‘Resident Alien’ star Alan Tudyk is in no hurry to return to his home planet

Alan Tudyk presses up against rippled glass for a portrait.
“For me, a chicken and Hamlet — they’re the same,” Alan Tudyk says of his voice work. “They all have wants and needs, just different languages.”
(Ethan Benavidez / For The Times)
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When he was 5, a Muppet-inspired Alan Tudyk burst through the swinging doors of a cowboy-themed restaurant in Texas and snarled, “I’m Bad Bart and I’m here for some burgers!” The place went wild, he recalls. “My mother was ‘Oh, my God’ embarrassed, but the whole audience” — Tudyk catches himself — “the whole restaurant laughed. Even back then I couldn’t keep it hidden; I was trying to make people laugh.”

Sprawled on an enormous pumpkin-colored sofa in the Beachwood Canyon home he shares with his choreographer wife, Charissa, 14-year-old cockapoo Raisin and mutt Clara, 12, Tudyk reflects on his journey from live-wire child to “Resident Alien” star. The Syfy series, introduced in 2019, casts Tudyk as the pizza-loving, profanity-spewing title character who crash-lands in rural America on a mission to destroy humanity. He kills small-town doctor Harry Vanderspeigle, shape-shifts into his body, learns English by binge-watching “Law & Order” and tries to fit in with the charmingly quirky citizens of Patience, Colo.

At the start, Tudyk says, “Harry knows nothing about being a human and loves the fact that he’s smarter than everyone. He’s also very arrogant.” By the end of Season 1, Harry’s shed his first tear after his only friend, nurse Asta (Sara Tomko), catches him in a lie. In Season 2, Harry resists the temptation to eat his own son, alien-human hybrid Bridget, “because he’s delicious” and defies orders to return to the home planet now that he’s feeling a connection with his earthling neighbors.

Alan Tudyk stars as an alien stranded on Earth in the sci-fi dramedy, which premieres Wednesday on Syfy.

Jan. 27, 2021

In “Resident Alien” Season 3, which launched in February, his Harry Vanderspeigle falls in love.


Not with a human. That would be too much of a stretch.

But with Heather (Edi Patterson). She’s a 7-foot-tall alien bird who emerges from an intergalactic portal to serve Harry a subpoena and quickly assumes human form. Romantic slapstick ensues, as Tudyk showcases an array of absurdist comedy chops that once earned him a stint in the Broadway production of “Spamalot.” He sniffs Heather’s hair and faints from delight. He sings awful folk songs. And when Harry kisses Heather, his tongue lolls out the side of his mouth wriggling back and forth like a blind worm.

Alan Tudyk gives side-eye to a small deer statue in a portrait.
Alan Tudyk stars in Syfy’s “Resident Alien” and was the last one cast in the series.
(Ethan Benavidez / For The Times)

Tudyk says, “When you’re playing with somebody great like Edi, you luck into these moments. For one take I said to her, ‘Please chew up some sunflower seeds and spit them into my mouth.’ The thing where my tongue’s sticking out the side of my mouth — that goes back to my show ‘Con Man’ where a girl refuses to let me kiss her except on the cheek.”

Eventually, Heather breaks Harry’s heart. He throws a tantrum, channeling Gene Wilder’s whisper-to-a-scream speech in “Young Frankenstein.” Tudyk says, “There’s a scene where Gene Wilder says [calm voice] ‘In science, we accept our failures with quiet dignity and grace.’ Then he loses it, hits the monster and screams ‘I DON’T WANT TO LIVE!’ His natural talking level had a twinge of hysteria where he’d always be just a half STEP AWAY FROM SCREAMING! Alan Arkin had the same thing.”

Two alien creatures stare lovingly at each other in a scene from "Resident Alien."
Although he’s most often in human form on “Resident Alien,” Alan Tudyk sometimes goes full alien, at right, especially when he falls for an avian-looking creature.


