Powerless - Alan Tudyk

Exclusive: Alan Tudyk on playing Batman's ridiculous cousin on NBC's Powerless

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Feb 6, 2017, 6:00 PM EST

Alan Tudyk loves playing characters who'll say anything. Especially if they're funny. The beloved actor, who played Wash on Firefly and K-2SO on Rogue One, is taking on the role of Bruce Wayne's cousin in DC's first sitcom, Powerless.

Tudyk plays Vanderveer "Van" Wayne, the head of Wayne Security and the black sheep of the Wayne family. Unfortunately for Van, his new director of R&D, Emily Locke (Vanessa Hudgens), is inspiring her jaded troops to create new products that make the defenseless bystanders of Charmed City a little safer. That means Van's not going to get to Gotham City anytime soon ...

In an exclusive interview, Tudyk talked with us about playing Bruce Wayne's cousin, why he sees links between Powerless and Firefly and why he plans on playing a robot character every 13 years.

Did you ever think you'd get a chance to play Batman's cousin?

Alan: That's such a good question! I didn't think it, but I'm glad I am. I'd much rather play Batman's cousin than Batman. That's more of my speed.

You're coming off of Rogue One, so what was it about this project that made you want to do Powerless?

Alan: It was funny, which I always respond to that. There's a lot of half-hours and a lot of people taking a shot at different versions of situations to be funny. I've seen a lot of superhero pilots over the years where they approached it almost like The Tick or Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, where they were following lesser superheroes and the trials and tribulations of being a superhero who might just be moist. Or they can use the birds but they aren't good at using birds … like, how Aquaman can use fish. They've been limited and they've just missed, and this was one that you hear the premise and say like "Okay. I've read it. It was funny." I'm a hard audience, I think, when it comes to that stuff. I'm very interested in any script that makes me laugh.

Powerless - Alan Tudyk

What can you tell us about this first season as far as where your character and the series are going?

Alan: Vanessa's character is the central character of the show. Coming from her small-town life into a bigger city where supers are. She's learning a lot about a more jaded existence. You're going to see Vanessa's character, Emily, grow as she learns more and more about this world of supers and as she motivates this crew of talented but unmotivated workers. And then you'll also see us learning from her. Even my character, Van, becomes more and more dependent upon her and definitely my character makes her life difficult at every turn because he's stupid ... He's like a man-child. So in that way, he's all over the place.

He really wants to go to the big city and hang in the big tower with cousin Bruce.

Alan: Where he deserves to be, by God! He doesn't lose that dream. He finds different ways to try to achieve it. Which at times means helping Emily and helping others, and they have to bail him out a few times too. Also, you get to see Van as a businessman. See him succeed as a businessman, not just someone who's slacking and doesn't have his eye on the ball as far as working in the office goes. You see him as a salesman and you can see his value.

Van is fun. I really like Vanessa's character as well.

Alan: She's perfect. I didn't know her work as well as I do now, for sure. I'm older so I didn't see High School Musical and wasn't part of that generation. I had seen her in some movies and she was always playing this bad girl. And so I kind of saw her as this bad girl and she's not! She's a doll. She's a blast to be around and she is very … she's fun. She's one of those people who starts jumping up and down. You say, "Why? What are you doing?" "Jumping can be fun!" She's one of those people. She's great.

What's surprised you about Van?

Alan: One thing that I hoped and that I'm enjoying for sure is how much he can do, because he's a ridiculous person. When he's upset he can play the self-styled blues song with harmonica accompaniment and, I hope, sell it. That's who he is. You can buy that it's him. There are not many places he can't go. He's very fearful at times. Actually, most of the time he's very fearful. That's what I'm discovering. I didn't expect to do as much as I am as far as playing him. Because he can do many things.

Powerless - Alan Tudyk

Do you think Van wants to be a superhero?

Alan: Absolutely! Absolutely!

Can you see him wearing a cape anytime soon?

Alan: Uh ... I don’t know ... I'll definitely say it's possible. I'm going to say that the potential is there.

The potential for superhero-ness is there?

Alan: At least a nod to how much fun it would be to be famous like that. I don't know how much of it [would involve] heroics.

Well, there is that. He might not be much of a hero … He may not take that into consideration unless he actually feels endangered. The thought of it would probably appeal to him.

