RESIDENT ALIEN is now in its second season, Wednesday nights on Syfy. Based on the the Dark Horse Comics graphic novel by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse and adapted for television by Chris Sheridan, RESIDENT ALIEN stars Alan Tudyk as the title character, who crash-landed on Earth. Able to make himself look human, the alien has assumed the identity of Colorado small-town veterinarian-turned-doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. Although completely confused by human behavior, Harry finds that he actually likes the townspeople. This may be a problem, since he’s been sent here to wipe out humanity.
Harry’s secret is now known by his medical assistant/friend Asta Twelvetrees, played by Sara Tomko, as well as a young boy, Max (Judah Prehn), who can see Harry’s true alien form.
In Season 2, Harry’s outlook has changed, but there are other aliens who still want to carry out genocide, and a military cadre, led by Linda Hamilton’s General Eleanor Wright, who are bent on committing xenocide.
At a Zoom panel hosted by NBC and Syfy Channel for the Television Critics Association winter press tour, exec producer Sheridan, Tudyk, and Tomko are joined by Corey Reynolds, who plays town sheriff Mike Thompson, and Alice Wetterlund, who plays bar owner D’Arcy Bloom, to talk all things RESIDENT ALIEN. This article is derived from the Q&A session.
As RESIDENT ALIEN embarks on its new season, is it still following the story laid out in the novels, or has it taken off in its own direction?
Sheridan replies, “It took off in its own direction early on in Season 1, not that we don’t still pay homage to the novels. We even look for different framing of some shots from the graphic novels that we try to use in the show. The first graphic novel was about the murder of Sam Hodges, which is continuing into the second season. So, that is still alive for us. There is an episode that is sort of pulled from one of the graphic novels that we are doing this season, where Harry and Asta go to New York in search of an alien. That was one of my favorite comics of theirs. I thought Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse did an incredible job with that one. As soon as I read it, I thought that would be great training for [Asta] to do. So, we worked that into the season.”
Tomko reminds Sheridan, “At the time we talked about that, we were not in a pandemic. So, I think we all thought, ‘We get to go to New York’.”
“Yes,” Tudyk agrees.
“And that didn’t happen,” Tomko concludes. “But Vancouver [where RESIDENT ALIEN is made] is a pretty cool second New York. I think they did a great job.”
Reynolds teases, “You guys went to Newcouver.”
Harry’s native language is impossible for humans to pronounce. Tudyk, being human himself, probably doesn’t find it all that easy himself, but says, “Any time Harry speaks his language, it’s always fun. I don’t know that it will ever be a language like Klingon, where you go to conventions and people actually speak it. It’s much more elusive. It’s a back-and-forth between me and the editors. It switches up a little bit every take, and then they find the best string of sounds and probably facial expressions to go along with it that makes for the best scene.”
In one sequence, Harry runs through town carrying an octopus, which is voiced by Tudyk’s former FIREFLY castmate, Nathan Fillion, and played onscreen by a prop. “Running with the octopus was great,” Tudyk recalls, “because it’s made of rubber, some kind of silicone, and it does its own acting. You just give it a little jiggle, and it really comes through. It’s a great scene partner.”
When D’Arcy gets into a helicopter, the idea to use the theme from M*A*S*H came from Wetterlund, Sheridan reveals. “I had sent a video of Alice Wetterlund in a helicopter to Alice, and she sent it back to me with the wonderful M*A*S*H theme attached to it, and I was determined from that point on to put it in the episode.”
Wetterlund points out one reason it had occurred to her to do so. “Chris, your daughter Lily is obsessed with M*A*S*H. So, it’s in the zeitgeist of the show. I saw that footage [of the helicopter]. A lot of the footage from the show is very beautiful. We have incredible d.p.s [directors of photography], and it just looked like film to me. It looked old and gorgeous. And I was like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to put up the theme song.’
“But in terms of who chooses the music,” Wetterlund continues, “it’s mostly me and Levi [Fiehler, who plays town Mayor Ben Hawthorne. RESIDENT ALIEN] does have a music supervisor [Laura Webb, Charlie Haggard, and Oliver Hild] … but Levi and I do a radio show for the cast and the crew. And every once in a while, Chris is nice enough to pick one song to put on the actual show.”
“Yes, I do,” Sheridan confirms. “I definitely use the radio show to find music. So, it’s all very helpful.”
The resident alien expands his repertoire of human impersonation in Season 2. Besides Harry, he takes on the appearance of several other characters. These are played by actors who are essentially playing Tudyk as Harry trying to play their regular roles. Did other cast members have to take Alan Tudyk lessons?
“They’ve watched the show,” Tudyk says of his costars. “So, I think they just go to Alan school, I guess. It’s really up to them. I make myself available if they want to talk about my process and how I go about it. Alex [Borstein, who guest stars as Carlyn] is just naturally an alien, I think. She just has that about her, and it’s not the probing. She just comes across that way. But I think Sara could probably speak to this a little bit as well, because you had to do it, right?”
