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‘Firefly’s’ Alan Tudyk Gears Up to Skewer Media With ‘Newsreaders’

by  in TV News Comment
‘Firefly’s’ Alan Tudyk Gears Up to Skewer Media With ‘Newsreaders’

Alan Tudyk hasn’t allowed our collective love for his Firefly and Serenity character Hoban Washburne to feeze him in career carbonite. In the more than 10 years since the end of the beloved sci-fi series, the actor has portrayed seemingly every kind of role in every genre, establishing himself as a valuable supporting player and occasional lead.

In the second season of Newsreaders, Tudyk will add “out-of-touch newsman” to that list as he takes over hosting duties on Adult Swim’s faux newsmagazine. And after talking with the actor, it’s clear this is going to be a great fit due to his deep affection for comedy and his distaste for the kind of mainstream television news the show lampoons.

Speaking with SPINOFF, Tudyk reveals his feelings about the media, his inspiration for newsman Reagan Biscayne, the difference between The Onion, The Daily Show and Newsreaders, and his experience working with comedian and series co-creator David Wain. We also touch on the importance of Firefly Online, and the need to not screw up a possible sequel to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

SPINOFF ONLINE: I just watched the first two episodes of Newsreaders, and I really liked them. What can you tell me about working with Rob Corddry and David Wain?

Alan Tudyk: They’re great. David Wain actually directed one of the episodes, and it was great to work with him. I’ve been watching his stuff for years. We sort of knew each other in New York, just sort of peripherally. Our friend circles overlapped on some level, so it was really cool to work with him because I really liked his movies … I mean everything. I’ve seen his stand-up. When he used to do [the comedy group] Stella. Went and saw them in 1997. So, so funny. Watched Sarah Silverman get up and read jokes off of a piece of paper trying out new material. Janeane Garofalo and all of those people. So, I’ve kind of been around, and it was great to get to work with him.

He’s a good director, and it’s always good to work with somebody who knows what they want and who knows what’s funny. You can trust their judgment that you don’t … if you’re insecure comedy doesn’t really happen [laughs]. Things aren’t as funny when you’re wildly uncomfortable, I don’t think. If you’re comfortable [and] everybody’s having a good time, then good stuff comes out. So it was good working with him.

Rob is around. You’ve probably heard [that] he’s a really nice guy, and he is. He’s just kind of a really easy-going nice guy. Which is awesome, because I’ve seen him in so many things and … You know when you meet somebody that you’ve seen for a long time, you kinda get a little self-conscious around them? But he’s so easy-going, it puts you at ease.

The show obviously share some of its DNA with something like Not Necessarily the News from back in the ‘80s. Was that something that you were a fan of back in the day on HBO?

Not Necessarily the News! Shit, I forgot about that. Not Necessarily the News … yeah, I was a fan of that. I used to watch that. I was a kid. I gotta pull that up now online just to see what it looks like again. So I can say that I was a fan, but obviously not the biggest fan since I can’t even picture it, but …

It’s been a while for me too.

I’m old!

It’s been a while! I watched about five minutes of an episode this afternoon to remind myself for this question. But Rich Hall and sniglets, and was it Stuart Pankin, I think?

Yeah, man! Yeah.

You’ve got some big shoes there.

[Laughs] Also The Onion.

Yeah, the Onion News Network had a couple of years on IFC.

They’re so hysterical. They do it so well, you can’t … they skewer the news, and it’s so smart. People get confused thinking it’s the news and I can understand why, because they’re so slick. They’ve got all the news networks’ tricks down. And they just skewer the news so well. It’s not just funny, they’re making fun of the news at the same time.

We’re just having a good time. We’re not really, like … Newsreaders is just absurd news stories that are funny [laughs]. It’s a good format and an excuse to make funny news stories.

What do you think it is about the press that makes them so ripe for mockery? With Not Necessarily the News, The Onion and even stuff like The Daily Show, though obviously that’s a whole different animal.