Alan: Yeah. If he's super strong, if that was his super power ... he's super strong, he's right there. He wouldn't even have to go to the gym. Because he's super strong. That's his whole thing is something for nothing.

What's your biggest challenge with this role and this series?

Alan: Finding that place as an actor where you have such high stakes and such an extraordinary world that wild and bizarre things can happen. Death isn't viewed with the same seriousness as it is in our world. It happens to people but you have to maintain a truth within that. As opposed to just surrendering to the wacky world by being a wacky person that doesn't have their feet on the ground. I think you have to earn those moments of wackiness by grounding your character in their own truth, whatever that might be from episode to episode. So, that is the constant reminder for myself. And sometimes I'm even successful … at least 20% of the time.

Or maybe more than 20%. Maybe a lot more ... What are your hopes for Van as he goes forth in the series?

Alan: What do I hope for Van? I don't know. Gosh. What do want from Van? I'm having so much fun playing his immediate wants. He's such an immediate guy. Whatever he wants he just wants it now, like a child. I would like for him to get to the Gotham office but I wouldn't want to lose that as a driving force. But it seems like he should get there at some point. And have some adventure within the Gotham office. That would be great because that is something he wants. To taste it. I'd love to meet Batman.

Or at least Batman's cape or something, right?

Alan: Yeah (laughs). That would be great.

It must be kind of nice to do a sitcom as supposed of doing like an hour-long show.

Alan: It is and I've only done one hour-long show and it was Firefly. One of the great things about Firefly was that it was a gift similar to Powerless in a way. It's taking a genre you've seen. You've seen there's a lot of superhero shows right now that are very serious and Firefly was funny. There were no aliens and they actually made fun of people who thought they were aliens. It brought a human element to this extraordinary existence in both Powerless and Firefly. I may be the only person who's linking those two projects together (laughs). But whenever I see Firefly, because it was Joss Whedon's show. And Tim Minear's as well. They're both very funny guys. And even Ben Edlund who did The Tick, he was one of our writers. I'm always just amazed how funny it is and how funny it was.

I'm a huge Firefly fan, and it will forever live on in my heart as one of the best sci-fi shows ever.

Alan: Yes. Mine too, but I'm very biased.

Now you're going to have excuses to have people like Nathan Fillion come on as guest stars.

Alan: I never made it on Castle. I tried a few times so I don't know, but it never worked out.

They needed to go a few more years on Castle, I guess.

Alan: Yeah (laughs). Eight wasn't enough for me to make it work.

Rogue One K-2

I wish you good fortune with Powerless. If it's okay, can you tell me a little bit about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the K-2SO of it all?

Alan: I was really happy with how Rogue One came out.

K-2 is a very funny character.

Alan: Again, he was one of those characters that kind of could just say anything. Right in the beginning, Cassian comes into the spaceship, into the U-Wing, and he says, "You've met K-2." And Jyn says, "Yeah. Charming." … And he goes, "I'm sorry. He just says whatever he wants." He doesn't even know what I said and what he's apologizing for me (laughs). That's a great character to be. He just knows me well enough to be like, "Yeah, he insulted you or said something insensitive in a way he didn't mean to, but that's just him." It gave him a lot of permission to be a comic voice when the stakes are so high. That's some of the best characters to get a chance to play.

And he ends up being a robot hero. How often does that happen?

Alan: I don't know. I, Robot. Anyway, what … I, Robot. I only say that because I played Sonny in I, Robot. It comes along every 13 years. Every 13 years I do a robot.

That was another fascinating complex robot character. And now a new great robot. Even though K-2 died anything's possible in this universe. He could come back. There's other K-2s running around.

Alan: Yeah. They're doing the prequel so … I'd love to see how Cassian finds K-2 and learn that story.

Congratulations on Rogue One and Powerless. Is there anything else I've forgotten to ask you about Powerless that you'd like to add?

Alan: I don't think so. I really like the pilot but there's some really fun things coming in the next episodes. Those are the ones that I can't wait for people to see.

People might get addicted to watching it.

Alan: I hope so. As addictions go, that's a good one! That's a healthy one. Yeah.

And you're on after The Big Bang Theory, but on NBC.

Alan: Yeah, what season are they on?

I don't know. Season 57 or something. Here's the thing: The Big Bang Theory guys would so be watching Powerless.

Alan: Yes! Yes! There you go.

Powerless airs on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.