Comedic actor Alan Tudyk is what we affectionately refer to as a “that guy,” someone whose face is almost immediately recognizable but whose name tends to elude the average moviegoer. Remember Pirate Steve in Dodgeball? “Oh, that guy!” Remember Simon, who endures a hilariously bad drug trip, from the original 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral? “Oh, that guy!” Remember Hoban “Wash” Washburne from the cult sci-fi show Firefly (and its subsequent film sequel, Serenity)? “Oh, that guy!” Yes, whether you realize it or not, Alan Tudyk has been making you laugh for years.
This week, Tudyk stars alongside Tyler Labine as the titular duo in the horror movie satire Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, successfully adding “misunderstood hillbilly” to his colorful list of past characters. The film, in which a couple of backwoods hayseeds on vacation are mistaken for murderous psychopaths, generated quite a bit of positive early buzz and has already been stamped Certified Fresh, and though it opens theatrically this week in limited release, it’s already available via video on demand. RT was recently afforded the opportunity to speak with Tudyk, who absolutely gushed about his Five Favorite Films and went on to discuss his role as Tucker, his fear of horror movies, and his experience hanging out with pirates for a day. Read on for the full interview!
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979; 87% Tomatometer)
I’m going to go with All That Jazz for number one. It’s Bob Fosse directing a movie about himself; he changed the name to Joe Gideon from Bob Fosse. So he’s directing a movie about a musical choreographer/director who takes too many pills, sleeps with too many women, drinks too much; he’s a moviemaker who’s editing a movie while he’s doing a play and having hallucinations with musicals. It’s so unbelievable how he balances it all, and it’s Roy Scheider’s best performance, I think, ever. He’s amazing in it. It is so amazing.
He’s a pretty despicable guy in the movie — I mean, he sleeps around on his girlfriend — but you love him. The doctors tell him not to take his drugs, but he does it anyway, and you still love him. You don’t blame him. And it’s sort of how Bob Fosse ended up dying, so he really forecasted his own death. I mean, he even put his girlfriend in the movie as his girlfriend — Joe Gideon’s girlfriend — and then cheated on her! Like, he had his character cheat on her. It’s so f***ing unbelievable. Just brilliant. That’s number one. That would be my, I have to say, overall all-time favorite. I’m just very impressed by that movie. It’s just really, really good. It’s got like four musical numbers in there, but they’re not like Glee. Some of them are in drug-induced hallucinations, and some of them are, he’s actually directing a musical. I’ve done plays; I’ve done one musical. But the first table read, when they’re going to put up this play, it is so like the table read on plays. I recognize so many things that they get right. Yeah, that’s my all-time favorite.
After that would be Young Frankenstein. I think that, laugh for laugh… I mean, if you’re going to go for more laughs, I think Blazing Saddles. But Young Frankenstein‘s just a better movie. More solid. And it’s Gene Wilder. I was such a huge fan of Gene Wilder when I was growing up that I even used to try to do… He used to do something; he would say nonsensical… He would make noise in movies without words. He would say things like: [mumbles incoherently], like that, and it made me laugh so hard when he would do that, that I would try to put it in movies when I started acting.
I did a movie called 28 Days, and I’m in rehab, and we’re in a circle talking about our feelings, and the script said, “She calls on Gerhardt, but he’s crying and he can’t respond,” and she says, “Okay, we’ll come back to you.” And so it came out. “Gerhardt, would you like to say something?” [bawls incoherently] And I just make noise. [laughs] And then I snuck it into A Knight’s Tale when I’m trying to threaten Chaucer for the first time. I’m like, [frustrated mumbling]. I would just rip [Gene Wilder] off, totally try to mimic him. So, Gene Wilder, huge fan. That’s number two.
Number three is What’s Up, doc?. Peter Bogdanovich directed. It’s his homage to Keystone Kops-type slapstick comedy movies. No, it’s not Keystone Kops; he does have Keystone Kops moments, but it’s… Not a slapstick movie; it’s called something else. They were really popular at one time, with like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
RT: Screwball comedies?
Screwball comedies! There we go. And it’s got Kenneth Mars, who’s also in Young Frankenstein, as an inspector with one arm. Kenneth Mars, who also does a great… He yells at them right at the end in Russian, but it’s not Russian; he just makes up a lot of noise. Madeline Kahn’s first movie; she’s brilliant in it. And Austin Pendleton, a young Austin Pendleton, who’s hysterical. And, unbelievably to me… My only understanding of Barbra Streisand was sort of this, what I’d seen of her peripherally; she always seems to be singing in some concert venue with a lot of scarves on or something. I don’t think of her as “sexy.” But she’s hot in that movie. She’s f***ing hot.
