Alan Tudyk Interview

The actor who played loveable pilot Wash appears in Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, which hits cinemas today, and DVD and Blu-ray on Monday. SFX chats to him about the Whedonverse, I, Robot, Transformers and a whole load more

SFX: What are you up to at the moment?

Alan Tudyk: I have my first read-through of a TV show today that we’re starting next week for ABC called Suburgatory.

What can you tell us about the show?

I’m going to be a regular. It’s a comedy. With Jeremy Sisto and the lead, her name is Jane Leavey, she’s a young girl, she plays a 15 year-old girl. Jeremy plays her father and they move from New York City to the suburbs, because he decides that’s a better place to raise his daughter. Satirical take on life in the suburbs and I’m his best friend that beckoned him out there. I’m sort of an immense tool; a bit of a jackass. Somewhere between the ass and the tool, somewhere in that region. I just found out I have to wear speedos; I’m not excited about it but I have a very orange spray tan right now. That’s the hard part of this job and that’s not too hard!

What are you looking for in a role because you seem to do a lot of roles that can be described as ‘fun’?

[Laughs] Yeah. I dunno. I kind of just… I guess I’m attracted to thing that are fun. I guess what is fun about this role in Suburgatory is that there’s a lot of room to play around. You know those people in life who are a bit eccentric and larger than life or a bit odd? That their realm of possibility around them is larger than somebody who’s called normal? What’s normal for an oddball? They could start screaming in public. That’s fun to play. I look for people that the way that they express themselves isn’t constrained by public norms, I guess. Yeah, that’s who I’m drawn too.

Was it a big deal coming back to TV? Is it a medium than you like?

I do! I haven’t done a TV show since, well, I haven’t done a regular on a TV show since Firefly, on Fox in 2001. So it’s taken me a while to get back. But, I mean, that project was special in so many ways. I loved having a new script every week to watch a character development over time, as opposed to a movie where you have one shot at a character and you move on. On TV your character can continue to grow for years if it’s popular, so I’m looking forward to that again.

Going back to Firefly, did you have much input to the character or was it all from Joss, already written on the page?

Most of it was written; the character itself was not too unlike [Joss]. It really had Joss’s voice, the role of Wash, that kind of smart-ass pacifist. When everybody else wants to run off into battle, he’s the one saying, “Isn’t this the dumbest idea ever? Can’t we just go and take naps?” [Laughs] “Isn’t that the better idea?” His voice was there.

I was always pushing things. I was always pushing story ideas, constantly, on Joss. But it was off of the character that he had already drawn in the world that he had filled up. You start to ask questions as you’re going along like, “What did my character do during the war?” Things that probably would have been answered had we had more time, and I had definitely ideas about that. I wanted to be drafted into the war to fight against the alliance. I was on one mission and then I got shot down and was put in prison and spent the entire war in camps, in prisoner camps, and I survived in prisoner camps by entertaining my fellow prisoners by telling of the great battles of the war using shadow puppets. [laughs] I would push that idea all the time and then there were shadow puppets in one of the episodes. So my ideas found their way in, not the way I wanted.

I had whole scenes written. I’d be like, “Here, check it out. We’re all listening. We’ve got Jayne and the Preacher lifting weights, down in the cargo hold and then I walk through and Jayne starts taunting me that I can’t lift weights and I say, ‘Okay, I’ll do it!’” And I take off my shirt and I’m covered in tats. The first time you see Wash shirtless he’s tatted up and it’s all prison tats and it blows Jayne away. And he’s like, “Oh my god, you were at that prison? And that prison? That’s the worst prison! Oh my god, you have a whole life that I don’t anything about.” And I’m like, “That’s right buddy, you don’t know shit!” And I grab the weight and I try and do a bench press and it falls on my neck cause it’s too heavy to lift… “Come on Joss! It’s a really good scene! Please!”

