In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Alan Tudyk is the perfect actor for our current, content-saturated moment of Peak TV and streaming wars. The versatile, Juilliard-trained performer slips readily and frequently between on-screen character roles and animated voice work. He’s lately become something a lucky charm for Walt Disney Animation Studios, appearing in every single one of its feature-length efforts since Wreck-It Ralph. His time as wisecracking pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne on the beloved space Western Firefly, meanwhile, ensures him a place in any number of genre projects and future cult classics, from the galactic big leagues—where he played the droid K2SO in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—to comics adaptations like Deadpool 2, Young Justice, and The Tick. In his latest panel-to-screen turn, Tudyk inhabits the fractured mind and anatomy of Mr. Nobody, the anarchic, self-aware antagonist of DC Universe’s take on Doom Patrol, which premieres Friday, February 15. While appearing at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Tudyk kicked off the 2019 edition of 11 Questions.
Alan Tudyk: God, I could go two ways here. To be honest, it’s french fries.
The A.V. Club: From anywhere specific?
AT: McDonald’s. That is so tediously boring. That is so obvious.
AVC: It’s hard to do french fries wrong.
AT: Are you kidding me? You know who does them wrong is In-N-Out. What the hell is that? “But they’re fresh potatoes.” Well they shouldn’t be. We should freeze them first, and then you should fry them. It changes it. They get crispy on the outside that way. Otherwise they’re like this weird, soggy—you can taste what a raw potato tastes like at the same time. There’s not enough ketchup to make that thing palatable.
AVC: This might be a counterargument to your feeling that McDonald’s fries are a tedious answer—McDonald’s has perfected the fry.
AT: They’re good at it. As fast food goes, that’s the way to go. I used to say Wendy’s—they have a very fine salting, but the last time I had it, it was too fine, it was too much, it was too intense. So I think I’ve passed my Wendy’s years and I’ve moved into the comfort and the predictability of McDonald’s.
AT: Oh, there’s a lot of them, I would hope. I remembered this not too long ago, so I’ll say it because it’s the first thing that came to mind: The first big movie I ever did was Patch Adams with Robin Williams. It was a very small role. Michael Jeter was also in the same scenes as me, and we were standing around waiting to shoot something, and I went up to him and I said, “What you doing?” And in this old-timey, old-man voice he said, [Adopts old-timey, old-man voice.] “Oh, just hanging out by the window, enjoyin’ the sunshine.” And then I, in a similar old-timey voice, said, [Adopts similar old-timey voice.] “Ooh, but you got to worry about the sunshine—it makes your moles grow.” And then Robin Williams came over, and he said, [Adopts Williams’ old-timey voice.] “What are we talkin’ about?” And we said, “Moles.” And then he said, “I’ve got a mole problem in my yard!” And then somehow it changed to an English accent, and then it changed to this bizarre choreographer that Robin was doing, and we were all doing bizarre choreographers, and then we were in a disco, and we just went from character to character to character playing around, [improvising]. And there was a moment where I was standing there doing it and standing beside myself, poking myself, going, “Oh my god.” I was doing characters that I think I learned originally from [Williams] as a kid. I would love to re-live that.
AVC: What else in your career had you done before that?
AT: I had done two off-Broadway plays, a couple of plays out of town, and a casting director called me in to meet Tom Shadyac because of the first play I did, where I played 24 characters. I think I was reading the Philip Seymour Hoffman role [in Patch Adams], and [Shadyac], in the room, was like, “You’re not going to get this. But if you can do 24 characters, I’m sure I could find a character to put you in.” And he followed through. I went to San Francisco. I had hives—I’d eaten some bad Chinese food the night before, and my throat started to close up as I went to set. They took me to a doctor because I was covered in these hives and my windpipe was closing up. I couldn’t breathe. The doctor gave me a shot of adrenaline, and they took me back to set, and then, “Action!”
And if you ever see the opening couple of scenes of Patch Adams, where I’m one of the guys in group therapy, I am as high as a kite on adrenaline. My eyes were about to roll back into my head. It’s a great acting tool, adrenaline. You watch it and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, he’s completely whacked out.” Because I had had, like, four cups of coffee before that.
AVC: As your first movie role, you were probably already experiencing an adrenaline rush anyway.
AT: Absolutely. Everything was brand new. There’s craft service! And there’s Robin Williams. There was Robin Williams. I was in San Francisco staying in a nice hotel. My girlfriend came to visit—like, “You got to come be part of this! It’s too great!” And she brought me chocolates, which is the last thing you should eat when you have hives. The doctor’s like, “Whatever you do, don’t have any brown liquors or chocolate.” I’m like, “You just described my dinner.”
AVC: An appropriate question for Doom Patrol.
