Most people caught their first glimpse of Tony Hale in his iconic role as Buster Bluth on the Emmy winning television series “Arrested Development.” They might be surprised to learn that this dedicated actor is also passionate about his faith. Over a slice of chocolate pie, Tony shared some things he learned from working with teens, acting and Jesus.
Q: How does a guy go from being a youth pastor to getting your hand bitten off by a seal? (NOTE: Buster, Tony’s character on "Arrested Development," lost his hand.)
I only worked with youth for about six months, helping out Linda Smeltzer as an interim youth pastor. I started because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And then I decided that’s not what I want to do with my life.
Q: What made you realize that?
It is a very specific choice to want to work with youth. It’s not just a job. You’ve got to be seriously invested. Your dedication for it has to be huge. I loved kids, but I didn’t want to do it full time. I’m sure when my daughter gets older I will be really involved and have a renewed focus on it. I did have a passion for acting and I didn’t study it in college because I didn’t think I could make a career out of it. So I just decided to move to Virginia for graduate school [in theater] and after that I went to New York. I look back and say, “I don’t know how I had the guts to do all that,” but I did. I moved to New York and didn’t know anybody, slept on all these different couches. I was young and 25 so I had that kind of crazy energy.
Q: Is there anything that you learned from working with teens that has helped you now?
It really helps me being a father. I met so many kids that didn’t have a family foundation and it starts with the home and they were the ones that didn’t have the support system that a child needs. They looked to those in the church to really help them, which I think they should, but youth group is so much more beneficial when you’ve got the family working with it in the child’s life, rather than just the youth group.
Q: You're the king of awkward, embarrassing comedy. What's your most awkward, embarrassing or just plain funny memory from your days as a youth pastor?
It's actually difficult for me to remember a time that wasn't awkward.
Q: If you could go back and give youth pastor Tony advice, what would you say?
The big thing I would tell him is you can't fix these kids. A lot of people in youth ministry take on unrealistic responsibility that they can be the answer to these kids’ problems. That’s just not true. You can do the best you can and inspire them and are there for them, but they’ve got their own life and you have to totally surrender the kid's outcome to God, that responsibility over that child.
Q: Since you work a lot in comedy, I'm curious -- How your faith impact your ability to be funny?
Good question...hmmm. I don't know how my faith impacts my ability to be funny. But I do know my faith and my ability to be funny helps me cope with the complete chaos of life.
Q: Your job as an actor is to become another person, a character who is often really screwed up and making choices you personally wouldn’t make. What effect does your faith have on your approach to this very difficult profession?
My acting has really taught me in my faith because what I see as a character that is really messed up and made really bad choices, I have realized that every single one of those things is inside of me.
Many times we create in us the mentality that "they [characters and real people] are really messed up.” But when you take the perspective of “I am you. I am you. I am you,” then I hopefully realize it is by God’s grace that I’m not making those same choices. I’m just a step away. That potential is inside of me. So what I consider a crazy character or a guy who’s really screwed up, that’s all inside of me.
Q: That’s any Christian.
Yeah, I think about the people that I can’t stand and everything I can’t stand about them is inside of me. The ego is inside of me, the entitlement is inside of me and I needed to be reminded of that more.
Q: It’s only by the grace of God working in us that we aren’t also in that dark place.
You know these people that are saying it’s so dark over there [in Hollywood] are probably suffering from a porn addiction in the privacy of their own home. We can put on a good front, but there are no fronts to put on. We’re a mess. It’s a matter of perspective. Someone can point at “dark Hollywood” and ignore the junk in their own lives.
Q: I know you are actively involved in helping other men. Why do you invest so much time in discipleship?
I don’t even like using the word “discipleship” because from my college experience, that word was very “do what I do, don’t do what I don’t do” and there was like a Christian prototype somewhere that people are trying to match. I think true mentoring and true standing alongside someone is learning where they are at and allowing their uniqueness to flourish. So I spend most of my time just listening and sharing with them the lessons that I’ve learned rather than one-size-fits-all.
Q: What really helps spur your own spiritual growth?
Honesty. Having a support system and a place to be completely safe and honest, without judgment. I think that is the absolute key. There's something very powerful in just bringing stuff into light. I think that is a huge component of mentorship, discipleship, whatever you call it.
Q: What advice – other than “don’t do it” (laughter) – would you give a teen who wants to pursue a career in the arts?
I think they have to examine why they want to do it, because many times we want to do it because we want to prove other people wrong. That’s not the right motivation: to prove other people wrong, to be successful or famous. That's not where a person should get their identity, their worth. I think the big thing is, if you are really interested in it, don’t look at movies or L.A. or New York as the “meccas.” If acting is really what you want to do, then that art of acting can flourish right where you are, whether it is local films, commercials, theater. Make the most of where you are at and then see where it goes.
Tony Hale has numerous credits in television (“Chuck,” “Community,” “Royal Pains,” etc.) and film (including “happythankyoumoreplease,” “The Informant!” and “Stranger Than Fiction”). He currently stars alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus on HBO’s “Veep.” Tony lives in Los Angeles with his incredible wife, their brilliant daughter and a nefarious mortgage. To have Tony speak at your church, contact email@example.com.