Alan Tudyk Interview, Death At A Funeral

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with Alan Tudyk at the Los Angeles press day for his new film "Death at a Funeral.” A dignified send-off for a loved one erupts into uproarious chaos when romance, jealousy, in-laws, hallucinogens, dark secrets, life-long yearnings and a spot of bold blackmail all collide in this irreverent British comedy. Directed by Frank Oz and featuring an impressive cast, the film mischievously explores what happens on the day when a typically divided family is finally forced to come to terms with each other’s bad behavior, outrageous faults, skeletons in the closet and all.

On the morning of their father’s funeral, the family and friends of the deceased each arrive with his or her own roiling anxieties. Son Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) knows he will have to face his flirty, blow-hard, famous novelist brother Robert (Rupert Graves) who’s just flown in from New York, not to mention the promises of a new life he’s made to his wife Jane (Keely Hawes). Meanwhile, Daniel’s cousin Martha (Daisy Donovan) and her dependable new fiancé Simon (Alan Tudyk) are desperate to make a good impression on Martha’s uptight father – a plan that literally goes out the window when Simon accidentally ingests a designer drug en route to the service, leaving him prone to uncontrollable bouts of delirium and nudity in front of his potential in-laws.

Then comes the real shocker: a mysterious guest (Peter Dinklage) who threatens to unveil an earth-shattering family secret. As riotous mayhem and unfortunate mishaps ensue on every front, it is now up to the two brothers to hide the truth from their family and friends and figure out how to not only bury their dearly beloved, but the secret he’s been keeping.

Alan Tudyk was born in El Paso and raised in Plano. In 1993 he moved to New York to attend Juilliard and upon leaving began his career in the theatre with "Bunny, Bunny,” for which he received the Clarence Derwent award for best New York theatre debut, and a Theatre World award for best actor. Alan has since appeared in several off-Broadway and Broadway plays. Most recently, he was seen in The Roundabout Theatre’s critically acclaimed 2007 revival of "Prelude to a Kiss.”
After filming "Death at a Funeral," Alan landed a role in James Mangold's western, "3:10 to Yuma," opposite Russell Crowe and Christian Bale due to be released this fall. Other movie credits include Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," "Serenity," the cult hit by Joss Whedon, "I, Robot," where he played the robot, Sonny, opposite Will Smith, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" as Pirate Steve, "Hearts in Atlantis" with Sir Anthony Hopkins, "A Knight's Tale," "28 Days" with Sandra Bullock, "Wonder Boys," and "Patch Adams."

Alan Tudyk is a wonderful actor and a super nice guy. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new movie, "Death at a Funeral,” working with Frank Oz, and his upcoming role in the highly anticipated Western "3:10 to Yuma”:

Q: Frank (Oz) was saying there was a lot of gay porn on the set.

A: Well I had brought it not knowing he needed it and just happened to have a ton of it with me.

Q: Was that your inspiration up on the roof?

A: [Laughs] No. Being high was like being a child. I guess children take off their clothes. All the little babies don’t really consider clothes necessary so I guess that was sort of …

Q: So how fun was it to make this film?

A: It was a lot of fun. It was also very challenging, the role. When we were doing it, I said to Dean Craig who wrote it, "Why couldn’t he just be high on weed or something like that, like a laid back high, or drunk where it’s all kind of a clumsy sleepiness, but being on speed and when you have 10 to 12 hour days and every scene, no matter how casual the scene is, you have to be vibrating at a certain level. It was very exhausting.

Q: Does that bring up your energy level for the performance? Does it give you that little high yourself?

A: Yes. You know you’re playing with your imagination or I was playing with my imagination doing it. You’re seeing things that aren’t there. You just start tricking yourself, you know, coming up with new things that could possibly be. You put your hands up and you have to just discover constantly, "Oh this feels great.” Your hands touch something and then you investigate that for a while. New vibrant colors or those things like the shrub where I stick my head in the bush. That was just Frank saying, "Look, this is where you’re going to be high over here. Find some stuff.” And so I’m just looking around on the ground for rocks and just discovering, "Oh, this isn’t actually a wall, is it? You can go in here.” So your mind does pick that up and you start to just discover all the time which was nice. Towards the end of the day or if I’d just eaten something, I had to eat very small amounts of food throughout the day because if you get that where you eat and you get that sort of post-food coma thing. There was no room for it because we were shooting fast and I just had to have the energy when it was called on so there was a lot of tea. I’m drinking lots of tea. [assumes British accent] "Can I may you a cup of tea?” "Sure.”

