Tony Hale on Managing Anxiety and Finding Compassion in ‘Inside Out 2’

Hale shares insights on managing anxiety through compassion in connection with “Inside Out 2”

Tony Hale; 'Inside Out 2'. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JENNY GAGE + TOM BETTERTON; DISNEY/PIXAR)
Tony Hale; ‘Inside Out 2’. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JENNY GAGE + TOM BETTERTON; DISNEY/PIXAR)

Tony Hale, known for his roles in Veep and Arrested Development, has always been open about his struggles with anxiety.

With the upcoming release of Inside Out 2, where he voices the character Fear, Hale has shared more about his personal mental health journey and the practices that help him manage anxiety.

Hale, 53, relates deeply to the emotions portrayed in the Inside Out franchise. While he voices Fear, it’s Anxiety that resonates most with him. “It’s very easy to go to anxiety,” Hale tells PEOPLE.

“It’s very easy for me to live in the ‘What if?’ It takes work, which is really ironic because we’re in the present. It takes work to be present! So that’s a lot of what I’ve had to practice.”

The Emmy-winning actor has not only been candid about his anxiety but has also incorporated these themes into his creative work.

His book-turned-animated-series, Archibald’s Next Big Thing, explores similar themes through the adventures of a curious chicken.

“I love talking about that,” Hale says, emphasizing the importance of mental health conversations.

One of Hale’s techniques for managing anxiety involves grounding himself in the present moment through his senses. “When I find myself living in a different narrative of ‘What could happen?’ [I practice], ‘Grab the table.

Tony Hale on Jan. 15. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JEROD HARRIS/GETTY)
Tony Hale on Jan. 15. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JEROD HARRIS/GETTY)

What are you touching? What are you seeing? What are you tasting? What are you hearing?’” he shares. This method helps him stay connected to the reality of the moment, rather than being consumed by anxious thoughts.

Performing live has been a particular challenge for Hale. Reflecting on his experience with the one-man play Wakey, Wakey in San Francisco in 2020, he recalls the intense anxiety he felt before each performance.

“The anxiety I had every night before I went on stage was like, ‘Oh, well, tonight’s the night I’m going to have a panic attack on stage, so why don’t you just prep for it?’” Hale says.

The fear of forgetting lines often led to what Hale describes as an out-of-body experience. However, he discovered a new approach to dealing with these feelings.

“When I feel that anxiety come on, when I feel kind of myself going into the ‘What if?’ — I turn to it and I have a lot more compassion for it,” he explains.

This compassionate approach, rather than fighting or ignoring his anxiety, has been transformative for Hale.

“In my head I turned to the nerves and I was like, ‘Hey, I appreciate you being here. I know you’re trying to help. I’m going to keep walking, but I really appreciate you being here,’” he says.

'Inside Out 2'. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, DISNEY/PIXAR)
‘Inside Out 2’. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, DISNEY/PIXAR)

This shift from trying to eliminate anxiety to acknowledging and accepting it has been a game changer. “The more I tried to push it away, the bigger it got,” he admits.

Hale’s journey of understanding and managing anxiety aligns with the themes of Inside Out and its sequel.

The films, which delve into the complex emotions of a pre-teen girl named Riley, offer a compassionate view of inner emotional experiences.

“All those little characters in Inside Out, they just want to help Riley,” Hale says of the film’s portrayal of emotions like Joy, Sadness, and Anxiety.

In Inside Out 2, Anxiety is voiced by Maya Hawke and is depicted as a character who, despite creating protective scenarios, deeply cares for Riley.

“Anxiety loves Riley so much, but almost creates all these scenarios to protect Riley or to think how to kind of guard off things,” Hale notes.

This nuanced representation of emotions helps audiences, particularly young viewers, understand and empathize with their own feelings.

“What I used to do is I used to always identify with every feeling, every thought,” Hale says. Now, through his mental health practices, he can observe his emotions without being overwhelmed by them.

“I can observe it rather than drowning or identifying with it all the time.”

As Inside Out 2 hits theaters on June 14, Hale’s insights into anxiety and compassion offer a deeper understanding of the film’s messages.

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