'Toy Story 4' Star Tony Hale On Playing Forky And Why His 'Veep' Character Really Needed A Woody In His Life [Interview]

I first encountered Tony Hale outside of the room where I'd be interviewing him, where he paused to ask about my shirt, which features an array of watermelon slices, and comment that it was making him hungry. It was a charming moment – the Arrested Development and Veep actor is as curious, inquisitive and kind as you'd hope he'd be, even away from a professional, recorded conversation. So it's no wonder he was cast as Forky in Toy Story 4, an innocent character who questions his very existence as a handmade toy.

For our actual conversation, conducted at Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios theme park, Hale was happy to dwell on what makes Forky special and talk about the creative whiplash of making Veep and working with Pixar at the same time. And yes, my watermelon shirt enters the conversation again.

[Hale notes the "Magic Band" I'm wearing, technology that has become part of the Disney theme park experience.]

Thanks for coming. Love your bracelet. I still don't really understand exactly what that does.

It's an RFID chip. It stores credit card information, your ticket information.


Yeah, so if you want to buy something, you just tap it. You want to get in the park? You tap it.

Wow. How do you do tips and stuff?

They bring you a paper receipt you can sign.

I see.

It's incredibly convenient.

Very convenient.

This movie's really good.

Oh, I'm so glad!

I was skeptical because Toy Story 3 seemed to be such a definitive ending. Like all these movies, this took years to make. At what point in the process were you cast, and how long were you going in and out of the booth? Was this years for you?

I think probably about two years ago I got the call that they'd like for me to voice the character, and that was kind of a lot to take in, because I'm obviously a huge Toy Story fan. They asked me to come up to Pixar headquarters, so that was another wave of 'What's happening?' The whole process, I would say for me, it was over about a year and a half or two years of coming in and out. The cool thing about what Pixar does is you're not in a separate booth recording. They're in the room with you, which is how they create a community to it, which I appreciate. They also attached some of the characters I'd done on shows to Forky in animation. So I was able to see what they wanted, because they wanted him very overwhelmed and kind of anxious. That tends to be a forte of mine.

What's it like to take direction as an actor in a voice booth? I've been on a lot of physical sets, so I've seen how those sets function, but I've never been in a room with a director and an actor doing voice work. How is that visualized for you? What do those conversations feel like, and how are they different for you as a performer?

I don't know if the conversations are different, but you realize pretty quickly – I mean, I'd done some other animation, so I'd had some practice – but you definitely wake up to the fact that you can't use your physicality. They're not going to see your eyebrow raise, or your smile, whatever, it's all just your voice. So you kind of learn how to channel, or focus into the voice. So the voice director will be like, 'Let's try this,' or 'Maybe let's try that with a little bit of a smile.' There's a different language, maybe, that sometimes happens.

One of my all-time favorite making-of videos for an animated movie is one of the Laika films, The Boxtrolls. Ben Kingsley insisted on being recorded while reclining backwards to give himself the voice quality he wanted.


Anything weird happen like that with you?

Maybe I should try that. Maybe I should get like a Pilates board or something. I will say that Forky screams a lot, so I had to drink all that throat tea and stuff like that, just to make sure I didn't strain my voice.

Let's talk about Forky. He's been at the forefront of all the trailers, and he's really, really funny. How was Forky pitched to you? He's such an odd concept at first.

Yeah, I'm crazy about Forky. He was pitched to me as the first homemade toy that was made. Bonnie obviously makes him in her school. Because of that, he doesn't understand the rules of the universe. He doesn't understand that all the toys drop down when humans walk in. He's very...I wouldn't even say he's confused, but he's unashamed at asking a ton of questions. He's like 'What's this? What's happening? Why are you guys dropping? I want to go to the trash. I was made for soup. I don't know why you're putting this toy identity on me.' Everything was new, and he just had a very fresh look on the world all the time. If I'm honest, it was very easy to use where I was coming from, because I was new to the franchise, I didn't know what was going on, I was overwhelmed, even the fact that they asked me. So I was able to use a lot of that. 'I don't know what's going on. Let's just keep walking.'

