Airplanes for Jesus, Canadian Rules, and Resident Alien. A Conversation with Alan Tudyk

Alan Tudyk sits down with Couch Soup's own PJ Haarsma to discuss season 2 of Resident Alien. The discussion quickly goes off the rails as these two friends explore topics that have nothing to do about the show.
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I met Alan Tudyk almost 20 years ago. It was during a game of Halo, and we’ve been friends ever since. I consider Alan “my brother from another mother,” although seeing us side by side, I shudder to wonder what that poor woman might look like.

I consider Alan a comic genius. Of course, he hates it when I say this, but I’m sorry, it’s true. Yet even more than his humor, I enjoy his take on life. He is one of the few people I can sit down with, enjoy a long and meaningful conversation without worrying about the fate of humanity.

I got to have one of these conversations with Alan the day after the premiere of season 2 of his hit show, Resident Alien. So, pull up a chair and join in on this great chat from the couch.

PJ: You went to Juilliard. That’s like the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of acting schools combined into one. Since graduating, since all your roles in film and TV, since your Broadway performances, is there anything they forgot to tell you? If you could go back to the Alan Tudyk of those days, what would you tell him to prepare him for what you know now?

Alan: They may have told me this: I wasn’t so great at listening when I was 23. No, honestly, the best advice I heard along the way that resonated with me, but I wish I had heard it right out of the gate, was that everybody in this business has a career that has its own timing.

I got caught up in a race that wasn’t happening. I thought I was competing with people that I was not in competition with. It’s like falling in love with someone you’ve never met. When I was in my third year at Juilliard– I left before my fourth year– one of the contributing factors occurred when I was sitting outside the office. There was a copy of The Village Voice opened to the art section, and there was a picture of me on stage.

Yet, I was still in school! What the fuck is this, I thought? What play is this?

The paper said it was a new play by Jonathan Larson called Rent. But it was actually Anthony Rapp in the picture. And he looked exactly like me — same glasses, same haircut, same everything. He and I look different in person, but if you photograph his face and you photograph my face, we’re the same person.

I was terrified.

I felt, Oh no! There’s another me, and he’s successful. I’m going to go out into the world, and everybody’s going to compare me to Anthony Rapp. They’ll say, “Well, we have an Anthony Rapp type.”

It was one of the reasons why I left school. I felt I had to get out of school. I’m not going to sit here and perform at this school when I could hopefully get a job out in the real world – perform there and start my slow trudge up a ladder that I was imagining.

And then, I found myself competing with Anthony Rapp because, on the street, people would say, “Hey, yo!  I saw your play the other night. You did great.”

People were calling me out, so I felt I was competing with him. But I never had to compete with Anthony Rapp. We are such different actors, such different artists. I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s very nice, but I had a chip on my shoulder about it. He would say, “Hey, that’s a really nice shirt. I think I have that same one.”

But mine’s better, I thought. I replied, “Well, I paid $0.15 for mine at a Chicago swap secondhand store.”

He says, “Oh, mine was really expensive.”

“Not mine. I’m cooler than you, obviously. I’m really the downtown guy. You’re the one who just plays it on stage. I’m actually poor, man. “

I would say that just be confident in the thing that every actor ends up embracing at some point in time. It’s not meant to be, or it is meant to be. You don’t get a role that seemed perfect. Everything about it seemed perfect. “If I only get this role, it will solve all these problems. It would catapult me to this imaginary level, which will then solve a bunch more problems. Look at all these signs. – it has to be. This person said that, and I had a dream… and then… you don’t get the job.

If you didn’t get it, it wasn’t meant to be.

So many times in my career, I often didn’t get things when I really wanted them. I was certain the job was going to solve all my problems. And then I didn’t get it. I would be heartbroken, and it spun me out for a couple of weeks. And then the movie never came out because there were problems on set, or you end up seeing the movie, and it’s a piece of shit. Or– which is also a good outcome– is you see somebody in it playing the role completely differently.

I auditioned for a Todd Solondz movie once. I loved him. He was so awesome. He did Welcome to the Dollhouse, and then he did Happiness. Anyway, it was the Philip Seymour Hoffman role. I auditioned for Todd, and I did the scene with him. When I was done, he said, “No, that’s not it. You want to try again?”

Yes, I do! Yes, please, let me do it again.

I do it again, and still, he says, “I don’t know. That’s just not it.”

I was happy that I got the answer right there because you usually don’t get it like that. Your agent slow rolls you. A week and a half later, you’re like, “well, I obviously didn’t get it.” But then I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role, and I was like, oh, that’s how it was supposed to be played!

