Joss Whedon has never shied away from lobbing a curveball at audiences. In hindsight, casting Firefly‘s affable, so-cute-you-wanna-pinch-his-cheeks Wash as Dollhouse‘s rogue reprobate Alpha is pure Whedon. Yet the move still surprised many when Alan Tudyk‘s was the face that emerged from all that strategic shadow placement and clever backlighting. (Or at least it surprised many who weren’t already frequenting message boards devoted to all things Alan Tudyk.)
Tudyk recently addressed questions about his surprise guest starring role. Below, he reveals how a rousing round of celebrity Pictionary led to this breakthrough part, plus discusses his feelings on internet leaks, and whether Steve the Pirate could be featured as one of Alpha’s many multiple personalities. And what’s coming up on tomorrow night’s Dollhouse finale.
At the end of the “Briar Rose” episode, you and Echo go off into the sunset……..so you live happily ever after?
Alan: I think that’s Alpha’s plan. Everything that Alpha has done has been to get Echo. Whenever you see Alpha, he’s screwing with the dollhouse and it’s always around Echo and his obsession with Echo. It was his plan all along to come get Echo and that’s what it was all about. So now he has her and he gets to fulfill his plan now, which is to make her like him. Alpha isn’t really Alpha. He is Alpha, but what Alpha is, is this composite of people. We understand that he’s a bunch of people crammed into one. He’s 43 people at once. He’s ascended in his mind to a godlike place.
Could one of those personalities be Steve the Pirate?
Alan: We’ll have to tune in and see.
What would the second season mean for Alpha?
Alan: The second season for Alpha? Wow – I want to be able to say this without giving [anything] away………I can’t say, because Alpha may not make it through the next episode. Alpha is a formidable person to deal with, but he has Echo and that’s playing with fire. It could blow up in his face.
When Joss came to you with this role, what was your reaction, and were you excited to get to do something so different?
Alan: Absolutely. He set me up really well, because he didn’t tell me he was offering it to me, or that he wanted me for the role when he first described it. He laid it out like the role does this, and he does this, and he’s this composite of these people. He gave me a full scope of the guy: that he was this person who was obsessed with Echo, and was 43 people at once, and has all of these skill sets crammed into one, but because he’s 43 people at once, he’s mad. I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s sounds so amazing. Who’s playing that?” He said, “I want you to play it.”
It was really cool. It wasn’t like we were in his office discussing work. We were over at Nathan Fillion’s house for Pictionary. We were on a Pictionary break when he said, “I want to talk to you about…..”
Actually, I was asking – I brought it up: “What’s going on with the show? I want to hear about your new show!” because it had yet to start, and we were just getting into the strike time. I was really blown away that he wanted me for it, and I was excited to get to play it. I don’t get to play bad asses very often.
Eliza has insinuated that next episode has a little bit of a Mickey and Mallory vibe to [it]. Can you talk about getting to play the hell-bent couple?
Alan: I love how “Briar Rose” ends. It was that whole Sleeping Beauty thing, and you knew somebody was going to get kissed at the end. We take it on the road. There’s maybe a kidnapping or two in the episode, but for Alpha, it’s about fulfilling his plan, which is just the last step. Getting Echo was the second to the last step of his ultimate plan. He’s got to get one more thing in place before they can really go on their “worldwide domination/killing”spree, their “ruling the world” spree. It’s about making her in his own image, really. In his mind, he’s a god. He’s ascended and he wants to bring her up to his level of multiple personality person.
Can you talk at all about your role in the V pilot?
Alan: I can’t. I can’t.
Sworn to secrecy on that one?
Alan: Yes, I really can’t. I can’t. Although I can say this, it’s really good. I hope that they pick it up. This is kind of everything that you remember without going back and watching. Because if you go back and watch the original V, you’re like, “Oh…..I thought this was great?” It looks really kind of cheesy. It fills in your memory as it should be. It’s really awesome effects. The effects are done by—who did Firefly?
Alan: Zoic! Zoic does all the spacecrafts and anything requiring digital enhancement. They do a great job. And then, of course, Morena Baccarin is in it, and she’s the leader of the aliens, so you can’t get any better than that.
Could you give us a little bit more information on those Pictionary games?
Alan: We’re all friends, so we’ll get together. Joss famously has his Shakespeare readings at his house, where he’ll invite different cast members from past casts and friends get together and read different plays from the Bard, and that’s his thing. And Nathan’s is, “Hey, let’s get together and play Pictionary!” So it’s Pictionary – a big tablet in front, team up, get over your fear of drawing, and go.
