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Actor Tony Hale's 'Next Big Thing' is a children's book

Actor Tony Hale stopped by KPCC to talk about his new children's book,
Actor Tony Hale stopped by KPCC to talk about his new children's book, "Archibald's Next Big Thing."
James Kim/KPCC

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Over the course of a long and hectic career, Tony Hale has proved capable of creating eminently recognizable characters, from Buster Bluth on "Arrested Development" to Gary Walsh on "Veep," a role for which he received an Emmy in 2013.

Now, the longtime comedic actor is trying his hand at something different. He's the author of "Archibald's Next Big Thing," a children's book about a chicken named Archibald who has trouble living in the moment.

When Hale came by The Frame recently, he spoke with host John Horn about the effects of becoming a parent, collaborating with his daughter, and why actors have trouble appreciating what they already have.

Interview Highlights:

This is a book that's really about appreciating what you have in front of you. In fact, its subtitle could be "Stop and Smell the Roses."

Yeah, and it came from my personal experience of being in the business. I've been in this business for a long time, and I was finding a pattern: I've had some really great gigs that I'm very proud of, but every time I got a gig I was still looking to the next gig. It's something that I still struggle with, but if you get so focused on the next adventure, then you miss the adventure that you're on at the time. The book came out of that.

The way that you were thinking about yourself and your career — was that particular to you and your personality? Or was it the way that people in this line of work are taught to think of themselves, that you always have to be reaching for something higher?

I think it's a combination of the two. When I was living in New York, struggling to be an actor, I put a lot of energy into [thinking], That sitcom's coming! That sitcom's coming! I put a lot of weight on it, but also you're told, "Always be looking."

But here's the deal: I talk to people who are film actors, or they do a lot of film, and they [say], "Yeah, but I'd really just like to have my own TV show." And I meet people in TV and they [say], "Yeah, but I want to be doing movies." And then everybody's like, "Yeah, but I'd like to be doing Broadway." Everybody's looking to the next thing, wherever they are.

You could have written this as a self-help book for adults and put it into a different corner of the bookstore. Why did you put it ...

Are you talking about how I read it every single night and cry? [laughs] Is that what you're referring to?

I thought we weren't going to talk about that.

[laughs] Yeah, I don't know if I could fill a whole book. [laughs] I could just talk about my love for Trader Joe's or something. But it's a very simple message, and since I'm such a visual person, I love the combination of finding the illustrations for the simple message. Not to say it again, but it was important to keep it simple.

How did becoming a parent change your view of your work?

Not to always bring it back to this, but I will say that I started shooting "Arrested Development" in 2003 and we finished in 2006. And that was kind of the genesis of much of my realizing the significance of the struggle I had with being present.

My daughter was born in 2006 after the show was cancelled, and I think the gift that kids give is forcing you to be present with your child, because you have to keep them alive. So it really woke me up to a lot of stuff and I think that was a really big lesson for me. She really helped me stay here, and stay where I was. I couldn't be somewhere else.

How did you collaborate with her on the book?

Archibald has brothers and sisters, and he has a sister named Loy, which is my daughter's name. And so Loy was very excited about that and loved being a part of designing her outfit. She wanted pigtails, knee-high socks — she liked the color green — and that was really fun. It was fun just to talk about it, and then to see it come to life. And for her to say, "Wow, I chose those colors," was really a kick for her.

Did you tell her the story as you were writing it? Did you sound it out and ask what she thought? Was she giving you notes like, "Move Character A here," like your own studio executive?

[laughs] "The story structure of this is off, Dad." No, I would read it to her a lot, and she'd be like, "I don't get this bit, and what's up with him there?" And it was great, because when she was talking I was like, Yeah, I need to simplify that a lot more. Or make it more in her world, because I think I'm thinking a little too...whatever.

How old is she now, and how old was she when you were writing it?

When we started writing it she was seven? And she's almost nine now.

And is she somebody who is stopping to smell the roses, unlike her father in earlier times?

[laughs] She has a dad who, any time she's asking, "Where are we going, what are we doing, what's next?" I'm like, "Where are we now?" So I think she's kind of annoyed by the message.

But I just saw this ... graffiti and it was a beautiful picture with a guy underneath an umbrella and all these colors were coming down, and he was under this umbrella with a worried look. And there was this little girl outside just standing in the rain, loving it.

I saw that and I [thought], That is so my daughter. She's just free and finds the joy and love in things, and it's so fun to watch her and learn from her.

Are you now part of the actor-turned-children's-book-author community? Jamie Lee Curtis, Julianne Moore, I'm sure there are many others. Do you guys have little coffee meetings?

We do, we have weekly coffee and we just kind of praise each other's work. [laughs] No, but I'd love to. I got to know Henry Winkler during "Arrested Development," and he was a real inspiration for me, because Henry has dyslexia and he did this whole children's book series based on what he's been through. He had such a passion for it and I think he's just one of the most wonderful men in the business, so I loved hearing what he did, and I think that had a lot to do with me [thinking], You know what? Let me try this one day.

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