Broadway Bullet Interview: Alan Tudyk on Prelude, Spamalot
You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 108. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.
Broadway Bullet Interview: Alan Tudyk from Prelude to a Kiss
BROADWAY BULLET: I am sitting here in the studio today with Alan Tudyk who has done film, theater, about everything you'd imagine, I bet there's some clowning in there too, and he's currently staring in Prelude to a Kiss at the Roundabout Theater. How are you doing?
Alan Tudyk: Very well, very well.
BB: Starting off with Prelude to a Kiss, you've done a lot of quirky characters, to say the least.
BB: And you are definitely a leading man, straight man territory with this play. Was that part of the appeal?
ALAN: Definitely, I lived here for a long time, I don't live here so much anymore, I live in LA a lot. When I was here before I was doing theater a lot more, it was the main thing that I did. And I did some lead characters, but they were always of the quirky vein I suppose. There was Epic Proportions, which was at the Helen Hayes for a short time which Jerry Zacks directed it.
BB: And Kristin Chenoweth.
ALAN: And Kristin Chenoweth was in it as well, yes. And it was a leading role, but it was a very physical comedy leading role. And then also Most Fabulous Story Ever Told which we started at the New York Theater Workshop, and then it went to Williamstown first, and there were readings and workshops and there were readings and workshops before all that. It was the story of Adam and Steve, it's a Paul Rudnick play, and I played Adam, and that was the lead of the play. And again, well it was pretty crazy because it was Adam and Steve and we started out in the Garden of Eden and went through time together, there was stone hedge and we went through Egypt and we went all over the place in Act One, and then ended up with the virgin birth. Act Two was set in modern New York at Christmas time. And now, you go and play roles in films and as you said, I definitely drift towards the quirky, supporting roles.
BB: The pirate in Dodge Ball was.
ALAN: Yes, that was a really good example. We need a guy who plays dodge ball and thinks he's a pirate, get me Alan Tudyk on the phone! Those are the jobs I do. And when I read the script, it's a wonderful script, Craig Lucas is wonderful, I had only kind of peripherally seen the movie and wasn't a fan. I kind of thought of it as Freaky Friday, it's an old man and a young girl and I thought of it as light comedy. But when I read it, I realized it was much more than that, it was really a beautiful story about love and about life.
BB: For our listeners who maybe don't know the play, like you said you fall in love with Annie Parisse in the show, and all the sudden, at your wedding, this kiss happens with John Mahoney and then they switch souls in the bodies.
ALAN: Yes, and then her soul goes away. And the thing that I fell in love with what I married Rita for is gone, and then it's about trying to figure out what happened and which is outrageous. You know, magic happens, souls switch, you're in this, this does not happen, how it could be, he becomes so desperate and it's so scary. It deals with life and death and goes a lot of different places.
BB: It's a drama, it just happens to be funny because of the situation.
ALAN: Yes, yes.
BB: But they treat it seriously?
ALAN: Definitely. It's somewhat of a, you know, think about if your wife or girlfriend or your significant other was kidnapped, essentially stolen from you and you want her back. She's stolen, she's taken, that drama, that's a drama. Also, if you think about "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" almost, you've been changed. And it's very scary and dramatic, but there is humor to it. I was really drawn into it for the drama, and also getting to play a lead again, definitely. Because I was fortunate enough to have leads earlier I sort of just took it for granted. Oh yeah, this is what I do, I just do this. And then doing movies and playing a lot of supporting roles; I played one lead in a movie, but nobody really saw me in it, in "I Robot" I played Sonny the robot, I did that for six months, and then they digitally drew over me. And so everything I did, it was my acting kind of because they put whatever my face did on the face of this robot character.
BB: You know, I saw the credit of "I Robot" on your bio and I was thinking where, I missed that.
ALAN: Was he the quirky lab assistant? Yeah, no I got to play that role and people don't know it was me. You have to really figure it out.
BB: Our engineer is out there shaking her head, she's a fan.
