At that pivotal time in high school when teenagers are desperately trying to figure out what to do with their lives, Alan Tudyk decided that he wanted to go into hotel management. After all, he was almost an assistant manager (maybe an assistant to the manager?) at Taco Bueno, so maybe he could make a pretty good life of it. But one encounter with his drama teacher changed his mind; she shot down his hotel management idea and told him he needed to become an actor. This must have felt strange to a kid who often couldn’t participate in school productions and competitions because of his failing grades. When he protested and asked why, she responded, “Because you’re different.” She cited how he would scrape up his knees skateboarding and just let the blood soak into his socks instead of cleaning them off. She also referred to his “lunch-lady appreciation days” where he would imitate their ensemble, right down to the plastic gloves. How those things are a clear sign that someone is meant to act is beyond me, but his drama teacher was right on the money.
Born in El Paso and raised outside of Dallas, Texas, Alan Tudyk jokingly suggests that he might have peaked in Middle School. He knew he loved to entertain and had a mind for thinking outside the box but feared that pursuing acting would be an unconscious vow of poverty and loneliness. His career has certainly been filled with speed bumps and detours; he had exciting opportunities in stand-up comedy until somebody threatened to kill him at one of his shows and he abandoned the ambition. Though he made it into the immensely competitive drama program at Julliard, he struggled with their curriculum (his teachers weren’t big on comedy, anyways) and eventually left before graduating. But, as it is for most people, his struggles were key to his successes. Many of the accents he imitates in his films were fine-tuned at Julliard, and his improvisation skills landed him defining roles, including one in A Knight’s Tale. He plays the red-headed and easily-heated squire Wat, companion to William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) in his quest to become a Knight through his jousting talent. Though Tudyk’s role is mostly played for laughs, with him constantly threatening to “fong” people and getting teased by a quick-witted Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), he manages to keep pace and enhance the performances of his well-known costars. I recently re-watched it in preparation for this article and cannot recommend it enough.
For someone who is so gifted with physical comedy, some of Alan Tudyk’s biggest screen credits come from films where his face doesn’t appear at all. He’s played two humanoid robots in his career: Sonny from I, Robot and K-2SO from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He plays both roles with surprising subtlety and humor despite only having his voice and a motion capture suit to work with. In recent years, he’s become a staple at Disney animation studios, managing to land himself a role in all six of their films since he voiced King Candy in Wreck-It-Ralph. Those roles include both the Duke of Weselton in Frozen and Duke Weaselton in Zootopia—which feels like they’re just making up roles for him because they like having him around. But boy does he have a lot to give! He’s becoming for Disney animation studios what John Ratzenburger is for Pixar, but while much of Ratzenburger’s voicework is fairly similar, distinguishing Tudyk from his circus of characters is like playing “Where’s Waldo?” on a difficulty setting somewhere between “Extremely Difficult” and “Chuck Norris”.
His filmography is too extensive to list here, but he has found consistent work in theater, television, and film over the past 20 years, so it’s likely he appears in at least one of your favorite shows or movies. Most recently you can hear his voice in Frozen II, which is now streaming on Disney+, as he voices four different characters—a guard, an Arendellian soldier, the Northuldra leader, and, of course, the Duke of Weselton. Hopefully we get to enjoy his talents in the next Disney animation studios venture, Raya and the Last Dragon, which is on schedule to be released this November.
I chose Tudyk for a spotlight this month because I truly believe he is A-list talent with a B-list reputation. It takes a great deal of humility to voice a rooster in Moana after going to Julliard, but Tudyk describes it as one of the “funnest” recordings he’s ever done. It’s possible that he never outgrew the teenager that would wear a giant sombrero to school. That playful perspective, and appreciation for the art of entertainment, are pervasive in Tudyk’s demeanor on and off the camera. I’m not sure if the intention behind his drama teacher’s advice was trying to save the hotel management industry or enhance the entertainment business, but either way I’m grateful that she chose to say something and that he chose to listen.
Much of the information in this article was obtained from the following interview: