Interview: 'Rogue One' Star Alan Tudyk On Bringing An Eccentric Droid To Life

Of course Alan Tudyk is in a Star Wars movie.

And of course the beloved character actor whose eclectic credits include Firely, Serenity, I, Robot, Death at a Funeral, Wreck-It Ralph, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and Frozen would play a seven-foot-tall, antisocial Imperial security droid reprogrammed to serve the Rebel cause and help steal the Death Star plans in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. After all, Tudyk has a knack for popping up in unexpected places, taking on the strangest roles, and stealing every scene he's in.

I sat down with Tudyk the day after watching 28 minutes of Rogue One footage, which revealed his K-2SO (a digital character created through motion capture) to be an early contender for the film's MVP. During our all-too-brief conversation, we spoke about bringing humor to a dark movie, avoiding getting typecast, and the importance of spontaneity on set.

I just had a very, very serious conversation about this movie with Gareth Edwards, so I'm looking forward to talking about the comic relief.

Great! There we go!

Because you play the funny character in a movie that's otherwise about people doing horrible things to others in the name of freedom and oppression.

Oh my God.

So what's it like to be the funny character in that movie?

His humor comes out of honest moments within these pitched battles and extreme circumstances and high stakes. It was a blast to be that guy. To be able to – HEY!

[Co-star Mads Mikkelsen walks by. Tudyk is very excited to see him. They exchange waves.]

To be able to, at times, let the air out with a smartass comment. But he speaks the truth in a moment. Can I back up? Back up, back up, back up, back up. Ask the question the again!

You're the character who brings the humor in a very serious movie.

Right. Right. Well, it's a blast. It tends to be my way in life to say stupid and ridiculous things in moments that are possibly uncomfortable at any time. I took to the character. I was encouraged to do it, which could be a terrible idea, to encourage me. It ended up working out, I think, in the overall viewing of the movie. K2 is helpful because it is a gritty movie and there are times when you need that breath and K2 provides that.

From the footage we saw last night, he seems prissy but deadly. Sort of like a sociopathic C-3PO.

[Tudyk laughs]

How much of that was on the page and how much of that was you finding the character?

I honestly think half of my lines were made up. At least. I'm so surprised they gave me so much freedom. I can't believe it, especially in a series that is so revered. C-3PO are different in the way that C-3PO is a servant and K2 isn't. He's more of his own...you want to call him his own man or I want to call him his own man. His own droid! His own person. If he doesn't like an order, unless it comes from [Diego Luna's] Cassian, he won't follow it. Cassian he's very devoted to. K2 sort of feels, especially in the beginning, that this mission would be much better suited for Cassian and K2 only. He likes how it is. He likes how things are. He doesn't need all this change.

K-2SO's relationship with Cassian appears to be key to his character, but it seems like you and Diego Luna also developed a playful rapport. He spent a lot of time describing how the motion capture suit showed off your balls at the press conference this morning.

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Is that offscreen relationship reflected in the movie?

It is. When you see the movie, there is a point where [Luna] is covering his face because he laughs. He's smiling and he covers his face and you can't see him laugh. So we were having fun and whenever you are having fun on set, especially when you're coming up with things and you're performing and you're in the moment and you're also having fun with your fellow actors, that's always the best I've found in movies. There's a life to it in movies that you can't fake. It's also with Felicity [Jones] as well. I respect the hell out of her and enjoy working with her, so that enjoyment is there as well.

And that's the importance of having you on set even though you're playing a digital character, right? It's not just about you being an eye-line for the other actors. It helps for them to have someone to bounce off, to create the dynamic.

Yeah, we're all bouncing. Bouncing off each other. You can have a scene set in a–

[Tudyk looks around for a moment before motioning to our surroundings]

In a lobby. In chairs. So now we're sitting in this juxtaposition. But you get to set and it's like "Those chairs don't work. What if we just pull out a couple of these [motions to nearby potted plants] plants and sat by these plants? Put something down here?" Then a scene could come about where you're acting with this plant and you get a thorn and it just starts to come alive on set in a way that you can't do later. It just doesn't work.

It seems to me, even though you're wearing these silly motion capture pajamas and standing on stilts for this extremely advanced process to turn you into a droid, that this must have been like theater. There are frills for you on set. Just pure performance. 

