Throughout the Star Wars movies, droids have always played the role of comic relief. C-3PO and R2-D2 played off each other as yin and yang, narc subordinate and dogged individual, and carried the burden for the first six films. Then came BB-8, the adorable ball with a spirit similar to R2’s. Now, the newest droid in the lineage is K-2SO, a reprogrammed security droid without a filter, played by the hilarious Alan Tudyk. K-2SO shirks social niceties, whether it’s telling a character how dumb they’re being or refusing a task because he simply doesn’t want to do it. If you thought R2 was prone to going rogue, K2 makes him look like a mama’s boy.
Many assume Tudyk simply did voice work, but no: The actor was able to become K-2SO through motion capture, wearing stilts that brought him up to seven feet tall, which allowed his chemistry with his fellow rogues to shine through. We caught up with Tudyk at Industrial Light & Magic HQ to talk about the awkwardness of mo-cap suits, the importance of good posture, and how much improvisation director Gareth Edwards allowed.
The quote of the day is Diego Luna talking about having your balls in his face because of your stilts. So I have to ask: How did it feel to have your balls in his face?
I hadn’t heard that until today, so I’m still processing. It was more of an awkward moment with the height waist-to-head ratio when I went to the urinals in the bathrooms.
You didn’t take them off when you went to the bathroom?
No, I didn’t, because they were a pain in the ass to take off. I would just go to the bathroom with stilts on. It was about aiming and trying to shield your eyes when you walked past the stalls because you could see over the stalls. You could see who’s in there taking care of business.
That’s just awkward everyday life for tall people.
It is. It’s gotta be.
It seems like you and Diego have a pretty good rapport.
Yeah, I love Diego. He’s great. He’s very funny. From the very beginning, when he said, “Alan, that [motion-capture suit] is ridiculous, we all feel shame for you right now,” I knew we were gonna have a good time.
Would you say you became closest with him on set?
It’s so tough to see each other after these things because he’s in Toronto, then he goes to Mexico City, I was here, there … but we’ve kept in touch, same with Felicity. I worked with Felicity and Diego the most, so it was all a little tight-knit group.
It seems like because Rogue One won’t have a sequel, you guys get robbed the long-running bond the Force Awakens cast gets for years.
If I was robbed, I haven’t noticed. It is a fantastic movie from what I’ve seen, and I’ve seen the whole thing. You never feel ripped off or robbed by being in a big, multimillion-dollar good movie.
We got to see the motion-capture room where you first began practicing for the role. What kind of movements did you develop for K-2SO?
Standing up straight was good.
It doesn’t come natural?
Well, look at me. Slouching like a freak. The way that K2 is built, he has that hump on his back, so he already has a slouch to him. To slouch on top of the slouch made him look like he had some osteoporosis, some true spinal issue. Standing up straight actually looks good on the robot. But casual movements read very well. Hand movements read very well. I just knew not to shy away from that. His face is not articulate. His eyes are, but there’s no mouth, and some characters I build from the mouth out. It’s a great place to start sometimes, if you’re playing an interesting character-y character. I found it important to keep emotion in my body and my movement. Dancers tell stories with their bodies. I’m not a dancer.
Have you ever taken any dancing lessons?
No. My wife’s a choreographer, but she can tell you I’m not a dancer. I have taken clowning classes and movement classes. The closest thing to it is a masks class, where you put on a mask, especially full masks that don’t have mouths. You have to tell a story through your body. I did that in school. I had an amazing teacher called Pierre Lefevre, and when I did our robot, I went back to the books, the Lecoq School of Clowning, and all of this stuff, and picked up the Alexander Technique: all of these movement techniques that are used in the theater. I was drawing from that.
How much leeway did you have with the dialogue?
I played with it a lot. Usually about half of each line was written, and the other half I screwed around with, or some of the lines I got to make up. There were moments when I said, “Can I suggest something here? This is kinda dead. I’d rather say this.” And they were very open to it. Even to the point where they would say, “What would K2 say here?” I’d say, “How about this?” And we’d find one.
It’s something I didn’t anticipate. It’s something that I appreciate, and I think it adds to K2, keeps him alive, because he’s close to me. Obviously, if it came out of my brain, it’s a place where K2 and my brain met. And it took off with a little life that hadn’t been there before. So the fact that Gareth encouraged it, and then chose those takes to put in the movie. It’s a huge testament of appreciation of what we were doing on the day.
How did it feel coming in knowing that Star Wars droids have always been the comic relief? Was there extra pressure or comfort in knowing what it had to be?
I didn’t think of it like that, I guess. There’s a scene that was cut out of the movie where K-2SO was getting off of a U-Wing, and there were some other soldiers. This other high-ranking military person says, “Droid, get the cargo, bring it up to the hill.” And he says, “No. But you can if you want,” and takes off. It’s really funny. He’s not trying to be funny; he’s just being himself. You can take that as a jump-off point. It’s in the thing, where Jyn hands him her bag, and he just drops it. I don’t wanna carry this shit. Holding your bag?
Are you similar? You’re not holding the wife’s bag?
In my own life? Oh, I’ll absolutely hold my wife’s bag.
So there’s one difference between you and the robot.
There’s a difference, but within the character, I drop the bag. That wasn’t in the script, and I don’t think it was in the script that she handed me the bag. That was [Felicity]. And that’s the benefit of being on set doing motion capture. Some people thought it was voice-over work, which I guess you could do, but it just wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work well.
What did you bring to the table that’s been different with other droids? And why did you want to tackle it in the first place?
There’s a line where Diego’s character Cassian says, “I’m sorry about him.” He wasn’t even in the room when I was there, he comes in and he’s like, “Oh, you’ve been alone with him? Sorry.” If you have a character that people have to apologize for, even without knowing what you’ve said, you have a lot of latitude to be someone who says things that are inappropriate, that would make someone uncomfortable, that would beg an apology. To get to play a character, whether a droid or whatever, who has that quality is fun; you have a lot of room to move.
Cassian reprogrammed K2. You’ve talked about how his personality comes out once he’s been reprogrammed and he’s not under the Empire. Do you also think some of his personality comes from Cassian?
Interesting. No, I wish I had thought of that. Something like a big brother, you’ll mimic something they do.
How much of it is nature versus nurture …
Right. I had always seen it as this was his personality all along, but it was locked in this imperial programming, and every one of the imperial droids who are stiff and more soldier-like aren’t able to be individuals. He took me, unlocked me — “shackles off, be free, be who you are” — and that’s who I was. We bicker, you know? It’s not like I’m just agreeing with him or I’m just looking up to him. It’s like, “You shouldn’t do that. You’re making a mistake, you know that, right?” They’re friends in that way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.