If you haven't seen the most recent episode of Dollhouse, stop now! MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead!
For months now, fans of Joss Whedon's FOX series Dollhouse have been wondering about the identity of the villainous Alpha, a Doll who went rogue and has been wreaking havoc ever since. Though it was inevitable that in this age of the Internet some would already know the secret (more on that later), for plenty of others it still came as a shock. Alan Tudyk, known for working with Whedon as the goofy and lovable space pilot Wash in Firefly and Serenity, seemed to be playing a similarly comedic role in last Friday's episode "Briar Rose," that of paranoid Dollhouse designer Stephen Kepler. And then, without warning, Kepler turns full-on evil, slashes Victor's (Enver Gjokaj) face, kidnaps Echo (Eliza Dushku), and scrams. Hello, Alpha!
I recently sat in on a conference call with Tudyk, during which he talked about his experiences on the set, what to expect in the season finale, and what it was like to work with Joss Whedon again.
When asked if he was excited to play a role so different from what he's done in the past, Tudyk says, "Absolutely. [Joss] set me up really well because he didn't tell me he was offering it to me. He laid out, like, 'The role does this, and he does this, and he's a composite of these people.' He like gave me a full scope of the guy, that he was this person who was obsessed with Echo and was 43 people in one and has all these skill sets crammed into one but, because he's 43 people in one, he's mad. But he can do many things because he is also 43 people at once, and that he's sort of God-like in his own mind. And I was like, 'Oh my God, that sounds so amazing, who's playing that?' 'I want you to play it.' It was really cool."
Playing a character imprinted with 43 interchangeable personalities can be something of a challenge, and Tudyk jokes that it gave him a "stress rash." In discussing this Friday's finale, "Omega," Tudyk says, "You see the effect of what 43 people is on one person. Alpha has a little bit of difficulty controlling them. We all have inner monologues, you know, different voices that sort of chime in throughout our day, [giving] different opinions on situations. He's a little less in control of his opinions. They are full people who all want voices and so it takes an effort to maintain order in his brain."
He hints that there might be a "kidnapping or two" in this next episode, but says that Alpha is most focused on his personal endgame. "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, ruling the world spree. It's about making her in his own image." Tudyk laughs when Alpha and Echo are compared to Mickey and Mallory, the murderous couple in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, and admits that besides the comedic Kepler, he most enjoyed getting to play with Alpha's Mickey side.
Tudyk says, though, that there's fun in getting to play both the good guy and the bad guy. "I have to say, this last episode that we just saw was the perfect opportunity to explore that, what do I enjoy more, because for a good portion of it I was Kepler. I had so much fun playing Kepler and playing that buddy cop movie where he's [Tahmoh Penikett's Paul Ballard] the hard-nosed FBI agent and I'm the guy who hates buddy cop movies." He says that turning into a badass was a worthwhile experience, but if he had to choose one or the other, he'd go with the nice guy. "At the end of the day, I like goofing around onset and joking around with the crew and everything, and when you're playing somebody who is as intense as this guy is, I have to kind of be quiet and to myself from time to time and kind of keep focus. But luckily, I don't have to choose. Joss gave me this guy, which is both."
Though Whedon wasn't on set much, Tudyk says that they've been friends for so long now, still getting together at Whedon's house for Shakespeare readings or Firefly co-star Nathan Fillion's place for games of Pictionary ("Nathan is a very good drawer"), that their working relationship is easy and relaxed. Whedon allowed space for him to create Alpha, but Tudyk was "hungry for anything he gave me." Elaborating, he says, "I was really dependent on his vision. He's had this guy in mind from the beginning. In the playing of it, and the actual shooting of it, we got to have fun and there were a lot of little bits. The main thing for the last episode, he wanted Stephen Kepler to be — he wanted that fake-out as much as possible, although [laughs] it wasn't a very well-kept secret."
A few months ago, rumors began circulating around fan sites that Tudyk may very well be Alpha, and the Internet Movie Database went so far as to list him as such before "Briar Rose" had even aired. Though he says that fan sites aren't "up there to do my bidding," he was still disappointed that they would ruin the surprise. "I started writing an e-mail: 'Why are you doing this? Don't you think it would be best to keep this information to yourself if you have it, or even put out misinformation about this, or…why am I writing this e-mail?', and I deleted it and went about my life." He denied the rumors when confronted with them, but there wasn't much he could do once it had gotten out. In much the same way that online word about Dollhouse's early production problems placed a cloud over the show, the Internet's discovery of Alpha's identity threatened to kill some of the mystery.
Therefore, Tudyk is understandably tight-lipped about Alpha's fate. Asked what a possible second season for the series might mean for his character, all Tudyk will say is that he can't say: "Alpha may not make it through the next episode. He has Echo, and that's playing with fire. It could blow up in his face." What, then, about Alpha's place in the mysterious DVD-only thirteenth episode "Epitaph One"? "You'll never know… until you buy the DVD!"
Besides Dollhouse, Tudyk has been shooting a pilot for a remake of the '80s alien invasion series V, also starring fellow Firefly veteran Morena Baccarin. Though there's not much he can say about his role, he says that the pilot is "really good" and that fans shouldn't be disappointed. He confesses that the original is "really kind of cheesy," but assures viewers that this new version should "fill into your memory as it should be." Considering that the special effects are done by Zoic Studios, who helped bring Battlestar Galactica back to life (and, incidentally, did the CGI work on Firefly), perhaps V will be another cult blockbuster.
But right now, fans are still abuzz about his unexpected turn on Dollhouse. Someone raises the question of whether or not Alpha is the perfect human, considering the vast numbers of traits he embodies. Tudyk isn't so sure, saying, "I think he has the ability to be. In a lot of ways, 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 then another person can have the same experience and have a different conclusion. Somebody can end up enlightened, and somebody else can end up a villain. And 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."
To see what happens when Alpha hits the road with Echo and sets his final plans into motion, be sure to tune in this Friday, May 8, at 9:01 PM EST on FOX for the Dollhouse season finale "Omega." It should prove to be one hell of a ride.