“Yeah,” Tomko affirms. “I had a small little part where I got to be Harry. And I was going to ask you for advice, Alan, but I also think I just wanted to watch you. I think I started really just creepily staring at you as I got closer to that scene.”
Tudyk jokes, “I remember, when I woke up from my nap in my trailer, you were standing over me.”
Tomko plays along, striking a menacing pose on Zoom. “I was like this?”
“It was a little odd,” Tudyk deadpans.
Tomko gets serious. “I have to say, the small, little time I got to be you, it’s very physical. At least, it was for me. I felt like my whole body was stiff, like I had very mechanical movements. Chris actually suggested I do this hand motion towards the door, because that’s something you had done in a previous scene. So, I did that. But I also just felt like there’s a lot more than the audience can even see that you are doing. To me, it just felt like a full-body workout. And I was really like, ‘Man, if I had to do this all the time, every day, I would be exhausted.’ So, I’m super-proud of you.”
Reynolds says he’s looking forward to having Harry jump into Sheriff Thompson. “I think that would be great. That’s one of the unique components of this show, is that there’s this aspect of everyone Harry needs to embody getting a chance to provide their interpretation of Harry, and of Alan’s performance of Harry. I think that will be fun.”
Tudyk has great enthusiasm about working opposite RESIDENT ALIEN guest actor Alex Borstein, an Emmy winner for her work in THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL. “Working with Alex is fantastic. I’ve loved her work for a very long time. I’m a big fan of MAISEL. That she joined us this season was fantastic, and that she got to be my love interest, or just the object of my affections, was brilliant. Her relationship with Chris [Sheridan] goes back a long way. You can see it when the two of them are together. They have a really strong friendship. It was really fun to watch them together.
There is improvisation in his scenes with Borstein, Tudyk continues, then points out, “As far as improv goes, there’s leeway. Everybody can speak to this, because everybody does this. Chris is a very generous creator in a lot of ways. As far as listening to the actors when we have dialogue that could be a little more in our character voice, there’s a lot of stuff from Harry that I’ll say, ‘Can I say this word instead of this word? Because the way my process is, Harry wouldn’t say this word.’ There’s a lot of that.”
Also, Tudyk adds, “We usually have an opportunity to play, especially if it’s a joke. You can do the punchline as many different ways as you want, or the out [last moment] of the scene. We were shooting something, and there was, ‘Oh, what if I’m sitting at my desk, what if I had a glass of Alka-Seltzer? All right. I’ll do the plop, plop, fizz, fizz, and it’s confusing to [Harry] why it’s floating. And then Sara and I will have a scene, and I’ll drink it, and it will be disgusting, and I’ll almost throw up. I’ll sit there, fizzing through the scene.’ And then it was taking too long to get the Alka-Seltzer, because they had to go to the store. And we’d just throw out ideas, and we came up with something that actually turned out to be more fun.” He turns to Wetterlund. “I know Alice does a lot of improv, because you are comedy.”
Wetterlund appreciates the compliment. “That is really high praise coming from you. I was going to say, Chris is so generous. Robbie [executive producer/episode director Robert Duncan McNeill] is so generous to the point that I’m testing it. You say he gives us as many takes as we want, as long as there’s a punchline, and I’m counting. Eventually, I’m going to find out how many is the most and is the cap for that, because I feel like I’m getting to it.”
Sheridan credits Reynolds as well. “Corey is the same way. Corey had a scene last year where I was so confident in Corey’s improv abilities. It was when he was interrogating the lanky stoner in that school. Classroom. We wrote stuff, but I basically said to him, ‘This is going to be you.’ So, all of that stuff that was on the screen was just Corey being ridiculous. So, that was fun.”
Reynolds says, “That is one of the best perks of this job for me. During the course of my career, I’ve never had to opportunity to have as much influence over a character’s choices and voice, and that’s all a testament to Chris and Robbie and our leadership being open to allowing us to explore these different things. And they are not all home runs. I’ll pitch something sometimes, like, ‘Hey, man, what do you think about this?’ And he’ll go, ‘Uhhh,’ when you know that’s not necessary.”
Sheridan notes that sometimes the improvisations can make episodes run way past their allotted length. “The Alan and Alice stuff – they were doing one of the scenes that I’d written, and I thought they should have a little fun … So I just said to Alice, ‘Ask Harry does he like to travel, and see where it goes.’ And we laughed. They called ‘Action,’ and then Alan and Alice went of for between five and ten minutes before the scene started. It was something about monkeys in cages. It was unbelievable. The first cut of that show was nineteen minutes long. There’s a tremendous amount of incredible stuff that we can’t fit in the show from everybody on this panel. You have to make your choices. But, yeah, a whole episode with all of their improv [could be done].”