Q: Just to compare and contrast something like "Firefly” where your character’s humor is derived from sarcasm and here you’re divested of your logical words, is it a lot harder to keep that joke running throughout the whole film?

A: I was concerned about it while we were shooting it because a lot of it, especially in the writing of it, would be "Cut to Simon. He’s high and enjoying himself.” And then they would cut back to what’s going on with Peter Dinklage’s character and that plot and cut back to Simon, "He’s high and enjoying his character.” And as you cut back I’ve got toilet paper, so it’s a different discovery every time. This is the same joke. How many times can we ring this bell? They’ve got to build on themselves. They’ve can’t get stale, they have to be new. So it was a challenge in that way. It becomes very physical and I love that kind of humor so it was fine. I embraced it.

Q: Most of the characters that you’ve done are very quirky, out there, funny. Then you turn around and do something serious like Carl Fisher on CSI. What’s more difficult, doing a very staged, stoic, psychological role like that or something like Simon?

A: Simon was harder. I mean just the physical challenges of Simon like staying high all the time, having that energy all the time. That was so difficult. Whereas the psychological, that was a fun game. We just got to play. It was tit for tat, back and forth with Billy. He tries to catch me somewhere and then I sneak away. I slip out of his grip and think I’m fine over here and then he gets me again and I try to slip away until I’m backed into a corner and have to admit I didn’t kill the boy in that but I killed him. [Laughs] If it wasn’t for me, he would be alive. I shouldn’t have gotten the kids drunk. I shouldn’t have.

That was great. That role happened because of 3:10 to Yuma. I was under contract with CBS and I had done a pilot with Carol Mendelsohn who runs that show, CSI. They owned me and anything I did they had to give me a green light or not. I had just gotten back from Death at a Funeral when 3:10 to Yuma came up, and my people called and said, "Is it okay if Alan goes to New Mexico and shoots a Western?” And Carol said, "Yes.” She made it happen. Everybody that needed to give me the green light, she made sure I got the green light because she wanted me to be able to go and do that movie, and then she sent me a script the next day. [Laughs] "I’d love for you to play this role.” And I was like, "You got it, whatever you want!”

Q: How does it feel redoing such a classic like 3:10 to Yuma? Had you ever seen the original?

A: I did, but only once I got the job then I watched it. I had missed that one. It was great. You know it’s very different. They modernized it. The original 3:10 is so slow paced because movies were slow paced back then anyway. They say things over and over again. [imitates characters from the original 3:10] "If I had more money, then I wouldn’t have to be doing this.” "Yes, but we’re so poor.” "I know because I’ve got no money.” [Laughs] Alright we got it. Let’s go. Let’s move on. There’s a lot more action in this movie, in the new 3:10. For me, it was just fun to do a Western. I come from Texas originally. That was just a joy and then to work with such great people – not just Jim Mangold but all the actors, of course. I mean they’re phenomenal.

Q: Did you get to ride in it?

A: I got to ride.

Q: Did you do your own riding?

A: Yes, yes, yes. I did. There’s one point where I get shot on my horse and I had to ride and slump over and I’d rehearsed it with the wranglers. We went out riding – my riding classes and stuff. And I had to be good at riding because I come from Texas and I know all my relatives are going to be watching and they’re real cowboys. Not my immediate family…I grew up in the suburbs near Dallas, but all of my relatives are in San Antonio. Half of them are farmers and half of them are cattle people and oil people and tough, tough people and so I had to really be good at it. I was like, "Look, I’ve got to do this one stunt where I go over front while I’m in a full gallop.” They’re like, "Okay, let’s try it. Let’s just get us up to a gallop. Alright, now just slowly sort of ease into pitching forward.” And I eased in and almost right flipped over the horse. "Alright, hold up, let’s not do that again. We’re gonna come back to this. We’re gonna get your riding a little stronger before we go into any tricky things like that.” Never touched it again until the day they’re like, "Alan, it’s time for this scene.” I’m like, "Uhhhh…” "We gotta go, we gotta go. The light’s going. We gotta go. We gotta go.” So I’m like [praying] "Please God. Let this happen and not hurt myself.” I just did it and luckily did not fall off of the horse.