PJ: So, besides Wray Nerely, is there a dream role for you? A role you just wouldn’t turn down if it were offered to you, or wish it was offered to you, and if so, why?

Alan: It would be a farce, a stage farce, a Feydeau farce.

PJ: What’s a Feydeau farce?

Alan: Feydeau is a writer. He wrote the classic type of farce where everyone’s trying to sleep with each other. There are all these balls in the air. I want to play the character that yells, “Everyone into the bedroom! We all need to go into the bedroom right now. It’s very important.” Then once everyone is in the bedroom, he yells. “OK, we need to leave the bedroom. Yes, out, everyone out!”

That is so much fun. That chaos, trying to manage problems. It’s physical. I would do it if it was in a theater. But plays take so much out of you, man. I mean, they’ll take pieces of you.


There’s one that I did in LA at the Geffen– Mysterious Circumstances — I fucked my shoulder up because I had to die every night. It was a mess for a whole year. And I hurt my voice because the character had coughing fits on stage. It’s a tricky thing to do a fake cough that sounds real. Plays take something from you.

PJ: So calls you the most underrated character actor we have. In fact, I’ve heard that more than once, and there’s even a YouTube video with that title? You choose roles like Dave Lambert in Eat Wheaties, Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol, Ian Hunter in Trumbo, Blondie in Scorch Trials, Noah Werner in Suburgatory, and Ben Chapman in 42. I could go on, of course, but that’s a very diverse set of roles.

And then you told Rolling Stone that the role of Harry in Resident Alien was in your wheelhouse. It’s a pretty big fucking wheelhouse, buddy. Do you think this contributes to that label? And is there something familiar to you in all those diverse roles you choose?

Alan Tudyk Couch Soup
On the set of Resident Alien waiting out COVID

Alan: They mainly look like me and Anthony Rapp. It’s just my motivation. It’s what drives me.

Yeah, I think that is my answer. They all look like Anthony Rapp.

OK, first, I take it as the compliment it is meant to be. But does it have to be underrated? Even if it’s the truth? It’s very honest, and I like honesty, so I take it. It’s generous in its honesty, but that used to sting. I’m pretty content these days. I don’t know if I’m just getting older, or I think it’s because of Resident Alien. I’m really happy with the show, and sort of what I get to do, and people’s reaction to it, the support we’re getting from the network, and all of that stuff. I’d never had that before ever, ever, certainly not even Firefly.

I honestly have felt for a long time that you get cast by the prior roles you’ve done. An actor starts playing villains when they need a new villain; it kind of perpetuates it; you become that type. You’re always the villain.

In 28 Days with Sandra Bullock, I was cast as a German who was very flamboyant. He cried a lot. He was crazy and funny, and he was a blast to play. Then after the film, I was offered a lot of the crazy, flamboyant, homosexual characters. And I said I’m not playing that character anymore. I just did that, and I’m not doing it again.

My agents were not happy.

But then I got Knight’s Tale, and I played a guy who wanted to fight all the time. It was lower-class English in the 15th century, where there was rock and roll and jousting. It was an extreme role.

People asked, “Who’s that extreme actor?”

Then I played the robot in I, Robot. They didn’t know who to get, and someone asks, “Who’s that guy who does the weird shit? See what he makes of it.”

And that led to a lot of auditions of auditioning for crazy roles.

But then sometimes the role connects, like when it’s a pirate in a dodgeball movie. You mentioned Mr. Blondie from Scorch Trials. That guy’s just an extreme, oddball version of different roles I’ve played.

They’re always extremes.

Even in Resident Alien, I’m an alien pretending to be a doctor! In season one, I had a scene with my dead self, who is rotting in the freezer. The alien is upset because his wife left him, which is also its own ridiculousness. I even had a Shape of Water alien sex scene that ended with me crossing one eye like Jerry Lewis and making an alien sound when I prematurely ejaculated.

That’s the shape my water’s in.

PJ: Do you consider yourself extreme, or are you just good at playing extreme characters?

Alan: I’m very sensitive, and my reactions to the world are not subtle.

I find myself in public places where everyone’s looking at me because it could be something simple as my wife saying, “Oh, I have some of that cinnamon gum you like.”

“What?” I scream, “What? Yes! “

And it draws attention. I don’t know if that’s the roles turning me into the extreme person or–

PJ: That’s how I got introduced to you back in 2000. Somebody said, “He’s Alan Tudyk. He’s that guy from 28 Days. He plays that gay guy.” That’s how you were introduced to me.

I say, “No, I don’t know who the fuck he is.”

