Tony Hale is aware everyone already loves Forky in Toy Story 4 and the character’s desire to be one with the trash again. Hale loves Forky’s desire to return to the trash. The character is, after all, a spork who despite being turned into a toy by a little girl named Bonnie—and thus being sentient in Pixar’s world—was made from literal pieces of garbage. It’s where he feels most comfortable. Yet Hale, who is making his debut as a voice in a Pixar film, also is charmed by Forky’s deeper resonance for young viewers who might take away something more than just a chuckle at the character.
“I love that Woody comes in and [says], ‘I’m going to break this down for you, you have a bigger purpose, you have value beyond the trash,’” Hale explains during a sit down in Orlando with Den of Geek. “And not to get meta, but it’s like what a beautiful message to put out there that you have—kids, adults, everybody—have value beyond how they might see themselves as just trash, or somebody told them that. It’s like, no, you have value beyond that.”
When we speak to Hale, it is the first day of the Toy Story 4 junket at Disney World (and right next to the newly opened Toy Story Land, no less), and Hale seems grateful for the love his existentially bedeviled utensil is receiving in the film. The biggest new character of this particular story, as well as already Twitter’s favorite Meme-generator, Forky’s funk has been the center of Toy Story 4’s marketing going back to the first teaser. While Hale has cultivated a second career at being a voice actor these days, on top of being an Emmy winning actor for his work on Veep, he still seems humbled to be in a Pixar film.
“I was overwhelmed the entire time,” Hale says about his journey to Pixar Animation Studios, describing it as a creative wonderland. “I still think someone’s made a mistake and they meant another Tony or something like that.”
Clearly they didn’t though, and as the voice of innocence via Forky, he brings a fresh perspective to a franchise that is universally known almost 25 years after its first movie. For instance, after several installments with evil (or certainly broken) toys, Forky is the first plaything to see what is ostensibly a creepy doll in Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby, and not run away shrieking in terror.
Says Hale, “I love that when Forky’s brought into her life. He, again, doesn’t have these preconceived ideas of what somebody is, so everybody else is like, ‘Creepy, dangerous,’ and he’s like, ‘I think she’s got pretty hair.’”
It’s a unique energy for a Pixar film, and it’s something we discuss in further detail—plus the little fact that his main co-star here is Tom Hanks, whose fictional death played a major role in the series finale of Veep—in the full interview below.
Could you talk about the first time you walked through the doors of Pixar, and what that was like for you?
Tony Hale: I don’t remember it because I was kind of was checked out that I was even there. But I think It all was kind of a perfect storm for me, because Forky is constantly in a state of wonder, and constantly in a state of curiosity, and constantly overwhelmed. I feel like I was overwhelmed the entire time and am still overwhelmed. I don’t even know why—I still think someone’s made a mistake and they meant another Tony or something like that.
So that place is genuinely a creative wonderland, and it’s this tank of creativity that has come out with some of the most—like Inside Out is by far one of my favorite animated films. And just to watch the process, from the very beginning, of these writers. They write these scripts, which are beautiful, knowing that they’re going to completely evolve over the process. And so that is just so cool that they know, starting off, this is going to morph and it’s going to change.
How was Forky first pitched to you?
Well, I didn’t really know much. When I came, because of Toy Story, I had an idea of what these characters looked like, and then I see a picture of this spork, and I’m like, “Not what I had thought.” But the more I heard about him and his simplicity, it just made such sense, and I immediately fell in love with him because not only does he see the world so simply, he’s made so simply.
He’s obviously a spork, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and comes from this trash. But it all, with me being overwhelmed, and the simplicity of the character and the way he sees life—he’s pretty much this child, that doesn’t understand the rules. So anytime a script page would be handed to me, coming from the perspective that [Forky] doesn’t know what any of what these characters are. Like, somebody mentions Bo Peep, and I say, “What’s a Bo?” I don’t understand what the people are talking about. So it was always so fun to always have that perspective with everything.
In that process, did he change from how you first began talking about him?
That’s what’s so cool about how they put it together. Because we would do, and also with the voice, we would do these lines a different way. “Okay, say this a little like you’re more joyful or you’re more curious.” And then as they get all these pieces of the puzzle together, then they begin to form this story of how they want Forky to look. So that’s what was so exciting. I mean, I saw it screened, I guess about two or three months ago, and it’s changed since then. But to see like, “Oh my gosh, yeah, so that’s how they wanted to form this character?”
