Rarely do actors get to create their own language for a character, especially on a show where the words -- and importantly, its jokes -- are so precise. But that’s what Tony Hale did as Gary Walsh, a personal aide and body man for politician Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on the celebrated HBO comedy Veep.
Over the course of seven seasons, an adoring Gary was never far from Selina’s side as she navigated the off-color world of political life in Washington, D.C., first as Vice President of the United States before eventually clawing her way to the top and finally landing in the coveted seat behind the desk in the Oval Office. Armed with his brown bag -- a staple accessory of Gary’s -- he could always be counted on for a wipe, antibacterial soap, lipstick of whatever else Selina might need as a woman constantly on the move. And whenever she didn’t have what she wanted -- he would dutifully provide. It was a strange symbiotic relationship that often took dark turns, like when she asked him to break up with her boyfriend for her.
No matter how uncomfortable something made Gary, he would do it out of love for his boss. “It’s just an awful vicious cycle,” Hale tells ET over the phone one afternoon in May, just a week ahead of when the series finale was scheduled to air.
Perhaps one of Gary’s most essential -- and a rather unspecified -- role was to be Selina’s sounding board. If she needed a name in a conversation, he was over her shoulder whispering it in her ear. If she needed an excuse to leave a meeting, he was already providing one, and when she looked for validation, he was there with the appropriate reaction.
As the actor in that role, Hale wasn’t necessarily delivering the punch line as so much as actively listening and responding with the button on a joke, whether it was in the form of a facial expression or nonverbal noise. “Gary had to develop his own language because Selina never let him speak. So his nonverbal became his communication and that’s how he expressed himself,” Hale says. Described by another character as a “bitchy mime,” Hale says it sums Gary up perfectly “because he was going to express himself any way he could.”
It’s something that may not seem as obvious as landing a joke, but it takes a certain amount of skill and timing to pull off. “The sounds, whether they buttoned a scene, kind of organically came from practicing it and finding the rhythm of it,” the actor says. And what that eventually led to was Gary’s own grunt language that both he and Louis-Dreyfus were well attuned to. “She so understood the different type of grunting Gary had. If it was an affirming grunt, she loved it. But if it was a disagreeing grunt, she called it out,” he adds.
In addition to the special language Hale created, there was also a certain kind of physicality that he and Louis-Dreyfus developed for Gary and Selina. Building off the scripts, when the two actors got on set, they would look for ways to “bump the comedy up, whether it be her dropping her coat and me picking it up at the last minute. Or like that one time she fell over the banister and I barely caught her before her head hit,” he explains. “Finding those kinds of things to really bump it up, that was sometimes scripted but rarely scripted. And thankfully they put it in the show.”
Because the two actors were so in sync with each other, it was almost like their interactions were choreographed. To punctuate that point, Hale describes a scene “where I'm getting her ready and I'm putting her shoes on, putting her bracelet on, I'm giving her a purse. All of this while she's talking to somebody. And then right when the last piece is done, she finishes her last line and walks out.”
All of that, Hale says, is one of the things he’s going to miss the most about being on Veep. “It was just pure joy,” he says of being in those moments.
While it was bittersweet for Hale, he says everyone came to the same consensus that it was time to end the series, especially after seven acclaimed and award-winning seasons. “Selfishly, all of us want to be together for the rest of our lives, but we didn’t want to wear out our welcome,” he says. “We knew that in our heads, but in our hearts it was hard to accept.”
A testament to their decision, Veep was able to end on top -- a rare feat for any series -- earning a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the subject of critical acclaim. It’s still generating intense Emmy buzz even though it seems like it has never lost a major race since it first premiered. In total, Veep has collected 17 Emmys including two for Hale’s performances in 2013 and 2015. While Hale has enjoyed breakout success as Buster on Arrested Development and shows no sign of slowing down with no shortage of recurring TV roles and a coveted voice role in Toy Story 4, he’s happy if Veep is the apex of his career.
“Genuinely, the older I get, I am so grateful to get to work with kind people and [this cast] really cared about each other,” Hale says.”Because in this business, there's a lot of ego and there's a lot of entitlement -- not that I haven't had moments about myself -- and I felt like this cast was really for each other and it became this troupe. Everybody just wanted the best show possible and to be the best people to each other. I think that to me was where the success was.”