Even if he wasn’t appearing in the new Star Wars movie Rogue One, Alan Tudyk’s place as a geek favorite would be secure. With a resume including Firefly, the follow-up movie Serenity, Dollhouse, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Suburgatory, Big Hero 6 and many more, Tudyk’s comic timing, easy charm and flexible voice have provided fans with a terrific assortment of characters over the past 15 years. And now as K-250, an Imperial droid that has joined the Rebel Alliance, Tudyk quite possibly steals Rogue One (he certainly got the biggest laughs at the screening we attended).
K-250 is different from previous Star Wars droids: he is world-weary, cynical and has little time for fools, dispensing pithy little putdowns of both his friends and his enemies. Tudyk has found just the right tone of voice for him, and played the part on the set as well in a motion capture rig (similar to his stint as the automaton Sonny in I, Robot). We discussed all that, along with what it was like to hang out with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, when we sat down with a tired but still game Tudyk at the end of a long press day for Rogue One at Lucasfilm in San Francisco.
Den of Geek: You last did motion capture on I, Robot, but it’s changed quite a bit in the intervening 10, 11 years.
Alan Tudyk: It has. Mainly that is in post-production, the changes. Surprisingly, my experience of the motion capture in I, Robot was very similar to this in that I didn’t have to wear balls. I didn’t have cameras on my face. I didn’t have dots on my face in I, Robot, or in Rogue One. In I, Robot, they had to do a lot of technical stuff after each take that we didn’t have to do, certainly. Lighting tests and stuff like that that we luckily didn’t have to bother with.
It definitely has a different feel, though, because they’re such different stories in different worlds. The droids within Star Wars, within the canon of Star Wars, the lineage of droids, these characters are stand-out personalities. I could embellish the personality that was on the page and not be out of order or I wouldn’t be bringing something new into the world of Star Wars that people would go, “Wait, what’s that?” Within I, Robot, I was one robot among thousands who happened to have feelings that he was working out. He was very much like a little boy who was confused. He was immediately in trouble and didn’t know what was going on, whereas K2 is in a world where droids have emotions. They seem to have emotions or personalities, just like humans.
I could just relax in the role and you see it in the animation. If he was to sit like this (crosses legs), if you saw a robot sitting like this, although I don’t sit with my legs crossed ever, any kind of little casual move really brings a human quality when you put it on a robot. When I did I, Robot, the idea was to move ergonomically. Move like a robot, so you didn’t see that humanity there. It was in his words.
A lot of actors say that when you are playing a role, the costume helps. When you’re just putting on mo-cap pajamas or whatever, which are very nondescript, do you have to change your approach or just work harder in any way?
I experienced it more on the other one again, in I, Robot, where I put on the green suit and it was so bright and distracting to me and not what I knew he was ultimately going to be, this sleek thing. With K2, it was a cooler suit. Grays, blacks, and also I was on stilts and the stilts really helped, just to add the element of towering over everyone. It changed my walk. It gave me that sense of other, but in a way that aided the character and aided my own characterization as opposed to distracted from it. I certainly would not have wanted to put on a bunch of metal. He wouldn’t have ended up looking as cool, because his spindly arms and legs are really part of his design and such a neat part of his design. But also talking to Anthony Daniels, it’s not fun to be in that suit.
Do you remember the worst costume you ever wore in a film?
I guess in 42 we wore costumes that were wool. It was baseball players that wore wool back then. I remember we had wool caps and wool clothes in the hot sun in the south where we filmed it. Of course, you were just dripping with sweat underneath all this wool. That wasn’t comfortable.
I understand you got to do quite a bit of improv and a lot of it makes it into the movie. Was that fun to be able to do, especially within the confines of a science fiction movie where there may not be a lot of room for that kind of stuff?
I agree. I would not have expected. Didn’t expect it. There’s a place where you come together with a character. It starts with this two-dimensional script and you put it into three dimensions. When you are performing a character, at a certain point, it starts to speak through you hopefully. In moments you’ll speak in ways that they didn’t write. A lot of them are just additions to the lines there. Some of them are full lines. Some of them find a situation within the situation, just playing within it, changing the lines.
I’ve improv’ed before. I have restraint when it comes to how far I’ll improv. Some people take it and hijack movies and they start bringing it in different directions. This is not helpful to our plot. This doesn’t do what that scene did now. You’re just being funny for funny’s sake. It was doing the scenes just with different words here and there but that accomplished the same goal and had the same beat and the same feeling of what was there prior, just maybe a little bit more true to me and ultimately true to K2.
K2 seems like, like many things about this film, more morally ambiguous in a way. He seems harder edged. Do you see that as a natural extension of this movie’s view of the universe as a whole?
I guess so. Yeah. He is in that world, and that is the story we’re telling. There’s compromise to people in this world. War is corrupting, I guess. Having never fought in one, it seems to be the stories draw those characters. I am, with Cassian (Diego Luna) as a partner, a soldier prior to Jyn (Felicity Jones) coming and prior to this whole mission that takes place. He’s a spy. Spies are straddling a lot of different worlds and not all of them are pretty. He would have that ambiguity at times, but he loves Cassian. Cassian’s a good guy and he seems like a nice droid even though … Maybe that’s my opinion of him. It might just be my opinion.
I’m sure he’s ultimately nice.
He is nice. He’s just opinionated. He’s opinionated because if Cassian tells him to do something, he’ll do it, but if other people do it, he doesn’t necessarily pay attention or follow orders. Why would he? “You’re not the boss of me.”
Have you met a lot of actors from other Star Wars films?
I met Mark Hamill. I definitely met Carrie Fisher a few years ago at a Comic-Con in Sydney and we also did Perth. Loved her. We had a blast. We went shopping together. We hit it off. You don’t spend time with people outside of this. And like, “Carrie wants to hang out. Do you want to hang out?” Are you kidding me?
Before I did this, but this year, I was at a convention and I passed Mark Hamill. He was there signing and I stopped and said, “I’m sorry, Mark. My name is Alan Tudyk. I play K2.” He goes, “Oh, my God. Come here. Excuse me, everybody,” and just pulled me aside and brought me right in. He’s like, “I gotta tell you, we can talk about the movie. I’ve seen it. I’ve talked to Gareth. I know what goes on,” and we just talked about Rogue. “What’d you think? How do you feel? What about this scene? Did that one work out?” I was just beside myself, like, I’m talking to Mark Hamill right now and he really wants to talk to me. It wasn’t just, “Oh, hi. Nice to meet you. I’m glad you’re a fan.” It was, “Oh, you’re part of the family. Come here.” Like a hug. It’s great. I hope there’s more of that.
I worked with Harrison Ford, but again that was for 42, it was prior to this. We were friendly, but I think this is a new level. I’m part of something that he started and I’d love to hear what he thinks. I’m sure he’s going to see it.
Rogue One is out in theaters on Friday (December 16).