ESQ&A: Alan Tudyk Refuses To Be Star Wars' Next Jar Jar Binks
The Rogue One actor joins the ranks of the franchise's best comedic characters.
BY Matt Miller | Dec 19, 2016 | Film & TV
Droids occupy a moral grey area in the Star Wars universe. Some work for the good guys, some work for the bad guys. But no matter what side they're on, these machines have no choice in the matter. As any machine, they're tools programmed to do their owner's bidding. C-3P0 and R2-D2 could have just as easily been working for the Empire with the flip of a switch.
But they have personalities! These droids are some of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe, which makes it difficult to think of them essentially as non-sentient slave labour designed to fight, to translate, and to communicate with other machines.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone film in the beloved sci-fi franchise, introduces the most complex droid we've met yet. K-2SO is a former droid of the Galactic Empire who was reprogrammed by Captain Cassian Andor to serve the Alliance. He's a turncoat if you will, but one who did so from a software update rather than a change of heart. He's also some of the best comic relief the Star Wars movies have seen, and a welcome character in what's otherwise a pretty gritty war movie set in space.
Actor Alan Tudyk, who voiced and provided on-set motion capture for K-2SO, gives the character a dry, deadpan sense of humour. It's dark comedy, the kind that fits nicely in this dark entry into the Star Wars canon. And this is pleasant news, considering Star Wars has failed in the past to add comic relief to its stories—one need only remember the infamous Jar Jar Binks. Thankfully, by interacting with the actors on set and providing some of his own improvised humour to the script, Tudyk's K-2SO is the most memorable new character in Rogue One.
Tudyk talked with Esquire ahead of the much-anticipated film's release about creating a new character, improvising on set, and the magic of being a part of the Star Wars universe.
ESQUIRE: I heard George Lucas was a fan of the movie.
Alan Tudyk: So ridiculously cool. Gareth Edwards, our director, was like, "And that's it. That's all I needed, I can die happy." I think he referred to him as God. Actually, I know he referred to him as God, because there was a moment where I went, "Really?" He is the authority for sure on Star Wars, and to have his support means a lot to all of us.
ESQ: Yeah, that's kind of the one review that you need. Have you gotten a chance while filming or otherwise to talk to him directly?
AT: No. I missed him while he was on set. And even though we watched it at Skywalker Ranch, I think he lives elsewhere now. He used to live there, and the thing is enormous. And there are the vineyards, and there's the back... I mean, it's huge. It's huge. It's got it's own fire department. A lot of people live there. The easy answer is no, unfortunately. Hopefully at the premieres. He does show up to the premieres, and those are coming up.
ESQ: What would you want to talk to him about if you had five minutes with him to talk about Star Wars?
AT: Jar Jar Binks. I just want to get some stuff off...
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AT: No, of course not. Nobody wants to talk about that. I don't know. Gosh, what do you say to him? I think I'd probably just say the same thing he's heard from a bunch of other people. I'm glad you asked, 'cause now I'll try to come up with something. I didn't even think I'd meet him. That's right, I probably will.
ESQ: You could mention Jar Jar Binks—you could ask about it. I know a lot of people would want to. You could do that for a lot of people.
AT: At ILM—Industrial Light and Magic—there is actually a Jar Jar Binks that is sealed in carbonite.
ESQ: No way.
AT: Yeah, it's great. There's a Han Solo sealed in carbonite, and then just next to it is Jar Jar Binks. His tongue is sticking out like they just froze him right in the middle of a "Whabbul dabble," or whatever the hell he says.
ESQ: That's awesome. I guess, speaking of that—bringing a comic relief character to Star Wars—what did you learn from the negative response to Jar Jar in order to create your own character for this movie?
AT: Well, luckily, part of the correction on that was doing motion capture for the character, where they're able to catch more of a performance from the actor—which, in that case, was me—giving it a truer life. There was a different animation used for Jar Jar Binks, and it was much more animated. So I was motion captured and was there on set with everybody, so we came up with it together. My character was influenced by everybody's characters, as their characters were influenced by me. That's how you want to do any film, whether you're a robot or any other character.
