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HomeIndustry SectorAlan Tudyk on Anchoring Resident Alien and His Illustrious Career, Including Firefly

Alan Tudyk on Anchoring Resident Alien and His Illustrious Career, Including Firefly

Two decades ago, Alan Tudyk starred in what has since become a beloved cult classic series, despite being pulled from the air by FOX after just eleven episodes. The legacy of Firefly has shaped much of Tudyk’s successive career, with roles in sci-fi fare like Dollhouse, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and Doom Patrol in the years since, among many other film and television appearances across a variety of genres and formats.

Currently, Tudyk stars in another comedic sci-fi show, Resident Alien, portraying an alien who has landed on Earth and assumed the identity of Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, who is now the town doctor in Patience, Colorado. Over time, Harry has built a friendship with Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko), who knows who he really is and helps to protect his secret, and developed awkward and entertaining relationships with other suspicious locals.

Resident Alien is back for its third season on Syfy, which finds Harry working in a more collaborative spirit than ever before with General Eleanor McCallister (Linda Hamilton) to help prevent the Grey alien race from wreaking havoc on Earth. It’s a new mode for Harry, who himself wanted to kill all humans when he first got the chance to know them and has gradually been developing human emotion since living in his new skin.

Above the Line caught up last week with Tudyk at the NBCUniversal Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, California, where he was promoting the show with creator Chris Sheridan and costars Tomko, Alice Wetterlund, and Corey Reynolds. He was sporting a shirt with the face of a famous screen alien who Harry always describes as sexy and perfect in every way, none other than E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Tudyk reflected on the experience of getting to play Harry and working with Hamilton and another genre legend, Terry O’Quinn. He discussed love for voice work and also had an answer ready to go for which project of his he wishes more people would seek out: a 2010 film that, like so much of what he does, doesn’t feel so far off from Resident Alien.

Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien (SYFY)

Above the Line: As he spends more time as a human, Harry becomes more human. How have you become more like Harry over the course of the show? 

Alan Tudyk: Evidently, my laugh has gotten very loud in public, and it’s problematic if or when I go to the movie theater, and I find something funny. There’s no longer any kind of governor on my laugh. It’s just a full blast, and I think it’s startling. I’ve made a point to try to pull it back, because you know how some people laugh and it’s almost like it’s a show, like they’re putting on their own little laughter show. I genuinely feel it, but my wife, I feel sorry for her.

ATL: Somewhere between Nick Offerman’s laugh and Janice from Friends

Tudyk: Yes, yes.

ATL: What is it like to work with very exciting legends of the industry like Linda Hamilton and Terry O’Quinn?

Tudyk: It’s fantastic. It’s always great to work with people that you’ve watched and admired for years. I love acting, and I love people who are good at craft. Terry O’Quinn, he’s got such an easy touch; it’s a joy working with him. In Season Two, I got to have some scenes with him. Because he’s the Alien Tracker, he sees me as the alien, so all of our scenes, I was wearing a rubber mask, but I just love the back and forth. Linda and I have gone from being sworn enemies now to this season being cohorts, somewhat. We’re leery of one another. We’re still trying to use each other for our own purposes, so it’s one of those partnerships.

ATL: Harry loves insulting people. What kind of rapport does that build with your castmates when you’re just calling them all idiots all the time?

Tudyk: Everybody’s great about it. As long as it’s in the script, no one takes it personally. Although, Judah Prehn – he plays the child Max – our on-camera and on-set relationship, they match one another, they mirror one another. It’s a lot of insults back and forth, and he tends to win, just like Max does. So that’s been fun. And, fans, that’s the interesting thing! I’ve met some fans lately and they’ll say, “Could you sign this?” – whatever they have for me, poster, etc. – “Could you sign it here with this pen: ‘Don’t tell me what to do.'” I could just go right into Harry. “Don’t push me around!” And they think it’s fun. Yeah, it’s all in good fun.

ATL: Do you have a favorite insult? 

Tudyk: “This is some bullshit!” works well. “Son of a bitch!” is certainly one that I use in my life, one from the show that has made the leap to Alan’s life.

Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien (SYFY)

ATL: Hearing you just slip into talking like Harry is a treat, even if’s just for a written piece. You’ve done a lot of other voiceover work, with Wish and Once Upon a Studio, among others. What is it like to be disembodied, and do you like that?

Tudyk: I love it. You are living in your imagination. Your imagination plays such a big, important role of acting in any art. But when you’re doing a voice in a movie that has yet to be animated, and especially Disney, they allow for a lot of fluidity in the lines, especially when you’re developing the movie because they develop the scripts over years. Your imagination, for me, I can just jump on, well, like a rollercoaster at Disneyland, I guess, and just take off. You don’t know where it’s going to take you. I shut my eyes usually, and I’m just seeing the whole world. I just go wherever it leads. And then a lot of times, those things end up in the movie. And oftentimes, I don’t even remember saying that. When we come back after a recording, there’s several successive recordings, they’ll be like, that was your line, and they have to remind me which ones were mine and which ones weren’t because it just becomes like a dream. It’s very fun.

