Alan Tudyk is now officially part of the Star Wars universe, playing the voice of droid K2SO in Rogue One, but science fiction fans first fell in love with him as Hoban "Wash" Washburne, the Serenity's pilot in Joss Whedon's short lived space western Firefly. You can also see him in 2001's A Knight's Tale, alongside Ron Funches in NBC's superhero-themed insurance company comedy Powerless, and as Pastor Veal in Arrested Development. You can also hear him provide voices in Frozen, Adventure Time and Wreck It Ralph, for which he delivered a breakout performance as King Candy. He's a busy man.
Inspired by a life going to fan conventions he also recently created his own show (and accompanying mobile game) Con Man, which follows former science fiction star Wray Nerely. The series scored a huge backing from fans on Kickstarter and has so far filmed two seasons that have aired on ComicCon HQ, ComicCon's subscription streaming video service.
We spoke to Tudyk and his co-producer PJ Haarsma – a member of his Halo squad that he was introduced to by Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion – about Star Wars, Con Man, Fillion's Halo tactics and virtual reality.
You've got a kind of a foot in all kinds of different fandoms now. Is the Star Wars fandom particularly different from, say, the Firefly fandom or are they all intense in their own way?
AT: I was at a droid panel with Anthony Daniels, and Warwick Davis was hosting it and BB-8 was there. Mouthy. Sweet, ultimately sweet. Well-meaning I think is the right term.
They'd asked me about what it's like to be at Star Wars Celebration and I've been coming to these for a long time because of Firefly, and when I said Firefly, the whole crowd went crazy, so it didn't seem like there was anybody who didn't know what that was. There's a lot of overlap but as far as collectors and things like that, there's a difference.
I never really thought about what conventions were like for the people that went to them until I watched your series Con Man.
AT: It's such an extreme world, the world of conventions. People have extreme feelings, usually happy ones, but a lot of passion behind it. Starting out after Firefly, going to these conventions, I didn't know them. I hadn't gone to them before. I didn't really have a sense of what they might be until I started going to them as someone who was a guest. So I had an outsider's view and it was great to write a show about it because there was nothing that just seemed normal. Now it's probably a little bit harder to write scripts because I know a lot of the people. It's normal for me to go to a convention now, whereas back then everything stood out.
Writing about that world in a comedy made sense because it's extreme plus there's the element of otherworldliness. There's magic at conventions. People can be superheroes. Unlikely people can be superheroes. You can have a guy who's really big and burly and he's dressed as Wonder Woman and he is Wonder Woman for that weekend and everybody will support that he's Wonder Woman for that weekend, there's not a lot of judgment there. Everybody's just there to have a good time.
So it's a great place for comedy. I was hanging out with all of these actors who were formerly famous. This is what their life has become and they all have these different views of the world. There were some very bitter people. There were some people still holding on to their celebrity as if it was just as fresh, and then also the people who run the conventions who were extreme personalities. Some criminals. People hook up at these things, people get together. People who should not get together get together.
The first episode of Con Man, I make it funny. It becomes silly the way that Sean Astin playing himself, a version of himself says, "It retards your art." Because I always felt like it did that, it blows your ego up too much, you can't see things clearly. I came to PJ with it, we're close friends. We met playing video games which is pretty great. Halo 1 when it was...what was that called, system link? PJ?
PJ Haarsma: We would do a LAN link.
AT: Yeah, it was before there was Xbox Live. So me, Nathan Fillion and PJ and his wife, we'd play against one another. We'd just link them up and we'd face opposite one another. They had their screen, we had our screen and...
PJ: You had to audition for this. You had to try out.
AT: It was very serious. We played every Sunday. You had drops in your eyes so that you didn't have to blink. It was very serious. That was Nathan Fillion's contribution to the coaching for my team.
And that's how you met PJ and how your show Con Men was born?
