411mania Interviews: Alan Tudyk
Posted by Al Norton on 03.19.2013
411's Al Norton sits down for an exclusive interview with Alan Tudyk to talk about Firefly, his role in the upcoming movie 42, and starring on ABC's Suburgatory.
Alan Tudyk may not be a household name but his face and voice are likely quite recognizable to moviegoers and TV viewers over the past decade or so thanks to roles on Firefly, V, CSI, and Young Justice, and in DodgeBall, A Knight's Tale, Serenity, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, 3:10 to Yuma, and Wreck-It Ralph. He currently stars in the ABC comedy Suburgatory and will be seen later this screen in the major motion picture 42.
Al Norton: What's the longest you go without someone coming up and talking to you about Firefly?
Alan Tudyk: If I'm in public it will be every day. If I am about and about doing things as opposed to staying at home or working – and all the people I see at those places already talked to me about it and asked all their questions a long time ago – it's every day. People love that show and our fans really seem to want to share that, to shout it out when they see us. It's not a subtle feeling (laughing).
Al Norton: Did you have any idea before, or even during the filming, how loyal and rabid the fanbase would be?
Alan Tudyk: No idea. Our first photo shoot, before the show was even on the air, we were all together at some Frank Lloyd Wright house that gets photographed a lot. We were inside doing photos for several hours and there were five fans at the gate of the house waiting for any of us to come out and sign things for them. I remember seeing them and saying, "who are those people? Why are there teenage girls out there?" and Nathan (Fillion) said, "those are fans, they're here because of Joss (Whedon)." We went over and signed all their stuff and it was the first I saw of anything like that, although I still didn't really get it.
It was just recently, the last couple of years, where I've started to here Firefly talked about on other shows – they made a reference to it on Community, they did a reference to it on Castle but that's because Nathan is always going, "hey, why don't we make another reference to it?" – and for some reason seeing it in other shows referenced as a show that gives people geek cred really made an impression on me. It's a certain type of person who knows Firefly and it's a good thing when they do, it's a good thing to know.
Al Norton: Are you up for any sort of new Firefly-related project were it to come down the line?
Alan Tudyk: Oh sure. There are certain restrictions on my character since he doesn't breathe anymore (laughing) but of course. I've said before I think there will be something down the line, especially the way the media is going, with a lot of new and different homes for a lot of different voices. Netflix is pretty cool; I just did a couple of episodes of the new season of Arrested Development, which was on at the same time as us. There's ways to do it.
I don't know about my character but as long as you have Nathan Fillion, it could be five years from now or ten years from now and you've got an older Malcolm Reynolds living on some moon somewhere and someone knocks on the door and says, "we need you, it's time to get the band back together"…There's so many different versions of that story and that universe is so well defined…
Al Norton: Wash could be the Obi Wan Kenobi talking in the circle above Mal's head.
Alan Tudyk: At the 10 year anniversary at Comic-Con Joss said flashbacks would be the world I could inhabit. Unlike Nathan who in 10 years will be older but look exactly the same, I don't know how I'm supposed to start rewinding (laughing). I'm sure he'll find a way.
Al Norton: How much fun is it to play the heightened reality that is life in Chatswin (the town where Suburgatory is set)?
Alan Tudyk: It's a lot fun but that line of exaggerated reality is a tricky one to stay balanced on. Emily (X, the show's creator) writing allows for moments of humanity as well as really crazy moments that are not real at all. Your character has to be able to stretch in a lot of different directions. It's a blast and I am having so much fun with it.
The storyline of me confessing my love for Carmen is such incredible zaniness, with everything with Dallas and Dalia, and the back and forth between who gets the nanny, and then the T-ball game that followed.
Al Norton: Has it been hard to keep a straight face in some of the scenes with Cheryl Hines as your two characters have had this war?
Alan Tudyk: Yes, there's a lot of moments where you're laughing. I know Cheryl was having trouble looking at me with my blonde wig on or where I was at the hairdresser with all the foil in my hair. She had eight pairs of sunglasses on her head as way to hide her roots, which I thought was brilliant. She looked wonderfully ridiculous (laughing).
Al Norton: My favorite part of that episode, and I'm curious if it was scripted or now, was when Noah checks his hair in the ambulance window as it drives the kid with the broken leg to the hospital.