ALAN: But I wanted to come back, I wanted to do that but I wanted to have a little bit more to chew on and I got just that. And plays, I always feel that plays are an opportunity to learn to act. We get an acting class eight shows a week, and the show on Tuesdays changes every week. It may be the same, but basically, by Sunday you have essentially a different show. It's deeper in places, the dynamic is colored in different ways so that it is, hopefully, more specific. And after a run of doing a play for awhile, it really charges my batteries in acting. Those questions that you really need to ask yourself as an actor when you are approaching a role become more immediate, they're right in the forefront of your brain. So it's easier to tackle whatever role, if it's a pirate or a leading role.
BB: A lot of film actors will come and do a show, but you've pretty consistently done film and theater back and forth and back and forth. So I'm curious how you viewed theater as fitting into your overall career plan. Is it a release for you, is it something to do something different?
ALAN: I consider theater, this is a vacation for me from LA, I sort of view this as I get to have this vacation and during my vacation I get to work on acting. It's like an acting class. And if I go too long without doing a play, I just feel empty. Like approaching a role, I feel like the pool is very shallow, like I'm drawn from it. So I need to come back and do a play, fortunately I've been able to, every couple of years. I think I once went three or four years without doing a play and I almost lost my mind, then I came back and did Spamalot. But that was a very different experience.
BB: Tell us about Spamalot because you were pretty nuts in that. I actually got a chance to catch you when you came in. You were like a nice surprise, when we found out all the lead actors we had paid to see were gone, we were like "oh wait, look Alan Tudyk's in it, we're happy!"
ALAN: Yeah, it was this lucky thing that happened. Hank Azaria, who originated Lancelot, the role is Lancelot then you also do the French Taunter and the Knight who says Knee, and Tim the Enchanter.
BB: You definitely ate up the French Taunter.
ALAN: Yeah, that was a fun one, I liked him. My favorite role is from the movie, that's how I came to it, like most people. He had that show "Huff" on Showtime that he had to go back to shoot a season, so he wouldn't be back for six months. The Tony's were on Sunday, Mike Nichols won best director, the show won best musical, and Sara Ramirez won best featured actress in a musical. And it was right at that crazy time where the stage door was just ten people deep, and the audience was rocking and it was amazing, and I got to step in with the entire original cast and play for six months. And it was just as the wave was hitting the perfect spot, Hank jumped off the surfboard and said "jump on buddy, it's yours". It was great, it was a great wave to ride for six months, and I say that not being a surfer. It was more of a performance. Like Prelude is great because it does change every performance and it's going to grow up until April 29th when we're done; but for Spamalot, because you're playing four different roles and it is very sketch like. The Lancelot role had a little more meat to it because it had changed a little bit, even from the movie, there was some new stuff that Eric Idle had written. But like the French Taunter and the Knight who says Knee, you exploit every laugh and find every way to make it as funny as possible and use what you have to make it as funny, playing with the other actors and what they're giving you. It gets to a certain point.
BB: Rarely are you given permission to literally chew the scenery.
ALAN: Exactly. But at a certain point, you've turned over every rock for funny, and then it's about maintaining that for I think I did about 200 performances of that so for about 100 performances I was like "great, I feel like I've really exploited every place I can find for what is funny. Because it is so funny and it is such a performance, it's really entertainment. Once you're in a musical, there is a huge opportunity for that, singing and dancing, "aha!" and "tada" at the end of the numbers; but it's a different kind of discipline you have to go through to maintain that kind of performance. The great thing with Prelude and straight plays is that you get to grow, and when you have one role that has a through line throughout then you get to play all between, you figure out what you want, how you're going to get it, what your obstacles are throughout the play, and then it just changes over time, it deepens, it's a blast I'm enjoying it. I'm sad that we're only going through the end of April; but we're having a blast and we'll have a blast up until the end. I'm sure there won't be any point where we'll be like, "oh god, we've got two shows to do today." Nobody approaches it like that. I mean, every show you get a few people who are just beat tired and just don't want to do it today, and you're like how is this going to happen? But it's not like that with this one at all and I don't expect it to be, because it's so short.
BB: Now you grew up in Texas, right? So where did you migrate first as you decided you were going to make your career in entertainment?
