When science-fiction films or TV shows have portrayed a humanoid-looking alien making its way on Earth, the results have too often featured cliched “take me to your leader” sorts of robotic interpretations by actors. There have been exceptions, though, with some actors offering more nuance to their performances as aliens. Alan Tudyk adds himself to this latter rank with his endearing performance in Syfy’s new series Resident Alien, a terrifically entertaining mix of sci-fi, murder mystery and doctor dramedy based on the comic book series by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse.
The actor plays Harry, an alien who must get into character and do a bit of acting himself by posing as the human doctor he kills after crash-landing in the small town of Patience, Colorado. On a secret mission to destroy all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life, but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world. As he does so, he begins wrestling with the moral dilemma of his mission and wondering if humans may be worth saving.
“Even though he is, in a lot of ways, more evolved, from a more evolved planet, he’s an idiot,” Tudyk says of Harry. “He’s ignorant when it comes to humans and the world, and definitely how the Earth works. But his reasoning can be very funny to us. To him it makes sense, but to us, it can seem absurdly callous and really funny in the moment. … He starts out coming to destroy, but as he learns more from humans, he grows.”
While we see Harry in his true form a few times in the pilot episode thanks to makeup effects Tudyk tells us took two and a half hours to apply, the actor does say that throughout most of Resident Alien‘s episodes it is about 90% himself as the alien that we see. And that means the task of conveying Harry’s “alienness” falls almost entirely on Tudyk’s skills with mannerisms, body language and eye expressions, and voice inflections.
It’s a fine acting line that Tudyk walks well, finding a balance that shows something is off about Harry without being too over the top. The actor deftly fluctuates between humor, terror, menace and emotion in a role perfectly tailored to combine the talents in physical acting, comedy and voice work that he has shown in previous sci-fi projects like his live-action role in the 2002-03 series Firefly and his voice role in the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).
“You don’t want to go too Starman,” Tudyk explains, referencing Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-nominated performance as an alien in that 1984 film. “He [was] so unsettling. His alien was so other. Just his breathing and the way he spoke was labored. [On the other hand,] if [Harry is] too casual and comfortable, then you don’t buy him as being someone who’s experiencing this world, and humans and human interaction, for the first time.
“[Harry is] kind of childlike in a lot of ways. It’s about trying to keep the awareness of even though I look like a human, I’m wearing — in my [character’s] mind — an alien suit, and just sort of hovering back there, peering out through the eyeholes, looking at the world and operating the body almost like a puppet.”
Between the pandemic and other production shutdowns, it’s taken a while for Resident Alien to arrive onscreen, and Tudyk and his castmates are understandably excited about viewers finally getting to see their work.
“I can’t wait to share it,” Tudyk says. “It’s been something we’ve been anticipating, those of us who’ve been making it, from when we shot the pilot, even.
“We shot the pilot [in 2019], and then we pushed production out for a little bit for different, boring reasons [before the pandemic]. When we [got back together and] shot the rest of the series [with COVID restrictions in place], it’s been two years since we shot the initial pilot. So, it’s been a present we’ve been wanting to open for quite some time.”
Resident Alien, Wednesdays at 10pm ET on Syfy beginning Jan. 27.