I was worried about being humorous. He sort of becomes a comic character within the movie, but he's not telling jokes. I approached the director about it and full on said, "I don't want to go Jar Jar. Make sure you keep an eye out for that." And the way to do it—and I think this actually came from George Lucas—was that he's not a joke teller. The humor from a droid is not because he's telling jokes. The humoUr comes out of their own personalities. K-2 has been reprogramed from being an Imperial enforcer droid, and he's very frank in situations that aren't always appreciated. He's very willful. So somebody can say, "Droid, go get those." And he can say, "I don't want to. You can." So that'll be funny in the moment. He's not trying to be funny, he's just trying to be himself. So that was the way that he became funny—he was written as his circumstances.
ESQ: I've seen early reviews that put you up there as one of the best droids in the entire franchise, and there's been a lot of beloved characters there. How do you bring personality to a machine? And what did you want to bring to K-2?
AT: The machine came later, more or less. In the beginning, I was able to—before anybody showed up—I got on the stilts and went out to ILM and walked around in what they call a void where they had all the cameras that wore the silly suit. And I got to play around and move around and see how he expressed through motion. So I kind of build up a vocabulary there. That was taken care of as far as I found that non-robotic movement in times, more emotional, just true human-like movement read more on the robot because the robots can be taken care of later. So you just move in a way that's appropriate to, I guess, emotional movement. Without going to Jar Jar, of course. But just performing the character that is a culmination of all his circumstances.
His devotion to Diego Luna's character—he has a complicated relationship with Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones—and that trajectory of how that relationship changes over the movie, and all these people kind of just keep coming. It starts out with Cassian and me, and then all these people keep joining us on this mission. It just kind of all falls into place. At first he's not really... he just likes it with him and Cassian. So just in the playing of that and going along with the story, that was how we did it. And the real robot-y part came later—from hundreds of hours of people hunched over computers giving themselves carpel tunnel syndrome.
ESQ: You've mentioned Jar Jar a few times. Was that a worry for you going into it? Like taking this role and being like, "Oh please don't let me be the next Jar Jar"?
AT: Yeah, it was. It was a concern. Just because we get done with the scene—I mean, you do a scene and somebody would say, "That was funny." And that was how I approached the director. I heard "That was funny" a couple of times and I said, "Ugh, uh oh." I don't want him—I don't need for him to be funny. I'm not trying to be funny. The role is inherently funny because of his own personality. Just talked to Gareth about keeping an eye on that to make sure that I don't cross that line where I'm trying to be funny and I'm not. Where I'm trying to be funny as opposed to just performing this role. I just wanted to make sure that I'm not trying to be funny, that they're not trying to make jokes or anything. We did have some freedom within the script. Even though you think of Star Wars like a bible—I mean, these are sacred in that way so you don't want to screw around with them. But since it's a stand-alone movie, we had a little bit more freedom to... I wouldn't say improv, but sort of play with the lines a bit.
ESQ: Did you have a lot of those improvised lines that made it in?
AT: A great deal. I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised. Some of them are like, "I can't believe you put that in! I am so happy to see it. Like, wow!" Because, you know, you're working long hours, you're cold, we all got along very well. There's actually a couple of frames of Diego Luna—you always see it—you see the corner of his mouth going up in a moment where I've made him laugh with a little improv. I'll leave that for people to find. I saw it in the slowed down version in post. "Back up, back up! Show me that. Wait a second, stop right there. Hah."
There's actually a couple of frames of Diego Luna—you always see it—you see the corner of his mouth going up in a moment where I've made him laugh with a little improv.
ESQ: I know they've kept spoilers tightly locked up for this film, as they did with The Force Awakens. What lengths did you have to go through to protect these secrets and prevent anything from getting out? It has to be stressful, I imagine.
AT: It was stressful in the beginning. But as time went on, Gareth was pretty relaxed about it, much more so than the first movie where they had a script that was kept in a vault. And the only people who could were given a combination, they had to sit in a room, and there was a guard... I mean it was all so intense. We had scripts of our own, which they originally said, "You're not going to get them." But then we said, "But can't we?" And they said, "Yeah, okay, go ahead. Gareth said you could have them."
