SFX Issue 185
Dollhouse’s resident nutter explains why he’s turned to the dark side
Who would have thought that Joss Whedon would finally push actor Alan Tudyk to the brink? They started out so well too, on the cult series Firefly, where Whedon cast the comically nimble Tudyk in the role of the laconic, yet lovable pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne. Fans were immediately smitten with Tudyk’s portrayal of Wash, a character remarkably similar to Whedon himself. But then it all went downhill (spoiler alert!) when Wash met the mortal end of a very sharp harpoon in the last moments of the big screen movie Serenity; an act that still elicits winces of pain, both literally and figuratively, from fans to this day.
Now four years later, Whedon is making quasi restitution for that act by casting Tudyk in his new series Dollhouse, playing of all things – a psychopath. Wait, “funny Tudyk” of Steve the Pirate (Dodgeball) and Arrested Development fame? Yes, leave it to Joss to see the potential no-one else could imagine from his talented collaborators. And Whedon’s selection of Tudyk as the villainous former Active named Alpha that’s stalking the secret organisation is nothing less than inspired, as we get to witness a new, scary side to the actor.
“I don’t get to play badasses very often,” Tudyk chuckles in agreement. “I was really blown away that Joss wanted me for it. But he set me up really well because he didn’t tell me he was offering it to me or that he wanted me for the role when he first described it. He laid it out like the role does this, and he gave me a full scope of the guy, that he was this person who was obsessed with Echo (Eliza Dushku) and was 43 people at once and has all of these skill sets crammed into one. He’s mad… and he’s sort of godlike in his own mind. I was like, ‘Oh, my god, that sounds so amazing. Who’s playing that?’ And he said, ‘I want you to play it.’”
As an actor known more for the funny, Tudyk said it was a dream opportunity to get to stretch his acting chops and do it in a Whedon project. “He could have had anybody play this role,” Tudyk marvels a bit. “It’s a great role. He could have gotten anybody and I was really honoured that he got me.” Yet all humility aside, Tudyk was more than ready to jump into this vicious spectre that’s been creating chinks in the gorgeous façade of the Dollhouse for the entire season.
Tudyk says Whedon gave him plenty of room to shape Alpha, “but I was hungry for anything he gave me. Any idea he had or any information he could fill in with his vision of Alpha because he’s been shaped by all these [previous] episodes, these different things of what other people have said about him. I was really dependent on his vision because he’s had this guy in mind since the beginning.”
In the series, it’s revealed early on that Alpha was a former Active at the Dollhouse who went very wrong. Many of his personality imprints were fused together into a megalomaniac with violent tendencies.
“Alpha is this composite of people,” the actor continues. “We understand that he’s a bunch of people crammed into one. He’s 43 people at once. He’s ascended in his mind to a godlike place. It gives you a lot to chew on. In ‘Omega,’ you see the effect of what 43 people is on one person. We all have inner monologues, different voices that chime in throughout our day, different opinions on situations. He’s a little less in control of his opinions. They are full people who all want voices. It takes an effort to maintain order in his brain. It was fun. It was a little crazy making, playing with that in your head and having to have different voices and trying to sort them out and then also having to fight them, create them and fight them.
“I think it’s rich to get to play the baddies like that,” Tudyk says of his two-episode experience. “But at the end of the day, I like goofing around on set and joking around with the crew and everything. When you’re playing somebody who’s as intense as this guy is, I kind of have to be quiet and keep to myself from time to time and keep my focus. If I was signing up for seven years, or had to choose one or the other for the rest of my life, I’d go with the fun-loving, funny guy because it’s more fun to play. But luckily I don’t have to choose and Joss gave me this guy, which is both and many.”
As for what’s tempting Tudyk next, he’ll be returning to sci-fi television in the contemporised reboot of the classic ’80s series V, co-starring former Firefly cast member Morena Baccarin. “It’s really good,” he enthuses. “If you’re a fan, which I was at the beginning of the first one, this is kind of everything that you remember without going back and watching. It fills in your memory as it should be.” And with the renewal of Dollhouse for a second season, ultimately there could be more adventures for Alpha in the future. Tudyk only smiles and offers, “Alpha’s fate, it’s uncertain.”