RESIDENT ALIEN is a hit. The series, which has its first-season finale on Syfy Wednesday, March 31, has met with critical and public acclaim, and been picked up for a second season. Chris Sheridan (a writer/producer on FAMILY GUY, YES, DEAR, and TITUS) created RESIDENT ALIEN for television, based on the graphic novels by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. Alan Tudyk plays the title role, an extraterrestrial who is supposed to exterminate humanity but instead finds himself in the body of Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle, who is pressed into taking over the clinic in the small town of Patience, Colorado.
Sara Tomko plays clinic nurse Asta Twelvetrees, who has formed an odd friendship with Harry. Asta has a close relationship with her adoptive father, Dan (Gary Farmer), and is trying to negotiate the parent/child bond with her teen daughter Jay (Kaylayla Raine), who Asta gave up for adoption at birth.
Sheridan and Tomko participate in a Zoom interview with three reporters about RESIDENT ALIEN.
What drew Sheridan to RESIDENT ALIEN as material he wanted to do as a series?
“I fell in love with Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s comic, RESIDENT ALIEN,” Sheridan says. “And what I loved about it mostly was, this outsider alien observing human nature, and trying to figure out what it’s like to be human. And out of all the things I loved about it, that one thing to me is the soul of the comic that I wanted to capture in the show. And I really wanted to be able to tell a story about humanity, and be able to pick it apart, and figure out what it is that makes us human, that makes us good, that makes us bad. And being able to do that in a lighthearted way, through the eyes of this new being, coming to Earth, I knew would be entertaining, and I thought that would be a really fun journey for me as a writer to go down. And that’s what really drew me to it.”
Tomko says she was attracted to the role of Asta because, “The thing that’s so enticing and intoxicating about playing this role is how vulnerable I get to be. When I was younger, especially early in my career, I longed for a character like this. In the industry, if you get a role worth a damn, that’s a win, and as a woman, if you get a role that doesn’t have to just do with how you look, that’s a win, and if you get a role that the story’s great, and the cast is great, and then on top of it, it gets picked up, and people like it, it’s just one checked box after another with this show. That doesn’t happen for everybody. And so, I really feel grateful that my very specific dream came true, which was, ‘I want to play a raw, vulnerable, honest, multilayered, larger than life character.’ And I think that’s what I got with Asta.”
This is true for everyone on the show, Tomko adds. “I think that the whole cast was brought together by a fate that none of us can really explain, which makes me feel really confident about our future. Even if the show didn’t go on, I believe that we all have this synergy now, that we will continue to create things together in the future, because it works so well. And so, I love playing her, I love being able to also be a woman on screen who looks like a woman. I have not the perfect body, not the perfect temperament. That’s no shame, that’s just the truth of being a woman. And I get to just be that, and it’s not pretty all the time. And in fact, she’s messy,” Tomko laughs. “So, it’s really nice, to be able to show that, and show that that’s what it really is like, most days, for most people.
How has Asta’s relationship with Harry changed, and how is it likely to change in the future? “Well,” says Tomko, “we have to get in pretty quickly to her trusting him. So, because this town is so small, and so reliant on the doctor, which is what everyone tells him, as a therapist, as someone who is like a father figure to me, we have to really just allow Harry into our world, and let him replace someone who was really at the heart of the town, is what it really feels like. So, it changes for me, because Asta has this [need] to hear a man in her life tell her the truth, the honest truth, and nothing but the truth. So, she finally gets an experience with a friend and a man that is like no other. That ultimately leads her to rethink how she looks at life, and how she trusts men. And I think that leads to this question for the audience, of, ‘What’s going to happen when she finds out that he’s lied to her this whole time?’ Maybe there’s an understanding, somehow, oddly, of, “Yeah, that makes sense that you’re that weird.” But I also think that there’s going to be a feeling of betrayal. And that will be something that Harry is going to have to deal with, and he’s not going to like when Asta’s mad at him.” Sheridan joins her in an anticipatory laugh.
