Alan Tudyk interview: Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, Pixar, Firefly, Serenity, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

We chat to actor Alan Tudyk about his forthcoming movie, Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, and his work with the mighty Joss Whedon...

For some, Alan Tudyk’s distinctive features will forever be associated with the sterling work of Joss Whedon, whether it be his turn as Alpha, the agoraphobic murderer in Dollhouse, or the loveable Wash in Firefly and Serenity. Elsewhere, he memorably played Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball (“Steve’s gotta go drain the sea-monster!”), and has lent his vocal talents to animated features such as Ice Age and Rango.

Tudyk’s latest film is Tucker And Dale Vs Evil, a comedy horror about a pair of hillbillies whose vacation in a remote cabin quickly goes awry. With Tucker And Dale out next month, we caught up with Tudyk to discuss the film, as well as his role in the forthcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the likelihood of more Firefly or Serenity.

What drew you to work on Tucker And Dale Vs Evil in the first place?

The script; just the idea. Seeing one of these hillbilly/college kids slasher flicks through the eyes of the hillbillies is something I’d certainly never seen or thought of before. I didn’t expect it would work when I first heard about it, and when I sat down to read it. I kept thinking, this won’t work, he won’t be able to keep all these balls in the air, he’s not going to be able to maintain this. But he did, and that’s exciting to me, something new and hard to pull off.

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When Eli [Craig, director] and I talked for the first time on the phone, the first thing I asked was how he saw it being played by the actors, what kind of style the movie would be in. Is it going to be the type of movie that honours the stakes of what’s happening? Like, if someone dies, will we be dramatic and say “somebody… just… died,” or be more relaxed about it? When Tucker comes in after the guy jumps into the wood chipper, and he’s asked “what happened?”, it’s more “Oh my God”.

He stand there and tries to comprehend what just happened. He wanted to go for a more realistic reaction to the ridiculous things, and finding the humour there, as opposed to something like a Scary Movie that is more comedy than horror, and doesn’t even try to walk that fine line. He was into that, and I was all over it.

It’s been compared to films like Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland. What do you think it is about the horror genre that’s so ripe for parody?

I think horror and comedy are intrinsically linked, like when you get so scared that you have to laugh. I think the idea of nervous laughter is definitely at the seed of it. Both genres benefit from really high stakes, and in a horror movie the stakes couldn’t be higher. People are dying, and you’re afraid for your life. I can’t watch horror movies, I have to cover my eyes.

I ask, why would I scare myself? Life is scary enough, why force myself to be afraid of what’s in the dark? Comedy also benefits from those really high stakes, but reacting to them is important. One of my biggest complaints about so many comedies is that they set up things that you as an audience invest in, only to ignore them because they’re not convenient. It’s such a let down, and it’s done so often as a way to ignore reality.

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You’ve done some voice work as well – how does that compare to being in front of the camera?

I love it, even though it’s not as openly fulfilling. If I was just a voice actor I think I would be sad, as I wouldn’t want to give up on-camera acting. I like working with other actors and, a lot of time when you’re doing voice actor work, you’re just by yourself. There are a few exceptions, of course.

When they shot Rango, I think it was a whole theatrical experience, just basically acting the movie. I’m doing a Pixar movie right now, and I did Ice Age, doing a lot of these things alone. I’m working with John C Reilly right now, and I’ve never met him. I have scenes with John C Reilly and I haven’t shaken his hand. I love that guy, although only through his work as I don’t know him. Who knows, maybe there isn’t love there, but I love his work.

The one benefit of doing voice acting is a cartoon coming out on MTV called Good Vibes, where I get to play ten different roles. In Tucker And Dale they only let me play one, which was fine. That is a benefit to doing this work, as I can voice roles that I would never get to play. Like, I’m Green Arrow! I don’t think anyone would give me that job. Maybe if they were an interesting casting director, but I think they’d probably go for an Australian or something.

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You’ve done a lot of comedy films in the past, are you drawn to that genre more than others?

I do like comedies. I learned that on my role on Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, where I played a bad guy who’s introduced in an extreme way. He’s introduced as this agoraphobic who’s afraid to go outside and would really just rather stay home if he could; the sort of guy who doesn’t want any trouble, and just grows weed in his apartment.

Then you find out later that it’s all a ruse and, when left alone, he turns into this face-slashing maniac. I liked playing the guy who was afraid of everything, who was quirky and didn’t like to walk down stairs that didn’t have backs in case someone grabbed his ankles. I’ve come to learn that, when it comes to doing that, I have more input and ideas.

I’m always asked “Can I say this line,” or, “How about…” When I’m playing a bad guy or evil people out to wreak havoc, I don’t have as many ideas, so I can only really do my best. So I prefer comedies, especially comedies with a physical element to them, if I could have it all my way. Also, anything Joss Whedon, I’m on board for.

People must still ask you about possible news on Firefly and Serenity. Are there any developments there?

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I always said we’d do a prequel. But I was with Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion at Comic-con, and looking at ourselves, there’s no chance for a prequel. If we pitched it as ‘before you ever met our characters’, ten years later, people wouldn’t believe it. I’m always optimistic, because people are interested and there’s still an audience for it.

There’s so many un-investigated storylines and ways to approach it. There’s also a lot of intelligent, imaginative people who could pick it up. It’s just about production costs, and production costs are coming down. I think it’s a matter of time, but I don’t base that on anything other than, why not?

You can also get Joss excited about it too. If you start talking to him about Firefly, you can definitely rekindle that spark, because it was such a passion project for him. After it got cancelled, the fans played such a huge role in getting it to the movie, but other than the fans it was all Joss Whedon.

You have a part in the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, what can we expect there?

It’s being done by Timur Bekmambetov, the director who did Night Watch and Day Watch, and it was very much his vision of the novel. He brings his style to it, so it’s the book but with a lot of his humour added. It’s really intriguing the way he does things, so you can expect something massive.

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My character comes in as a political foil to Lincoln, always showing up when he needs somebody to argue against. I also give historical context, because historically Stephen Douglas was engaged to Mary Todd, who Abraham Lincoln ended up marrying. They both ran against each other for the presidency, and their debates defined a style of debating set at that time.

Of course, Stephen Douglas was also in cahoots with the vampires. I mean, they taught that in my school, I don’t know if they taught it in all schools, but Stephen Douglas worked for the damned. So, I play an historical guy, but my wig is awful and he’s somewhat of a tosser. But it was fun, I had a great time doing it.

Alan Tudyk, thank you very much.Tucker And Dale Vs Evil is out in UK cinemas on the 23rd September, and will be able on DVD and Blu-ray from 26th September.