In more time I would have worn him down! I would have had my own episode! I would have written a script. I had full scripts. I was always pitching them! I loved that… I think there’s a lot of fan fiction on that thing, I think it lends itself to people coming up with new ideas. Especially since it had such a short life.

It’s popularity has lived on. Did you have a sense at the time that it was special?

I did with the people I was working with. The experience of it was very special. What we were doing we believed in, we liked it very much, we thought it was great. But Fox seemed to be working against us in an Alliance sort of way. They put us on, they gave us a crappy time, they didn’t advertise our show, they kept taking us off the air two and three weeks at a time and putting it back on out of order. It felt personal! It felt like they were doing it, that they had something against us. I don’t know what it was but it felt like, at Fox, we were in hostile territory the whole time. So we banded together even more and that was very similar to our characters. We’re this group of people holding on to each other, holding onto this way of life, which was for us at that time was doing Firefly. It felt special and maybe some of that came through.

Certainly the scripts were amazing and Joss’s idea were amazing and certainly if it was done today they wouldn’t have gotten rid of it. It was a different time. They didn’t respect Comic-Con and the science fiction audience like they do now. They bow to and court that audience now. I think were it today with the way the internet works as a distributor of content it would certainly be on the air for a long, long time. It’s a shame.

Are you a genre fan yourself?

“Yes! I was about to say that I wasn’t until Firefly but I was a big Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. I’m not the kind of fan that can track, you know, “In this episode they went to this planet and they did this thing,” but I love getting together every week with my friends and watching that. And we’d always say Jean Luc Prichard is a mother-f**ker, he can do anything. He can do anything! He’s a badass. And we all wanted to get together with that woman who can feel things, Aurora or whatever her name was…

Deanna?

Deanna, damn. With those body suits… I was definitely in… I loved watching that show and I was a fan of that. And now who isn’t a fan? Every other big movie has some kind of science fiction element to it.

Who’s the better pilot – Wesley Crusher or Wash?

Uh, Wash. Absolutely. Wesley would do things by the book and Wash is writing his own. It would have lots of illustrations that book. [Laughs] Yeah.

When Firefly came back and you made Serenity, how did you feel when you found out Wash was going to get killed off?

Ah, I was… I was shocked at first but as Joss explained to me right after I read it – he had asked me to call him afterwards – he had explained to me why he did it and what it will bring to the movie as far as raising the stakes. After Wash dies, all bets are off and anyone can die. And that next battle, where everybody starts to go down – Kaylee gets shot in the neck with the poison, the Doc gets shot, Zoe gets stabbed, they run out of ammo – it’s like, “Oh, they’re going to kill everyone.” After Wash dies, so quickly, carelessly, it really ratchets up the stakes for everybody else. That’s what he wanted it to do and it does do that. Wash died in the service of something greater than himself. If it didn’t work then I’d be pissed but it does work.

Have you been lobbying for a part in The Avengers?

[Laughs] No! If Joss wants you in something he’ll tell you. You don’t need to waste your time embarrassing yourself saying, “Give me a job please!” I did Dollhouse and I wasn’t even watching Dollhouse at the time when he offered me the role of Alpha. I went over to Nathan’s house for a game night playing Pictionary and I asked him how his new show was going and how I hadn’t seen it yet and he went on to describe this character Alpha and how cool it was. I was like, “That’s amazing. That’s an amazing character. Who the hell is playing that?” He said, “I want you too.” He had been thinking that for a while. I had no idea. So I’m sure any future roles for Joss would happen like that.

Alpha was quite different to what you done before.

Alpha, absolutely. Joss said that, it was from a Shakespeare reading we had done at his house. And he was like, “Oh, you can do this other thing!” I was reading Julius Caesar, Anthony, I dunno – I can’t remember who I read – but something in that performance had led him to believe I could do it. I loved it. It was fun, it was great to get to stretch in that direction.

And that I started to get all these scripts for bad guys!