ATL: Well, conversely, one of the first roles of yours I remember seeing was Death at a Funeral, which is such a physical role. It definitely feels a bit like Harry and the way he touches food and people. 

Tudyk: It’s very similar. It’s almost like he’s always on his own trip. It’s just his trip to Earth, I guess. Yeah, Death of Funeral was a blast. It’s another sort of dream state, someone who has accidentally dosed on a lot of drugs. It’s a farce with  an excellent director, I have to always say. Frank Oz is just brilliant at conducting all of those fantastic actors. Harry, in Season Three, I fall down. He’s walking, he falls in love this season and he gets weak in the knees and he falls down. He just keeps falling down, because it’s a true weakness. It becomes more of a theater performance, almost. In the theater, you expect, approaching a role as an actor, a full-body performance. You’re going to need it, because people are seeing you and you don’t have the benefit of a camera that’s only selecting your close-ups, so you have to complete the picture. Really, for Harry, it’s part of the story that his body is not always cooperating.

Tudyk with Sara Tomko in Resident Alien (SYFY, photo by James Dittiger)

ATL: On the note of Harry falling in love, Edi Patterson is just nuts on The Righteous Gemstones. This role is so different, but also pretty crazy. 

Tudyk: I love her so much. I did a Groundlings, she does Groundlings sometimes in town, in LA, and I got to meet her there. I just put it in my head, “That’s one of the funniest women I’ve ever met my life!” And when they were casting this, they were like, “Hey, what do you guys think?” and she was into it. Working with her was a joy, because there are no lines to cross. A little spoiler: we have a kiss coming up. I don’t think it’s been seen yet. In the script it says, “They kiss,” and that’s all. Oh my god, the things that happened! It was disgusting and bizarre and one of the funniest things. I haven’t seen it fully done, but it was one of the more fun scenes I’ve ever done.

ATL: Resident Alien is now on Netflix, with potentially, a new audience of viewers What should fans of yours expect from this show? 

Tudyk: Kind of a mix of everything I’ve done. This role is physical, like you said, like Death at a Funeral, and it also has a sci-fi element. I start out flying a spaceship, crash it, which is also very much on brand for me. I’ve done motion capture work as robots in big sci-fi movies. It’s not motion capture unless I am the full alien in which the bottom half of me is.

ATL: I imagine that’s because you’re not that tall?

Tudyk: I am not. I am not seven-foot-three, which is actually right about the same size as K-2SO from Rogue One. We don’t have those stilts, so those were made by ILM and those were very cool. I’m mainly just in a special effects face mask and hands when the boy Max sees me. So it’s really all of it in one. It’s comedy, and there’s some drama in it as well. It’s an hour-long dramedy. Especially in the early seasons, before he had any positive feelings about humans, he was ready to kill everybody, not just the boy. His mother, anybody who found out his secret, he was going to kill them – he pulled a knife! Anyway, he’s dangerous. So enjoy it. Take the ride. Have fun. They’re really fun stories, and they have some good messages as well, because he’s learning about humanity and what is it worth. What’s the point of humans?

(L-R) Chris Sheridan, Tudyk, Sara Tomko at the NBC-Universal Press Tour (photo by Todd Williamson, courtesy SYFY)

ATL: It’s been so many years since your breakthrough role in Firefly. Streaming is now so big where there are so many options. Is there going to be more to that story, or to Dollhouse? Or has it been too long, and it’s just not going to happen anymore?

Tudyk: I feel like, if anyone could be rebooted, it’s Firefly, and I don’t know how. You go forward with it from the movie, with remaining cast. It was actually a fan fiction story that Nathan Fillion, who played Malcolm Reynolds, showed me. I only saw how it started out – it was like one page. Somebody lands a spaceship on a moon that’s been terraformed but there’s nobody there. It’s deserted basically, except for this one shack, and this guy comes up and he knocks on the door, and the guy opens the door and it’s Malcolm Reynolds, and he says, “We need you!” You could start it right there, there you go! Get a new ship, put together a crew, have the rest of the old cast come in and out, but get some new young blood in there.

ATL: Despite its short life, Firefly is so popular, so what else from your credits do you feel is a hidden gem that you’d like more people to see. For me, it would be Powerless. What’s yours?

Tudyk: I would say Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, but I guess a lot of people have seen that. Yeah, Tucker and Dale Versus Evil. It was one of those movies that we went to Sundance, and it won the Audience Award, but then the economy crashed, and that’s when everything changed in Hollywood as far as the way that they financed movies, and the way they promoted movies and all of that. Anyway, it fell through the cracks. It didn’t really get a proper showing, so it’s out there [currently streaming on Peacock]. It’s called Tucker and Dale Versus Evil. It is a horror-comedy which actually, is also similar to Resident Alien in that way. There are lots of death, and it’s very funny. Some good old boys. I played Tucker, and I liked that character.

New episodes of  Resident Alien Season Three debut on Wednesdays at 10pm on Syfy. Seasons One and Two are available to stream via Netflix.

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