Alan Tudyk is pulling double villain duty on DC Universe. He's already played the 4th wall-breaking, meta-mad Mr. Nobody in 'Doom Patrol,' and this fall you can hear Tudyk bring the Joker to life on 'Harley Quinn' (opposite Kaley Cuoco's Harley). We caught up with Alan at this year's Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in LA to discuss his favorite on-screen Joker, the dangers of toxic relationships, and how his key to playing the Joker is a spicy Mexican dinner...
How did you make this Joker your own?
I really did not think about it too much [laughs], I didn’t know. I know Cesar Romero’s Joker [in the 1966 'Batman' TV show]. I grew up with him. It was my first exposure to the Joker. And then definitely Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. I didn’t know Mark Hamill’s Joker [in 'Batman: The Animated Series' until everybody told me, "Oh, he’s the one who does it. That’s the guy, that’s the guy." So I heard him after. I approached the Joker like I do any role. Just thinking just about this person. You know he was born in a vat of acid, and that is the first thing that I latched onto. All these things are kinda in the same palette, all the Jokers. Even though they are so different, they all kind of have a similarity, and mine doesn’t deviate too far from that.
That may be a first for an actor playing the Joker -- taking their cue from the acid.
I know from like having eaten some spicy Indian food and spicy Mexican food that the acid reflex helps how it plays on my voice. It’s very affecting. I just look deep into my own experience with spicy foods and international cuisine. [Laughs.]
You have terrific chemistry with Kaley Cuoco's Harley. Did you guys record your lines together?
We did! We recorded a lot together. Until our schedules just went off into different directions. We were able to sort of dial it in on those episodes. That was great and unusual. You usually don’t get that opportunity. That was great that they made sure that we were in the room together.
What can you tell us about Joker and Harley's relationship throughout this first season?
Well, it's an unhealthy and toxic relationship. So one person has more power then the other. And when they get dumped, they’ve always got a few moves they can make to get you back. Or to get inside your head. And so her whole play is to become her own villain. But he is the king of the villains! So she’s playing in his world. She’s trying to out-do him so she still is competing with him. She’s not in that wonderful place that you get to after a bad relationship is over. When you just don’t care anymore. You’re ambivalent about the person. She’s not there and doesn’t get there for the foreseeable future.
Were you a comic book fan growing up?
I wasI I saw the first 'Batman,' with Adam West and Burt Ward. That was my experience, and I loved that. I was a kid, so I loved it because it was so...POW! So comic book-y! It was fantastic! Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero with his mustache that he just painted with makeup because he wouldn’t shave for the show... That's great! Then when I got into comic books proper it was much later and I was into Wolverine. But I’ve loved all the Batmen that I’ve grown up with.
Do you have a favorite Joker?
Heath Ledger is my favorite Joker. He was just so great. That scene [in 'The Dark Knight'] where he has all the gangsters around that table when he comes in and walks in laughing. You can just imagine that script. You know, you hear his laughter as he walks in, coming from the back, and then watch what he did with it... [In Joker voice] "Ha. Ha. He. He. Ha. He. Ho, ho, hoooo..." He laid it out there. What a champ.
It’s mesmerizing. How about Batman? Do you have a favorite?
Christian Bale. He did three. I feel like the first one, 'Batman Begins,' his Batman voice [speaks in Batman voice ] “Was still a little crazy,” but it went even further in the next one, 'The Dark Knight.' Batman just doubles down. [laughs]
Why do you think the Joker remains arguably the most iconic villain in pop culture? Why are people so fascinated by him?
He is such an agent of chaos, and that’s just so scary. Somebody who doesn’t care. Doesn’t even need a reason. They just want to disrupt. He doesn’t have a personal axe to grind -- "This person wronged me, so once I just finish my vengeance I’ll be fine..." He’s just an anarchist. And that is terrifying. I think everybody is just born with an innate fear of someone who doesn’t care at all about any of the rules.
How does he compare with your other DC Universe villain, Mr. Nobody in 'Doom Patrol'?
Oh, HE has an axe to grind, a personal vendetta that he could achieve. It’s interesting one that the Chief created Mr. Nobody in a way, he made him the villain that he is. But the Chief, even though he made him everything he is, but also destroyed who he was. He’s got issues with the Chief.
What was your reaction to the critical response to 'Doom Patrol'? I mean it was incredible, and we are getting a season 2 now. Was that gratifying to find out?
Absolutely. Because there is so much more to discover, that’s the great thing about that world. In the comics, there is so much more to go and it gets very deep. Then it can go on and on and on. And as crazy and wild that some of the character situations were, there are seasons and seasons more of that. Plus, crazier situations and concepts and ideas. I mean Mr. Nobody has a guy in the comics that traps people in his coat. Just sucks people into his coat! How does someone do that? Creepy. In all of the illustrations of Mr. Nobody in the comics his arms are up, like he has just said "Ta-Da!" His back is bowed, and his head is up. And he’s pontificating on one thing or another. A lot of season 1, it was just Timothy Dalton and I in a white space, just like an empty stage. Just talking with one and another. There was nothing, nothing to hold on or to grab. Nothing to hide behind. No props to play with. It was just us talking. It was an interesting challenge but there's no better person to do it with than Timothy Dalton, I really enjoyed those scenes.
It seems like you can do so many different things with the Joker. How do you balance the humor and the comedy with the fact that he's a murderous psychopath?
I just stick to whatever they have him doing you know? They have a good sense of that and as it plays out, that becomes part of his story. And then luckily I have Clayface to also play comedy with. But a lot of Joker’s comedy is insulting Bane. I can’t understand the fucking guy! It’s great able to say those things. So a lot of his humor comes from that. The worst things he does are to Harley, playing with her mind. Really, he does kill other people, works of a little mass homicide here and there, but he’s cruelest when he's screwing with Harley’s heart.