Alan: Nobody saw that movie.

PJ: “Can he play Halo?” That’s all I cared about.

Alan: And the answer to this day is, yes!  

PJ: All right, let’s get a little serious here. So, we live in a society that worships actors. As a people, we lean into every little thing they say. Yet in the same breath, one little slip of the tongue, one bad project, one bad choice, and these same fans are ready to burn you at the stake. Do you ever feel this pressure, and why do you think this phenomenon exists in our society?

Alan: My best guess is that celebrities, actors, directors, artists, they’re “gettable.” You can take them down. You can take down a powerful person easily today. It seems like, outside of logic and there’s very little room to fight back.

Celebrating Con Man – Cast and Producers

You can only tell half-truths in these situations. I watched it with Joss Whedon. I think in this society, especially now where powerful people in government, and in the corporate world are untouchable. They can commit offenses in broad daylight. You can point to a law and go, you just broke that law, but they don’t have to account for their sins. They just keep on causing problems.

And that those people, no matter what you throw at them, nothing seems to take them down. They seem impervious. They aren’t held accountable for their actions. They have enough power to muddy facts, and they have enough money to mount a defense, and they stay in power.

Actors, artists, and those people, you can take them out. It’s somebody you can “get” and feel empowered. You can say, “Well, somebody’s got to fucking account for bad behavior.”

Boom, Armie Hammer, “You like drinking blood, and that is bad.”

But when Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton were drinking each other’s blood, it was like, “Oh, they’re so hip and cool. They fuck in limousines.”

But then Arnie does it, and it’s like, “Gotcha!”

You can only tell half-truths in this world.

PJ: But the part where we make them so famous — we’re obsessed with everything celebrities do. I think it comes from the way humans are pre-wired for religion. When you think about the human existence prior to the electronics and the communications we have today, our entertainment was their church. This is where we went. We sat as we sit in a movie theater. Somebody came up and told us stories of fire and brimstone or whatever it was.

The minister or priest was an exalted person– and it wasn’t a “she” back then– but it was an exalted person of the community. Then you come out and talk about it. “Oh, he did such a good job today. Oh, I saw—” and that person became the celebrity of the neighborhood, of the town, of that community.

Then, as we moved away from the shackles of religion where you must attend every Sunday– even when I was a kid, you had to go to church on Sundays. If you didn’t go, you were looked down upon.

That’s changed a lot. Now the church is the movie theater, or it’s the television set. We put these actors up there, and they become those preachers and pastors to us. Now bring in what you just said; it’s easy to take them out.

Alan: I wish it was easy to take out the preachers and the pastors. They seem to be so obvious to people who are not in their flock to be charlatans. Don’t get me going on that one. Don’t even get me started. You know, the ones who say, “plant a seed with the little money you have into my jet. “

Jesus told me I need an airplane.

PJ: Of all the things Jesus can say to you, in today’s world, it’s that you need a fucking airplane? Come on!

Alan: Yeah. It’s clear as day in Leviticus.

PJ: Why is it that they always either have to buy something or kill somebody? Jesus told me to kill them.

Jesus was a motherfucker.

Alan: Oh, God, all right, let’s move on. Are you done with that one? Yeah, we’re done. We’re going to go down– Yeah, I think so. It’s a tricky one because I don’t fucking know. I do know that what sucks is I’ve seen people be called out, or I’ve seen people called out and trashed. People pile on and trash them and take half-truths, innuendos, and suggestions of what happened as absolute fact.

And then when the person who has those accusations pointed at says, “No,” or stays silent because they’re not allowed to, because it’s a corporate world and the corporation they’re working for says, “stay silent” They have a corporate master who’s like, you need to keep quiet. We’ve got a team of lawyers here that are telling you what to do.

It boggles my mind. It is scary. It is a scary thing.

I’m so happy I was afraid of women. For a large portion of my life, they scared me. I’ve been turned down by women who said, “You are too nice.”

God damn, that one hurt.

But some people deserve it. I mean, there are people out there who I’m surprised to have survived.

I know people who are dicks, but we kind of give them a pass. I don’t know why they got a pass.

PJ: They gave Weinstein a pass for a very long time.

Alan: Yes.

PJ: A very long time. Even in my days at Cannes, I remember the stories way back then. We’re talking like the early, mid-’90s. So, they gave him a pass for a long time.

All right, lighter stuff, Canada, maple syrup, mooses, meeses, mice? You know I immigrated from Canada. You have a lot of friends that are Canadian, and now you’re living in Canada– when you’re shooting Resident Alien.