AT: Mr. Nobody’s pretty great, but I’m getting to know him. He’s like the Joker, but he’s not so serious.
AVC: He’s a real wild card. He’s breaking the fourth wall all over the place.
AT: That’s great. To be able to comment on the world and himself and everyone around him.
As far as villains go, the Joker is just amazing. I guess that’s it: the Joker, and then also, Mr. Nobody. Forget that: Mr. Nobody wins! I got to talk to Grant Morrison—I called him on the phone, because I know some comic book folk who are very cool. They’re like, “Yeah, I got his number. He’s in Scotland!” So I called him and he said, “The thing about Nobody is it’s a perspective. He’s absurdist. It’s like if you find a dollar bill on the ground, what is that worth? Now you see that it’s signed by Andy Warhol and it’s a piece of found art. Now what is it worth? Now you find out that the signature’s a forgery. Now what is it worth? Then you find out that it’s Picasso who forged the signature. Now what is it worth?” He said, “That kind of ‘nothing matters’ perspective on the world—it’s all fungible—that’s where he lives.” Ah, it’s fun.
AVC: What does it mean as an actor to have a part that’s like that?
AT: Doesn’t that make your brain tickle? That makes my brain kind of squirm.
What’s really fun is working with Timothy Dalton. I do a lot with him because I kidnap him in the first episode. The bulk of my stuff is with him, and it’s just two actors in a space trying to out-maneuver one another, but I had the upper hand so that’s even that much more fun, because he’ll never beat me. He’s a fantastic actor. He works on stage a lot, so you don’t see him as much as we should, because he’s doing it for live audiences. He’s a Shakespearean actor, and I started reading Shakespeare again because I’m working with him. We’ve been talking about it so much, I thought, “I need to get that back. I need to start working that muscle again.” For an actor, it’s a blast. The stakes are super high. I’m working with great actors who want to work on the scene. I’m a nerd about the craft of acting, so I’m really enjoying it.
AVC: You’ve been someone who’s spoken a lot of quotable lines on screen—especially in Firefly.
AT: I’ve seen a few tattoos that say, “I’m a leaf on the wind,” for sure.
The word “seda-give” exists in my vocabulary—said with a shrill, question mark on the end: “Seda-give?”—from Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. I was just the other day talking to my wife, saying, “From now on, I’m going to try to be the same,” which is a line from What’s Up, Doc? It’s a line that Barbra Streisand has with Ryan O’Neal. It is such a funny movie. The play is, “From now on, I’m going to try to be the same.”
“The same as what?”
“The same as people who aren’t different.”
AT: If I’m lucky, Jesse Plemons. He’s such a good actor, and he’s got a whole ginger thing going on.
AT: My favorite movie’s All That Jazz. I would definitely stop if I saw it. I never see it, though. That movie’s great.
AVC: Are you excited about that Fosse/Verdon miniseries?
AT: Yes. Sam Rockwell’s an incredible actor, and because of All That Jazz, I’m a huge fan of Bob Fosse.
AT: My Xbox. My Halo game.
AT: Acute smart-assery.
AVC: It’s a situation that’s going to need some humor, right?
AT: Please. Yes. I’ll get killed very quickly in a post-apocalyptic world, because they’ll be like, “Shut up that smartass. I can’t take it anymore.” But I’ll bring it.
AT: Austin Pendleton. One of my favorite actors. That’s right, probably very few people know who Austin Pendleton is. He has his own energy. He has his own frequency that he operates on. He can just say a line that’s funny, and it isn’t written funny, but because of him, it is. You may remember him from My Cousin Vinny. He played the lawyer that [Mitchell Whitfield] gets because he’s like, “Your cousin’s a terrible lawyer.” And [Pendleton’s] like, “I got this,” and he gets up, and he has—only when he’s speaking to the jury—a debilitating stutter. He is a phenomenal actor.
AT: The Beatles! C’mon. I’ll play the theremin. That’s what was missing in most of their music. There wasn’t enough theremin.
AT: I’ve never seen a Purge. I know the idea of a Purge. I am opposed to The Purge movies. I’m opposed to the idea of all of it.
AVC: So you’d be protesting it?
AT: Hell no! That’d be, like, the No. 1 target. I would be hiding. I’d be on a boat. I take a boat out with a group of friends who hate the Purge just as much as me, and we’d have a nice time. We’d watch All That Jazz and maybe a Mel Brooks marathon.
AVC: You’re getting yourself into a completely different case of lawlessness there, though, because it’s maritime law.
AT: I’m not bringing any jackass who wants to kill anybody! I hope not. Maybe it’s just me and my wife. I can’t trust her. [Laughs.] No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person?
AT: “If you could play any role in any film, and re-create your own version of it, what would it be?”