I wonder if you saw this online, when people started seeing the trailers, one of the major lines was "I'm trash." There were hashtags like #FeelTheSameWay.

Aww. I love that you said that, because I think one of my favorite things about – I don't think Pixar just makes message pieces, they tell a story, but the message that's come out of this is Forky saw himself as just trash. But Woody steps in and says, 'No, you have a bigger purpose than that.' Everybody has purpose. Everybody has worth. I think people out there who see themselves as trash, maybe people have talked to them like trash – they're not. This movie shows that everybody has worth, and the worth to be loved. Forky is a shining example [of that].

One thing I talked to the directors and producer about earlier is the theme of finding your identity and, more importantly, learning it's okay to care about your own happiness. Forky really soaks it up because, throughout the course of the movie, he finds his identity and a reason to exist Is that something that was running through you at all, or am I just reading too much into this?

No, I love that. It's so funny, because even in Forky's world, even the idea of finding happiness, is like, 'Listen, I literally just help people eat soup.' So all of that is new, and a whole world is opened up to him. There's also a very childlike quality to him. Everything is new. I love the line when somebody mentions Bo Peep, and he's like, 'What's a Bo? I don't know what you're talking about.' I think that's a great way to look at it.

I know we're here for Toy Story 4, but I can't do this interview with you and not ask a Veep question.

Please, go for it! And by the way, Woody treats me much better than Selina Meyer did.


So that was a nice change!

Oh my goodness. Speaking of people who see themselves as trash...I think the final episode of Veep may be one of my favorite finales of anything.

I'm so glad.

[Veep series finale spoilers begin here.]

I'll put a spoiler warning for people who haven't seen it yet, but that time jump.

Wasn't that crazy? And also that makeup. They did just a fantastic job with the makeup. I've been asked about that scene at the funeral when obviously she sent me to jail and stuff, and it's been like, 'That's so sad.' But the more I think about it, that's the only thing that would have taken Gary out of the abusive cycle. He was in this co-dependent abuse cycle with her that he could not shake, and I think it took that for him to break free of it. So it was actually, I think, kind of a hidden blessing.

For all the people on that show who are so brutish and nasty, Gary is the one guy where he's always serving. He's the innocent caught in all of it.

Yeah, and it's so fun going from Veep, which is just a dark world, to something like Toy Story, which is so full of purpose and hope and encouragement. Pretty much, Gary needed a Woody in his life.

[Veep spoilers over]

The creative whiplash of going between these projects, how does that make you feel? Does it make you feel valued, like, 'Oh my God, I get to do these two different things, people want me to work!' Or is it like, 'Oh my God, I get to do these two different things. This is hard'?

I think it's that kind of balance. Veep was such an amazing journey. But it puts a mirror up to the society we live in, especially with politics. To do a 180 with this, with a very simple message: you have tremendous worth. By the way, Selina was not telling us we had worth. She was telling us just the opposite. It was such a blast because it's a satire, but to be here, it's like, 'No, everybody's got worth.'

I know you're working on a Netflix show now, right?

Oh yeah! I did a children's book years ago called Archibald's Next Big Thing and it was based – in my career, I was finding myself always looking to the next thing and missing where I was. I did this book with my buddies Tony Biaggne and Victor Huckabee, and then DreamWorks is doing the series and it's going to go to Netflix, and this chicken, Archibald, is so full of life. He's learned about being present, and he sees the best in situations and the best in people, and he goes on all these great adventures. It's been such a live-giving experience. I love it.

What's next? Veep's over, you've got Toy Story and your Netflix show –

I'm trying to be present! [laughs]

Any interest in going for that dark, dramatic role? What happens now?

I'm the actor who's just always incredibly thankful to be working, so I'm always thankful for a gig. Who knows what's going to come next. We'll see. Your shirt really makes me want to have watermelon.


I love watermelon.

Thank you so much. This was great.

So nice meeting you! Thanks for coming in, man. Seriously.