With the season finale of Dollhouse just days away, one of the biggest mysteries of the season has been answered: who is Alpha? We now know that it's Joss Whedon favorite Alan Tudyk, who played Wash in Firefly and Serenity. Alan talks to FEARnet about playing a bad guy, playing Pictionary with Joss and Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion, and why we should be psyched for his role in the upcoming V remake.
At the end of the "Briar Rose" episode, you and Echo go off into the sunset. Do you live happily ever after?
I think that's Alpha's plan, sure. Everything that Alpha has done has been to get Echo. Whenever you see Alpha, he's screwing with the Dollhouse and it's always around his obsession with Echo. It was his plan all along to come get Echo and that's what it was all about. So now he has her and he gets to fulfill his plan, which is to make her like him. Alpha isn't really Alpha. He is Alpha, but Alpha is this composite of people. We understand that he's a bunch of people crammed into one. He's 43 people at once. He's ascended in his mind to a godlike place.
What would a second season mean for Alpha?
I want to be able to say this without giving anything away… I can't say because Alpha may not make it through the next episode. Alpha is a formidable person to deal with, but he has Echo and that's playing with fire. It could blow up in his face.
When I saw that you were revealed as Alpha, I was like, "Oh, of course." Is there anyone else from the Joss family it could have been?
I'm sure there's plenty of Joss people that it could have been. I would have liked to have seen Simon Helberg, the one who plays Moist in the Dr. Horrible series. I think he would have been a surprise, because you really would have bought the Steven Kepler part of the character, maybe even a little more totally than me. You wouldn't have seen that turn come as easily.
We're used to you playing nice, lovable people who sometimes get killed tragically. When Joss came to you with this role, what was your reaction and were you excited to get to do something so different?
Absolutely. He set me up really well because he didn't tell me he was offering it to me or that he wanted me for the role when he first described it. He laid it out like, "The character does this and he's this composite of these people." He gave me the full scope of the guy, that he was this person who was obsessed with Echo and was 43 people at once and has all of these skill sets crammed into one. But because he's 43 people at once, he's mad. But he can do many things, and he's sort of godlike in his own mind. I was like, "Oh, my God, that sounds so amazing. Who's playing that?" "I want you to play it."
It was really cool. It wasn't like we were in his office discussing work. We were over at Nathan Fillion's house for Pictionary. We were on a Pictionary break when I asked, "What's going on with the show? I want to hear about your new show," because it had yet to start and we were just getting into the strike time. I was really blown away that he wanted me for it and I was excited to get to play it. As you said, I don't get to play bad asses very often.
Eliza has insinuated that the next episode has a little bit of a Mickey and Mallory (from Natural Born Killers) vibe to the two of you. Can you talk about getting to play the hell-bent couple together?
That's great. I love how "Briar Rose" ends. It was that whole Sleeping Beauty thing, and you knew somebody was going to get kissed at the end. I'm glad it was Alpha kissing her. We take it on the road. There's maybe a kidnapping or two in the episode, and for Alpha it's about fulfilling his plan, which is just the last step. Getting Echo was the second to the last step of his ultimate plan. He's got one more thing in place before they can really go on their worldwide-domination killing spree. It's about making her in his own image really, as far as he is this—he's a god. In his mind he's a god. He's ascended and he wants to bring her up to his level of multiple personality person. So it's cool, you'll see.
Can you talk at all about your role in the V pilot?
I really can't. I can't. Although I can say this—it's really good. I hope that they pick it up. If you're a fan, which I was, of the first one, this is kind of everything that you remember without going back and watching. Because if you go back and watch the original V, you're like, "Oh, I thought this was great. It looks really kind of cheesy." The new one fills in your memory as it should be. And it has really awesome effects. The effects are done by Zoic, who also did Firefly. Zoic does all the spacecrafts and anything requiring digital enhancement, and they do a great job. And then, of course, Morena Baccarin is in it [Inara in Firefly], and she's the leader of the aliens, so you can't get any better than that.
Did you two have a chance to work together in the pilot?
No, but we did get to hang out and that was cool.
Could you give us a little bit more information on these Pictionary games?
