Exclusive Interview: Alan Tudyk!
by Alex Billington
August 26, 2007
Alan Tudyk is most well known as Wash from the "Firefly" series / Serenity as well as very distinct characters from a number of great comedies, including Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball and Jack, Katherine Heigl's boss in Knocked Up. He currently stars in Death at a Funeral, one of my favorite comedies of the year in one of his greatest roles ever, as well as the upcoming 3:10 to Yuma western. If you thought he was funny on screen, then just wait to you hear his story about the time he took mushrooms when he was 19!
Alan Tudyk is one of those actors that I've come to really love in films and it was truly amazing to sit down and chat with him. I hope Death at a Funeral is one of his big breaking points and I hope everyone comes to recognize his face and his name soon enough!
Alex (FS.net): Is there anything in particular that draws you to certain scripts or comedies, because I don't think there's anything you've done that doesn't have a really strong comedic character.
Alan Tudyk: Yea... I'm just thinking I'm just like a normal actor who gets scripts and I read them and... if I enjoy reading them, then that's what's exciting, then I get excited about the audition or the project itself. I don't have any set things that I'm looking for, like I've done this now I want to do this, kind of thing. Just read the material, if it appeals, if it makes me laugh, like Death at a Funeral made me laugh out loud. I also love farces, and then when I heard Frank [Oz] was attached then it became very exciting. Then it's just about hoping it works out, and it did.
It was an interesting audition process on this particular role, because everybody was already in London, and this was the only role they hadn't cast. And I was auditioning from the States with Frank on the phone and the casting director. My phone sat on the chair while he's giving me direction, listening to me. "Sounds like you're really going into the euphoria at the beginning and then getting the speed later on in the scene, let's flip that, do the speed at the front and then the euphoria." It's a testament to him that he can direct over the phone and actually be able to tell what's going on.
You know, you look for people that you like, people you admire, work that they've done, and the script itself is always where you start.
Alex: How was it working with Frank Oz? How does he bring in the comedic aspect? Is there improvisation on set?
Alan: There is, he did though... which was different from any movie I've ever done, he had improv prior to shooting. We had rehearsal and then full on improvised exercises. Some films you're lucky enough to get some rehearsal, which is just basic going through the scene, and these are my questions, and this is what I'm trying to achieve, and you work things out and maybe a few line changes here or there. We did all those sorts of things but then he had Daisy Donovan and I, because of the way our relationship, you know we have this relationship that we're engaged to be married and we haven't told her father yet, and I'm a lawyer and... you never get a chance to see who we are as a couple.
So Frank had us come over in character, we met at his house and we went out for coffee. And we'd set up a scenario where he knew Martha's parents, Daisy's character's parents, he had know her since she was a child. And then he was also a relative of mine and known me as a child and thought it was amazing that we had gotten together. And we were meeting for the first time, all three of us, to discuss our wedding. And we went out for coffee and we had to be in character dressed in costume and I was Simon and she was Martha. And we sat over coffee and he just asked us questions: so when did you guys meet, where did you guys meet, what are you doing now with your life, how's the career going, how's your new job. Some of the things you knew the answers to, it was work that you've already made decisions about the character, then others, you just get put on the spot. "I'm glad you asked that actually, uh..." It's interesting, you have to come up with stuff. That laid a foundation for the two of us, since it doesn't get touched in the movie, but it really put our feet on the ground for our relationship. I've never worked with a director who's done that in film. Theater you get that, people doing real acting work, that kind of stuff, that improv...
As far as improv on set, he'll get his takes that he needs, he's got the script, he's fine, we can put that in the movie now. He always said, "show me your chops" was the term he uses. Which is really kind of an intimidating thing to say, because if you know what chops are, it's show me how good you are, it's kind of like saying "be good." It was a green light to say things that weren't in the script, come up with new little bits, things like that. There's a lot of them in the movie, not just the things that I did, but Andy Nyman. My favorite line of Andy Nyman's is after Peter Dinklage has hit his head and they come out and they say, "Touch him, touch him, see if he's ok." He's like, "What's his name? I don't know, try Phillip." "Try Phillip" is not in the script, what a ridiculous line, it's so brilliant! And that's because Frank allows you to, if it comes into your head you can say it. I had a bunch of them as well... especially with Simon, because a lot of the things with Simon would be, in the script, cut to Simon, he's out of his mind and enjoying life. So it's up to you to what that looks like, what is that moment, and that's how we get me spitting over the balcony.
