Buster Bluth would get devoured by Curtain, says actor Tony Hale

Actor Tony Hale, best known for his role as Buster Bluth on ‘Arrested Development’, shares the best part of playing twins Mr Benedict and Mr Curtain in ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’

As Mr Benedict throws himself into an impassioned speech about human condition, in the upcoming series The Mysterious Benedict Society, he suddenly slumps into a deep sleep owing to the character’s narcolepsy. “Apart from the narcolepsy, which was very appealing (laughs), he [Benedict] has such compassion not just for children and the world but also for the truth,” says actor Tony Hale over a call from New York.

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The series, set to stream on Disney+ from June 25, is an adaptation of the young-adult quartet of books of which three million copies were sold. It follows four uniquely-skilled orphans who are brought to Institute, a boarding school led by Mr Benedict (Hale), and tasked with saving the world from an invisible disaster.

Hale admits that prior to joining the series, he did not know anything about the world created by author Trenton Lee Stewart. So he dove into the first book titled The Mysterious Benedict Society (2007) and was mesmerised by the storylines, characters and the setting.

The running parallels between the series and the real world are remarkably similar, and this premise excited Hale. “It starts off with this emergency and we are all in the middle of what has been a chaotic year (laughs), causing panic and fear. Mr Benedict pulls together these kids to find the source. What excites me the most, though, is that these kids don’t have magical superpowers — their powers are their intellect, wittiness and empathy. I just think, ‘man, after the year we have had, those are superpowers!’”

Amid the new wave of superhero shows such as Loki and Invincible, Hale points out that The Mysterious Benedict Society is “totally” a breath of fresh air. “We do miss the superpowers we have — empathy, creativity, intellect — and how they can make change. I love superhero movies though!”

Mr Benedict is an endearing sort with his own complexities, and Hale thrives on his character. Hale also plays Mr Benedict’s nefarious twin Mr Curtain — which was part of his pursuit of the role. “In playing Curtain, it would have been easy to play the idea of an evil twin. But I wanted to find parts of him with which I resonated: his humanity, mainly. He probably feels misunderstood and this comes from his own pain.”

Tony Hale as Mr Benedict in the pilot episode ‘A Bunch of Smart Orphans’ in Disney+ series ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’
 
| Photo Credit: Disney+

Playing twins is certainly a challenge Hale enjoys, but he points out the characters are “a small piece of this pie”. He adds, “This pie is made up of hair, wardrobe, make-up and production design — it is all so beautiful. So when you step into this world, it’s easy to adapt. For example, Curtain’s office is very stoic and cold with a lot of blues and is very angular. Benedict’s is very warm and green.”

Speaking of the sets, did he get to keep a souvenir? He laughs cheekily, “I did! I took a wool blanket from Mr Benedict’s house that had these green shades. I also took a very sleek and modern rock from Curtain’s desk. Both of these things represent each character very well, I thought.”

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a landmark career moment for the 50-year-old actor-comedian, who made a home on these creatively-built sets. “When they pitched it to me, I had this immediate thought of ‘um, I don’t think I can do this’, but I jumped in. Working with James Bobin who directed the pilot episode, and Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi who wrote the series, and this cast, all define amazing energy of the show.”

Pandemic togetherness

He revels in working with young actors Mystic Inscho who plays Reynard, Seth Carr playing George, Marta Timofeeva as Constance and Emmy DeOliveira as Kate. He shared a lot of on-screen banter with MaameYaa Boafo who plays Rhonda and Kristen Schaal who plays Number Two. The latter two are close confidants of Mr Benedict.

“Kristen is extremely funny and MaameYaa is so talented; I love them both. It’s weird when you film a show during COVID, because you can’t all ‘hang out’,” he recalls, “For five months, everyone had their own spaces and masks on. I didn’t even see the crew’s faces until I was given a book of their faces! When we were able to talk and hang out, it was such a gift because we filmed in Vancouver, Canada, and were away from our homes and families and couldn’t travel back. We really had that ‘found-family’.”

Hale is best known for his portrayal of the socially-awkward Buster Bluth in successful Fox sitcom Arrested Development. His character forges on through an arc of hilarious jobs, bizarre relationships and losing his left hand to a seal attack. So which one of the twins would Buster get along with? Hale responds with a laugh, “Curtain would devour him and Buster could use a really big hug and guidance from Benedict. He is already dealt with a lot in regards to his dysfunctional relationship with his mother Lucille (played by the late Jessica Walter), and his own paranoia.”

The Mysterious Benedict Society streams on Disney+Hotstar Premium from June 25.

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