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Sara Tomko on working with 'comedic genius' Alan Tudyk and how Resident Alien empowers women on & offscreen
Throughout the many twists in Season 1 of SYFY’s Resident Alien, a fan-favorite has been the genuine friendship that's formed between alien Harry (Alan Tudyk) and Asta Twelvetrees (Sara Tomko). While Harry has bristled against just about all of Patience’s citizens, he’s found a patient, near-kindred spirit in Asta. She’s certainly been confused by the “doctor’s” antics, but more than anything, they’ve overlooked their individual oddities to become confidantes.
Their relationship only got more intense in Episode 8, “End of the World As We Know It.”
Tomko tells SYFY WIRE going toe-to-toe with Tudyk, who is known for his improv agility in any given scenario, has been a huge point of pride. Because she was warned it would be a challenge to keep a straight face with him as her scene partner, Tomko says she tried to prepare from her first scene with him in the pilot.
“My first real big scene day was with him and D'Arcy [played by Alice Wetterlund] at the bar in the pilot,” she remembers. “And it was pretty easy to not have to keep a straight face during that because D'Arcy and I had our own thing going on, dancing and drinking, so it's fine.
“But then the first time we had to do something pretty serious, he's opening the body of my father-figure/friend [Sam], and he's sniffing body parts in front of me, and there's not a single take that he's doing the same way,” she adds with a laugh.
“I really had to keep my composure,” she continues. “It was my first time really working with Alan Tudyk, the comedic genius, who's just very organic and in the moment. It set the tone for the season. It gave me so much to look forward to when I get to work with him because he's so fresh. He's so prepared, but he is just so hilarious. But I really just had to ground down into, 'What a weirdo...' in that scene, because it's not that funny. I had to really turn back the rewiring and see it as not funny, which helped me keep a straight face, kind of.”
Resident Alien marks Tomko’s first role as a series regular, but audiences may recognize her from high-profile guest turns as Tiger Lily on Once Upon a Time or Suzanne in Sneaky Pete. With a decade’s worth of shows on her resume, Tomko admits that Asta is a unique role in a unique show that doesn’t come along very often.
“This was a dream come true show for me,” she says, citing the show’s ensemble of strong yet complex female characters. “[Executive producer] Chris [Sheridan] was so wonderful in asking all of us how we felt about our characters, what we thought we would do or say. And he was really awesome, especially to the women, about asking what we felt was appropriate for showing women on screen.
"Probably a little bit to his detriment, he gave us too much permission. And then we were like, 'Let me tell you something else...'” she says, laughing.
She calls Resident Alien’s cast of women “strong-minded" and "opinionated," women who make it their business to portray the spectrum of experiences, friendships, and vulnerable moments that feel real. “We all have this moral compass that is driving us so we already have this camaraderie,” she details. “It's incredible to be on set with these women who already have their own strong vibes that they're radiating out in the world. But then to be able to showcase that in a relationship like Asta and D'Arcy’s?”
She specifically cites the scene in Episode 3, “Secrets,” in which the pair dance around the campfire talking about their teens and overall life mistakes, as showing true female friendship authentically. “We are talking about guys, because we're talking about the past and she's talking about Harry, but it's not a focal point,” Tomko explains. “That is something we actually talked to Chris about, how can we raise the bar for showing women relationships and women friendships without it being about a man? And how can we just show each other supporting each other like that scene with Deputy Liv (Elizabeth Bowen) and D'Arcy at the bar in Episode 4. It just makes me so happy because you just see how we show up for each other.”
Episode 6 provided the women of the cast another highlight when they gather together at the bowling alley. "You see how all the women just line up for Asta,” she enthuses. “They're just listening and then they give that final punch at the end of the scene. I remember on set that day, the women were so supportive of me, Sara, the actor who had this really vulnerable monologue that was a lot of dialogue said really quickly that I had to just throw out. I remember Alice specifically just being like, ‘Yes, Sara! Yeah!’ We're always cheering each other on and then they're doing that as characters too.”
The other big definer of her time on Resident Alien has been the global pandemic, which ceased their production in March 2020 and delayed them finishing the final two episodes of Season 1 until Fall 2020. “On Friday the 13th, 2020 — which is already just like a weird day — the pandemic shuts us down and we're two weeks away from finishing,” Tomko remembers. “On that last day, Alan and I were working together, in a very interesting [scene] that day already. We just looked at each other and it was like, not only does it feel like the end of the world, but also it was really great working with you if I never, ever see you again. I said that and we had a sobering hug and I was like, 'Nice knowing you.'”
Tomko says the ensuing months were a real exercise in patience but were worth it. “Chris began his [Resident Alien] journey October 15, 2015,” she explains for context. “And then we finished [production] literally on October 15, 2020. Five years from script to screen and that's not even counting the years prior to that where there were talks about it, or the months after it aired. Now we know, in retrospect, it worked out exactly how it was supposed to.”
Tomko says she and Sheridan have already had long talks about Asta’s future exploits in the now-greenlit Season 2, along with how she and the rest of the women in Patience will continue to circle around one another. “We’ll be seeing a lot more of that... It's exciting,” she says.
New episodes of Resident Alien premiere Wednesdays on SYFY at 10 p.m. ET.