The star of Arrested Development and Veep explains how his beloved characters on those two shows became the building blocks for Forky.
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale
June 21, 2019
When you think of big-screen existential crises you probably think of avant-garde French cinema or experimental indie pics, not so much animated family features. Unless they’re from Pixar.
Nine years after Toy Story 3 came to an emotional close, with the toys escaping the incinerator and finding a new home with preschooler Bonnie, we reunite with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang for Toy Story 4, just as Bonnie is heading off to kindergarten. There, the nervous tot comforts herself by making a doll, of sorts, out of craft supplies fished from the garbage — a plastic spork, a pipe cleaner, and some googlie eyes. Meet Forky!
Forky instantly becomes Bonnie’s favourite toy and joins the gang on a road trip with her family. But the spork man still sees himself as a piece of trash and jumps out of the moving RV to find his proper place, with Woody in tow.
Who could voice such a confused, conflicted, out-of-place little guy? Pixar went straight to Tony Hale, who you may know as naive mama’s boy Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and Gary Walsh, the effusive and insecure aide to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s vice president on Veep, which recently wrapped its final season. We spoke to Hale about joining the beloved franchise.
Director Josh Cooley said they were thinking of you when they came up with this character, a conflicted plastic spork. How does that make you feel?
I know. They told me that. I was like, "That tracks, that tracks." But it was fun, ’cause when I came in, they had attached some of Buster's lines [from Arrested Development] and Gary's lines [from Veep] to Forky’s voice, to the character, and I was able to watch him. It was really fun to see…. What Pixar does is absolutely just jaw-dropping to me. To not only just walk into the space and have the opportunity to do something in Toy Story, which is such a beautiful franchise, but to have already put my voice onto a character that they're developing —the whole thing was just kind of a lot to take in.
The sad thing is some of the times it comes a little naturally. He is very confused, I'm confused about a lot of things…. if Forky is confused about something, you kind of think about the many times you've been confused, or the things that confuse you.
In your eyes, who is Forky?
He has a very baby-like mentality. Babies are so great: They'll express exactly what they're feeling. They don't care who you are, what the situation is, they're just going to say it and emote…. He'll ask questions, he doesn't know what's going on; he's looking at people weird. He doesn't care about social, moral, putting on a nice face. It's just kind of like, if he's confused, he's confused. But then he starts to learn a lot about friendship and just life, and ask a lot of questions. I don't know, I really came in being like, this guy is one big sponge.
How do you get into character when you're playing a googlie-eyed spork?
The sad thing is some of the times it comes a little naturally. He is very confused; I'm confused about a lot of things…. I've gotten that question a lot with Buster or Gary, and the key is whatever kind of scene you're acting out, you kind of have to find the truth within yourself of that situation. And this sounds really actory to say that, but if Forky is confused about something, you kind of think about the many times you've been confused or the things that confuse you.
So it doesn't even matter that he's a spork?
It doesn't matter he's a spork. You know, Buster deals with anxiety; I've dealt with anxiety. Gary was overwhelmed by politics and had all these issues; I'm kind of overwhelmed by politics and I have a lot of issues.
What was it like in the recording studio?
Typically, when you do voiceover or any kind of animation, you're typically in a booth separate from the people that are directing. Then everything is just silent. Then they're talking about you behind the glass. You're like, "What are they saying? What's going on?" And all of your insecurities come out, 'cause you don't know what they're saying. But with Toy Story, it was like one big room and they were in the same room with me. I just love that they made that choice, because I felt a lot more a part of the process. I don't know —it formed a connection with them, and them with me, that I think was really special.
Did you have a Forky doll or maquette to look at and hold?
They did not have a doll, but they had a big poster of what he was going to look like and that was just really cool. The voice people, actors, come in afterwards and they do these fun voices and crazy voices, but the amount of work that is put into the animation, and the writing, and the design, and all that kind of stuff is so enormous…. We're thrown in and hopefully it works, and hopefully I can bring some life to Forky. But I have such tremendous admiration for the entire process. Those guys, they're the ones that have done all the work.
Actual toys that you can buy are such a big part of Toy Story and all of the Pixar franchises. Is there going to be a Forky toy?
I've seen it! They sent me one, and that was really cool.
It hits me that I'm in Toy Story in phases. First you're like, "Oh, yeah, this is really fun" when I see a poster of my character, then I hear my voice in a trailer and I'm like, "Oh, wait. Is that my voice? Wait, I am in it." Then you see the actual movie and you're like, "Wow, I'm actually in this." It comes in kind of waves, so I think I was, the whole time, just kind of mesmerized.
Is it just a plastic spork?
Well, it's not too far off. I think, to me, the thing about Forky that's really cool is not only is he simple in design — he's a fork, he's some pipe cleaners, he's got some little clay feet — but he's simple as a character. He sees the world very simply. Everything is kind of like broken down to like, "What's this? What's that?" Everything is just trying to get to the simple.
Have you seen the finished film?
Yeah, I did, and it's so beautiful and so good. I actually went to a screening with Keanu Reeves and Tim Allen. I had never met them, and they're incredibly nice guys.… It hits me that I'm in Toy Story in phases. First you're like, "Oh, yeah, this is really fun" when I see a poster of my character, then I hear my voice in a trailer and I'm like, "Oh, wait. Is that my voice? Wait, I am in it." Then you see the actual movie and you're like, "Wow, I'm actually in this." It comes in kind of waves, so I think I was, the whole time, just kind of mesmerized.
Toy Story 4 is for kids of all ages.
Great storytelling, incredible graphics, compelling characters. Pixar has a way of making animated features appeal equally to every age group, which makes Toy Story 4 ideal for a family outing.