ALAN: New York City, I always wanted to come here. I went to Julliard, actually Sara Ramirez who I mentioned earlier, was in my class so we were group 26, group 26 at Julliard. I had been to a school in Texas for two years and did drama and learned some things, and then was in comedy troops in Dallas; I realized that I needed to make a choice, and also that I didn't know very much, and somebody told me Julliard was a good school and that's all I knew about it, this person had told me it was the best school in the country. So I said cool, I'll audition for it then. And did, and I got in luckily, and I was like "cool, now I'm going to go to this place in New York". And that really began everything for me, the education there was intense, and I only went there for three years. It was a four year program, but by the third year I was kind of done. The fourth year is all performance, and there's no more classes, and that's sort of what I was there for. "I want to take the classes", "there aren't any more classes", "what plays are we doing?", and they're always like "it's a fifteenth century Spanish play called The Chambermaids Daughter, nobody ever does it and we're going to do it!" Yeah, nobody ever does it for a reason. What they were planning to do their season wasn't exciting and I had, luckily, worked at New York Stage and Film one summer between my second and third year and had made some contacts and started work early in the play Bunny, Bunny. This went Off-Broadway and was the first play I was in professionally in New York, with Bruno Kirby and Paula Cale. I got one of those Theater World awards, it was an exciting time. I got the Clarence Durbin Award, the Equity Award which is cool because it has a cash prize which is cooler than a trophy, especially when you're a struggling actor and you can't pay rent. So that was a great introduction, for me into the theater and for the New York theater people to see me. In that one, again, I played multiple roles, I played like 20 something roles, it was a three person play. Gilda Radner and Alan Zweibel were the two lead characters and it went over their relationship over several years and told the story of their relationship, and then I played everyone else in the play. So there was men, women, different ethnicities, lots of accents, lots of wigs, mustaches, stuff like that. And I was always running offstage and changing, then coming back on; and I think that was kind of neat to watch. But New York, and then LA just kind of happened over time, and now I live there, I don't know it just kind of happens.
BB: Now I know two years, in 2004 and 2005, you participated in the 24 hour play festival.
BB: And you missed it last year, are you planning on doing it again? And tell us a little bit more about that.
ALAN: I'm fairly sure I'm going to do the 24 hour plays until I do one I hate. Isn't that awful? It's scary, it's so scary because you don't know what you're going to do, you don't know what you're going to do at all. People who know the 24 hour plays, you meet on a Sunday night at like 11pm, you introduce yourselves and meet the other actors. You bring in a couple of props just that you had lying around the house and you thought might be useful to someone there are playwrights, I guess there are ten of them or eight of them, four and four. There are eight playwrights, eight directors; they can chose to use some of the props in their plays, others don't, and then everybody meets each other, the actors all go away, and the playwrights write plays all night long and they tend to be about ten minutes long they get assigned directors and assigned actors, you come in Monday morning at like eight am and you have a script that's been written all night long, and meet your cast and director and quickly get off book, and then you stage it and that night there's an audience on Broadway, in the American Airlines Theater where Prelude is right now. It is so scary, it's so scary. It was the first thing I did when I had had three or four years off of theater, I did the 24 hour plays, and I had never had anxiety like that before I walked on the stage. Because I had so many lines it was very funny.
BB: Kind of like one of those nightmares where you feel like you're going onstage and you don't know the role?
ALAN: Yes! David Lindsey, of Airplane! His things are always so funny at those, but they're very line specific and quick to get his humor, to get it right you have to be kind of quick. And if you've just learned your lines, it makes for a scary time. But the audience is so accepting of it, and so ready to support you, that it just becomes, it was a high that night, after that show I was so high just from that experience, it was great.
BB: So do you have any future plans for theater on the horizon, or is it back to film? You have a couple of films opening soon, don't you?