We had so much stuff in the bathroom that actually got cut out, thankfully, because we don't want to overkill. It almost becomes the same joke again, ok cut to Simon, he's high, and he's doing something different, ooh wacky guys, he's doing something different! But we came up with tons of stuff. It's fantastic, because [Frank] just has a bunch of stuff he can choose from. What's the funniest and what works the best and he's got all these different scenes to put in.
Alex: I'm not making any judgments here, but have you had any past hallucinogenic experiences or is this just something where you just get naked and jump into character?
Alan: I have... I had an experience with psychedelic mushrooms when I was 19, I guess, when I was in college. I was even able to use, not just my experience of that, but I guess I could describe what happened that night... I just want to say I haven't done acid or ketamine. Of the drugs, it's a mix of acid, ketamine, and mescaline, they're all like speed drugs, those are scary drugs to me.
But mushrooms, which are similar, it's a hallucinogenic drug. When I was in college, my first college, one in east Texas, me and my buddies had been looking for psychedelic mushrooms because it was in a rural area and you could actually go out onto the farms in the morning after a light rain and look in all the cow turds for mushrooms. And we did it for months leading up to our graduation. We couldn't find any, it was just basically scaring ourselves, because if you get caught on people's land you could get shot in Texas easily. I'm sure it's smiled upon by the community if you caught those damn college kids trying to get high.
But our last party, it was the last night graduation party at this lake, this guy who actually lived in Jacksonville, Texas, he's a townie, somebody said Rodney got mushrooms, he finally found some. Where's Rodney? He's over there, and he was on a broken park bench. It was like a cement park bench that sat like that [motions like it's broken and slanted down]. And he was right on the back, the tip of it, just perched up like a cat and his eyes were closed and he has this sublime smile on his face. And we're just like hey Rodney! Shhhh... [whispers] What? Listen? To what? The crickets... Yea, I hear them man, uh did you get mushrooms?
Here, and he pulled out like a Wonder Bread bag and like the last quarter of it was stuffed with mushrooms, and he pulled out a fistful and put them in my hand. What do I do with these, what part do I eat? And he said, eat them all, eat them right now in front of me. So I ate all of these mushrooms, and it was... it was a bit scary in the beginning just getting into it, I felt like God was scratching his finger nails on a chalkboard, it scared me. But when that stopped, which only lasted a couple of minutes, it was if like Tinkerbell went [piff] and blew some fairy dust in my face and the world became this wonderful place and I had theories about everything. And I didn't move from the party. When I was feeling bad, I sat down next to a pickup truck that was parked out by the lake and I didn't move from that spot all night. And people just came to visit me, and I told them my theory about, I had a pinecone theory of life about how we are all pinecones.
It was a lot of fun, but the way that that guy, Rodney, was sitting on that cement park bench. In the movie, when I'm on the roof, that was from him. Then as far as acid and stuff, I have a lot of friends who've done it. Everybody has a different trip, everybody has a different experience. So it kind of told me, there's really nothing off bounds on an acid trip, you don't know what you're going to get and you can get a lot of hallucination, a lot of speed, a lot of happiness, some scary sadness and depression. Even that mouth thing that everybody does, fucking with their mouths the whole time, like that is definitely in there. And just ask people and took little bits and pieces from different people, what was helpful.
It's interesting, being on like hallucinogenic drugs, I think the main thing is like your feelings become actionable immediately. If you feel happy, you want to express it immediately. You can be happy, as we are now, and you can be cool about. You can be scared and suppressive but nobody would even know you're scared because you've got a smile on your face, you're happy, you're able to control your emotions. When you're on those drugs, you're emotions are what you're doing. And so it kind of becomes like a child, more like a special needs child. What's he into now, good god, get him away from there! So that was what I used...