Q: I heard from one of the wranglers and stunt guys who used to do John Wayne pictures who he told me that you did a really good job. He really complimented your riding.

A: Oh that’s very generous of him. That’s nice to hear. "Keep your heels down, keep your heels down.” That was always going through my head.

Q: Did you improvise a lot in Death at a Funeral?

A: As far as all my movements and all the facial expressions you see, I’ve been asked about that before. It’s not anything that you’re premeditating or doing on purpose, like looking in the mirror, "I’m going to make this face. This is a funny face.” It’s just discovering and going through what…experiencing what you’re experiencing that those sorts of things would happen from. There’s that one line in the movie where I say, "Why are my hands so big?” One of the drugs is a designer drug. It’s catemine, mescaline, acid – all speed, all hallucinogenic, but catemine evidently really plays with special relationships in a weird way where your feet can evidently look six feet long coming out from there. If you just imagine it or your hands so big, you know, imagine them three times their size. Are they heavy? What do they look like? Are they swollen? Are they pulsing? You just start to play with that and then that informs what’s happening physically and facially.

But Frank always did suggest a couple of improvs towards the end. After he got his takes that he wanted, he’d say, "What else you got for me?” Or the thing that he would always say is "Show me your chops.” It’s scary. Your chops. I always use that when I’d see an actor who gives a really great performance, like "Woo, he’s got some chops. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got skills. He’s in charge of his craft.” So Frank would go, "Okay, now show me your chops.” Man! Basically he’s saying, "Be good now.” So it put you on the spot but you just had to deliver. But in those moments I usually found… doing the thing…

Most actors will have ideas or thoughts that they haven’t… like you’ve gone, "Oh, that would be funny. That’s probably… I don’t want to… We’re shooting. It’s fast. I don’t want to put this in here and try to… I don’t want to screw this scene up, but my idea is such a good idea.” There’s something that you’re not doing usually that you have an idea and Frank will do it until you feel comfortable enough ‘til those things start coming out. And those things ended up in the movie. There’s that scene where I’m in the mirror when I lock myself in the bathroom and say, "How long do I have? I’ve got 7 hours. That’s okay.” And I had thought it would be funny if I went to the wrong wrist for my watch but didn’t do it until he said, "I want to see something new this time.” And so then I did that, "Where’s my watch? No class.” And that ends up in the movie and it’s because Frank encourages that kind of stuff. I think every actor has them but it takes a director. If you’re not the kind of actor who goes, "Hey, I’ve got a bunch of great ideas” which I don’t do, it took Frank to go, "C’mon. Give me more, give me more. What’s the thing that you’re not telling me?”

Q: What about the dangers of climbing around naked up on a roof? It seems very treacherous and that something could get snagged.

A: [Laughs] I left a piece of myself on the shingle out there. It was tough. No, there was a lot of concern for my safety. The peak of the roof which I sat on for a full day and it was a hot day so once I left it…we finally started putting things down to cover it up because it was very hot. And not only is there moss up there but there’s something that looks like coral but it’s very rough so there was a danger of scratching myself. If you scratch yourself on your naked butt and then you’ve got a shot of your naked butt with scratches, you just start to become insecure. That was a concern and then also jumping around the roof. They did not want me to do that. They didn’t. They had ropes on me that were like covered in this nude pantyhose that were obvious. It looked bad. I finally convinced them "Could we please just remove this rope? I can make this.” There’s a jump that I do. It’s a small jump from the balcony to another part of the roof and they would not let me do it without a rope until finally they broke down and on the last two takes I got to do it. Frank was very concerned about my safety. And then when I am on the peak of the roof, my foot was tied to something so if I fell over backwards, I would have only fallen a certain distance before… [Laughs] That would have been funny.

Q: What if the rope had caught you and snapped your ankle?

A: If it snapped my ankle, then yeah, I would have been scratched up all over my back.

Q: Can you talk about the experience of getting on set with Frank and talking to him? I don’t know if you grew up watching the Muppets?

