Recognizing Alan Tudyk is easy; what’s difficult is figuring out from where. The star of Resident Alien has appeared in virtually every corner of sci-fi and fantasy fandom, from Star Wars to Serenity. But he’s also worked both in live-action and voice acting for several decades, bringing animated characters like Frozen’s Duke of Weselton to life with the same variety of accents he’s using to steal scenes in A Knight’s Tale, 42, and The Maze Runner. Playing Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle, the new Syfy series premiering Jan. 27 finds Tudyk in his wheelhouse as an alien impersonating a human being — and quite frankly struggling with the whole experience — after his spacecraft crashes on Earth.
Tudyk recently spoke with What To Watch about tackling the lead role in a series where the character he’s playing is actively in the process of figuring out how to act like, well, himself. In addition to revealing a few details about the upcoming season of Resident Alien, Tudyk discussed his process as an actor, revealed which of his earlier experiences might have paved the way to play Harry, and reflected on the challenges he’s faced as an actor — and the few that he hasn’t yet.
You’ve played a number of characters who were either pretending to be someone who they're not or confused about who they are a little bit. Is there a role or a preparation for one of those past roles that sort of readied you to play this character, Harry?
A lot of it is just drama school in the technical approach. Drama school training really fed into this in that they teach you how to talk and walk and sit and stand — and you thought you knew how to do it all along, but you need to relearn how to do it. So those tools that I learned then came in handy now because Harry, he's pretending to be a human. He doesn't know how to speak. He's like a baby. He doesn't know how to perform words, but he has to learn how to make the physiology of the mouth and the tongue work together with the air flowing over the tongue, like all of that from scratch. So that makes it so much fun. It's like a clown. I saw a clown once do a thing on breathing. He was so funny. He was just like, he just did it like how and forgetting to breathe himself, perhaps forgetting how to breathe, remembering how to breathe, almost killing himself by not breathing. It's like that — there's was lot of humor in just the basic mechanics of being human.
Is this the first time one of your characters has killed another one of your characters, much less as a pivotal moment in the story?
I think it is! I had not realized that yeah, I've died a lot, but I'd never killed myself. I need to mention this to my therapist. We had a breakthrough together just now.
I was looking through your past roles and I feel like K2S0 seems like a little bit of a predecessor for this character, with that kind of matter of fact, dryly condescending kind of attitude. I'm curious if the voice roles that you take on factor into your acting growth as much as something where you're playing like a physical character on camera.
Definitely. I think every character you do, every piece of art you do, you learn from as an artist and it informs you. It goes beyond that, because as artists, you're drawing from your own experiences. So every experience that you have is a potential lesson that you can put into your art. K2S0 certainly, and then before him, Sonny from I, Robot, because when Sonny talked, every word that Sonny said he formed correctly — that's how he communicated, and that's what Harry's doing, but he's just worse at it. He doesn't know how to use the physical mouth as well. And you're right — K2S0 is that same type of child where he'll say, "no one likes you." Which was in the movie for a short time! There was a cut of it where actually, the first thing I said to Jin was, "no one likes you." I rewatched it not too long ago, and I didn't realize they had changed it. But that's something Harry could say, "no one likes you."
Do you feel like it is a matter of a habit, or intention, that transformation has been such a constant aspect of the performances that you've given?
I wonder! I mean, I just take each role I respond to, like yeah, that sounds like fun. I'll do that. But I wonder if there is some kind of unconscious looking for transformation that I'm doing. Because I definitely have opinions on the roles I take and the roles that I don't take; throughout my career, there's been roles that come along, that you should want to do this, and I have no interest in them. I don't want to do what I don't want to do. So maybe I am sort of seeking these out and not realizing it. That's another one for my therapist! I'm going to have to pay you money.
Watching you transform over the course of your career is always such a thrill, because you show up and it’s like, is this guy gonna be a nice guy? He's going to be a jerk. Is he going to be a robot? And you don't know.
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. It has been a fucking blast to do all these roles. It really has.
Is there for you an “Alan Tudyk character” that you recognize people call upon you for now? Is there something if you look at your career where you're like, they see that I've done this successfully once and now they want me to do it again — whether or not it’s the same character, but just sort of that same process.
Right. I get English roles, which I'm very happy about, because English actors obviously get American roles and they do them very well. It's annoying how well they do them. Australians, even better! Australians do American roles so well. So there aren't as many Americans doing English, and I do — I am considered for those roles, which is great. As far as like, "we need an Alan Tudyk type," I don't know what that is. I've played so many different kinds of roles and things over time, I don't think that that's a clear thing.
Is there a kind of challenge that you feel like you haven't faced? Particularly in an era where in a commitment to authenticity and representation, storytellers are casting more and more people based on the identity or background of the character than before. Is there something that you haven't done, be it as a matter of an accent or a kind of character or performance?
Wow. The challenge of being a heterosexual white man, nobody has presented that struggle and I have not gotten a chance to do it yet. Um, yeah, it's true. Honestly, the thing I have not done that I will hopefully do one day is play somebody who's just kind of a normal guy, like the father of two, and I'm a nice guy. Maybe a father of three, I don't know, I'm open to it! Or somebody who has a romantic relationship. I mean, it's kind of a spoiler in this, but I had my first sex scene in [Resident Alien] that I've ever done on camera. I've done some post-sex things where you show up and it's like, you know what we were doing, but this is the only sex scene on camera I've ever done. And I'm an alien. So if ever I've been naked or in any kind of sexy situation, it's always been for comic effect. So I guess that the other is still out there for me to do, that kind of natural. It can still be funny. I don't think anybody wants to see me in like a sexy way — I don't. But in just a natural, just normal way, that would be interesting.
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Todd Gilchrist is a Los Angeles-based film critic and entertainment journalist with more than 20 years’ experience for dozens of print and online outlets, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Weekly and Fangoria. An obsessive soundtrack collector, sneaker aficionado and member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd currently lives in Silverlake, California with his amazing wife Julie, two cats Beatrix and Biscuit, and several thousand books, vinyl records and Blu-rays.