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Alan Tudyk on the Not-So-Mysterious Circumstances of Playing Sherlock Holmes

Tudyk stars in a new true-crime drama by Michael Mitnick at the Geffen Playhouse.

Alan Tudyk is one of the busiest actors around, and he has been since Joss Whedon cast him as one of the leads in the cult-favorite sci-fi series Firefly in 2002. Since then, we've seen Tudyk in everything from Arrested Development to Suburgatory, and heard his voice in Frozen, Big Hero 6, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the new Aladdin remake, where he played the squawking parrot Iago.

But Tudyk's first love was theater. He made his Broadway debut in 1999's Epic Proportions, and took on leading roles in Spamalot and Prelude to a Kiss in subsequent years. Now, for the first time, Tudyk is making his stage debut in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.

Tudyk stars in Michael Mitnick's true-crime drama Mysterious Circumstances at the Geffen Playhouse in two intertwined roles. First, he plays the real-life figure Richard Lancelyn Green, one of the world's foremost scholars on Arthur Conan Doyle and Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. In 2004, Green was murdered — but was it really murder? — and in the fantastical play, there's only one fictional detective who can potentially crack the case. Tudyk plays Mr. Holmes, too.

As Tudyk steps back into the limelight, he's remembering why the life of a theater actor isn't as elementary as it might seem.

Alan Tudyk stars in Mysterious Circumstances at the Geffen Playhouse.
(© Rainer Hosch)

Is this really your first time doing theater in Los Angeles?
I did something called An Evening Without Monty Python in 2009, which was more of a revue than a play, so this is the first play that I've done in Los Angeles. I've seen several plays at the Geffen and I really love it as a theater, so that's exciting.

Tell me about Mysterious Circumstances and your two roles.
I'm playing Richard Lancelyn Green, a scholar on Sherlock Holmes, and I'm also playing Sherlock Holmes. Richard was murdered in 2004. Or it was suicide. It's undetermined, but there are people in both camps. A lot of people don't know about Richard's story — I hadn't known a lot — so to tell Richard's story was very interesting to me, as was the dual-role aspect. It really has a lot of different things going on simultaneously. It's comedic and dramatic. It's realistic, and it's fantastical. Michael Mitnick does a great job of interweaving it all. It's exciting, this play.

Were you well versed in the world of Sherlock Holmes before starting this process?
No, I wasn't. I've watched a lot of adaptations now, and I've read some. I watched The Problem of Thor Bridge with Jeremy Brett. I really like him as Sherlock Holmes. I've also watched some Basil Rathbone, and some others. A lot of the old ones, where they try to open locked doors and the walls start shaking because it's so cheaply made. None of the new stuff. None of the Robert Downey Jr. stuff; no Elementary. The old stories.

Alan Tudyk caught mid-deduction in rehearsal.
(© Jeff Lorch)

How has it been to get back to theater after so much time away?
It's been a great reeducation. It's an amazing thing, putting on a show. It's how I started acting, and it's all I knew until I ended up moving to LA to do Firefly. I remember thinking, back when I was a theater actor coming to Los Angeles, that film and television actors were pampered, and theater actors were somehow truer actors. Now that I'm doing a theater piece, having done a lot of television and film over the last few years, I think I would agree with my old self. Television and film actors are pampered. [laughs]

I was a huge Spamalot fan back in the day. Was doing that show as fun as it looked?
I considered myself the luckiest guy on Broadway. I was very aware of how fortunate I was that I got to work with the original cast, save myself. It was right in that sweet spot. It had just won the Tony and the audiences were as excited as the cast was. It was thrilling. I did 200 performances and it was all standing ovations. That's a helluva gift.

What's next for you after Mysterious Circumstances?
There's a TV show that's going to be on SyFy called Resident Alien, which I shoot after this, and I'm the resident alien. It's kind of like Fargo meets Monk meets Starman. He's an alien who takes over a guy's body in this small town in Colorado, and he's just trying to get along while he fulfills what he's sent to earth to do, which isn't necessarily going to be healthy for humans. It's kind of a dark dramedy. We shot the pilot last year, and I really love how it turned out.

Then, I'm gonna go to London to shoot a streaming series based on the Rogue One Star Wars film, where I play K-2SO, the droid, opposite Diego Luna. It's like a prequel to that movie, with the storyline of those guys as spies. That'll be fun. So Mysterious Circumstances is a great opportunity to do theater before I get back into that.

Ramiz Monsef and Alan Tudyk in Mysterious Circumstances at the Geffen Playhouse.
(© Jeff Lorch)
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