I have such a bad opinion. Most Americans, we have a bad opinion of the news. Of the cable 24-hour news cycle, and I think that’s … part of the problem is that they have to fill 24 hours. And it’s also a ratings game. So they’re constantly repeating themselves, they’re blowing things out of proportion so that they can say, “Oh, my gosh, there’s something that you really need to watch, come turn us on and watch the news because you might die!”

They use fear. They always seem like they want to be liked more. They seem wildly out of touch. They are corporate bought and owned. Jesus, I can’t, I can’t … Man, I could go on. It’s such a joke. You can watch on any day. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report do such a good job of pointing out how much they [the news networks] fail on a daily basis, fail the American people in informing us on what’s going on and being advocates for the public. And to have such a blatant agenda, I just think they don’t get enough.

Now there’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO. He’s amazing. He doesn’t pull punches. You’ve got so many because the news is not being told. It’s told better by the court jester. You need that voice that’s making fun of the establishment, because they’re so far off.

I can only hope [that] as young people get older, who have been watching The Daily Show now … Hopefully, since the news is so crappy, that as we all grow up and sort of see that the emperor has no clothes, that either the news will reform or it will get better [laughs]. Even saying that, it sounds so implausible that journalists would ever start doing their jobs. But that’s my opinion!

That’s fine … that’s fine. I’m not hurt. As a journalist! No, I don’t care [laughs].

[Laughs] And when I say, that journalists would actually do their jobs, I mean as an advocate for the people, speaking truth to power. That’s what I mean.

 

Well, that’s what I do when I ask questions about Firefly. That’s speaking truth to power. You gotta get in there.

Well, yes, well, c’mon. Didn’t Firefly … weren’t we, ourselves … we were trying to live our lives out on the edge of the universe away from … I don’t know, Fox News.

I can almost hear the guitars … and the cows.

[Laughs]

I didn’t get a chance to see you in the field in the episodes that I saw, but there were some snippets in the trailer. How often is Reagan going to chase down stories himself, and how free are you to go off script in that setting?

I think I go out on three or four different stories, and those are my favorite parts of being on Newsreaders. Going off-script, yeah, just here and there a little bit — a little bit here and a little bit there. There’s not really a lot of room to do a whole lot of improv because we move so fast. Because you kind of need to get what you need to get and get going and move on. There’s some. I think if I end up on another season, there will be more, just because I’ll feel more comfortable.

Usually, in any kind of movie or television situation, I’ll ask. Usually, if I’m working with a script and I have an idea, I’ll go to the writers or whoever is in charge and say, “Can I say a thing here? Or what about a thing here?” Sort of ask for permission first. I don’t do a lot of improv without permission, for some reason. Because usually it’s very fun and when I have had directors who push improve … Early on in my career I worked with Betty Thomas, who did improv. […] She would just say, “Something else!” She’d let me do a different punchline on every take. She had us write whole monologues that we just made up that she ended up cutting to in this movie called 28 Days, with Sandra Bullock, where it just cuts to all of these different addicts and they’re telling how they became addicts or what their story was. And she used it in her way of telling the story. You just got to make up your own whole story … it was so great. She put the whole thing that I made up in the movie. So those are always fun.

When I worked on Death at a Funeral with Frank Oz. Frank Oz is also someone who wouldn’t move on until what he called, “showing your chops,” which is an intimidating note to say in front of a group of people very loudly. “Now show me your chops!” Which means, show me how good you are. Be better. [Laughs] Do something, do something special. Do something. And you had to dig, because he wouldn’t go on until he got one, and we got some really good stuff out of those.

So anyway, I like it. In Newsreaders, there was no one telling me to do that [laughs] so I didn’t do it as often. But a little more in the future.

Any journalist or proper newsmen that you’re borrowing elements from to play Reagan?

There’s some Morley Safer.

Are you sure you’re sexy enough to pull that off?

[Laughs]

The man has blazing eyes, so …

Yeah, I don’t think … honestly, the word “sexy” never came up when I looked at Morley Safer [laughs]. [That’s] like Walter Matthau. He has that same …

I mean, sexiness is subjective, of course, but that’s the read that I get off of him.