Right. I think you're right. It definitely has a theatrical feel to it. At specific times they needed my hands to be robot hands and I had robot hands I would wear that were much longer than mine and I could puppeteer with this great electronic mechanism that they put in there. My fingers could move and articulate and whenever I moved my fingers, it moved its fingers. It's puppetry. So it does have that element.

Star Wars Rogue One - Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, K-2SO

How did this whole thing even come about? Was it just "We need this CG robot character...let's get Alan Tudyk!" You seem like a go-to guy for so many specific and peculiar characters. I just watched you play a chicken in Moana last week. 

Right!

Are you on somebody's weird role list? We have an impossible and weird role! Call him!

I think I am on the weird role list! "We have a pirate in a dodgeball movie. You know what? Let me call, I got a specialist. I'll call in a specialist!" I had played Sonny in I, Robot, so I'm one of the few people, probably the only actor...and I'll probably be proven wrong, there's probably a movie out there somewhere that I don't know about....but I'm probably one of the few actors who has played a robot in a big action movie and did motion capture for that long and has tackled a project like that. So when I first talked to [director Gareth Edwards], I approached our conversation that way, like "Here's what you're going to want to do." I really just laid it out for him in a way that as somebody who has some insight into what he's about to tackle. He then asked me to audition and I auditioned and he gave me the role. I do feel that once a character has an accent, once a character has a limp or a lisp or some kind of extra special thing that other actors aren't going to gravitate towards, they start looking for specialty character actors. After doing this for awhile, I guess I'm on that short list for some people...and it's a great list to be on!

This is the part where I would ask you if you're prepared to be known as a Star Wars character for the rest of your life. Because once you've been in Star Wars, the headlines are always "Star Wars actor joins this project."

Riiight.

But people already know you! You were in Serenity and Firefly. I told someone I was interviewing Alan Tudyk and they asked "Who's that?" and I showed them your picture and she said, "I love that guy!" How does it feel to be in these big things without being chained down by them?

Lucky. A lot of people don't pigeonhole you if you're bouncing from this project to this project. They don't even associate you as the same person a lot of the time. I've met a lot of people who have only noticed, halfway through a movie, "Wait a moment, I know who that guy is!" It's a compliment. I have no idea what it's going to be like to be a Star Wars droid for the rest of my life. I am already a spaceship pilot for the rest of my life because of Joss Whedon's show Firefly and the movie Serenity. This is going to be a little different. Luckily, I don't have to give up being the pilot from Firefly, so I can just be both.

You always hear these stories of Anthony Daniels [who plays C-3PO] surprising children by doing his droid voice. Are you looking forward to a lifetime of surprising children?

Yes, I love doing that. I have a few from voice over jobs that I can pull out for kids and depending on their age, they react in different ways. "That's King Candy [from Wreck-It Ralph]! That's cool!" when they're a little bit older. When they're really young, they have this look on their face like, "I've been lied to. There's been deceit, and I don't know who I need to talk to, but somebody's going to catch it! This is a bunch of bull!" I've luckily done a lot of those. This will be another one, man. I can't wait for people to see this movie. I keep saying that, but we just finished watching it and, in a lot of ways, we just finished the movie.

We watched thirty minutes last night and I was really impressed by it. You don't have to say too much because we need to see the rest of the movie, but is there a certain scene or moment where you were just like "Fuck, I'm in a Star Wars movie!"?

There was some X-Wing fighting, that classic shot straight on with the pilot in the cockpit and they're, you know – [makes a bunch of Star Wars beeping noises] – honing in with the targeting device... Oh, man. There's so much. There's so many moments that make you realize that this is a Star Wars movie. It's reminiscent of A New Hope in a way that I feel like I haven't seen, but it also maintains its own identity because it's shot the way it's shot. It's a hell of a ride. I did have a kid wake up inside of me at one point because it echoes that world. It's part of that world. You see the Death Star and Darth Vader. I can't wait for people to see it.

And the best part is that since you played a robot in this one, you could always play someone else in another Star Wars movie.

Yeah, exactly. I had played a human in this. But he got cut!

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters December 16.