I remember when we landed in Jordan, Diego and Felicity and myself shot some scenes there. It was the first scenes we shot in the movie. So we land in this foreign country, Jordan. They hand you back your passports, we've got all these visas, we've got all this stuff, we arrive at our hotel, we're going to shoot the next day going out at two in the morning, and the security guy, ex-military, goes, "Look, I need to talk to you all. I'm the head of security here. You're in Jordan now, and you really need to keep your eye on your scripts. Because if they get out..." I'm like, Wait a second. That's what this is all about? They're like, "Look, if you tell your mother about what you're doing, she can tell a friend and they'll put it on Facebook, and the next thing you know you could lose your job." We all look at each other like, Buddy, you're taking your job really seriously.
That was the most extreme it got, and then it kind of relaxed from there. But I am very glad that it's almost here so that I can start having conversations with people about it that I have yet been able to. I've been able to talk about a little bit here, a little bit there. I'm ready to talk about the whole thing.
ESQ: So you were on set to film your character. What was it like to step on the Star Wars set for the first time and to be part of this franchise that is so beloved and been around for so long?
AT: It was amazing. Movie making can be grueling—in the weather conditions, in the cold and the rain, you have to shoot no matter what. Long hours. All that stuff. But when you're surrounded by aliens that are the coolest, most amazingly imaginative aliens you've seen ever in person—and I've been to several comic cons and I've seen a lot of really good aliens—these are done by ILM. There were like robots that were like 20 feet high with a little alien with it on a leash just dragging it along. I'm like, "How is that thing going?" They're like, "There's a man in there." I'm like, "How is there a man in there?" And they opened up the chest of it and this guy comes out and he's got no legs. Like, he was the puppeteer within it and they had built this thing exactly for his size to do it. I'm fairly sure he didn't have legs going in. I don't know if that was a decision at all. Like, "If you want to do this, we need to take your legs."
ESQ: That's dedication.
AT: And there'd be these crazy alien characters that just cross behind you. You're like, "They don't have a line, I know they don't have a line. That's just their one thing is they cross behind you." There are X-wing fighters, several X-wing fighters, on set. And they're not cardboard. They look like they could take off. They're scarred from battles and they have black and blast marks on them. The things open, there's a ladder going up and there's a guy working inside and there's smoke coming out. Like, man. If you we're ever a fan of Star Wars and you're seeing all of this stuff right in front of you, it blows your mind.
ESQ: I know that in the last film that they tried to use as many actual sets and as little CGI as possible. From what you're describing, it kind of sounds like there was a lot of real stuff there.
AT: Yeah. The one moment for me was when we landed a spaceship at this Imperial base and they built the spaceship inside of this big box. Like a crate that comes off of ships, whatever those things are called. Inside of it's the spaceship. They hooked it up to a crane and then suspended us three stories in the air and then landed us at this base. So you're looking out the window of your spaceship and you're landing. So they could film us over our shoulders looking down at the ground as we came in. You could easily do that with green screen. You just build the set, put some green behind the window, shoot it. But that's not how they do things. So you get in the spaceship, they take you up, and they land you. For hours. And smoke comes out the bottom. We were doing a battle scene and they had a fighter, like a transport ship, on a crane that flew over us and touched down and some troops ran out the side, and then it took off again. So you're running and this thing comes over your head, lands in front of you, they all jump out, and it takes off and goes back behind you again as you're running down a beach. And explosions. I mean, really, if it was a ride at Disneyland, the line would be counties long.
ESQ: Yeah, I'd quit my job. I'd be there right now.
AT: Yeah, it'd be like. "I'm in line. I'm supposed to get there by mid-week next week and I'm looking forward to it."
ESQ: Having experienced all this and seen all this, what do you think is the most significant difference between Rogue One and the greater Star Wars franchise, other than being a stand-alone movie, of course?
AT: Well, the stand-alone movie is the key that opens up everything else. We had freedom to be our own thing in the style that it was shot, not just in the way it was filmed and the story it told. But when we acted the scenes, because it's kind of a war movie and it's kind of a caper movie—nah, that doesn't sound right, because I think of capers as funny. We have a mission. It's a one-mission movie. We figure out that we've got to get this thing. And it gave us freedom within the world to play, you know?
We went off book a little bit, we improvised and discovered moments within the world. The characters were allowed to grow and start to tell the story, even beyond just the basic two-dimensional script you're given. It grew as we went. We weren't hemmed in by the lineage in front of the story or having to match a story that has already been told and respect that. We got to tell our story, our one story, that fits within this amazing world. But, yeah, it just gave us more freedom on every level.
From: Esquire US