Alex: You've had a chance to work with Judd Apatow [in Knocked Up], Frank Oz, even Ben Stiller [in Dodgeball], what's your sense of the comedy atmosphere in Hollywood at the moment. What's the direction it's going in? What are you seeing with Hollywood comedy now?
Alan: Hollywood comedy has gotten really silly and absurd, and I like that. Our movie is not like that, Death at a Funeral is a very classic comedy. Like another Apatow movie, Anchorman, all the different anchormen show up and they have a fight and people are getting killed and stuff like that, then ah no it's all ok. All that absurd, wacky, wacky stuff. That's done a lot. I think that it's getting crasser. The scripts I've read, I can't point to a movie that's out right now, but I've read a couple of scripts that are... they get a lot of there laughs from oh my god, I can't believe they just said, they actually just said that, is this R, or is it X? It goes so far, Judd Apatow did some of that. There's a lot of crass humor in [Knocked Up]. But I guess there's just a higher tolerance for crass humor, which I'm fine with. My mom is not too keen on it, you know going to see Knocked Up with her, when she's like that isn't your vagina, that's your asshole. It also seems very masculine humor...
There's a lot of history of that. Caddyshack, stuff like that, it's kind of like boys' humor. The good thing in Hollywood, it seems like comedies, what do they call it, the laugh pack, all those guys, those movies do really well, people go out and see comedies. So for studios, it makes sense to make comedies. Especially in the way the world is these days, people want to go have a laugh, have escapist films. They're making a lot of comedies, it makes business sense to make comedies, so that's good.
Alex: I was going to ask about 3:10 to Yuma, I haven't actually seen your character in any of the trailers at all, who is he?
Alan: His name's Doc Potter. The reason, he really doesn't work for the trailers, because they give you the tone of the movie which is a very serious movie, he's a gunslinger, that kind of through-gritted-teeth line delivery stuff. And my character's a veterinarian who's in the town where Russell Crowe's character gets captured, he gets split off from his gang and captured, and they've got to put a posse together to get him to the town of Contention, to put him on the 3:10 to Yuma and it's a trek to get there, and his gang is following us and trying to free him before we get there.
My character doesn't want to go, my character kind of gets roped into the whole thing. So you're going, what, wait a minute, why are we doing this, this isn't apache country, we shouldn't be here. Like I'm that guy, "this is bullshit!" Everybody's corrupted, all the characters are very corrupted people, it's a hard time of history in the country, people have killed, just after a Civil War, life is hard and people have a hard view of life. And my character is the guy who believes in... man overcoming the darker natures, and he believes in what's right. He's an educated guy, he's the most educated guy in the movie.
So it doesn't make sense to cut... "We're going to go get him." "I'm going to burn you to hell!" "It's apache country!" He's the comic relief, but in a very... it's not any kind of broad comedy, just situationally, him being with all these outlaws. Speaking his mind tends to be kind of funny.
Alex: With 3:10 to Yuma and even with "Firefly" and Serenity's western aspect, do you see the western genre ever coming back around?
Alan: Definitely, because 3:10 to Yuma got pushed up because there's two more coming out and they jumped to the front of the line, which is nice of them. We'll see, I think actually these next few months are going dictate how Hollywood feels about westerns. If they do well... You'll get one every once in a while, there was that Clint Eastwood one that won the Oscars with Morgan Freeman, that one [Unforgiven]. But you didn't see a bunch being made after that. It's an interesting genre and I hope people come out to see it.
Thanks especially to Alan Tudyk and everyone at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment for the opportunity to interview one of the best up-and-coming comedic actors. I strongly suggest you go out to see Death at a Funeral as soon as you can, as it was one of my favorite comedies of the year. And although I haven't seen 3:10 to Yuma yet, I'm looking forward to it quite a bit as well.