What things stick out to you the most, the differences? What have you learned about us Canadians that we never shared with you, besides the fact we say “sorry” a lot?

Alan: They do say “sorry” a lot, and I say “I’m sorry” a lot while I’m here. But I don’t know; it has to do with rule-following.

PJ: With what?

Alan: Rule following.

PJ: Oh, yeah, we’re very big rule followers.

Alan: People follow some rules. When they perceive they’re breaking one, it’s, “Sorry. I’m sorry.”

But if you are obviously breaking a rule, they’re like, “Hey, watch your ass! You’re breaking a rule.”

For our anniversary, I put a plaque up on a bench in Stanley Park as if I had bought the bench, but I did not buy the bench.

PJ: Oh, you’re breaking a rule here, buddy.

Alan: Oh, dude, I had tools and shit. And it said, to my loving– Oh, I did the Nathan Fillion thing– “In loving memory of my wife, Cha Cha Caboose, still alive, on this, our five-year anniversary, I hope we stay together longer than this sign will be up because I didn’t pay for this.”

And I drilled it into a park bench. It lasted a day, two days, and then it was taken down. But I had to get in costume to go out there, in a vest that had neon on it. And I looked like a park person because if any Canadian saw me doing that, they would have said, “Hey, stop it. What are you doing? You’re ruining that bench.”

The bench is in the woods. Come on, I can’t ruin it. It’s got holes in it. There are mushrooms growing on it. It is part of the forest.

But if you have just a little bit of authority on, like just this little neon reflector vest, you’re OK. You’re OK, eh?

PJ: You’ve heard the joke, right? How do you get 1,000 Canadians out of the pool?

Alan: How?

PJ: Just tell them, “Get out of the pool.” OK, I have to ask a Con Man question.

Alan: Yes!

PJ: We have a lot of Con Man fans over at Couch Soup. For me, Con Man, that was the greatest five years of my life. I think we created something truly amazing. I miss it dearly. I miss working with you. I miss creating art, creating it in that manner. We had a “no assholes” rule on set. We had total creative control. We had fun.

On Con Man, you were the writer, the director, the producer, and the star. Did this experience affect your approach to Resident Alien, and if so, how?

PJ and Alan on the set of Con Man

Alan: It changed everything, man. Everything. So many of those things that I did were firsts for me. Writing, it was pretty much a first. I had written before but never produced what I wrote, so producing was also a first. Directing, I directed that one little commercial with you as a way to dip your toe in the water.  

And acting, I had done before. I definitely learned that if I direct again, I need another eye. We would do it differently. We would be co-directors. I think it would help me. I wish I had spent a little bit more time working on the scene as an actor because it was truly the last thing on my list of things because the other things are so much more extreme if you don’t get them done. On the producing side especially, the writing, there’s not going to be a script if you don’t get it done.

And they happen simultaneously.

Yeah, good God, it changed me in so many ways. I am now much more of a participant when I act. I will fill to the edge my role, like all the way to the edge. But you can’t turn off the knowledge that we gained from that. Sometimes on set, I’ll wonder, why are you doing it that way? You should do it over there.

Yeah, I keep those things myself. But the other day, I said, “We should shoot this other scene before we shoot this scene.”

PJ: How did the AD department like that one?

Alan: Well, the director said, “No, no, it’ll be fine.”

And I’m not saying I was right, but I was right.

We did it out of order, and it made sense to do it the way because of the lighting setup. But now we can’t use it. It’s unusable.

Alan Tudyk with Nathan Fillion on Resident Alien

But I have a respect for the other jobs, what goes into them. As an actor only, it’s almost like the job starts when you sign your contracts or the script lands on your doorstep. All the things that took place before that script landed on your doorstep, I didn’t even consider, couldn’t even imagine as just an actor.

I want to make something again one day, I really do. Con Man gave me that — I don’t take it lightly. I think Con Man was the first thing, but I want to make something again.

PJ: Let’s make that farce, and then you only have to play the guy that yells, “Let’s get in the bedroom.”

Alan: Everyone in. Now get out! It’s that same joke from Young Frankenstein. It is one of my favorite jokes in that movie. He’s got to convince the monster to be loved. And you do not open this door. Do not open this door no matter what you hear, no matter how much I beg you. He shuts the door, the monster throws off his chains, growls at him, “Open the door.”

 It gets me — God, that’s funny to me. “Open it, open the door.” It’s just so sincere. “I was joking. Open the door!”

PJ: Well, listen, buddy, I love you, man. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it. I know you got to get back to work.

Alan: My pleasure. Thank you for having me, and good luck with Couch Soup!

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