Wetterlund recalls, “Corey and I were in one scene together so far this season, and I was like, ‘Why don’t we get to do more episodes together?’ And then, when we started improvising on top of each other, I was like, ‘Oh, this is why’.”
Reynolds concurs. “It takes me back to the bowling alley scenes, which is, I believe, my first day of filming. I think we went three or four takes, before Robbie was like, ‘Okay, guys, I think it’s important that we at least get one [take] that’s as written.’ We just decided to go on our own little tangents there.”
“Having never worked with each other before at all,” Wetterlund adds.
“It’s also the very first day,” Reynolds reminds us.
Sheridan brings up another scene between Reynolds and Wetterlund. “In Episode 10 from the first season, Corey was arresting Alice. And you were talking about pulling hair …”
“Her fighting style was a mix of volleyball and capoeira,” Reynolds observes. “It was just ridiculous stuff.”
Of Harry’s deepening friendship with Asta, Sheridan says, “It’s an example of Harry’s growing emotional state and ability to process human emotions where, in the first season, he learns to love and learns what friendship is and connects him to Asta, which is what ends up saving the human race. I think his journey in Season 2 is extending that humanity to people outside of Asta. So, learning empathy and trying to realize that maybe there are other people in this world who he can maybe care about as well … It is going to be a slow burn. We don’t want to do it too quickly where, suddenly, he’s caring about everybody, because a lot of the comedy goes away at that point. But that’s not really going to happen until the very end of the series.”
Tomko relates, “There’s this really beautiful scene we have together in a really cool location where we were looking out over the lake. In Season 1, we are looking out over the mountains while I’m barefoot in the snow, and in Season 2, it’s the summer version of that, not quite barefoot, but still looking out over a body of water. And we have this great conversation about that family is not just who you are blood-related to, but it’s chosen, and that there are people in your lives that you really care for, and you need to figure out who those people are.
“And it occurs to Asta,” Tomko continues, “after she has a talk with her dad [played by Gary Farmer], that she’s maybe the only one that Harry cares for, and that’s a lot of responsibility when she’s got the whole world on her shoulders. So, then she starts kind of pushing him out of the nest. We started having what felt like a mother/son relationship a little bit. She was like, ‘You’ve got to get out there and meet people. And she has to have conversations with him, talking to him about his feelings, about pain, about fear, about family. All the while, she’s still trying to connect with her daughter [Jay, played by Kaylayla Raine], and she’s also still learning about how to ask for help. She’s going to end up coming to D’Arcy for guidance in a way she never has before. So, I think you are going to see Harry and Asta in this very similar trajectory in Season 2, where they are both still learning how to reach out and ask for help.”
“Very well put,” Sheridan says. “Also, Harry is so childlike, I think it’s sort of Asta learning how to be a mother. And if she ever has a real [maternal] relationship with Jay, she can take that learning that she’s gotten from Harry to be a better mother for Jay someday.”
“She will be prepared to change Harry at some point,” Reynolds speculates, “If he needs a change of some kind.”
Do Sheridan and/or the actors believe there is intelligent extraterrestrial life out there? Sheridan volunteers that he’s seen a UFO while on his honeymoon in the Bahamas. “It was a triangular shape with six lights on the bottom of it. The light hit us right in the face. It made no noise. It was literally upon us from the horizon to above us in about three seconds. I made a mental note to not let myself forget the face that it was real. So, I don’t know what it was, but it was certainly alien … Honestly, doing this show, a lot of people have come up to me and said, ‘I saw this thing.’ A lot of people have seen this stuff, and there’s starting to be less stigma about it now.”
“Well, also,” Wetterlund contributes, “the government was like, ‘Yeah, aliens are real.’ So that helps. I have never had anything close to an alien experience, but I’m not closed off to the idea. I know that the more science progresses, and the more astronomy progresses, the less we know of things we thought we knew about … We don’t have all of the explanations yet, and that’s okay.”
Tomko says, “Right now, we are a floating ball in the sky in a galaxy … I feel like our existence is alien. Everybody has opinions, but nobody knows what we are doing here. Everybody has a different story to tell, and it doesn’t mean that we should be pointing fingers and saying, ‘No, you are wrong’.”
Reynolds observes, “Statistically speaking, it is virtually impossible that there isn’t alien life in the universe. I think the biggest question comes in the distance between stars or the distance between space/time of getting to a place where they could actually get here or we could go there. However … I think you’d be an idiot to think that we are the only intelligent life in the universe.”
Tudyk can’t resist. “We are intelligent?”
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Article: Interview with RESIDENT ALIEN Creator Chris Sheridan and cast Alan Tudyk, Sara Tomko talk Season 2