Tony Hale may not be a household name in the UK, but he's definitely a household face. Whether you've seen him as hook-handed man-child Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, Selina Meyer's overly-devoted aide Gary Walsh in Veep or as ill-fated efficiency expert Emmett in Chuck, the acclaimed character actor is a comedic chameleon, regularly morphing into some of the wackiest, scene-stealing roles on TV – and his latest project is no exception.


Earlier this week, Hale made his Disney Plus debut in adventure drama The Mysterious Benedict Society, a series based on Trenton Lee Stewart's young adult novels of the same name. The Veep star plays the titular Mr Benedict, an eccentric headmaster who enlists the help of four orphans with unique skills to take down his evil twin brother, Mr Curtain (also played by Hale).

Taking centre stage to play not just one part but two in the adaptation of a beloved book series was a pretty daunting, yet not wholly unique, challenge for Hale, who's chirpily chatting to me over Zoom audio on a Monday evening (or rather morning for him).

"I think I always feel pressure," he says. "I remember when Arrested Development came back on Netflix or Veep and you know, I always want to match any expectation that is put out there.

"But I think when the writers give you the scripts and the world and the surprises – I love the element of surprise – and this show is full of that, I think that kind of helps the excitement and then you just enter into the story and hopefully detach from any expectation that I'm putting on myself."

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Tony Hale as Mr Benedict in The Mysterious Benedict Society
Tony Hale as Mr Benedict in The Mysterious Benedict Society Disney

It was the show's colourfully twee, Wes Anderson-esque world that drew Hale to the project in the first place, however the story became even more pertinent for him when COVID-19 changed life as we know it. "When the pandemic hit, it got a bigger beating for me just because the series begins when something called The Emergency is happening. It's kind of a global crisis and it's causing all this fear and anxiety.

"My character brings these four gifted kids together to find the source and I think what I love most about this is these kids don't have crazy magical powers. They don't have other-worldy superpowers. Their superpower is their creativity, their intellect and their empathy and after what we've been through, to me, those are the voices that stand out. Those are the voices that make a change because there's been so much noise and so much confusion."

While the series may sound as though it hits a little close to home, the coronavirus parallel is the only bleak aspect of The Mysterious Benedict Society, which transports viewers to a whimsical fictional town with a 70's vibe, populated by outlandish characters including Hale's Mr. Benedict. While Hale transforms into the floppy-haired, zany Benedict and works alongside the ever-brilliant Kristen Schaal (Benedict's side-kick Number Two), he's also tasked with playing his more modern-looking, corporate twin brother Mr Curtain.

"It was a little crazy going back and forth," Hale says on filming scenes with both characters. "But what I so appreciate is, you know, the actors, we're kind of a small slice of this pie because the pie is mainly made up of production and wardrobe and hair and make-up and lighting, all this kind of stuff."

Tony Hale as Mr Curtain in The Mysterious Benedict Society
Tony Hale as Mr Curtain in The Mysterious Benedict Society Disney

He adds that separating the two roles was massively helped by their respective offices and how different they were. "Specifically for Curtain – the "misunderstood brother" – his office was very cold and stoic and blues and blacks, and kind of darker but also stark, very brights whites, just not very comfortable. Then Benedict, the other brother, his office was very kind of browns and greens and warm and comfortable so it was very easy to step into these characters because of the environments that were created for me."

On the topic of misunderstood brothers, who can forget Arrested Development's Buster Bluth – the mollycoddled mummy's boy who gave the show some of its funniest moments, from dancing at his father's fake funeral inadvertently dressed as a stripper to finally buckling and embarks on a sweary rant directed by his alcoholic mother (played by the late Jessica Walter). It was also the role that gave Hale his big break in the industry at the age of 33 alongside the likes of Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, David Cross, Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat.

"I was doing mainly commercials in New York for about four years and enjoyed it, I was doing comedic commercials. And then that job came along and I had had a very hard time finding work outside of commercials, because they mainly just saw me as a commercial actor.

"And then that audition came along and I remember reading it and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this reminds me of all the Christopher Guest movies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show,' and I loved it but I thought, 'No, there's no way this is going to happen,' I wanted to check my expectations. And then it happened.

"I think that first year, I don't really remember much because I was so overwhelmed, I was like, 'I cannot believe I'm here.' I'd never been on a studio lot. I'd never had that much free food offered to me. All of a sudden they're telling me Liza Minelli [who played Lucille Austero on the show] is going to be my love interest. It was just such a wild ride and so much fun. I think I was kind of in a daze that first year and just so grateful to be there."

Tony Hale as Buster and Jessica Walter as Lucille in Arrested Development
Tony Hale as Buster and Jessica Walter as Lucille in Arrested Development Netflix

The sitcom ran from 2003 until 2006 on Fox, before returning for two more seasons in 2013 and 2018 respectively, spanning 15 years in total. As for whether Arrested Development could return for a sixth season, Hale says that's up to creator Mitchell Hurwitz.

"[Hurwitz] is one of those guys who is so, I think the word genius is kind of thrown out a lot, but he really has a touch of it and what comes out of his brain is so surprising and fun to see that I would just get excited to see what he would think of.

"I'll never forget, I remember when I had a story idea for Buster and I was wondering, 'what do you think about this?' And he goes, 'Yeah, that's funny, but I think I'm going to have a seal bite off his hand,' and I was like, 'That's better.'

If the show were to return, it would sadly be missing one of its stars, Jessica Walter, who passed away earlier this year aged 80 and worked closely with Hale, playing the toxic mother Lucille Bluth to Hale's Buster on the show. "Everybody who worked on the show, you know, Jessica Walter, who recently passed away, she was just a force, just so unbelievably talented. I mean, those people I just really love them a lot – I would get excited to do [season six] just to see what Mitch would come up with."

After Arrested Development, Hale went on to win an Emmy for his role as Gary Walsh in HBO's Veep (the American remake of The Thick of It) alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus, while in recent years, the 50-year-old has branched out into more kid-friendly titles, like The Mysterious Benedict Society, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Rugrats, Clifford the Big Red Dog and most notably, Toy Story 4, in which he voiced new toy Forky.

"I think it just kind of happened," he says of his success in the children's TV and film. "I did a children's book years ago called Archibald's Next Big Thing that became a TV show and I've worked in that space for five years."

Tony Hale voices Forky in Toy Story 4
Tony Hale voices Forky in Toy Story 4 Disney

What he does love about shows like The Mysterious Benedict Society and other titles in the kids TV realm is the universal messages behind them. "Those simple truths are what I think, in addition to kids, are what everybody needs to hear about. How you treat people and how you try and see the best in everyone and the best in situations and kindness. Even though those are labelled as children's programming, it needs to be labelled adult, whatever an adult needs to hear on a daily basis."

As for Forky – the plastic spork who became the breakout character of Toy Story's forth and supposedly final film – would Hale be open to reprising the character if another sequel were to come about? "Well, when Pixar calls, you run, you jump, you do whatever.

"I have such admiration for what they create and when I was voicing Forky, I was able to go to the Pixar headquarters up in California and I mean, it's just like a creative wonderland," he adds. "If they called again, I'd be like, yeah I'm in. I love Forky's look on life – he asks a lot of questions but also the whole message. He saw himself as trash, I don't even know if he knew what that meant but that's what he knew he was. He was like, 'I help people eat chilli and then I go in the trash,' but Woody came along and said, 'You know, you're more than that. You're loved and worthy of love.'

"Talk about simple truths – everybody needs to hear that."


The Mysterious Benedict Society is available to stream on Disney Plus. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year now. Check out more of our Sci-Fi and Fantasy coverage, as well as our guides to the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.