Joss famously has his Shakespeare readings at his house. He'll invite different cast members from past casts and friends to get together and read different plays from the bard. And Nathan's thing is Pictionary.
Who's particularly good?
Me. Oh, other than me? Other than me, Nathan is a very good drawer. He's very good. I think my team won last time, so Joss did well. He was on my team. It's a lot of very famous people. It's very chic. Chic, but awesome. Joss is a good drawer. Nathan is a good drawer. I'm a good drawer and we won, totally won.
So how much of the Dollhouse crew is actually overlap from Firefly?
Not too many. There was one night when we were shooting "Briar Rose," where we up on this building and a cameraman, came up. He's like, "Al, how's it going?" "I didn't know you were working on this." He wasn't—he was working on some other show that was shooting just down the street and saw us and came over. The costume designer from Firefly is on Dollhouse. Not many, let's just leave it at that. Not as many as I would like, although there was a really great group of people. We had a blast. We had a really good time.
Were there enough familiar faces, though, that there was a comfort level coming in, because sometimes being a guest star can be like being thrown into the fire.
It was not like that at all. Eliza knew me through Joss, so I was already accepted. I didn't have to prove myself. Amy Acker and I know each other from Pictionary nights and Shakespeare nights. I've done some Shakespeare readings with her, so it was really easy seeing her and hanging out with her. So those faces were very familiar to me.
And Tim Minear directed the season finale. Tim was part of Firefly. He did the "War Stories" episode. He did my favorite episode and he's one of my favorite directors on Firefly. I really like this next episode coming up. I think it really shows off Tim and he gets to play with all the elements. It's such a heightened episode, as far as Echo being kidnapped by Alpha. There's so much to play with and he does a great job.
What was the most memorable of the Shakespeare readings with did with Joss?
Hamlet, but only because it was the last one. It's the freshest in my memory. I played Claudius, so I was a baddie. Olivia Williams [Adelle on Dollhouse] was in that as well. That's where I met most of the Dollhouse cast. Dichen [Lachman, Sierra on Dollhouse] was there. That was the last one and that's the one I remember the most.
Since Joss had specific ideas on who the Alpha character was, how much latitude did he give you with the role? Was it really going off of his vision or did he let you have some leeway?
I think I had space to create him, but I was hungry for anything he gave me. Any idea he had or any information he could fill in with his vision of Alpha because it's been shaped by all these other episodes. So I'm adding up everything people have said about Alpha and then going to Joss and saying, "Are all of these impressions of Alpha true because they're saying that's who he is, but are they right? What is your vision of Alpha?" I was really dependent on his vision because he's had this character in mind since the beginning.
In the actual shooting, we got to have fun and there were a lot of little bits. Joss created a really great role in Steven Kepler. He wanted that to be a full person that people could believe in before he flipped into one of those other personalities.
It's been a couple of years since you and Joss have worked together professionally. How is it being back on the set with him? Has he changed much as a director? Was it different being on such a show with such different tones than the previous ones you've worked on with him?
You know, he wasn't on set all that much. Our relationship has been formed by years of being friends without work and it was really easy to talk to him. I don't have to guess what he meant. I know him better, so it was great. He could have had anybody play this role. It's a great role. He could have gotten anybody. And that he got me—I was really honored.
So Alpha believes that he's basically the pinnacle of human evolution, right? Isn't he basically right about that? Isn't he the most perfect human in a sense?
I think he has the ability to be. When you're downloading a bunch of people, you're downloading perspective and experience. Somebody can go through one experience and have a conclusion about that and another person could have the same experience and have a different conclusion. Somebody can end up enlightened and somebody else could end up a villain. I think he takes the wrong lessons from his downloaded experiences. He is certainly evolved. But, I don't know, the swine flu is evolution, isn't it? In a way, it's an evolution of flu, that's sort of him.
He said in the last episode that 200 years from now there won't be any people, but he also said the Dollhouse is the future. Do you think he believes those sorts of things or was he just being Steven Kepler and being funny?
I think he believes those things. I bet Alpha believes that there won't be anybody. Heck, no, there will be Alpha. Alpha will be there. Alpha is a god. He is forever now. He can live forever. He has the ability to live forever. Because he can always just download himself into a new body.