And then, I’m going to go with Sexy Beast, a little off of the comedy. Why I love that movie so much is that Ray Winstone is such a badass. I’m a big fan of Nil by Mouth as well, and I knew him from Nil by Mouth. It starts out, he’s with his friends, and [speaking in a British accent] they’re all talking, out there at the restaurant, and he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll get the chicken thing.” “What chicken thing?” And then the friend comes in like, “Ah sh**, just leave it outside.” And they go, “We have something to tell you. Don’s coming.”
And then you see him basically sh** his pants, like, “Don? Don’s coming? What’s Don coming for? No, no, God, not Don!” And I’m watching like, “Holy sh**! Who would Ray Winstone be afraid of? This better not be the Ben Kingsley role. This better not be that f***ing little Ghandi motherf***er coming in, scaring Ray Winstone.” And right after the first scene with him, he’s just riding in the car silently; he’s just quiet. Then he gets out of the car and goes, “I’ve got to change my shirt. I’m sweating like a f***ing ****!” [laughs] Oh my God! And he’s so good in it. And it was ultimately a love story, a love story. It was all about his love for his ex-porn actress wife. So f***ing awesome.
And number five, I’m going to say Smokey and the Bandit. I’m back on the comedy. It’s between Smokey and the Bandit and OSS 117, which is a French movie — it’s sort of like their version of the Naked Gun movies, but their agent’s really good; he’s actually very good at many things. He just happens to be a complete moron. But he’s a lover, he knows many languages… Anyway, Smokey and the Bandit, Jackie Gleason’s performance and Sally Field’s; she was amazing. It’s also a good snapshot of America when being a truck driver was cool. [laughs] Being an 18-wheeler truck driver was like, “That’s a good job.” I mean, they were badasses, and you don’t really think of that now; they don’t have that same mystique. But Jackie Gleason as Buford T. Justice… He has his own f***ing entrance music; every time he shows up, they’ve got this tuba playing, he’s there on the scene, and he’s doing his schtick, doing the best stuff. He’s another character, like the Joe Gideon character in All That Jazz, who’s despicable. He’s a racist, he’s a terrible father, he’s a sh**y cop, and you just can’t wait for him to get back on the screen. He has a line in there, talking about Sally Field, who runs off, and she’s a dancer, and he says, “That’s what you get for poontangin’ around with a bunch of hippie show folk.” [laughs] That is the quality of stuff he’s doing in that movie; it’s just so brilliant.
Next, Tudyk talks about Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, how he chooses roles, being afraid of horror movies, and hanging out with pirates.
RT: There aren’t many actors who can say they’ve played a pirate, a robot, a cowboy, and you even did the medieval thing in A Knight’s Tale. Now, you’re a misunderstood hillbilly. So what’s the typical selling point that really gets you interested in a role? How does someone who’s played as many varied roles as you have go about choosing his material?
Alan Tudyk: I guess it’s just reading the script, and it being interesting. You know, you just follow what you like. Even like A Knight’s Tale. Something that people didn’t like — and some people still don’t like — about that movie was the choice of music, the way they used music in that movie. But when I read that script, it was like, “1437, jousting, the sound of Queen’s We Will Rock You can be heard,” and I was like, “What? That’s f***ing awesome. Yep, I’m ready. Let’s go. I want to go on that ride.”
Dodgeball, I mean, that’s just crazy. Honestly, the first time I read it, I didn’t get it. I’m like, “I don’t understand… If they cut that pirate, this is a good script.” [laughs] That’s actually what I said, and my agent said, “I really want you to read it again.” I read it again, and I got it, and when we did the improv portion of the audition, I embraced it and found it just so bizarre. It was awesome.
So what was your initial reaction when you first read the Tucker & Dale script?
[Note: Spoilers follow in the next paragraph]
Well, I didn’t think it was going to work. As I was reading it, I got to the point where the first kid dies. [laughs] And I was like, “That’s great. He’s f***ing dead. Awesome. We’re going to kill people in this.” And I loved the Texas Chainsaw Massacre moment. But I was like, “There’s no way they can… They can’t continue. They can’t support this, because there’s going to come a point when it’s going to be too unrealistic to be believed, to be misunderstood as these killers.” And I’m reading it, and I’m like, “The cops! They would go get the cops,” and then they’re like, “You go get the cops,” and I thought, “Oh, cool. They are getting the cops.” Then, right about the time I’m thinking, “The cops would have shown up by now,” the cops show up! And we get out of the cops, and it keeps going, and by the end, he pulled it off.
