Tina Williams was busy putting her granddaughter to bed as the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards unfolded on Sunday night when her mobile phone and then her land-line and later her daughter’s phone began ringing off the hook.
It was only later, when the longtime youth theater director watched a recorded version of the telecast, that she finally figured out what the fuss was all about.
In front of a global audience of millions, her former student and “Veep” star Tony Hale gave a shout out to the Young Actors Theatre and School for the Performing Arts, the Tallahassee, Fla., company where Williams serves as executive director.
Hale, who won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy credited Young Actors with helping him get his start and for nurturing other aspiring performers.
That he got a chance to publicly acknowledge the theater’s work was a surprise. Hale’s win, for playing the vice president’s bumbling aide-de-camp on the HBO series over heavy favorites like “Modern Family”s’ Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill, was a big upset.
“It was a surprise for him to win because of the competition, but do I think he was the funniest person up there?” Williams told TheWrap. “You bet I do. He just has this innate and unique sense of timing, and it’s an honesty that comes from within.”
She has not been spoken to him yet, but he did reach out after he made the shortlist of contenders.
“He called me when he got nominated, and we screamed and yelled and carried on,” she said.
Williams said that Hale has remained involved in the theater company he trained at from junior high through high school, helping it with fundraising and advising student interested in a career in television. He is not the only prominent alum from the 300-student non-profit. “Curb Your Enthusiam”s’ Cheryl Hines also studied at the Young Actors Theatre.
In an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat before the Emmy Awards, the Florida native credited the program with providing an outlet for his creative talents.
“In the South, you don’t find that many creative … programs like the one at YAT,” Hale told the paper.”Football is a religion in the South. I don’t have to explain that. But the creative programs have to struggle to survive. I’m so glad I found YAT. That was definitely my second home. Most of best memories are from YAT.”
Williams said that Hale, who also has a prominent supporting role as the emotionally stunted Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development,” was a skilled dancer and singer and equally adept at comic and dramatic roles while growing up. Performances as an exotic traveling salesman in “Oklahoma!” and a randy art teacher in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” were particular standouts during his tenure at Young Actors, she said.
“I always knew he was funny,” Williams said. “When he was a kid he had this wild, free energy and he just used that to blossom into a wonderful performer.”
While he was still studying at Young Actors , the group began handing out annual awards to its members. During the first year, it was Hale who won a best supporting actor prize for his work in “Our Town.”
“He played the milkman and he came out pulling his cow Bessie,” Williams said. “He played a small role, but in his hands it became a standout performance.”