ALAN: Yeah! I've got a couple. I have a small role in Knocked Up which is supposedly really good, it's got some great reviews, but I haven't seen it yet, but it's Judd Apatow's new movie. But the one that I'm really excited about I did last summer in London, Frank Oz directed, and it's called Death at a Funeral, and it's a farce. I am anxious to see how it does because Frank cast whoever he wanted, and they allowed him to cast whoever he wanted, and what ended up happening was you've got a cast of actors who are not necessarily name actors that people go "oh I'm going to go see the new Russell Crow movie". There isn't this star attached to it that gives it that kind of box office heft, it's just actors doing this very funny script. To the audiences they've shown it to, it's gone really well. It was just at the HBO Aspen Comedy Festival and it won the audience award, which was great, but I play a guy who's an Englishman and it takes place at a funeral, and he's a very sort of nervous fellow and on the way, it's my fiancée's uncle who's passed, and we're on the way and I don't want to go, the father hates me, and it's awful, the whole thing's just stressful. And we stop by to pick up her brother, and he's a drug dealer, we don't know that he's just made a drug deal over the phone, and he's a pharmacy student. And he's like, "listen, this is the best stuff you've ever take" because it's acid mixed with catamine mixed with speed, and he puts them in a valium bottle. We pick him up to go, he's dressed, and my fiancée offers me a valium to take to relax me because I am so upset, and I take valium and for the first ten minutes of the movie I am fairly normal, and then for the rest of the movie I am out of my mind.
BB: This is when they go, "Call Alan Tudyk!"
ALAN: You're absolutely right, we have a crazy person, we need somebody who's really good at losing their mind on film, get me that pirate! You know, you do a film and you have hopes for it, and you read it, and you see it one way in your head, and you shoot it, and it'll always change from what you started out. Sometimes it turns out better, sometimes it turns out; I don't know, but as movies go I've never experienced seeing and likening what I've read, and I liked what I read. I think Frank Oz did a wonderful job with it, I think he did an amazing job editing it, and it stays funny pretty much throughout the whole movie. Peter Dinklage also another New York actor, is in it; we're really the only two Americans in it, the rest are all Brits. But it is wildly funny. It comes out in, and I don't say that about things, but this one's really funny. If you want a good laugh, see Death at a Funeral at the end of June. So the competition is going to be, there's like six movies opening that weekend and this is a little seven million dollar movie up against who knows what, Spiderman 9?
BB: It'll be this year's Little Miss Sunshine.
ALAN: You can only hope that it does something, because that was a fun movie and a little movie. I tend to like farces and if I could do another play, if I could just pick any play, I'd just do a farce, some farce.
BB: On a kind of random topic, you must know a little bit about that sci-fi geekdom appeal is because you also appeared in a show that has this insanely cultish obsession.
ALAN: Yeah, Firefly, it was actually when I moved out to LA, that's what moved me out there. We did half a season of a show called Firefly, Joss Whedon. It was space cowboys, basically. We were criminals but there were horses, it was an interesting idea. We loved it, and we got cancelled, it was on Fox, they didn't put us on, they'd take us off, we didn't get a fair shake. When it came out on DVD the DVD sales were huge and they realized that there was something there. And so Universal actually realized it, bought the rights from Fox, Joss Whedon who was writing was not done writing for the show, so they made a movie The Serenity and those fans were the most devoted, they were great, they were fantastic.
BB: And then you could've gone to Comedcon.
ALAN: Yeah, I've been to a couple of those things. And it's amazing, they give you a microphone and an audience of 4,000 people can say "could you just talk for about an hour?" what an experience. Of an audience that just wants to support whatever you say, you can talk about anything. They usually ask questions and talk and it's fun. A lot of the cast members we got along really well and Nathan Fillion and I, whenever I go to one of those things I've got to make sure that Nathan Fillion he played the captain is there, we're very close friends. So it's like, "hey man you want to go hang out with a microphone and a few thousand people?" It can be a lot of fun, it seems like everybody has a good time.
BB: Well I definitely thank you for stopping in, and everybody can get a chance to catch you through April 29th in Prelude to a Kiss.
BB: They extended it for a little bit, yes?
ALAN: Yes, they extended it for about a week. We get that extra eight performances.
BB: Alright, well it's been a pleasure, and thanks so much for stopping down.
ALAN: Cheers, my pleasure.
You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 108. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.
Photo #1 by Linda Lenzi