It might seem a little early to call it, but Toy Story 4’s Forky seems likely to become the character of the year. He’s weird. He’s a Halloween costume waiting to happen. His catchphrase—“I’M TRAAAAAASH!”—is the battle cry of a generation. And most importantly, Tony Hale gave him his voice, imbuing the character with real vulnerability.
The character’s identity crisis begins with his very name—why call him “Forky” and not “Sporky”?
The answer, as Hale guessed in a recent interview, is that his creator—frightened kindergartener Bonnie—had a limited vocabulary. (Does a five-year-old really know what a spork is?) Either way, even Forky’s name is a source of friction in his psyche. “It’s a part of his whole question,” Hale said. “[He’s] constantly in crisis, because he’s kind of like, ‘Not only am I not a toy—guys, I’m a spork!’ So it’s a lot of confusion happening in his little spork body.”
Forky easily could have been an obnoxious gimmick—but thanks to Hale’s commitment, he’s already become a fan favorite. As someone with a history of playing anxious oddballs—Buster in Arrested Development, Gary in Veep—Hale said he was honored to get the call to play a stressed-out, googly-eyed utensil. “I do consider myself a bit of an oddball,” Hale said. “I consider myself probably being vulnerable to a fault. I think I try to be honest about the journey that I’ve had, and I enjoy bringing that into these characters…. Whether I’m playing a villain, or whether I’m playing someone like Gary or Forky—when you can find that truth in the character that’s also in yourself, I think that’s when you can bring the most authenticity out in that character.”
Vanity Fair: I know you’re on Twitter. Did you have an inkling of how meme-able Forky was going to be—how many people were declaring themselves trash on the internet before Forky even existed?
Tony Hale: I did not. I should do a dumpster dive into looking at them. When people say that, I’m like, Oh my gosh; I want to immediately follow it up by like, You have value! You have tremendous purpose! We all have moments where you feel that, where you’re just like, I feel aimless today. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on; I feel like I’m having that day where nothing’s making sense. So many times, I want to stand up and be like, What’s happening? What’s going on? What am I supposed to be doing? What is my place in this?
Forky is a weirdo in a similar way to some of your other characters, like Buster and Gary—but what sets him apart from them, aside from his bodily form?
I love that he definitely does have a similar kind of neurotic energy to him. Gary on Veep, he wasn’t really allowed to use his voice. Selina Meyer never really let him talk. He was even called a “bitchy mime“ on the show. And Forky, he has no flexibility in his body. He barely can walk. His googly eyes are completely out of control. His arms are almost way too flexible. The control in those are limited. And so he only has his voice. So he’s constantly expressing, like, What’s this? What’s this? Why am I here? What’s going on?And so it’s like they’re switched. His voice is his only expression, of like, You’ve got to tell me what’s going on here. Whereas Gary didn’t even have that.
How did you find range while repeating Forky’s favorite line, “I’m trash,” over and over again?
Tom Hanks was saying something about [how] he says the words “Come on guys!” so many different ways over the course of 25 years of doing Toy Story. And “trash!” is Forky’s version of that. I had to say that many, many different kinds of ways, almost to the point where you’re like, Are these different? You kind of get in your head about: Am I giving you what you want?
What is your personal equivalent to diving into a garbage can? What do you do when you just want to feel safe and cozy?
I think my version of—I wouldn’t say it’s trash, but it’s definitely my version of a cozy place—is I will take good friends sitting around a fireplace, having a cocktail, over any kind of travel or event. That to me is my ultimate cozy comfort happy place.
On a personal level, you’ve talked about how you can relate to Forky because you’ve also dealt with anxiety. Who has been the Woody in your life—the person who helped you realize you do have value and purpose even when you feel lost?
There’s been a lot of Woody characters in my life. My wife, obviously being one. Not to sound super spiritual, but God is a big Woody character for me. I have so many friends that have been Woody characters in my life. My sister is a big, huge Woody character in my life. My brother. I’m incredibly, incredibly, incredibly grateful to them.
Have you had a similar turning point to Forky’s, going from feeling lost to suddenly feeling like things are snapping into place?
It’s been a series of them, honestly. In terms of anxiety, I would say probably seven or eight years ago, I had a bit of an awakening where I didn’t have to be such a victim to my thoughts and my feeling. Where I learned about setting them outside of myself through cognitive behavioral therapy, where you learn to label them rather than identify yourself with them. In my college years, I really started to understand a relationship with God, and so that was its own awakening of, Wow, I have a greater purpose, and a greater value than what I thought I had. When I got married, when I had my daughter, my eyes were open to being a father, to being a husband. So I think it was throughout life, having a series of them.
This movie went through several developmental stages. Did the character of Forky change at all from when you first started to the final product?
It was actually very helpful playing Forky in this process, because they would only give you certain script pages as you were recording. So much like Forky, I had no idea what the hell was going on. I was just as confused as he was, which actually helped.
Now that you’ve closed the door on Veep, how are you feeling about the show as a whole and that entire experience—and what are you looking forward to in your next chapter?
I still miss those guys so much. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all go grocery shopping together just to hang out again, because we just love each other so much. I think it’s going to probably hit me in the fall, when we‘re not shooting again. I think that’s going to be another wave of, Oh crap. But we all just really, really love each other. I think, honestly, the next thing that I’m so excited about is I did this children’s book years ago called Archibald’s Next Big Thing—about not focusing so much on your next adventure, but really being on the adventure you’re on.
The children’s book became a cartoon that’s going to be released on Netflix in the fall. And this chicken, this little chicken named Archibald, he is so loving to every situation and every character, and so open. It has been such a joy working on. So I can’t wait to share it with everybody.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
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