It’s normal for any creative person—especially actors, musicians, writers, editors, directors, and other types who freelance—to sometimes wonder, “What’s next?” But if worrying about future gigs gnaws at you and keeps you from living in the moment and appreciating creative undertakings as they unfold, that’s no way to live and work—Tony Hale knows that all too well.
“I think, honestly for me, the biggest challenge in this business is to stay present,” says the Emmy Award-winning actor, best known for his roles as Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and Gary Walsh on Veep, which starts its fifth season on HBO on April 24. “I don’t think this business encourages you to be present. This is a business that’s always pushing you to think about your next thing. I mean, you don’t typically go to a dentist and say, ‘What are you working on next? A molar?’ Whereas in our business, or in any freelance business, not necessarily just the industry I’m in, it’s always, ‘What’s next for you? What’s coming up? What are you working on? Do you have a plan?'”
When he was starting his career as an actor in New York City in the mid-1990s, Hale, who is originally from Tallahassee, Florida, remembers being obsessed with having a professional endeavor to talk about in social situations. “I would be at a party, and if I had just done a commercial, or I was working on a script, or if I had some audition coming up, it was nice to have it in my arsenal because I was concerned about that question—what’s next?” Hale admits.
Hungry for validation, “I wanted to have something to be able to tell somebody to give myself value in the conversation rather than just having value for being myself,” he says.
You would think that getting cast on and moving to Los Angeles for Arrested Development and finally achieving what people in the entertainment business and beyond deem “success”—the show had a cult following and was critically acclaimed—would have allowed Hale to chill out, but it didn’t. “When I booked Arrested Development, which was a fantastic job, and I was working with an amazing cast and some of the best writing I’ve ever done, I still found myself looking for the next thing,” he says.
It was during the third season—and what would be the show’s final season on Fox—and after his daughter was born that Hale became conscious of the fact that he was stuck in an unhealthy way of thinking about his career. Being responsible for another human being made something click in his head. Hale saw how he was there for his daughter and always present in a way that he wasn’t at work because he was so busy worrying about his prospects for employment in the future. “Personally, I have struggled with anxiety in my history, so I think maybe anxiety or worrying about the future came naturally,” he muses.
Soon after that realization hit him, the actor started going to therapy, which “I know sounds so L.A.,” he says with a laugh. Talking about his work-related anxiety helped, and Hale also got the tools he could use to be in the moment. “I just began to practice the discipline of waking myself up and looking around me and, whether it’s good stuff or hard stuff, feeling it and trying to be present,” he says.
He likes to encourage others to do the same. Hale even wrote a children’s book, Archibald’s Next Big Thing, published a couple of years ago, that tells the story of a chicken who is always comparing himself to his older brothers and sister as well as his classmates, who have all found their “big thing.”
Aside from having an uplifting children’s book to show for his personal growth, Hale truly enjoys the day-to-day of work of being an actor much more these days. While he spent much of Arrested Development’s run on Fox not fully living in the moment, he got a chance at a redo when Netflix commissioned a fourth season of the show a few years ago. “I was so excited for the opportunity because I was able to really embrace it and have fun and not be so caught up in anxiety even though my character was an anxious mess,” Hale says. “It was fun to exercise that muscle during the fourth season and really just enjoy it more.”
His commitment to the act of being present has also served him well throughout his run on Veep. “Veep has been one of the best rides of my life. The fact is, you never know where a show is going to go. No one is promised a second season, a third season, whatever, so I’m just trying each time to be like, ‘Man, this is a great group of people. I love this writing.’ Just always practice, and I say practice because this is not something that is an immediate default for me,” Hale says of being mindful, describing himself as a “work in progress.”