When Tony Hale visits Samford, he comes for three things: friends, memories and Johnny Ray’s pies.
Hale is a 1992 journalism and mass communication graduate and Emmy award winner, best known for his roles on “Arrested Development” and “Veep.” He returned to Samford during Homecoming to be honored by the JMC department and talk about his children’s book, “Archibald’s Next Big Thing.”
This is not the first time that Hale has been back on campus, though his visits normally aren’t so publicized. Hale freely admits that his memory is terrible, so visiting Birmingham is a way to bring back the old stories and connect with friends still living in the area. Hale said some friends made the drive from Atlanta over the weekend so they could spend time together.
“It’s been so long that sometimes it can feel like a dream,” Hale said.
At the JMC Wall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday, retired professor Jon Clemmensen shared stories from other students about Hale’s undergrad days with the crowd. Some were touching stories about his kindhearted nature and great dance skills. Others were humorous, such as the time he broke into the Caf with friends and tried to walk out with five-gallon tubs of ice cream under his arms. When Public Safety officers stopped him, Hale gave back the ice cream and apologized because it wasn’t “what Jesus would want.”
Hale said that he gained lifelong friendships during his time at Samford and involvement in the theatre department and Sigma Chi fraternity. His friends have been a support for him in the “chaotic” acting business. Living in Birmingham, Hale said, also introduced him to the wonder of Johnny Ray’s chocolate pies and gave him inspiration if he’s ever invited to host “Saturday Night Live.”
“I really like to make fun of Southerners,” Hale said.
In 2013, Hale reprised his iconic role as the eccentric Buster Bluth when Netflix picked up the long-cancelled “Arrested Development” for a fourth season. Hale said it was weird being on set again after so many years, but getting back into the show was “like riding a bike.” He enjoyed the experience of filming with Netflix, which is currently considering a fifth season and a movie.
“Very rarely do you get the chance to do a character again that you’d said goodbye to mentally,” Hale said.
Comedic roles are more fun for Hale, who said his most challenging acting job was playing the father of a kidnapped girl on “Law & Order: SVU.” During his early acting years, Hale remembers that he often couldn’t enjoy his roles because he was so focused on finding his next big one.
This was the inspiration for his children’s book, which is about a chicken named Archibald trying to find out what his “Big Thing” is in life. Hale said the book is a reminder to himself and his daughter, Loy, to live in the present instead of concentrating on the future.
“I think we can get focused on our next adventure, and we forget the adventure we’re on,” Hale said.
Hale finished his time on campus by attending the homecoming game against Concordia, where he received a commemorative game ball, and answering questions about Archibald and acting during Saturday’s “Evening with Tony Hale.” Hale said his life and career goals are relatively uncomplicated: to keep taking care of and enjoying his family.
“I’m pretty simple. I just like to keep working,” Hale said.