What I did learn through that process is, because of the way that the character was introduced, he pretends to be this agoraphobic geek who is afraid of his shadow and once he gets what he wants he turns round and he’s a killer. I enjoyed playing the agoraphobic freaky dude, and then when I was playing the killer. And I was like, “Aw, this is hard!” I have to stay in shape, I’ve got to watch what I eat – this is intense! I really have to focus!

Playing the idiot comes a lot more easily to me. I learnt that. Joss taught me that. The Jackass fool is much more to my liking. So when I was cast in V, soon after doing Dollhouse, I was this half-bumbling FBI guy who was partners with Elizabeth Mitchell’s character. I loved that, and then they turned me into an evil lizard guy, so I was like, “I want out. I can’t be lizard man. I can’t be lizard man. This evilness is too… other people…” I don’t feel as much range in evil people as I do in other people.

You looked like you were having a ball in Transformers?

Yeah! Yes, it’s a ridiculous role. Again, sort of an idiot, but also there’s a whole side of him that you don’t anticipate, when he can actually, all of a sudden, have skills with weapons, and disarming people and it was great! I was having a blast just working with John Turturro. Working on such a big movie was also great. I had a scene with John Malkovich. You just go to work and there’s John Malkovich – I was just blown away! Hanging out with Victoria Secret models…

There was a lot to that job that goes under the heading of “fun”. What you expect from movie acting. You looked around and there was the trappings of “movie actor”. Tucker And Dale vs Evil, on the other hand – the trappings of that movie were much more, “I’m covered in blood, it’s cold, I’m wet. We only have three weeks. We have to move fast.” I was sore because I had to hang up side down for hours! “My head hurts!” I did like working with Tyler Labine and Eli Craig. But the joy of that job comes later when you watch it all assembled. But Transformers was fun on the day.

Going back to I Robot – you were one of the first motion caption actors, in a way. Are you irritated that you don’t get recognition for that?

They didn’t promote it. They decided to go a different way with the way that they described the movie. They didn’t really promote it. When Gollum came out you saw a lot of Andy Serkis working in the suit and they put Andy Serkis’s performance next to Gollum and you saw the way the technology was working so we all got educated as an audience as to what he was doing. What was him and what was effects and how they worked in concert.

They didn’t do that with I, Robot. I blame Fox! [Laughs] They’re the ones to blame! I blame them for Firefly. I blame them for people not knowing what the I, Robot process was! I was there for six months with everybody else and then after – when everybody went home and Will Smith was shooting Hitch – I was still in I, Robot land. And it was up for an Academy award for the effects and the effect house pitched to Fox, “Let’s do a campaign where they do this side-by-side comparison to Alan’s performance” and Fox wasn’t up for it. It lost to Spider-Man… which was wonderful and deserving of an Academy Award but they just didn’t… I don’t know.

I certainly don’t understand Fox’s decision-making process. I just ran into one of the main producers from I, Robot, just yesterday, oddly enough, and he’s going, “God! I’m watching all this stuff on Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and it’s amazing! And they’re talking about Andy Serkis! You did all of that, and nobody knows you did it!” Uh huh!

One of the producers – I won’t name them – came up to me and Bridget Moynahan after a screening in this theatre on the Fox lot, and said, “What did the two of you think? Bridget you were amazing, oh my god, oh my god. Alan, great voice!” And Bridget stood up for me, she said, “Alan did a lot more than that!” And they cut me out of the promotion of the movie. It took me a year to recover from that one.

But I really loved getting to play the role. I loved the role of Sonny, I really loved. It was a great role. The robot that can feel. I’m human. I am human. It’s Pinocchio. It was well written. It was fun. It was fun working with Will Smith, it was fun working with Alex Proyas who is another sci-fi guy with Dark City. And The Crow movie – he also did the first Crow.

I won’t do another motion capture movie, but just saying that means I probably will!

Richard Edwards