Alan Tudyk: That was just something I did on the day. It was fun. Thank you for noticing that. They really allow us to have fun on the set, whether it's something like checking your hair like that or coming up with a new line or two…There's an episode coming up that involves a mariachi band where they let me choreograph some jokes with them.
Al Norton: You mention a mariachi band; there' s been a lot of music on the show, so do you think at some point you could do a full on musical episode?
Alan Tudyk: Wouldn't that be great? That would be very Wheedon of us! You're going to see me sing with the mariachi band and I need to work on my voice. The Fathers of Mass Destruction is going to be back next season if we get picked up for a third season. We had so much fun with that that we'd have to do it again. Jeremy Sisto is a great singer and can really play the guitar like crazy. I learned to play the bass guitar for that and Chris Parnall learned to play the drums for that episode. Obviously Ana Gasteyer can SING.
Al Norton: I was really surprised by that.
Alan Tudyk: She's so good, so good. Barracuda is not an easy song to sing and she rocked it out.
Al Norton: How have you not done an episode of Castle?
Alan Tudyk: I know. I wanted to this season. There was one that Jonathan Frakes directed, where they go to the Comic-Con and they offered me a part but the timing just didn't work with Suburgatory. I don't think Castle is going anywhere so we've got time. The stipulation with me is that I want a character who is going to play with Nathan more one-on-one, like when Adam Baldwin guested.
Al Norton: Is 42 the first time you've played a real person?
Alan Tudyk: Hmm, I guess so.
Al Norton: What sort of research did you do?
Alan Tudyk: Wait, I played Stephen Douglas in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (laughing). It wasn't a real version of him, though, so this really is the first time. Are you familiar with Ben Chapman at all?
Al Norton: Yes, very good baseball player and baseball mind but, like a lot of people of that era, a vicious closed minded bigot.
Alan Tudyk: Right, all that hate overshadowed his abilities as a player. I did some research. I was doing it Wreck-It Ralph at the time and Jim Reardon, who was one of the story editors, is a huge baseball buff and helped me with so many books. He did more work than I could have ever done.
The things that helped the most were interviews that Ben Chapman did. There is a lot of stuff out there about his antics and schnanegins when he was on the Yankees that is very hard to believe. He was an anti-Semite…he was an equal opportunity bigot…There were reports that he would Nazi salute Jewish fans, right after World War II. I can't even imagine…So insane. He was just not liked; he got in a fight with another outfielder who was Jewish out on the field that ended up turning in to a 200 person brawl. When he managed in the minors before he became a player-manager for the Phillies he punched an umpire in the face because he didn't like his call; he lifted the mask off his face and punched him in the face! He was nuts.
When he did play Jackie Robinson, when the Phillies went up to Brooklyn for a three game series, he would come out of the dugout and say every racial slur that he could to try to upset Jackie and get him off his game. He was unapologetic and that kind of became his legacy.
Al Norton: Is it odd to think, "ok, I'm getting up and going to work today to go spew out a bunch of hateful words"?
Alan Tudyk: It wasn't easy. It honestly put me in a terrible mood.
Al Norton: I wouldn't think so. They yell cut and then you go have lunch with everyone after being so awful.
Alan Tudyk: Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson, when I first met him he said, "Hi, I'm Chadwick, and I'm not going to talk to you." After we did our scenes he said, "I'm sorry; I know how hard what you're doing is and I didn't mean to be rude." We didn't really go out to dinner until after it was over.
There were all these extras who were African-American and I gave this little speech before hand. "Hey everybody sitting in this section, I'm going to be saying a lot of stuff that is going to be very offensive and I want to apologize ahead of time." After a couple of days of that straight in the hot sun I was in the worst mood. My parents were visiting the set at that point - and how great is that timing? Hey Mom and Dad, look at what I'm doing with my life! – and we went to dinner one night and I took one bite of my dinner and took one bite and sent it back and then told them I wanted the check. I had to stop myself and realize I was just in a bad mood because I had spent a lot of time being an angry, angry person.
Chadwick is so good, by the way; he does an incredible job. I'm an actor who likes watching other actors and I was blown away by him. He's an actor who's going to be around for a while. All of his previous TV and movie work added together doesn' equal the screen time he gets in 42 and he is just great. The movie is set solely on his shoulders and he delivers in a big way.
Don't miss Suburgatory, Wednesdays at 9:30 pm on ABC, and don't miss 42, opening in theaters nationwide on April 12th