I mainly wanted to make sure I talked to Eli [Craig] about the way he saw the acting, like how he wanted it acted. Did he want to do it sort of winking at the camera, or did he want to actually be as serious as possible with the ridiculous situations? And [the latter is] what he wanted, and that’s what I wanted. So, I think, after that conversation, I was in Calgary within four or five days. Yeah, it was quick. There was somebody else playing Tucker who had made an agreement to do that early on and said, “I’ll do it,” and then two weeks before production said, “What do you mean? No, I’m not going to do that.”
It’s interesting that you mention you talked to Eli Craig about the tone, because one of the first movies I thought of while watching Tucker & Dale was Shaun of the Dead, which had a similar sort of tone throughout. How do you maintain that balance between slapstick humor and the sort of actual tension that exists in the movie?
[Note: Spoilers follow in the next paragraph]
Yeah, I don’t know! We just watched it yesterday because we were doing the DVD commentary, and there are certain scenes in it, like the one just post-woodchipper accident — and I love that part of the movie, because there’s that other kid who impales himself, sinking towards Tyler [Labine]’s face — and I come inside and I see him, and he’s like, “What happened to you?” and I think we played it straight, but it’s just so ridiculous. “What happened to me? I’ll tell you what happened, man! Holy s***!” But it isn’t… You’re right; there’s like a tip in there, a little… Because you’re also saying — there’s a line in there that kind of gets covered up, but I say, “We gotta hide all the sharp objects! Those kids are killing themselves out there!” — you’re saying stupid s***, but if you believe it, I guess, that’s the trick.
And you definitely believe that Tucker and Dale are both completely exasperated by what’s going on outside the cabin.
[laughs] Yeah, yeah. Without that, it wouldn’t… I think it’s the audience; as they’re watching, you know, how would you actually react in that situation? You would be beside yourself. You would be so exasperated. “How did she knock herself out again? What do you mean?”
Your Five Favorite Films notwithstanding, were you ever a big genre movie guy? Were you into horror movies, and did you get any particular kick out of subverting the genre in Tucker & Dale?
Um… No. [laughs] I’m not a big horror movie fan. I am afraid of them; they scare me. The Shining had a huge effect on me. I could just think about those twin girls, and it would keep me up at night. Really scary. But I have… I wish I could remember the name of it! There was this terrible horror comedy that I loved that I found at a Blockbuster when I was young. I need to find this thing. I did love this movie because I rented it again and again, and it was a horror comedy. Basically, there was a brain that wanted to assemble a woman and put his brain inside of the woman that they assembled, and he enlists these two guys who work at some sh***y restaurant to get women and cut them up for him. And there’s like one woman they kill by making a hush puppy out of her head, and the brain has a voice, and he talks like this old Jewish man. I gotta find that movie. I’ll just Google “idiot, guys, hush puppy head.”
[Editor’s Note: After some research, it’s been determined that the movie whose title Alan was unable to remember is the 1987 horror-comedy Blood Diner.]
So I have liked that genre before, but it wasn’t something I was looking forward to lampooning. I just got excited about doing a comedy that had such high stakes with a director that wanted to play it real. There’s so much room for humor when you’re allowed to invest in the stakes, and not let s*** go by. That happens way too much; I hate that in a movie. I’m into a movie, and then they suddenly do something like, “Why would they do that? They wouldn’t care about that. He would tell him that. That’s too convenient; you guys are being convenient.” I think we did a good job of staying away from that as much as possible. There’s a couple moments, but we talk about it in the DVD commentary.
One last, very brief question: Being that you played Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball, and you were sort of a space pirate on Firefly, do you celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day?
I don’t, I don’t. I will, though. You know, I went to a pirate faire right before we did Dodgeball, to study pirate people. There are people who get together and play pirates. So it’s almost like Scarborough Faire, but it’s all pirate-themed. And I went out there with the actress Missi Pyle who played the Russian on the other team, crazy, bad-toothed, in red. Yeah, I would go to another pirate day. I have a movie of us at that pirate day and it’s pretty funny. But no, no I don’t. It has a place in my heart, and in my liver.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is in theaters this week, but it’s already available on video on demand.