Long-limbed and deadpan, Alan Tudyk has pulled off the neat trick of making an impression in broad, goofy comedy parts (“Dodgeball,” “Death at a Funeral”) and shining in the confines of genre material (most notably the Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” and “Dollhouse”). This year at Sundance, he gets to combine the two with his work in director Eli Craig’s “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” playing Tucker, a good ol’ boy whose trip to a new vacation home in the woods with his friend Dale (Tyler Labine of “Reaper”) runs afoul of a group of camping college kids who think Tucker and Dale are homicidal hillbillies right out of a B-grade horror film and (literally) kill themselves trying to prove it. Tudyk sat down in Park City to talk about the energy of midnight screenings, researching low-rent horror films and how comedy can hurt.
How was your screening last night?
Well, showing at a midnight screening, you get done at two. And you go out for a beer, and it’s usually 4am after your second beer. [laughs]
But the midnight premiere itself — how does it feel to be inside that energy?
It was really cool, especially with this movie. We shot it very fast in 25 days with a lot of night shoots in there as well, and we were in Canada, in Alberta in the wintertime, so the nights were only about five hours long and we had to really move fast. So a lot of it was a blur. We’d kind of end the day and Tyler and I would get together and go, “I don’t know what we just did. Well, there was that one thing. I guess that was funny. Oh, I didn’t get to do those things. Ah, well, I don’t know what we have… hope it’s good.” And now to have been shown [at Sundance], [it’s] such a perfect spot for this movie because it’s a fun movie. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s a comedy, but it’s got all this gory horror kind of stuff in it as well. I was proud of all the work we did, because it was really a collaborative movie, but also I was really proud of Eli [Craig, director], because if it wasn’t for Eli, none of this would happen. Not just ’cause he wrote it with Morgan [Jurgenson], but he had to push to get this movie made. It was him. He strapped it to his back and just went to town. He was still editing two days ago, putting the music together. Honestly, to see [it] up there, in the movie theater with all those people laughing — it was great.
And that was your first chance to see the finished product?
Yes, yes, definitely.
That has to be weird, as you’re not sure if the jokes are going to play because you’ve seen them a hundred times before.
Well, I hadn’t seen them a hundred times before. Tyler and I had seen the movie once in a very early, early version of it, where the sound edit wasn’t done. It was still very much in flux as far as what was in and what was out, and to Eli’s credit, he [said], “I’m open to notes. What do you guys want?” And then listened to us for the rest of the night. [laughs] “No, no, no, you know what you need to do? You remember there’s like the third take on that scene…” We did some looping so [we] saw a little bit of a couple scenes, but definitely not the finished product, so this is basically the second time I’ve seen the movie.
Last night, Mr. Craig referred to your presence in the film as “a gift from God.” Is that a little awkward?
[Laughs] It was a really collaborative process, and a lot of times with writers and directors, they get very precious about their words. There’s a lack of time to direct somebody the way you saw it when you wrote it in your head, but when you give it over to an actor or actors and then also set designers, everything just starts to change and it takes [on] a life of its own. There are directors who hold on to the reins and try to really control it and keep it as close to what was in their mind as possible…
And choke the life out of it.
And can absolutely choke the life out of it. Then there are people like Eli, who really embraces who he has working with him and battle the elements with them together. So a lot of what is in the movie, we came up with together. It was his script, but it might have just been the difference of [my saying], “Look, we spend two pages setting up a joke and we never pay it off. Why don’t we pay it off? And I have three ideas of how to do this.” [laughs] And he’d be like, “Oh, yeah? Okay, cool. Great.”
How swiftly after meeting Tyler Labine did you get a sense that this was going to be good comedy mojo?
Yeah, he’s awesome. He’s nothing like the character — he’s very quick-witted and a really smart guy and he’s playing one of the dumbest characters I’ve ever seen in a movie. [Dale’s] really stupid. Tyler’s funny, so we got along really well. Right in the beginning, he said, “Hey, do you want to get together and work on a script?” Nobody’s ever… I’ve never had that, where it’s just another actor and there isn’t a director forcing you to sit down to work on a script together. [Tyler asked], “Hey, want to come and like work on backstory?” It’s like, hell yeah. Anybody who wants to work, I’m really happy to work with, and it was lucky we were on the same page.