Who’s particularly good?
Alan: Me! Other than me? Nathan is a very good drawer. He’s very good. I think my team won last time, so Joss did well. He was on my team. It’s a lot of very famous people. It’s very chic, but it was awesome.
Were there enough familiar faces [on the set of Dollhouse] that there was a comfort level coming in? Because sometimes, being a guest star, obviously, it can just be like being thrown into the fire….
Alan: Yes, exactly. It was not like that at all. Even though I never met Eliza, Eliza knew me through Joss, and so I was already accepted. I didn’t have to prove myself. Joss had already said, “This is the guy. We got a guy – he’s good,” and so she trusts Joss’ opinion. Then also, Amy Acker and I know each other from…… probably a Pictionary game is where we first met! Just from social events and things like that, so she was there. I know her from around, and I guess from Joss’ house. I’ve done some Shakespeare readings with her, so it was really easy seeing her and hanging out with her.
And Tim Minear directed the next episode [of Dollhouse]. Tim was part of Firefly. He did “War Stories.” He did my favorite episode, and he’s one of my favorite directors on Firefly. The next episode he wrote and directed, and I really like this next episode coming up. I think it really shows off Tim, and he gets to play with all the elements. It’s such a heightened episode, as far as Echo has been kidnapped by Alpha. There’s so much to play with, and he does a great job.
What was the most memorable of the Shakespeare readings with Joss?
Alan: Hamlet, but only because it was the last one. It’s the freshest in my memory. I played Claudius. I was Claudius, so I was a baddie. Olivia Williams was in that as well. I met a lot of the Dollhouse cast there. Dichen was there. So that was the last one, and that’s the one I remember the most.
It’s been a couple of years since you and Joss have worked together professionally. How is it being back on the set? Has he changed much as a director?
Alan: You know, he wasn’t on set all that much. I didn’t get to see him on set all that much. Our relationship has just been formed by years of being friends now without work, and it was real chill. It was real easy to talk to him and really easy to just know him better, so it’s easier to understand him. I don’t have to guess what he meant. I know him better, so it was great.
He could have had anybody play this role. It’s a great role. He could have gotten anybody, and that he got me? I was really honored.
So Alpha believes that he’s basically like the pinnacle of human evolution, right? Isn’t he basically right about that? Isn’t he the most perfect human in a sense?
Alan: I think he has the ability to be. In a lot of ways, when you’re downloading a bunch of people, you’re downloading perspective and experience. Somebody can go through one experience and have a conclusion about that, and another person could have the same experience and have a different conclusion. Somebody can end up enlightened, and somebody else could end up a villain. I think he takes the wrong lessons from his downloaded experiences. He is certainly evolved, but I don’t know. The swine flu is evolution, isn’t it? In a way, it’s an evolution of the flu. That’s sort of him.
He said in the last episode that 200 years from now, there won’t be any people, but he also said the dollhouse is the future. Do you think he believes those sorts of things, or was he just being Steven Kepler and being funny?
Alan: I think he believes those things. I think that he’s somewhat prophetic in the dollhouse sense of the world.
Because he can always just download himself into a new body.
Do you prefer playing baddies, or do you like to play characters like Wash who are so loved by the audience that they throw things at the screen when they get killed?
Alan: There’s fun in getting to play both. This last episode that we just saw was a perfect opportunity to explore that. For a good portion of it, I was Kepler. And then turning into a bad ass was also fun. I think mentally speaking, in this next episode, I’m only Alpha. I’m even more crazy. He’s insane. Insane.
I think it’s rich to get to play the baddies like that, but at the end of the day, I like goofing around on set and joking around with the crew and everything. When you’re playing somebody who’s as intense as this guy is, I kind of have to be quiet and [keep] to myself and keep my focus. If I was signing up for seven years of one or the other, or had to choose one or the other for the rest of my life, I’d go with the fun loving, funny guy, because it’s more fun to play. But luckily, I don’t have to choose, and Joss gave me this guy, which is both.
Do you have any other projects that you’re working in right now?
Alan: I just did a PG porn with James Gunn – the writer/director of Slither. I plug James Gunn because I think he’s such a great writer and director, and Nathan Fillion did one, and we’ve been talking about doing one and it just came out.