Once Sheridan saw what Tudyk was doing with the character of Harry, were there strengths he was writing toward, or anything he wrote away from?
Sheridan warms to the subject. “There was nothing that I wrote away from, and everything that I wrote towards, and that we all in the writers’ room did. He’s so gifted. There’s a sequence in Episode 2 where Harry comments that he can’t leave and switch bodies with someone else, it took him three weeks to learn this body. And we just do a quick montage of him trying to learn how to walk, and trying to sit down, and can’t brush his teeth. That sequence I specifically put it for no other reason than the fact that it was Alan. And when I realized how talented he was – this is a guy who went to Juilliard and literally studied clowning. And when I could see what he could do with his body, and his movements, and how he really encapsulated this character, it just gave you so many places to go, and so many ideas. And so, that sequence specifically was for his strengths.”
Continuing, Sheridan points out, “But so much of it is stuff that he’s just doing on his own. All of this stuff that he does with his hands,” Sheridan mimics the animal-like pose Tudyk often adopts as Harry, “even in the pilot, like when he leans over Sam’s body, and looks at it like this, this is him just naturally as an actor mimicking his alien little baby arms that he has, and that wasn’t anything that anyone told him, that was just him sliding into the role, and the physicality of the role. So, much of what he does in the show, certainly physically, is stuff that he’s just brought to it. It’s writing to all his strengths. It’s realizing he can do anything.”
We also get to see Tudyk play the human version of Harry in flashbacks, Sheridan relates. “That was put in specifically to show the range of Alan Tudyk. You really get a chance to see what he’s doing with his alien role when you see Alan playing the real Harry Vanderspiegle, who’s not an alien, and see the differences between the two.”
As for playing opposite Tudyk, Tomko says, “It’s awesome to see the range he gets to play. I think there are a lot of people that understand his comedy in his career, but in Episode 4, when we’re lying down in the field, and he’s talking about his wife that’s passed on, there was this look that he has in his eyes – I don’t know if anybody’s ever seen Alan portray that kind of an emotion. I got a chance to see it a couple of times while we were working together, and it’s really beautiful, and it’s something that I think people don’t realize is in his bag of tricks. And it’s not a trick, it’s him having a moment of stillness and honesty. And so, most of the time, obviously, when I’m playing opposite him, I just sit back and watch.”
Tomko says that her real-life younger brother has taken to calling Asta’s reactions to Harry “Asta-isms. All those reactions are real, and organic,” Tomko laughs. “I appreciate that he switches it up, because then it gives me the opportunity to have fresh reactions to him every time, that are very real. And it’s so fun. When you’re on set, you want to be able to be in the moment. Alan and I had a scene that you’ll get to see towards the end of the season that was a bit emotional, a little explosive, too. And it was really interesting to witness how we both approached that work.”
There was discussion between the two performers, Tomko relates. “We talked about this later. He shows up wanting to work at it from the ground up, this idea of how to get into it, and I show up wanting to explode onto the scene, and soften into it. So, even as actors, we have this different way of approaching it. But we always find our way to the middle ground. And our chemistry is really, really wonderful. To be honest, when Alan and I do takes, it’s like two, three takes, and we’re done. It’s almost a little sad it doesn’t last long enough, because we just both click in so quick.”
Tomko’s Sara has been adopted into an Indigenous community, whose members are portrayed by Indigenous actors. “I am not a part of a tribe or a community,” Tomko explains, “and so it’s respectful to acknowledge and showcase that there are so many wonderful native actors on this show. Chris has done an incredible job, being so inclusive to that community, and writing so respectfully and authentically. You have characters like Eugene Brave Rock [as Shane], and my adoptive dad, Gary Farmer, my as we now know daughter, Kaylayla Raine, and we even have a woman in the writers’ room, Tazbah Chavez, so much incredible Native talent. I’m very fortunate to be able to play this role, because I have my own thing that I’m searching for in my own life, for how I fit in, into this community, into this world, and where I belong. It’s so lovely to be surrounded by so many true Native actors who guide us, both Chris and I, who provide such guidance on what is really honest about the modern-day world of living on or off the reservation. And so, it’s so lovely to witness that as Asta, who is she’s raised in the community, but she’s not really one of them, and so she struggles with that. And it’s the same thing I think I get to experience as Sara. I have my own family oral traditions, but it’s not that I was ever raised in that community. So, I have to really sit back and listen. Chris?”
