“Inside Out 2”’s Tony Hale Reveals ‘Game Changer’ Step He Takes When Sensing a ‘Panic Attack’ (Exclusive)

Here’s why Tony Hale now has “a lot more compassion” for his own anxiety

<p>Jenny Gage + Tom Betterton; Disney/Pixar</p> (Left-right:) Tony Hale;

Jenny Gage + Tom Betterton; Disney/Pixar

(Left-right:) Tony Hale; 'Inside Out 2'

Tony Hale can relate plenty to Fear, the Inside Out 2 character he voices. But it’s Anxiety who resonates with him the most.

“It's very easy to go to anxiety,” Hale, 53, 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 Veep star has been refreshingly candid about his mental health practices, even exploring such themes in Archibald's Next Big Thing, his book-turned-animated-series about a curious chicken. “I love talking about that,” he says.

Related: Tony Hale Admits It’s ‘Daunting as Hell’ Watching College-Bound Daughter Loy ‘Forge Her Own Path’ (Exclusive)

When Hale finds his mind going to that “What if?” mentality, for example, “I have to also activate the five senses,” he shares. “Because when I find myself living in a different narrative of ‘What could happen?’ [I practice], ‘Grab the table. What are you touching? What are you seeing? What are you tasting? What are you hearing?’ ”

<p>Jerod Harris/Getty</p> Tony Hale on Jan. 15

Jerod Harris/Getty

Tony Hale on Jan. 15

Recognizing and addressing anxiety is a hard-won habit, as Hale makes clear. Performing the largely one-man play Wakey, Wakey in San Francisco in 2020, he recalls, “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?’ ”

The fear of forgetting lines can result in an out-of-body experience, says Hale, sometimes even while on stage. “This is kind of a recent thing for me, which I really love. 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.”

Related: All the Stars Were Out for Tonight's Inside Out 2 Premiere in L.A., See the Photos!

After all, as the Arrested Development star explains, anxiety wants to protect. “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.’ What I used to do is want to cut it out or ignore it and move forward… The more I tried to push it away, the bigger it got.”

The practice of “compassion, versus trying to cut off, was a game changer for me,” says Hale of his run in the stage play.

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<p>Disney/Pixar</p> 'Inside Out 2'


'Inside Out 2'

That’s why 2015’s Inside Out and its new sequel are more than just escapist entertainment for the whole family. As Hale points out, it “gives you compassion for what’s going on inside of a lot of people,” seeing emotions as distinct parts of the self.

“All those little characters in Inside Out, they just want to help Riley,” says Hale of the pre-teen girl (voiced in the new film by Kensington Tallman) whose inner emotions include Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Maya Hawke as new arrival Anxiety.

Related: Amy Poehler and Maya Hawke Meet Toy Versions of Their Inside Out 2 Characters: 'Looks Just Like Me' (Exclusive)

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

“What I used to do is I used to always identify with every feeling, every thought,” he says. Now, thanks to an ongoing commitment to mental health, “I can observe it rather than drowning or identifying with it all the time.”

Inside Out 2 is in theaters June 14. Hale also appears in the upcoming Netflix comedy The Decameron

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