I know no actor got a full script, so when you were watching it, did anything surprise you in the finished film?
Oh, yeah. A) I didn’t know Duke Caboom was in a [Pinball machine]. All that stuff with the antique shop, and also just how—honestly, I didn’t know how Forky was going to be saved from the antique shop, because I would get little pieces where Woody and I are running, but I didn’t know how they were going to piece it together with him jumping in the motorcycle. I didn’t see any of that. So to see all those pieces come together, it made a lot of sense.
Can we talk about Forky’s creation? Do you think that there’s something vaguely horrific about this Frankenstein creature?
[Laughs] I think he is so raw, which I love, and I think just the fact that he doesn’t even have any flexibility; he can’t move his head. He walks like this, but he’s just owning every bit of it. He’s like, “This is what I am now. I’m going to ask all these questions. A) I want to get out of here because I’m not made for this.” But even though he’s made very crudely, he just has a boldness to him that is just really beautiful, I think.
Could you talk about his obsession with the trash?
He’s obsessed with the trash, man. He’s obsessed with the trash, and because, by the way, that was his journey. He’s like, “I’m made to help with the soup, and then I’m going to the trash, and that’s where I’ll live, that’s where I’ll stay.”
And I love that Woody comes in and he’s like, “I’m going to break this down for you, you have a bigger purpose. You have value beyond the trash.” And not to get meta, but it’s like what a beautiful message to put out there that you have—kids, adults, everybody—have value beyond how they might see themselves as just trash, or somebody told them that. It’s like, no, you have value beyond that.
Do you feel like there is something vaguely existential about him trying to commit trach-icide?
Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah, even his questions, just walking around and going, “Why am I here? What’s going on?” How many times do I want to stand up in life and be like, “What is happening? We’re spinning on a planet, break this down for me.” He gets out there and just asks them.
Could you also talk about his relationship with Gabby a little bit? Because I think that’s interesting.
Yeah, and I love it because Gabby’s journey, I think, is so, so special because she starts off as the villain, and you think, “Oh, that’s going to continue through,” and then she makes a turn where she’s a toy that just wants to be loved and love. I love that when Forky’s brought into her life. He, again, doesn’t have these preconceived ideas of what somebody is, so everybody else is like, “Creepy, dangerous,” and he’s like, “I think she’s got pretty hair.” It’s like, “She seems nice to me.” So he comes into her life and is just friends with her, and maybe sees beyond what society has put on her. And then in the end, she realizes that she can be loved.
I know you’ve done voice acting work before, but how does the Pixar process differ from your other experience in this field?
Sure. It really was special because—I mean I’ve loved so much of the animation that I’ve been able to do, but typically you’re in a room and there’s a piece of glass, and you have your headphones and there’s the director and the producer and the writer, and they’re on the opposite side of the room. And then you do your thing and then all of the sound goes off, and you just see all these people just talking about you, but you can’t hear. All the insecurity rushes into your body.
And this was just the opposite. You’re in the same room, there’s no division of glass. The producer, writer, director, they’re all there, and it’s just this collaborative space that they’ve created. It’s a very warm environment. And I think it just helps you have ownership over the journey that they’ve placed you on; you’re not just a talking head that’s coming in. It’s like, “Hey, we’re all in this together, let’s contribute this together.”
So absolutely no anxiety?
Well, I mean, that’s always a part of my life. [Laughs] I’m still working on that day-to-day. And my own personal struggle with anxiety was it’s cool to use that in Forky’s life. Like he walks around just saying, “Can somebody just explain to me what’s happening,” and doesn’t want to be in certain places and doesn’t want to—everything’s just confusing to him, and to bring that color of anxiety into it, yeah.
You’ve been part of the ending of very popular stories and sagas, if you will, with Veep and now Toy Story 4 at least feels like an ending to this story. What do you think needs to go into making a really satisfying ending to something people have loved and invested in?
Man, what needs to go into it? I mean, Pixar’s clearly got the formula, because each one that they do, you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s an emotional tsunami.” I can speak from the Veep perspective of, ironically, the pilot of Veep made a joke about Tom Hanks, and then the end of Veep, there was a joke about Tom Hanks, and there was this gorgeous full-circle moment of completion. But Pixar’s got that way of tugging at your emotions, big time.
Did Tom tell you his thoughts on the finale?
No. I’m going to ask him. I’m going to ask him! I’m going to ask him.
Toy Story 4 is in theaters now.