A: Oh I did, definitely. The casting process was interesting. I had auditioned for it. I put myself on tape. I had never met Frank when I auditioned. I was the only person he had not met before I was cast in the movie. I went on tape here in L.A., sent it in, went on my vacation. Basically I had just finished something and went to go to New York and go hang around and got a call from Frank, so my first meeting with Frank was over the phone saying, "Look, I like you for this role. I want you for this role. We were going a different way with this role and there were some other people that I need to dissuade the powers that be away from before you’ve got it, but I’ll keep you informed. And then we talked every day on the phone. And it wasn’t just about the role, it was girlfriends, life, and he’s so easy going and such a different director.

When you’re an actor, you’re dealing with an agent and a manager and they’re talking to his assistant and those people and it’s always this watered down version of what’s being said. Frank cuts through all of that. I mean no director will call you and say, "I want you but you might not get it still and I’ll keep you informed every step of the way how it’s going.” It was really up until the last day uncertain but luckily Sidney Kimmel, the producers, Bill Horberg specifically, trusted Frank and Frank’s casting and gave him what he wanted. Then I was on a plane in like two days, got to London, got to my room and there was a blinking light. "Hello.” "Yes?” "We’d like to come around and pick you up and take you to set if you’d like to introduce you to everyone.” "Great.” "Can we come pick you up now?” "Yes, sure. I’ll be here.” I got into the car, didn’t even unpack, went out to Ealing Studios where most of the interiors were done and went to the office very casually. "Nice to meet you transpo guys, great.” "Would you like to go pop around on set? Everybody’s on set.” "What? Everybody’s here?” "Yes, yes, yes. They’re actually rehearsing.” "Well, let’s go.”

When I went in, Frank said, "Ah, everyone, this is Alan. Alan is going to be playing Simon. Nice to meet you. This is Daisy Donovan. How are you doing?” "Okay, great.” "Alan, you’ve just come in from outside and the funeral is about to start. You’re high as a kite. Okay, let’s go!” And then we went right into it. I still had airplane nuts stuck in my teeth while I’m in rehearsals because I had just gotten there. Some of the stuff that we did was right as the funeral was starting and the character of Daniel, Matthew Macfadyen is up there reading his bad eulogy and there’s a point where he makes a joke about "So nice to see all of you here. It seems that my father has more friends in death than he had in life.” And I busted out laughing. I think that was jet lag. I mean I was acting but the jet lag definitely helped it and it ended up in the movie. So it was like a movie with Frank. We were working and there wasn’t time to be intimidated. He’s such an easy going guy. It’s all about the work and I came to work so we had a great time.

Q: Have you ever had a personal experience where you attended something serious like a wedding ceremony or a funeral and someone did really stupid things and how did you react?

A: I have only had one experience -- it was at a funeral – that was funny. It was only one so I only have the one to choose from. It was a relative of mine who had passed away who was very old. So there’s understanding when someone very old passes away. He had a very full, happy life and a very large family. My brother and I sat together. I’m Polish. My grandparents on my father’s side still spoke Polish and they go to a church. There’s this church in Texas that is Polish. They always bring the priest in from Poland and he’s always been that way. Whenever we’d gone as little kids, the priests always had these thick accents.

So this was who was officiating this funeral or whatever it’s called. He was talking about [Polish accent] "In death we should not focus on an ending but focus on the beginning because it is the afterlife.” But with his accent, he said, "It is in this time that we must not fuckus on death. We have to fuckus on life.” [Laughs] My brother and I were like, "Oh my God…Don’t look at me. Don’t even look. This is a sad occasion.” And he kept going on about fuckusing on things and how we all have to fuckus. I think we are the only two who are getting what he’s saying and being immature about what we’re hearing. Oh my gosh was that so hard. Just close your eyes and make it look like crying. Please don’t let anybody see me laughing because I’m in trouble as it is. That’s the only one I’ve ever experienced.

Q: Can you tell us what you have coming up next?

A: Just 3:10 to Yuma coming out and then I finished that Prelude to a Kiss and I’ve been kind of just waiting for something. I don’t know what it is but nothing that I’ve read has really made me go, "Yeah!” So I’ve been learning to play the guitar and hanging out on the beach which has been nice. I love it.

"Death at a Funeral” opens in theaters on August 17th.

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