Alan Tudyk and the Joy of Playing Idiots
Alan Tudyk is one of the more recognizable faces acting today, even if his name and voice hide behind his characters. Tudyk has been on Broadway, starred in a beloved TV show, and has done voice-over work for animated hits including Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, and Disney’supcoming feature Big Hero 6. He was also Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Tudyk once attempted standup, but after facing a threatening heckler, he joined an improv troupe, learning a skill that has aided his acting career.
He most recently signed on as the new host of Newsreaders as it begins its second season Thursday night at midnight on Adult Swim. He plays Regan Biscayne, a character Tudyk calls “an idiot.”
Congratulations on joining Newsreaders! How did you wind up getting this role?
Well, I was a fan of the show from the first season. I had seen every episode and thought they were really funny. And I just got a call and they were like “Hey do you want to be the host of Newsreaders?” I don’t think it took me an hour to answer. When I got it I was like yes.
How much of the show is actually improvised and how much is scripted?
Most of it’s scripted. Everyone will get some stuff in, but it shoots very fast. There’s definitely some improv in there, but it’s mostly scripted.
I read in an interview that you tried standup, but you had stopped because someone had threatened to kill you.
Yeah, I was doing standup at the Holiday Inn in Jacksonville, Texas. I was doing a 30-minute set. And the audience was probably about 25 people. I was standing on the dance floor. There wasn’t a proper stage. I’d stand on the dance floor and talk to the people at the bar. And I had met a drunken man right before the set named Ray. So I was doing my set I kept coming back to Ray, who was laughing and seemed to be enjoying the show. I kept referencing Ray, like, “Ray gets it, maybe you can explain to those guys over there.” And then at some point, that point in an alcoholic-fueled evening where it turns from “I’m a happy guy” to “I’m a murderous scary person,” he stood up and he was only a few feet from me on the same level. I was 18 and small. He said “FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKER.” It was clear to me if I said anything to him, it would have been a lot of blood. There were no bouncers, no security. I verbally folded in on myself, which is always good in comedy, and got rid of my material real fast and walked off stage. And when I left I said “screw this” and joined an improv troupe because there’s more people there. It’s not great back up, but it’s some backup.
Do you find your improv background helps when you play different characters?
Yeah. I think you need improv to get a role in a comedy, especially now that UCB is so prevalent and there are so many improvisational actors. Improv is used so much. Judd Apatow of course uses a lot of it. You can tell in a lot of those comedies they put funny people in the roles and let them live and they pull the best stuff out and put it in the movie. If you’re doing a comedy audition these days you need to have some improv skills…you really need to have one or two extra jokes in your pocket. I think if you can improv a role then you have an understanding of that character in a way that’s going to be helpful to the movie.
I’m wondering how improv plays into your voiceover roles. One character you played was King Candy from Wreck it Ralph who was comedic, but also a little frightening. What went into that character?
It was a long process, almost two years we were recording that [character] and they allowed for a lot of improv. You get what’s there and they let you play around with it. There was a little Jerry Lewis in there, Nelson Reilly was in there. There are all these older comics, vaudevillian comics. There’s a whole list of them. I loved those guys. Like I would go to the Museum of Radio and Television (in a vaudeville voice) before there was YouTube (laughs), when I first moved to New York, and just go watch Your Show of Shows and Ed Wynn shows. It was a blast.
I read that you love playing idiotic characters. What draws you to those characters as opposed to more serious roles?
Some people play idiots well. My brain has an idiotic vent. The thoughts that come up tend to be stupid, things that stupid people would say. When it comes to playing roles I’ll have better ideas if I’m playing an idiot because I’m always thinking like an idiot (laughs). Really I’m just naturally an idiot. It’s something I’ve embraced and found some success at. I have to say Regan Biscayne, as the host of Newsreaders, is an idiot. I don’t think my predecessor was quite as stupid as I was. My guy’s dumb.
There’s a lot of arrogance and certainty in the characters of Newsreaders even when they’re wrong.
Exactly (laughs). I think I have an ounce less of arrogance. He’s just kind of…stupid. He’s sort of coasting on…I don’t know what.
Do you watch any news programs to get into the role of Regan Biscayne?
I’ve watched some 20/20. Morley Safer. What kind of name is that? I mean that’s a total Newsreaders made up name, but it’s actually a guy. There’s a wide range of newscasters… I’ve sampled it all (laughs). Regan Biscayne is a little bit of all of them.
Any other upcoming projects?
Trumbo, which won’t be out for a year. Louis CK is in it. He had just finished his tour, this big tour of 20,000, 30,000 people in an audience. He just walked into a room of 30 people and it was awesome because he was sitting with us. It really felt like sitting at the cool kids table.
What was he like?
He’s obviously a writer/director, which everybody knows, but he brings his knowledge to a scene in a way that makes it better, not just by his acting, but saying “what if I did it this way?” He has an understanding of storytelling that makes a better story.
You’ve had a variety of different roles. What are you most recognized for?
Somewhere between Wash from Firefly and Steve the Pirate (from Dodgeball) and A Knight’s Tale. Some people will know me from Strangers with Candy and others will say, “you’re on CSI, you’re a pedophile.” I’ve done a lot of different things. It’s pretty much a mixed bag.