It looks like you were having a pretty good time playing this psychopathic character. Do you prefer playing baddies or do you like to play characters like Wash who are so loved by the audience that they throw things at the screen when he gets killed?
There's fun in getting to play both. I have to say, this last episode was a perfect opportunity to explore that. For a good portion of it, I was Kepler, playing all this stupid physical stuff, it was great. And then turning into a bad ass was also fun. In this next episode, I'm only Alpha. I'm even more crazy. He's insane.
I think it's rich to get to play the baddies like that. But at the end of the day, I like goofing around on set and joking around with the crew and everything. When I'm playing somebody who's as intense as this guy is, I kind of have to be quiet and to myself from time to time to keep my focus. If I was signing up for seven years of one or the other, or had to choose one or the other for the rest of my life, I'd go with the fun-loving, funny guy because it's more fun to play. But luckily I don't have to choose and Joss gave me this guy, which is both.
You talked about V a little bit. Do you have any other projects that you're working on right now?
I just did an episode of PG Porn with James Gunn, the writer/director of Slither. I plug James Gunn because I think he's such a great writer and director. Nathan Fillion did one, too.
James Gunn was probably at that Pictionary party, wasn't he?
Not at that one, but I've seen him around Nathan's house for sure. When there's a bowl of guacamole and chips around, you might see him.
Playing a character that has 43 personalities, what does that give you as an actor?
A rash, like a stretch rash. It gives you a lot to chew on. In this coming episode, you see the effect of 43 personalities on one person. Alpha has a little bit of difficulty controlling them. We all have inner monologues, different voices that chime in throughout our day, different opinions on situations. He's a little less in control of his opinions. They are full people who all want voices. It takes an effort to maintain order in his brain.
It was fun. It was a challenge. It was a little crazy, having different voices and trying to sort them out and giving them a voice and then also having to fight them, create them and fight them.
Does it get confusing or does it really hurt?
Did it really hurt my brain? It did. He'll say one thing and then say the exact opposite and then say something similar to it because everybody is chiming in at once. So it was a bit crazy-making, trying to wrap your head around those lines and make them real for yourself when you're saying them, even though you're saying the exact opposite of what you just said and meaning it just as much and fighting yourself.
The transition from Kepler to Alpha is so total and so complete, that if the rumor hadn't been out there before, it probably would've been a huge shock to everybody. Were you disappointed that your role was leaked before airing?
Yes. I found the story on an Alan Tudyk fan site. I was like, "You're supposed to be on my side and here you are giving out secrets that really work against me." I started to write an email, "Why are you doing this? Don't you think it would be best to keep this information to yourself, or even put out misinformation about this?" And then it's like, "Why am I writing this email?" and I deleted it and went about my life. There's no way to stop it once it was out. I was talking to some people in Baltimore after it had gotten out. I told them it's a lie, don't believe it. It's not true, but then somebody released a picture of me on set. I don't know where all these people are. The set is like one leaky boat. It's impossible. I can't stop the signal. It was out there.
Are you in the "Epitaph," the "bonus" episode?
You'll never know until you buy the DVD. I don't want to comment on my state beyond this episode, or Alpha's state. My personal fate beyond the episode is totally alive, living a healthy life in Venice, California. But Alpha's fate, it's uncertain.
There seemed to be a hint that Kepler potentially could be Topher's father, especially since he created the Dollhouse. Did that ever come up in the conversation or is that something that you can't talk about, either?
It's nothing I can confirm or deny, but there's certainly a lot of similarities. There's some mannerisms there, aren't there? I don't know about his father. I hadn't heard that one before. But in a world where personalities can be uploaded and downloaded, and people can be composite personalities, there seems to be a little in there. Alpha knew Topher from when he was a Doll. We'll get to see some of that in this next episode – Alpha as a Doll.
Can you give a little information about what kind of tie there was to Laurence Dominic, because it was just hinted upon in the last episode?
I wish there was something more. It's just that that's how I was contacting them. Alpha didn't realize that he was gone and put on a shelf, so he sent it to him because he would be able to get the password to send them on the wild goose chase, so that I could be Kepler and have them looking at one hand while the other hand is dealing.