AT: When you first say, "I want to do a comedy set in the Comic-Con world or the sci-fi convention world", a lot of the people we talked to immediately thought, "look at those nerds. They're so crazy the way they dress and the way they act and nerd, nerd, nerd, nerd is a bad thing, nerd," and it was immediately like, "you're missing the point." The fans are the one constant in the world. They are the support structure that created the world.
I went to Joss Whedon and said, "Hey, so I'm writing this thing and I'm thinking about pursuing it. What do you think? Because it's loosely based on some Firefly. What do you think about it?" And he said, "Sounds good." He said, "Just make sure you maintain that they are the heroes of the story in that way."
He said, "A good example is Galaxy Quest. In the beginning, you've got these nerdy fans who are nerdy, nerdy fans and then in the end, they save the fucking universe. So make sure they're the ones who are saving the universe, who are trying to save Wray Nerely, who are there to catch Wray Nerely when he falls. If anything happens to Wray Nerely, it's his own fault, it's definitely not theirs."
I love the idea that you guys met in a Halo group and that you had to audition. Can we talk a bit more about that? What was the test to get into the Halo gang?
PJ: There's two sides to this story.
AT: Wait, what? That sounds salacious. When I started Firefly, I met Nathan Fillion and he, as I remember, it was very close to when we started working together, said, "Oh, do you play Xbox? Do you have an Xbox? Do you play Halo?" And I was like, "I don't know what any of that is." And he said, "Okay, great, so today, when you get off work ... ." This is so amazing, "When do you get off work?" "Two." "Great. So there's a Best Buy just right over here and when you get done, go to the Best Buy, pick up an Xbox, buy Halo, go to your house, plug it in, start getting to work and start playing Halo." Next day I come to work, he was like, "What did you think?" "About what?" "Halo." "Oh, yeah I didn't do that." "Alan! When are you off work today?" "I get off work at four." "Great, it's still open. Go there, buy an Xbox."
I didn't even know how to work the controller very well, and I just kept playing and playing and then he gave me games like, "This game will improve your aim and then bring your aim skill back to Halo," and then when I come over to his house, he'd say, "All right, sit down. Let me test you." And we would play a one-on-one game, he would just mop the floor with me and say, "You're not ready." And then we'd go on a hike or whatever until one time he said I was ready. I don't think I was actually ready, it was just that they wanted to kick the other guy out of their team and they needed a replacement. Right, PJ? You got rid of that guy, right?
AT: Yeah, it had nothing to do with my skill level.
PJ: He so wanted you to do well. I remember the conversations where he was, "I've got this guy coming over. Alan Tudyk, do you know who he is? 28 Days. He's coming. I'm getting him ready. He's coming. He's coming." Nathan's team was getting beat a lot, and one of the players on my team, Jess, was not a good winner and it just drove Nathan crazy and so he was set on making himself have a winning team. And Alan came and... You were a little weak in the beginning, bud. You were a little weak
AT: I was totally weak. They called me the ... What was it called? The Equalizer. Because when Nathan and our other friend, Cory, so the other part of the team was Nathan and Cory, when it was just two against you three, they kicked the crap out of you and then when I came on board and became the third on their team, it equaled everything out and you guys started winning again. I was called the Equalizer because I sucked so bad it made my team lose.
PJ: And then it got to the point where the three of you were so good, especially when you had the code names for all the different areas, that you guys would mop us up so bad that it just became demoralizing. I actually stopped looking forward to the Sunday nights, not because of the losing but because of the whining that I would have to take from the player on my team that was not a good loser either. And I would just see that little grin on Nathan's face as he said goodbye.
AT: Good times.
But then you were in Halo 3, right? It had come full circle. The Equalizer becomes the star of a Halo game.
AT: It even goes deeper. We were able to do voices in Halo 3 because we were such fans and the people making Halo – Bungie – were fans of Firefly. When I voiced Halo 3, I was in New York doing a play, Nathan was here, came back when I was done with the play and said, "Man, what was that like?" "We got to do Halo, that was so amazing!" And he goes, "Yeah, you know. It was all that 'follow me' and 'into the breach' and 'we got them on the run.'" And I was like, "That sucks. All of my things were 'I'm afraid' and 'that hurts' and 'you're using real bullets,'" and those were the things I said. All the little guys, the random guys who say those things – that was always me.
