When last we saw Arrested Development's one-handed mama's boy, Buster Bluth, he'd just discovered that the Army wants to send him to Iraq, despite his loose-seal injury. It is but one of several cliff-hangers fans would like to see resolved in tonight's first post-baseball episode (8 pm/ET on Fox) — along with Rita's (Charlize Theron) big secret and, of course, whether enough people will watch the show to grant it a full third season. TVGuide.com rang Tony Hale, Buster's portrayer and apparently AD's biggest fan, to see how he's handling the suspense.
TVGuide.com: What's the mood like on the set these days?
Tony Hale: We're just kind of enjoying it, because we don't know — maybe it'll be our last week. We get our scripts pretty late, about two days before we shoot. But that's because the writers are working so hard, and what they come up with is just brilliant stuff. It's a blast to see what they come up with each week — the risks they take are just crazy. I still don't have a hand! And I don't know if I'm getting that back. They really think outside of the box. The mood is just [one of] taking it day to day.
TVGuide.com: What is wrong with people that the ratings are so low?
Hale: I think we've got a life on DVD and TiVo. I think we need to take the Nielsen families out to dinner or something.
TVGuide.com: Or plan some kind of Gob-like publicity stunt.
Hale: We're going to invite all the Nielsen families to a park and Gob's going to perform magic for them! Of course, that would knock down the ratings even more. It is one of those shows you have to rewatch, and you have to watch it in succession, because there are things you can miss. You have to pay attention. It's a different format, which people need to get used to, and it is taking time, but the people who watch it love it.... [The cast are] all fans of the show, and we're mainly fans of the writers. They're put away in this little room, locked up to write, and we rarely see them, but when we do, we're just all in awe of them.
TVGuide.com: You're starstruck?
Hale: Totally! Like [executive producer] Mitch [Hurwitz]: He walks on set and everyone goes silent. [Laughs] No! The great thing about the scripts is that each line is filled with a background meaning or a hidden joke. It's just really smart.
TVGuide.com: Do you watch the show on TV?
Hale: I watch it once, and then I wait for the DVD. And now and then I'll go on websites where they catch the stuff that I didn't catch — and I'm in the show! People watch [the episodes] like five or six times.
TVGuide.com: You don't sound much like Buster right now, but what do you have in common with the character?
Hale: We both have pretty bad allergies. I had asthma as a kid, and I'm sure Buster had asthma and every other disease in America. I tend to be the one on set who will crack up the whole time, and Buster's a big laugher. I literally can't keep it together. It's unfortunate. Someone will hit a joke and it's ruined because I can't hold it together.
TVGuide.com: Do you laugh like him?
Hale: No, thank god. I don't hit that ultimate octave.
TVGuide.com: Where did you come up with some of the mannerisms you use?
Hale: Buster's pretty much a 7-year-old trapped in a 32-year-old's body. I lived in New York for 10 years, and I'm sure I saw some "Buster characteristics" in people on the subway. The great thing is that Buster is so ignorant about a) how he comes off and b) what's happening around him, that he just kind of lives in his own reality. After he lost his hand, for a couple of days he still thought he had it. He had his hook on and would give massages to people and make their shoulders bleed. He's just not aware of what goes on. If somebody's laughing at him, he'll just join in.
TVGuide.com: How do you fake the missing hand?
Hale: I switched from the hook to a prosthetic hand, which is kind of like a glove. The hook is this canister I stick my hand in, and that gets a little hot. I always feel bad for [the props department] when they have to take it from me and it's just this sweat log.
TVGuide.com: Do they put it in the dishwasher?
Hale: They actually should! That was an awkward line, wasn't it?
TVGuide.com: Have you received any angry letters from amputees?
Hale: I get concerned that the handicapped community is going to hate me. But no.
TVGuide.com: This season, is Buster going to grow up any more? Will he continue working with his "analrapist," Tobias?
Hale: Wasn't that the most awkward thing you've ever seen in your life? I don't want Buster to mature at all. He does need a love interest. We had Liza Minnelli's [character, Lucille], and that was fun, but she was just as dysfunctional as he is. So I love the fact that he said, "I need a love interest. OK. A Roomba!" Of course, that's normal. I love his naïveté about that.
TVGuide.com: Are there any plans to bring Liza back?
Hale: I hope so! That's the only time Buster gets any action.
TVGuide.com: Do you keep in touch with her?
Hale: I don't. She's in New York, and I'm sure she's traveling a lot. She's the best, a joy to work with. She's got such a great history, and she would tell us stories.
TVGuide.com: She was game for most of the jokes.
Hale: Her character had vertigo and I had panic attacks, so we were the obvious couple. She would do these pratfalls full force. She didn't hold back.
TVGuide.com: Are there any dream guest stars you'd love to work with on the show?
Hale: Tim Conway. He's a big comic hero of mine. He's one of those actors who, during The Carol Burnett Show, could be funny without saying a word. He was the master of that.
TVGuide.com: Do you think the guest stars could ever become stale, as has happened on Will & Grace?
Hale: It's always fun for us. We'll look at a script and see these new characters and always wonder who will play them. It was like, "Oh, by the way, Charlize Theron is playing Rita." Or, "Liza's playing Lucille." It's just like, "What?! That's crazy! Great!" The actors who are doing it have asked to do it because they're fans of the show. They love it and respect the humor.
TVGuide.com: What's coming up for you?
Hale: My wife Martel and I are expecting a baby. And I did some movies over the hiatus; it was really nice to get that work.
TVGuide.com: Congratulations! What are the movies?
Hale: In Stranger than Fiction I play Will Ferrell's coworker at the IRS, his friend and confidant. Then I have a small part in R.V. with Robin Williams. In that movie [AD's] Will Arnett plays my boss. And in Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, I play a handicapped coworker who thinks every comment made to him is an insult to the handicapped. It really is great to get the work. I did commercials in New York before this, and it was always just living job to job.
Do you get offered a lot of Buster-type parts?
Hale: I don't. I think Buster is so out there that there can't possibly be another character like him. He's a little too distinct.