It’s not often an actor can embrace the role of playing trash, who still wants more…
In Toy Story 4 we rejoin Woody (Tom Hanks) who has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (Tony Hale) declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts). After years of being on the outside as a “lost toy”, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road belie her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries.
In advance of the film’s we release we got the unique pleasure of sitting down with Tony Hale who comes on board to voice what will undoubtedly be everyone’s new favourite character in “Forky”. We talked a little about he and many people relate the character, how he got involved with the project, how he crafted such a uniquely toned character, the message of the movie and so much more…
Dave Voigt: I love your character “Forky” because in many ways he’s quite complex. On one end he’s really dealing with this existential crisis of his own existence but on the other end of that scale he’s a completely blank slate. I’m curious to find out how you prepare a character like this because while you obviously do have to rely on the words on the page, but there’s really a wide range of places to go with a character like this as well.
Tony Hale: You know to be honest, I feel like (laughs) that I connect to Forky and in many ways STILL connect to Forky because he asks all the time “Why Am I Here” and I always feel like I am questioning how I even got here? He’s overwhelmed with life…so am I by this entire process. I really feel like he has this childlike wonder about him that is like you said; a blank slate. Everything is new to him, somebody says “Bo Peep” to him and he has to ask “What’s A Bo?” He doesn’t even understand the rules of the universe, all the toys drop to the ground when the human’s walk in and he has no clue why anyone is doing that. I just love that he is this big sponge/spork for knowledge trying to make his way in his existence.
Can you talk a little about how you got involved with the project?
And you know this is another way that I really relate to Forky because obviously this process was just incredibly exciting but I feel like I had “The Imposter” theory creeping in, that someone had just made a mistake and Ashton Kutcher was about to come in and ‘Punk’ me (Laughs). Ultimately the whole process begins when I heard that they we’re interested in casting me, which of course caused me to do a double take and a fun little side note. The first story came out in 1995 and that was the year I moved to New York to become an actor and I remember seeing the movie and just being blown away by this animation which was just at another level and I never dreamt that I’d be a part of the franchise one day. Ultimately, they brought me up to Pixar which is crazy in and of itself because it’s just this creative wonderland and then they just started describing the character to me because I was one of the first names to come up for them when they were developing this character with the neurotic energy; and in the back of my mind I was saying “Check”! (Laughs) And one of the truly brilliant things that they do at Pixar is to create this truly community environment and they just broke down, not only how simple he looks but how simply he sees the world. When they did that I just couldn’t help but to think of my daughter when she was just 4 or 5 with rapid fire questions just absorbing everything around her.
What do you like the best about Forky?
What DON’T I like about Forky? (Laughs) But you know I think it really just comes down to the message in the film. It’s not only just this visually stunning and incredibly funny film where by the end of it all you just find yourself crying in the corner because it’s such an emotional experience. I think that the whole journey of Forky who saw himself as JUST made for the trash after he helped someone eat some chili but then Woody comes along and enlightens him to a bigger purpose in life and tells him that he has real value. It’s such a beautiful message to put out into the world, especially for anyone who sees themselves as limited and not made for much, this movie can show them that they still have tremendous value in the world. Everybody has tremendous value and purpose in this world and I love being able to be a part of spreading a message like that.
10 Years from now when you look back on your entire ‘Toy Story 4’ experience, what will be your one take away from it all?
I think one of the reasons why the Toy Story franchise has lasted so long is that you see this gang of characters who are all incredibly different and diverse but are ultimately all for each other and supportive of one another. I really feel like that we’re just not meant to do life in general by ourselves and one way or another we all need each other. It’s a gang of misfits, who really aren’t even misfits but always see the value in each other. I love being a part of something like that plus it was really cool to be able to share this entire experience with my daughter who is 13 because I can’t exactly show her Veep because the language is pretty crass (Laughs)
It’s the little touches in Forky that really make him something special. How he says “trash” or how he gets flustered and makes a lot of nonsense noises. How was it coming up with the comedic timing of those beats, because while I’m sure something played naturally off the page but without someone to play off of, it feels like those smaller moments would be much harder to come by?
I think it did help quite a bit that I was coming from Veep into this because there I felt like my character really was just all about these odd noises and things that he would say. My character really would speak that much on Veep; Selina Mayer just wouldn’t LET him talk so he always has to let out these awkward grunts and I think I actually brought a lot of that into Forky, so I think Veep just afforded me a lot of practice. However more to your question; it’s a little tricky because with comedy your very used to using your physicality in a performance and those non-verbal cues, something as simple as raising an eyebrow and when you just have the microphone it can be intimidating at first because the feat of trying to channel everything that you are used to doing or would want to do solely through your voice is a different beast. Ultimately while you are doing the voice work you try and let the physicality that you’d want to bring to performance come out so audiences can feel that energy in your voice.
Is there something about voice work and animation that allows for different challenges for you as a performer?
I did this children’s book years ago called Archibald’s Next Big Thing; it’s about this little chicken who is always looking for what’s coming up next and missing out on where he is in the moment and it’s actually going to become a series on Netflix. I just love that the stories you can create in this medium just don’t have any boundaries. We don’t have to worry about location scouting or any minutia like that, we can literally go anywhere with it. I mean in Toy Story 4; my character is just this very simple craft project but he has this life of his own, and as you are watching him and the other characters around him you just can’t help but get invested in their lives. If you take a step back and look at it, you can realize that you’ve invested quite a bit of energy into a talking dinosaur, and really that’s just how these worlds can genuinely suck you in and get you connected with these characters. I just love that.
And you know I think that really is the magic of these Pixar movies as well. These characters have genuine physicality to them and we can feel them existing. I’m curious, how much do you actually get to see your own character before you go into the recording booth to find his voice?
When I first came in, they showed me a picture of him and I did have this pause moment of “Huh…not quite what I was expecting” (Laughs) but then they really sold me on his tremendous simplicity and how he ultimately saw the world and it all just made such perfect sense. And to the point of the physicality of the character, for Forky the only thing where he has any flexibility in his arms, his pipe cleaners and everything else like when he turns he just has no real control over, I think even his Googly eyes are all over the place (Laughs). One of my favourite visuals from the entire movie is him and Woody walking down the road, where Woody has this incredibly confidant stride about him, and Forky is just wobbling to the point that he’s eventually just getting dragged and carried to their destination.
You’ve had a career where you’ve played characters that have had to do a lot of outlandish things and you’ve had to act them out…
There’s been a lot of PAIN over the years… (Laughs)
Is it a relief for you when you see your character getting dragged down the street by Tom Hanks, throwing yourself in the trash or getting sucked out an RV window and know that as an actor you don’t ACTUALLY have to do these things?
I have had to do some…colorful bits over the years to be sure, but let’s be honest…I would LOVE to be held by Tom Hanks, I would totally let him drag me down the street I mean are you kidding? (Laughs) I’d happily be cradled by him any day (Laughs)
Toy Story 4 is in theatres everywhere.