I wrote that into a script for Con Man, it's an episode called 'Voiced Over' and it's a scene with Milo Ventimiglia and Nolan North and Gina Torres where I'm voicing a thing and I start off as a hero and they're like, "You know what? Your voice is better suited for this other character," who says all the things like, "let's hide."
PJ: "Ow, I fell on my keys!"
AT: What's that? Oh yeah, "I fell on my keys." "I'm allergic to nuts." The snake eats its own tail. Everything feeds into it, it's pretty crazy how that all works out.
Have you got an Xbox One yet? Are you back in with Halo? Or are you just too busy now?
I was thinking about it today because we have a Falcon PC downstairs and, yeah – they're badass. They made me a special one that has K-2SO on it and you haven't seen it yet, PJ, oh my God. It has K-2SO on it. It's got like a laser cut thing with the rebel symbol and it glows blue.
And I got a Vive. Which actually Fillion gave me, so I have VR here now. I was like "I don't need an Xbox One to play because I've got all these cool VR games to play now," but as fun as they are, and they are very fun, I kind of want to play Halo. That's what started it all and I'm just going to get my ass kicked by a 12-year-old.
PJ: I started training my seven year old. I've been training her to play Halo. She's getting good.
AT: That would be insane to have your daughter beat me at Halo.
You've got to get back in. She's got school. You can put those hours in that she can't. She's got to go to bed at a reasonable hour. You can play as long as you want.
AT: Exactly. I can have that second piece of cake and it'll keep me up and nobody gets to tell me 'no.' You're right. But I don't have an Xbox One, I'm just on my VR.
Once you've been in a Halo game, they should hook you up for life.
AT: You know what? I agree. I absolutely agree with you. I totally agree with you.
We can put this out as like a public call for someone to send you an Xbox One.
AT: Give me an Xbox One and if you get Con Man: The Game, I'll give you all of the Con Cash you need. You've got unlimited Con Cash, that's a fair trade, right? You can have my Con Floor which is huge. You've got a lot of perks coming from my game, so just put that out there.
But you're enjoying VR? It's less social than Halo with friends.
AT: You're right. Although I don't know if you've played GORN yet. It doesn't feel like it matters when you're slaughtering people in a gladiator situation, you're ripping their heads off and using their dead bodies as weapons against other gladiators.
We've got a whole VR room. We had to adjust when we first set our boundaries. There was some smacking some walls. It's fun though, we're enjoying it.
It's a good investment mounting it in the wall but we do have to get you back into Halo. We'll make this a public appeal.
AT: Okay, please. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
That can just be the headline. Give Alan some new Halo please. What are you up to next?
AT: We've got a game meeting. We've got a meeting on updates this week for the game. It's fun though. It's fun watching the game grow, it's fun watching the show grow and then going to conventions, it's just all part of the same world. I meet new people and PJ meets new people that then inspire the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and it just keeps growing. And to think, it all started with Halo.
Actually, it all started with Firefly. For me, it all started with flying a spaceship, meeting Nathan Fillion who said, "we need to play Halo," which introduced me to PJ. When it was canceled, I went to conventions. The show about conventions, the game about conventions, Joss Whedon. That's the spark.
Somehow everything in the world can be traced back to Joss Whedon in one way or another
AT: He's the spark, the original spark.
I'm surprised Nathan hasn't got you playing Destiny because that's his thing now, right?
AT: Oh, Destiny? Yeah, I played a little bit of that. It was too complicated for me, like where am I supposed to go? I'm supposed to talk to this guy, now I have a fucking ... can't I just shoot people? That's the best part about Halo, you're just shooting. It doesn't get complicated. It's just shooting people. Let's do it! That's the best part.