Harry shares some additional creative DNA with an earlier TV alien. “I loved Robin Williams in ‘Mork and Mindy,’” Tudyk says. “I even had the ‘Mork and Mindy’ suspenders. Robin showed a lot of kids that there was so much humor to be had in voices and characters.” Mel Brooks as well as prodigious voice actor Mel Blanc and Looney Tunes also influenced young Tudyk. “That’s where I learned the mechanics of humor, the setup of jokes, the voices and the comedy,” he says. “For me, it all kind of came together at once.”

Encouraged by his high school teacher to forgo a career in hotel management and pursue acting, Tudyk attended Juilliard. There, he lost his Texas twang and learned to speak in the posh mid-Atlantic manner. But Tudyk says something was missing from the school’s famously rigorous curriculum: comedy. “I went to the head of the school and complained: ‘Please, throw me a lifeline!’”

Instructor Christopher Bayes gave him more than he bargained for. “We called him Angry Clown because he seemed so surly,” Tudyk says. “He’d choose five of us: ‘Stand there in front of your classmates, say “hello” and make everyone laugh.’ If everyone does not laugh, go back to the end of the line and do it again.’ That became a lesson in truth: If you tried something very large attempting to be funny, it was never funny, but if you found something true in the moment, it would move people. That class saved me.”

Alan Tudyk gets a little messy with the sheet music at his home piano.
Alan Tudyk knew he wanted to make people laugh as early as the age of 5.
(Ethan Benavidez / For The Times)

Tudyk quit Juilliard before graduating and waited tables until 1997, when he appeared in the off-Broadway comedy “Bunny Bunny,” in which he played 25 characters. The tour de force earned Tudyk a Clarence Derwent Award (given by the Actors’ Equity Assn. on Broadway) as the year’s most promising male. Movies followed, including “A Knight’s Tale,” “28 Days Later” and “Dodgeball,” along with roles as droids in “I Robot” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in which he played droids.


In between live-action roles, Tudyk broke into animation by voicing a dodo in 2002’s “Ice Age.” A few years later he portrayed zany King Candy in “Wreck-It Ralph. That led to such animated hits as “Frozen,” “Zootopia” and “Moana,” for which Tudyk clucked a “chicken under duress” character named Heihei. “I definitely didn’t seek out the voice work,” Tudyk says. “It just happened. I used to think, ‘I’ve got everybody fooled,’ but I’ve done it enough now that I feel like I know what I’m doing in the booth. I’ll come in and they’re: ‘Here’s what the character looks like, what do you want to do?’ For me, a chicken and Hamlet — they’re the same,” he says with a laugh. “They all have wants and needs, just different languages.”

According to convention all-star Alan Tudyk, his next project, “Con Man,” which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, is like Comic-Con meets TV series “Extras.”

July 10, 2015

In 2015, following a stint with Nathan Fillion on “Firefly,” Tudyk created the web comedy series “Con Man,” about embittered actor Wray Nerely, who begrudgingly attends sci-fi conventions. Although “Con Man” earned Tudyk a short-form actor Emmy nomination, it didn’t register with “Resident Alien” creator Chris Sheridan in 2019 when the former “Family Guy” writer-producer was struggling to find a leading man for his series, loosely based on the comic by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse.

A man and woman walk in the woods in a scene from "Resident Alien."
Alan Tudyk stars with Sara Tomko in “Resident Alien” on Syfy.
(James Dittiger/Syfy)

Tudyk says, “I don’t know why I was so late to the party, but I was the last one cast. After over 100 people [auditioned], I came in and did this [autopsy] scene where Harry sees a dead body. [flat voice] ‘Oh, a dead body just like on ‘Law & Order.’ Ca-chang.’ They responded very positively. ‘Yes! You!’ It was all very quick and within a week I was in Vancouver.”

The early seasons of “Resident Alien” have been picked up by Netflix. Syfy has yet to renew it for a fourth season, “but we’re hopeful,” Tudyk says.”Shows like this aren’t just a job. Harry Vanderspeigle has a big room in my heart, like my left ventricle. He’s going to camp out there for the rest of time.”