[Laughs] Yeah … yeah. His style, maybe it was a seduction that he had with the people that he was interviewing. He has a way of … laying it in there … and telling you the facts. You know?

There’s one [on Newsreaders] with a game show called Precipice where … you always hear about the winners on Precipice, but what about the losers? And it talks about, how on Precipice, these contestants who end up with negative $1,200 at the end of the game, “They owe that money back to Precipice!” And the creditors are really aggressive — [they] take their homes and stuff. It’s really funny. The writers on the show, those guys are really clever. And it’s sort of a Morley Safer like, “What are you doing, taking these people’s houses? Isn’t that a bad idea?” So I tried a little Morley in there. Just the name Morley Safer, that’s brilliant. I mean, “Reagan Biscayne: doesn’t touch “Morley Safer.” That is the most made up-sounding name in the world. [Laughs] They just lend themselves to sounding completely phony, it’s great.

We’ll see. I’m looking forward to watching them all. I’ve seen a few of them. I was really happy that they asked me to do it. I was a fan of the show before they asked me, so when they asked me, I wasn’t, “What the hell is that?!” I was like, “What? What do you mean? Are you serious? The host? What? Yes.” And it was within a very short amount of time from them asking that I answered. So, I’m anxious to see it. I hope that I serve the show I love so well … adequately. I only try to be adequate. I don’t try for too much, I just go for adequacy.

I would hope that after going through this experience with me, you see the same thing in me.

[Laughs] We have a connection. I didn’t identify it as that, but maybe that’s what it is.

 

That’s what it is. Are you surprised that it’s taken — because you’re obviously involved in the Firefly Online game — are you surprised that it’s taken this long for a game to come together?

Yeah, I guess. It’s not something that I was pondering, like “Why can’t they put a game together?” But the minute it was happening, I was like, “This should have happened earlier.” It’s a good idea, I’m looking forward to seeing it.

You know, we all voiced it. When you do video games, I’ve done a couple, but this one is real personal for us. Usually on a video game you’re like, “I’m Buzzsaw and I’m gonna come in here …” and you say all these crazy things, and if the video game is like, “Eh, this isn’t as good as No. 2 …” I think I did one of the least-popular Halo games, and you’re like, “Eh, can’t wait for the next one, because I want to play it.” You know, there’s nothing off the back.

I’m really hopeful that this thing is going to be a good time because we’re all involved. I think, like the fans, for the cast it’s special and it means something to us. So I’m looking forward to playing and I hope that it’s a good time.

Back in March, you spoke about the possibility that a Tucker & Dale 2 could happen. Is that still possible, and have you seen the script, or are you still waiting for that?

I haven’t read a script, but they’re still moving forward with tentative dates next year. So, it hasn’t retreated. That’s another one, though. So many times you see sequels come out from movies that you liked and, you know, the characters were there but something’s missing and it can diminish the original by doing a bad sequel. And I know that Tyler [Labine] and I both … and the producers and the director and the writers … everybody wants to make sure that we get it right before we do it. So, I really don’t know anything about it except that we want to do it really badly and we’re committed to making sure that it’s something that won’t ruin the first one. [Laughs]. That sounds so awful.

No.

If I was the producer of this movie and I read that, I’d be like “shut the fuck up, Tudyk!” [Laughs and then adopts a phony persona] “Yeah, man, I can’t wait! We’re doing it next year, it’s gonna be great!”

I really … you know, I’m hopeful. I think it’s a really tricky thing. We talked about it from the beginning; it’s a tricky thing. It’s a natural consideration because horror movies often times do sequels. But in this situation, the thing that made it work was a misunderstanding. We thought that the kids were killing themselves in some kind of suicide pact while they thought we were killing the friends. And so, if we were in the situation again where kids started dying, we would already have the knowledge of what this could … it’s probably a misunderstanding. What was clever about the first script, we can’t do again. So it has to be an equally clever device within the story with the same characters. And it’s definitely possible. So hopefully we’ll get that script. [Laughs] I couldn’t write it, but I’m looking forward to reading it.

The second season of Newsreaders premieres tonight at midnight ET/PT on Adult Swim.

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