‘Moana,’ ‘Rogue One’ Star Alan Tudyk Looks Back on First Film Role

'Moana,' 'Rogue One' Star Alan Tudyk
illustration: michael Hoeweler; photo reference: michael buckner/variety/shutterstock

Alan Tudyk is one of the busiest actors around. He’s equally at home on stage, in films, and on television. He’s perhaps best known for his role as Hoban “Wash” Washburne in Joss Whedon’s cult sci-fi series “Firefly,” but he’s getting a reputation as Disney’s good-luck charm, voicing characters in all of its animated films since 2012’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” In Disney’s latest, “Moana,” he voices a peculiar rooster; he’ll also be in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” later this year. Additionally, his crowdfunded web series, “Con Man,” debuted in September, and he’ll be back on TV next year in NBC’s superhero workplace comedy “Powerless.”

Tudyk got his first Variety mention on Sept. 20, 1996, in an item on the production of his film debut, “35 Miles From Normal,” and he hasn’t slowed down since.

What do you remember about “35 Miles From Normal”?

It was my first movie ever. I got it because I was doing a play, and the producers were just getting in the film business, and they asked me to be in their movie. It shot in Normal, Ill., and it really did take place 35 miles from there. It was a story about a union strike and some people who needed to cross the picket lines and the trouble it caused in the little town that was very dependent on this union.

So this was your first movie role. What was that like for you?

It was amazing. The first movies are always the most memorable. Everything is exciting and new. You haven’t learned yet not to date your co-stars — always a positive! And also, simultaneously, a negative. I loved it. I played sort of the comic-relief best friend, so I got to play around. I did a lot of physical comedy that wasn’t in the script. I kind of forced it into the movie as much as possible. Most of it got cut, because I think I was making a different movie than everybody else was. It was great. I had a blast.

Not long after that, you were in “Patch Adams” with Robin Williams.

Working with Robin Williams was a dream come true. There was a moment where Michael Jeter, Robin Williams, and myself were [playing around]. I was talking with Michael, and he started doing this cowboy character, then I did a cowboy character. Then Robin picked it up, and he did a cowboy character. And somehow it shifted into an old-man cowboy character, and then Michael did an old-man character. And then I did an old-man character who happened to be flamboyantly gay. Then Robin did this flamboyant, fashionable character. We kept going around and around. I was beside myself in the truest way. I was having this experience while simultaneously having this awareness outside myself of what was happening and how magic it was. Still one of my favorite memories.

A little later you were in “Hearts in Atlantis.”

With “Hearts in Atlantis,” I learned that you can get parts in interesting ways. Again, I was doing a play on Broadway, and I was being asked to stay in the play after I wanted to move on. I had already been doing it for about a year. It was Paul Rudnick’s “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” about Adam and Steve. Scott Rudin was the producer, and I had auditioned for “Hearts in Atlantis” and was waiting to hear back. Scott said, “I can make sure you can get that role.” How he knew I’d auditioned, I don’t know. He said, “You can just fly out to Pennsylvania and shoot nights, then fly back and do the play.” So he gave me a role so I’d stay on the play.