When Nicholas Benedict discovers a global crisis of misinformation, “The Emergency,” he determines to address the problem at its source. To save the world from its own detriment, he assembles a team of four adults and four children to search for the truth. When choosing team members for the task, he has one priority: empathy.
Mr. Benedict: But most importantly, it was clear that you all possess a quality that is severely lacking in our society.
Reynie: What quality?
Mr. Benedict: Empathy. You see others. You care for others.
Mr. Benedict: You love truth. In fact, I think you may be among the few capable of seeing the truth anymore. Oh, but what that does is help you resist the disinformation that’s being fed to us every single day.
The part of Mr. Benedict is embodied by two-time Emmy award-winning actor Tony Hale in The Mysterious Benedict Society, the second season of which is available on Disney+. Depending on your age and entertainment taste, you may better know Hale as the inexhaustible Gary Walsh in Veep (HBO), the cringey Buster Bluth in Arrested Development (Fox), or for his recent turns in movies like Clifford the Red Dog (2021) and Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (2021). Your children probably know him as the voice behind Forky in Toy Story 4 (2019) or maybe as the author of Archibald’s Next Big Thing (also now a series on Netflix and Peacock).
In addition to his ability to create two of modern televisions most memorable characters and bringing an everyman normality to his more serious roles, Hale’s openness, self-deprecating humor, and, again, normalness make him a favorite of profilers, podcasters, and TV talk-show hosts. And anyone who knows Hale personally, knows that this openness doesn’t disappear when the cameras and mics blink off.
Along with keeping in touch with several friends from his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, even bringing his childhood acting teacher to a major awards show, Hale has long advocated for organizations that work to address social injustices. For years, he has been particularly supportive of the Center, an organization at the forefront of fighting homelessness in Los Angeles, the city he and his family now call home.
Hale’s desire to contribute beyond his on-screen talents comes from a longtime dedication to community, evident from the early days of his career. His most recent characters’ exploration of humanity, truth, and community, are nothing new to his work, on or off screen. And it’s his faith that has both launched and sustained his pursuits.
“My faith informs how I think about humanity,” Hale told me in an interview for Common Good. “It gives me purpose in life and it gives me a unique perspective and it guides my life. It informs how I perceive others. I care about those who are suffering in my midst.”
In 1996, Hale moved to New York City from Tallahassee. In Tallahassee, he had had community by way of family and friends, as well as by being a student active in school activities, in the youth department of First Baptist Church and Young Actors Studio, a local children’s theater troupe. With support behind him, Hale was intent on succeeding in the city’s brutally competitive performing arts industry. In the early days of his career in the mid-90s, finding a community in New York City took work.
While trying to capitalize on opportunities and auditions, Hale also looked for a supporting cast: “Living in community with others is important to me personally,” he said. “I was a single guy trying to make it in the big city, but I didn’t want to go it alone. I wanted like-minded people around me.”
He began attending local churches, searching for other actors who were also searching for camaraderie. He landed at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a Manhattan congregation founded by Tim Keller and a church with a particular dedication to the flourishing of artists, the world of the arts being a direct inroad to the culture at large. Even there, Hale seemed not to find a cohesive group that served as a nucleus for actors who made faith a priority, and in that pre-internet era, if such a group did exist, it was especially difficult to find.
“There’s a ton of groups you can join nowadays, thanks to the internet,” Hale said. “But back then, not so much. I’d make actor friends here and there, but I wanted to bring everyone together so we could network, hang out, and support each other in this grand adventure.”
Because he couldn’t find the kind of community he wanted, Hale sought to create it.
Hale and his friend Kathy Karbowski, a costume designer for films like Garden State (2004), created a group called the Haven, which then met once a week at the Lamb’s Theatre in Times Square. A group for what Hale describes as “actors whose faith is central to who they are and what they do in life,” the Haven’s community grew steadily and relationships bloomed. Members looked for ways to encourage each other, in practical ways like attending each other’s performances and tackling service projects together.
“One drive we started that became an annual event was the Pie Bake,” which attracted scores of volunteers. “We’d bake over 200 pies and bring them to the Bowery Mission to benefit the homeless who would be receiving their Thanksgiving meal there the next day. It was a gift to them, but a gift to us to be able to help in some small way.”
