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You're killing me, Buster: Talking with Tony Hale

by Joel Cunningham

Arrested Development is dead! Long live Arrested Development! With the release of Season Three on DVD, one of the best (and most unjustly canceled) TV comedies of all time is officially over and done with. A few weeks ago, had the chance to chat with a certain hook-handed man about the series' cancellation, Jason Bateman's beauty regime, and the perils of performing a scene with one of the funniest tricksters in the business (I'm sorry, illusionists?a trick is what a whore does for money).

Filming ended in December, and since then, Hale has been busy. The fact that Arrested was over didn't really sink in until the cast and creator Mitch Hurwitz got together over the summer to record commentary for the DVDs one last time. While it was good to see everyone, he said, it was sad to realize it really was over.

After all, it was far from the typical gig for the actor, best known before Buster as the "Domo arigato Mr. Roboto" guy from a memorable Volkswagen commercial. "It was an amazing opportunity for an actor," Hale said. "The writers were giving us gold every week."

Buster certainly got his share. The most loveably freakish of Arrested's fractured family, Hale gave Buster a weird sense of innocence amidst some storylines so packed with hidden sexual gags and explicit humor, it's a wonder they made it past the censors (Buster's reaction to finding out his parents used his prosthetic hand in the bedroom?"I better run this through again on pots and pans"?is probably one of the cleaner examples. He's proud of the fact that he took an already bizarre character into places so odd, he "clearly just couldn't interact with anyone," and subsequently created one of TV's most memorable weirdoes.

As for that hand gag (Buster is given the Darth Vader treatment by a wild seal), the actor loved it?it gave him a lot of great material, he said, from forgetting the hand isn't there (resulting in a painful, hook-handed massage for Uncle Oscar) to his faked coma. Hale has just as many favorite scenes as the show's fans, and has no problem listing his favorite lines and episodes off the top of his head.

The writers created the humor, but the fans gave the show life, he said. He didn't feel his life changed too much, despite the fact that he moved with his wife from New York to Los Angeles, but seeing the reaction it got on-line from sites like was thrilling. The show is best known for call-back humor referencing past episodes, and though the actors thought they caught everything, Hale would read the internet after the show and find stuff even he'd missed.

Working with the cast was trying, he joked, especially when Jason Bateman would spend four hours in the makeup chair every day ("Off the set, he looked like me," Hale said). No, they all gelled wonderfully, to the point where getting through a scene was difficult because they were cracking each other up. Or at least Hale, who confessed "There's something about Will Arnett, I just can look at him and burst out laughing."

Hale is bummed the show didn't go on?and a little sorry to see Mitch Hurwitz taking the lion's share of the blame for it not continuing on HBO. Had it done so, though, he would have been involved, and will be for any future Arrested action, from a movie to an animated series. As is, he gives Fox a lot of credit for stretching out the inevitable three years before finally pulling the plug and admitting it was time to face facts?the show was just too good to be a hit with everyone. That 53 episodes were produced is a miracle in and of itself.

Right now, though, he's working on a new show with another victim of a critically-acclaimed, ratings-challenged, canceled-too-early sit-com: he plays second banana to Andy Richter (Andy Richter Controls the Universe ) on the mid-season replacement Andy Barker, P.I., which, thus far, has yet to be canceled by Fox (that it's on NBC is a big help). Hale is excited for the new opportunity, even as he kisses Arrested Development goodbye.

"It was a great experience and I'm thankful I was a part of it," he said.