“I made some adjustments in the show,” Sheridan says. “In Episode 2, Asta reveals that Dan is not her real father. She was adopted into his family, and was raised with the culture, but is not Native in the show. And one of the reasons we did that is because it was important to me that Asta felt like she didn’t belong, because that was the thing that connects her with Harry. Harry comes here as an alien, doesn’t belong to this world, and the fact that they’re both outsiders is the thing that connects them. And yeah, as Sara says, in the process then of representation and there are so many amazing Native American actors that we’ve cast into the show, there’s incredible Native music that we’ve added to the show throughout the season, and a lot of these Indigenous artists are having people hear their music that have never heard them before, and we’re really excited about that.”
With all the various forms of acclaim, plus network renewal, what have Sheridan and Tomko found to be the most satisfying aspect of the response to RESIDENT ALIEN so far?
Sheridan gets a laugh from Tomko when he replies, I’m going to preview this by saying that I thought I was the only one who didn’t read any reviews, and it turns out Sara doesn’t read any either. That being said, I did join Twitter, and I do try to live-Tweet for an hour during the show, so I get to see a little bit of what people are saying. For me, it’s been a long road. It’s been five years [of trying to get RESIDENT ALIEN made].
“By the way, this [five years of trying to get something made] happens all the time. You put all this effort into something, and it doesn’t work for one reason or another, or you think it worked, but no one likes it. So, to put all this effort into something for the main purpose of getting people to feel maybe better about their lives, or better about feeling human, or getting them through the day, or something to look forward to, and look forward to laughing, and find out that people really are doing that, and enjoying it, and looking forward to it, and even in a small way having it make their lives a little better, it makes all the hard work over the last five years worth it. So, that’s the greatest thing for me is, just feeling like you’re touching people in a way, and even making their lives a tiny bit better. I love that. Sara?”
Tomko says, “I, like Chris, do not read the reviews, just so I stay grounded, and I don’t think too much about good or bad. I just want to separate between doing the work, and letting the work speak for itself. But it’s impossible to not hear from family and friends, especially, who will sometimes send me things. And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to see … oh, okay’.” She gives a capitulatory laugh. “But it’s so lovely, because they’re obviously very excited. And Meredith Garretson, who plays Kate [the mayor’s wife], she’s one of my best friends, right before the show premiered, we were talking about, it never occurred to us, ‘What if we just aren’t good?’”
She and Sheridan share a laugh.
Tomko continues, “We were all, ‘It’s been two-and-a-half years,’ Corey [Reynolds, who plays Sheriff Thompson] especially would hype us up, like, ‘Yeah, of course this is going to go, of course this is going to be good.’ We would have these pep talks. And then you get to that point where you’re about to [air the project], and you’re like, ‘Oh, God, what if it’s not good?’ So, to hear that it is exactly what we believed it was, to hear that people are not only enjoying it, they’re inspired by it, that it’s something that’s bringing them some solace in a time of grief – we’ve had a lot of really wonderful people reach out individually to us, and we have a little ALIEN thread going on. So, people are always letting us know, ‘My friend said this,’ or, ‘My cousin said that. My family is just floored, and it feels really lovely to be seen by them in that way. They’ve known for a long time I’ve been an actor, and they’ve seen me do other parts, but I can’t tell you how many of them were like, ‘You have so much screen time!’”
Sheridan laughs again.
“They didn’t quite understand that, ‘Yeah, I’m the lead, next to Alan.’ So, that part’s been really rewarding, and I just want people to continue to like it, and continue to watch it, so we can get that Season 2, and 3, and 4, and the list goes on.”
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Article: Interview with RESIDENT ALIEN Creator Chris Sheridan and actress Sara Tomko