By Keysha Drexel
Before he was an Emmy Award-winning actor known for creating unforgettable roles on critically-acclaimed television shows, Tony Hale was a young man from Tallahassee, Fla., trying to figure out how he would fit into the real world as he walked the tree-lined campus of Samford University in Homewood.
Hale, who won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as Gary Walsh in the HBO comedy “VEEP,” will return to his alma mater this weekend to talk to students about how his time in the Over the Mountain area led him to Hollywood.
The 1992 Samford graduate, who first gained widespread acclaim for his role as Buster Bluth on the Fox comedy “Arrested Development,” will be inducted into the university’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication Wall of Fame as part of several homecoming-related events Nov. 1.
Hale said he still keeps in touch with about 10 people he went to college with at Samford. He said besides pie from Johnny Ray’s, the thing he misses the most about being in the Over the Mountain area is the people.
“It was so long ago, but the relationships and friendships I formed there are still important,” the 44-year-old said in a telephone interview from Beverly Hills last week. “I love coming back and walking the campus with my old friends. I’m pretty nostalgic that way.”
And while he likes to reminisce about some of the times he spent here, Hale said there are others he’d just soon forget.
“I worked at Grady’s restaurant in the Galleria for about six months. It was a nightmare,” Hale said. “I couldn’t believe people could get so pissed off about food.”
But even that experience, Hale said, helped him make the decision to seriously pursue his first love–acting.
“I was pretty involved in theater in high school but I didn’t think I could really make a living doing that, and I had always enjoyed writing–more the advertising side of writing–and all of that led me to major in journalism at Samford,” he said.
While he was a student at Samford, Hale interned at an advertising agency. He liked writing but knew it wasn’t the right job for him, he said.
After graduating from Samford, Hale returned home to Florida before deciding to move to New York City to make a vocation out of what until that point had been just a hobby.
“When I look back on it now, I kind of marvel at the abnormal amount of ambition it took to do that,” Hale said.
Hale’s first performance in the Big Apple was in the parking lot in the East Village. He landed roles in several advertisements and paid his dues waiting tables before landing the role of Buster Bluth in “Arrested Development.”
Hale was nominated again this year for an Emmy for his portrayal on “VEEP” as the loyal aide to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ President Selina Meyer.
From time to time, Hale said, he hears from people in politics who seem to like how the show depicts politicians.
“The people I hear from really seem to like it, and I think the reason is because politicians, in general, have to put out a pretty picture for the public all the time, and you just know that they freak out sometimes behind the scenes,” Hale said. “We kind of take the camera behind the scenes to show that these are just human beings who live in a pressure cooker.”
Hale, who is married to Anniston native and Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Martel Thompson, is also a published author.
His children’s book, “Archibald’s Next Big Thing,” was released in August. The book tells the adventures of an unfocused young chicken who learns the value of mindfulness.
Hale said he got help on the book from his 8-year-old daughter, Loy.
When Loy gets ready to go to college, Hale said, he will tell her just what he plans to tell the Samford students he meets this weekend.
“One big thing I want to share is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life when you’re in college,” he said. “It’s natural to experience a lot of uncertainty at that time, and it’s important to remember that everyone else is just trying to figure it all out, too.”
Hale, who came from a military family, said Samford University gave him an ideal place to make the transition from being a child living at home to being an adult, ready to take on the world.
“Samford provided the perfect balance, because it was still kind of structured and safe but at the same time offered an atmosphere that encouraged me and helped me move into the real world,” he said.
Hale will be the guest of honor at a VIP reception at 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at Samford. He will talk about his new book at a program at 7:30 p.m. on campus. Both events are open to the public.
“It’s always a blast returning to Samford and seeing old friends,” Hale said. “I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my experiences as well as my new book. It’s been quite a journey.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, www.samford.edu. ϖ