He’s voiced a pope, rocked out to Mr. Roboto and lost his hand to a dolphin. Now he’s playing best friend to an almost-serious Will Ferrell. After rising to fame as Buster Bluth on the tragically short-lived series “Arrested Development,” Tony Hale is taking Hollywood by storm, with a slate of new films in various stages of production—including Paul Feig’s Unaccompanied Minors and Michael Lehmann’s Because I Said So. But first up is Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, a comic tale of what happens when life imitates art.

MM recently spoke with Hale about his latest film and why he hopes there’s a little bit of Buster in all his characters.

Jennifer Wood (MM): You’ve studied acting since you were a teen, earned a BA in Journalism, worked as a youth counselor and been a struggling theater actor in New York City. Did you ever think all of this would amount to becoming a pop culture icon—first as the “Mr. Roboto guy” for Volkswagen and then as Buster Bluth?

Will Ferrell and Tony Hale
Will Ferrell and Tony Hale in Marc Forster’s Stranger than Fiction (2006).

Tony Hale (TH): Pop culture icon? I don’t know about that, but I’m grateful to be a working actor.

MM: Having played the character of Buster for three seasons, how difficult was it to transition out of that project? Both for you and in terms of what people are looking for when they cast you? Do you find that a lot of what you get offered has a little bit of “Buster” in it?

TH: You know, every year we were on the chopping block, so we weren’t that surprised when they officially gave us the ax. Because of that, all of us spent a lot of mental energy planning our next steps. I wanted to stay in television because my wife and I were having a baby, and at least for the first year I wanted to be near home. It really wasn’t a difficult transition; I fortunately transitioned into a great new show with Andy Richter, “Andy Barker PI,” and the writers are fantastic. Buster was such an innocent, neurotic mess… hopefully every character I do, I’ll keep a little of him.

MM: You’ve seemed to easily transition between television and film work. Do you prefer one medium over the other?

TH: I enjoy both mediums and I don’t think there should be a difference at all. A good performance needs to be based in truth, whether it’s television or film.

MM: How about your role in Stranger Than Fiction? Can you talk a little bit about your character, Dave? How did you get involved with the project?

TH: Dave works at the IRS office with Will Ferrell’s character, Harold. Dave’s really his only friend and Harold confides in him when he begins to hear the voice of the narrator. Dave’s a great character. He loves his life, even at the IRS, and dreams of going to space camp. I remember reading the script and loving what Zach Helm wrote. It was such a fantastic idea and I was thrilled when I got the part.

MM: As much as the film is a comedy, it also makes some statements on human nature in general. As an actor, you are an entertainer. But do you feel that there should always be a deeper message in your work? Or should movies and television be for entertainment’s sake only?

TH: They both serve a purpose. It’s awesome to be a part of Stranger Than Fiction, where the audience can leave the theater feeling hopeful, but it’s also great to do “Arrested Development” and allow the audience to laugh and maybe leave some of their anxiety for a half hour.

MM: When, in 50 years, you look back on your career, what are the things you hope to accomplish? How do you hope to be remembered?

TH: To be honest, as I mentioned before, it’s great to be a working actor but, even though this will sound cheesy and provide an “Oprah” moment, I really want to be remembered as a great father, faithful husband and good friend.

MM: What’s up next for you?

TH: I’m shooting this NBC show with Andy Richter and I’m about to voice a character for the upcoming animated feature Tales of Despereaux with Dustin Hoffman, Justin Long and Kevin Kline. I’m very excited about that.

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