For two decades, Tudyk has carved his chiseled mug into our hearts with a host of now-classic supporting characters in TV and film — Wash (Firefly), Steve the Pirate (Dodgeball), K-2SO (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and Mr. Nobody (Doom Patrol), to name a few — but never as No. 1 on a series call sheet.
That's finally being remedied by Resident Alien, in which Tudyk embodies an alien who's crash-landed on Earth and assumes the body of a rural Colorado doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. All he wants is to look for a lost piece of his spaceship in peace, but Harry is conscripted by the local cops to help them solve a murder that's happened in town. That means mingling with the "enemy" and trying to look like his "Harry" belongs with other humans and on this planet, which is exactly up Tudyk's alley.
"I think more than anything on this show, I'm getting to play and do the physical game," he told SYFY WIRE in a pre-pandemic sit-down during a break from shooting last year. "It's a very physical role and it's very funny. And it can be very touching."
As to his personal philosophy about acting "alien," Tudyk says: "The way I approach it is, and especially in the early episodes where he's just learning to be in front of people for the first time, is that he's been walking and moving around for a couple of months, but only a couple of months. And learning to speak. So when you say the words, you're forming each word almost on its own, so that becomes an affectation by itself.
"And he's still holding on to old movements, like [his] claws that come up every once in a while," the actor adds, flexing his own hands to illustrate.
"Even with the Cassian [Andor] story," he continues, referencing his next TV project, the Disney+ series Andor (now shooting in London). "To see what Star Wars was able to do with The Mandalorian. Even the new movie [Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker] came out, and it was really great, but everybody [was] talking about The Mandalorian. Baby Yoda, he's the one that everyone is meme-ing and sharing and that's just a really great place to tell stories. And there's a lot of places to tell stories now. And this one for me, Resident Alien, gives me the widest range of expression, because there's also Harry Vanderspeigle, who we see a little bit of in this first season before he becomes the alien."
Tudyk has gracefully pivoted between stage, television, and film projects for years. But he's never expected to land anything, including Resident Alien. Tudyk did a normal audition, and says he had no idea that executive producer/showrunner Chris Sheridan was in panic mode regarding casting Harry by the time he came in to read.
"I didn't know anything about how long they've been looking or whatever that road was that led to me. It seemed like a role I could do," he remembers. "He's somebody pretending to be a human, learning to be a human. He's putting it on and not doing a very good job of passing, but just well enough."
"The audition scene was in the pilot, it's where I come in, and I say, 'Oh, this person's been dead for a while' and she's actually alive," he says with a smile. "I dunno. I just kind of did what I would normally do. But I think it was one that I left [the audition] and said [to my agent], 'Oh, hey, I think that went well. I don't know. You should probably call them. I think that went well.'"
From there, Tudyk says he came back for reads for the executives at Amblin and SYFY, for "everybody to say, 'Do you agree? Is this guy the right kind of weird?' And I think they all agreed, 'Yeah, he's the right flavor of odd.'" Tudyk was officially Vanderspeigle'd.
Once cast, Tudyk says he pulled double duty on Doom Patrol and the early days of Resident Alien. He and Sheridan figured out how to shape Harry physically and verbally so he fit in the reality of our world, selling the concept by grounding everything. "I like believing in the world," the actor explains. "And even though this is a fantastical story, I'm on board with the premise, so let's believe in that world. And as long as we adhere to the rules that we set down in the beginning, and don't be silly for silly's sake, because that cheapens it."
Tudyk says he also had a lot of faith in Sheridan getting the comedy right because of his 17 years as an executive producer on the Family Guy. "Chris has the edge down," he says, laughing. "It's always in the scripts. And then usually if there is any improv for me, or any ideas from me, it's just changing a punchline. Just a little play here and there where I'll have a list of three things that I say."
But the actor says there's also a lot of room for onset changes leaning on the chemistry of the whole cast. "Chris is so open to it," he enthuses. "He just said to me the other day, 'I like it when you say the lines that you think up.' And I said, 'Oh, you do?' He said, 'I've told you that you can share those with me,' and I said, 'But there's a difference between 'you can' and 'I'd like you to...'" he says with a laugh. "He's just giving me permission to play a little bit more. But again, it's written. It's there."
He cites one of his favorite relationships created by Sheridan for the show: Harry's ridiculous face-offs with the Mayor's young son, Max. "I love it," he says, beaming. "Judah [Prehn], who is our young child, he's a lot of fun. I have a lot of child [inside me]. I like playing, so it comes kind of naturally to do the one-upmanship with this little kid. We have a scene coming up that we shoot the day after tomorrow. And I'm really looking forward to where he and I get to sit down and kind of come to a truce. We're doing our best to figure out what we're willing to give up. And then they can become friends."
All we can say is: We get it, kid. It's Alan Tudyk!