To help meet the needs of the city’s homeless, Hale, along with others in his community, worked to create several outlets, via the Haven and his local church, where volunteers could directly meet those in need with support. “I believe in blooming where you are planted, and we wanted to make the most of the opportunities that were available to help others,” he said. “We always had our eyes open to what was going on around us.”
Although the Haven no longer exists, and the Lamb’s Theatre is no more, many such groups today thrive, especially as the internet and social media have made it easier for people, and in all corners of the theater world, to find each other, support each other, and serve their neighbors.
Hale’s initiative was magnetic. An influencer of sorts, even before his more public success in the industry, his part was crucial in the creation of the Haven’s community of like-minded artists of faith in New York City — and in the Haven’s ownership of its responsibility to give back. “We were really trailblazers at the time,” Hale said. The Pie Bake continues today, now coordinated at Redeemer Presbyterian.
Hale carried this same philosophy with him to Los Angeles in 2003 with his wife, Martel, who also worked in the industry as a makeup artist. A daughter joined the family soon after they arrived, and Hale got busy establishing his name in his new environment. But as his career took off, as in New York, his desire to help under-served people didn’t take a back seat.
Because he couldn’t turn a blind eye to — he couldn’t not see — the homeless problem in the nation’s second largest city, Hale began looking for ways to replicate the kind of work he was able to do through the Haven. Within Hollywood, there are about 2,000 unhoused people, with around 60,000 in Los Angeles County.
“The truth is, when it comes to homelessness, you can feel powerless,” Hale said. “You don’t know what to do. But in the L.A. area, you can’t not notice how bad it is. And as an actor, how could I authentically interpret others and be a mirror to life if I’m not concerned about their lives and their perspectives — especially our neighbors on the street?”
Even though, as Hale said, it’s hard not to notice the severity of homelessness in Los Angeles, it can also be difficult to see someone else’s situation as something you actually have the capacity to affect.
“It takes effort to see that broader picture of the needs around you. You have to really catch yourself to stop making everything all about you,” he said. For Hale, that is crucial for being a part of a place, and foundational for loving a neighbor.
In 2010, Hale’s friend Kerry Morrison invited him to an event hosted by the Center, where he was first introduced to the organization’s work and perspective. “They’re really in the trenches,” Hale said about the work they do in the city. “They brought humanity back to these people who have essentially been forgotten. I became a member of the board, and began helping to plan fundraisers. Right from the get-go, I believed in what they were doing.”
The Center in Hollywood started off as a ministry of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Hollywood but became its own nonprofit organization in 2008. With the official vision statement of “Community ends homelessness,” the Center has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, as the staff grew from 10 to 60 and its budget to about $6 million per year.
The Center currently houses nearly 300 who were previously unhoused.
To serve as many people experiencing homelessness as it can, the Center offers services like help to find housing, substance-use programs, and feeding centers. It has an onsite clinic and even receives mail for around 400 people who don’t have a permanent address. Plus, the Center is a welcome space with very few barriers to access, eschewing typical intake forms and medically treating conditions like drug addiction with no questions asked.
“Having a varied amount of programs is important because each person is unique — their experiences, their traumas,” said Nathan Sheets, executive director of the Center since 2016. “Some come in and they just need a mailing address, and then others show up who want an assessment in order to get connected into our mental health programs. And then there are just people who want to connect with others.” Sheets first joined the Center in 2013 as a program manager and has been fostering connections since. Almost as long as Hale.
For his part, Hale leans into the expertise of Sheets and those who dedicate their full energy to this work.
“Decisions like how to help end homelessness require bigger minds than me,” Hale said. “What I know is the Center is making a difference through their compassion. I’ve witnessed it for the past 12 years. Money going to the Center makes a 100 percent difference — I’ve seen that, too.”
(Not the) Final Act
Los Angeles has been home for Hale and his family for almost two decades, and as you can tell, he continues to thrive in the entertainment industry there. Hale says he still loves being an actor, but he also loves being able to leverage the effects of his day job to shine a spotlight on and aid organizations that contribute in ways he can’t by himself.
“My faith dictates that we are meant to love others and focus on their needs, which includes our neighbors on the street,” Hale said. “When my daughter sees me modeling this by helping the community, my hope is that she’ll do the same in her life. My hope is that she’ll always have her eyes open to the world around her and help out in every way she can.”
It’s clear to Hale this willingness to view the world around is severely lacking in society. To see others, to care for others — and what that does is help him resist what’s otherwise being fed to us every single day.