James Gunn was probably at that Pictionary party, wasn’t he?
Alan: I’ve seen him around Nathan’s house, for sure. When there’s a bowl of guacamole and chips around, you might see him.
Playing a character that has 43 personalities – what does that give you as an actor?
Alan: A rash! Like a stretch rash. It gives you a lot to chew on. In this coming episode, you see the effect of that 43 people have on one person. Alpha has a little bit of difficulty controlling himself. We all have inner monologues, different voices that chime in throughout our day, different opinions on situations. He’s a little less in control of his opinions. It takes an effort to maintain order in his brain.
It was fun. It was a challenge. It was a little crazy-making, like playing with that in your head, and having to have different voices, and try to sort them out. He can contradict himself because he’s different people. He’ll say one thing, and then say the exact opposite. So it was a bit crazy making, trying to wrap your head around those lines, and make them real for yourself when you’re saying them.
You’ve mentioned Steven Kepler. Are there any other of his personalities that you like?
Alan: Yes. There’s sort of a Mickey personality [from Natural Born Killers] that I like a lot. He’s fun – a good old boy. He’s one of the more distinct ones that you’ll see. He has a little more room to breathe. And then just sort of the overall Alpha – the composite guy – because there is a center, when he’s in control of things, [when he's] egomaniacal and he believes he’s God.
Is there any chance that we’ll see maybe Nathan, Jean or Summer with you on the show?
Alan: If it’s picked up, Nathan has that Castle thing, so he seems to be pretty busy. [Joss] may need to call in Summer just to kick out this ass……if he survives.
If the rumor hadn’t been out there before [about Tudyk playing Alpha], it probably would’ve been a huge shock to everybody. Were you disappointed when that information got out there in advance of the episode airing, that you were playing Alpha?
Alan: Yes. First I got [tipped off] from a friend who has a Google alert or something for my name. He’s like, “Hey, just so you know,” and sent me this link, and I read it, and I’m like, “No, way! No way! No way!” It was linked to an Alan Tudyk.net or dot something or other. I was like, “You’re supposed to be on my side, and here you are giving out secrets that really work against what I want!” I guess they’re not up there to do my bidding. I started to write an email: “Why are you doing this? Don’t you think it would be best to keep this information to yourself if you have this, or even put out misinformation about this?” And then it’s like, “Why am I writing this email?” and I deleted it, and went about my life. There’s no way to stop it once it was out. The set is like one leaky boat, man. It’s impossible. I can’t stop the signal. It was out there.
Is that you naked on the coffee table in episode one?
Alan: No, no, no, no. I have pictures of me naked on a coffee table, but it’s a coffee table book of me naked, and I only have one copy.
You let it all hang out in Death at a Funeral…..
Alan: No, no. That was not me! That was not me. I don’t know who that was. I think it was a model. I don’t know who it was. Somebody said it was a model, which – if you’re going to do a body double for me, you’re going to have to go get a model.
Are you in the Epitaph episode that was filmed?
Alan: Oh, the bonus episode? You’ll never know until you buy the DVD. I don’t want to comment on my state beyond this episode. Alpha’s fate, it’s uncertain.
There seemed to be like a hint that Kepler potentially could be Topher’s father. Did that ever come up in the conversation, or is that something that you can’t talk about, either?
Alan: No, I think it’s nothing I can confirm or deny, but there’s certainly a lot of similarities. Like there’s some [shared] mannerisms there, aren’t there? I don’t know about his father. I hadn’t heard that one before, but in a world where personalities can be uploaded and downloaded and people can be composite personalities, there seems to be a little in there. Alpha knew Topher. Alpha knew Topher from when he was a doll. We’ll get to see some of that in this next episode.
A flashback kind of thing?
Alan: When you see Alpha as a doll, yes.
Lawrence Dominick – there is obviously some kind of tie there. Can you give a little information about what kind of tie there was to Lawrence? Because it was just hinted upon in the last episode.
Alan: You mean where he says Alpha signs his name, and all of that stuff?
That he sent the information to have the security there…..
Alan: No – I wish there was something more. It’s just that that’s how I was contacting them. I didn’t realize that he was gone and put on a shelf, so I sent it to him because he would be able to get the Alpha password, to send them on the wild goose chase, so that I could be Kepler and have them looking at one hand while the other hand is dealing.
Dollhouse season finale airs this Friday, May 8th from 9:01 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fox with the episode entitled “Omega.”