Why ‘Firefly’ alum Alan Tudyk literally worked up a sweat worrying of offending fans

Meta upon meta upon meta.

That”s one of the best ways to describe “Con Man,” the delightfully self-referential new web series created by “Firefly” alum Alan Tudyk. The series, available to view on Vimeo, is about an actor named Wray Nerely, who, much like Tudyk, played a spaceship pilot in a short-lived sci-fi TV show that got canceled 10 years ago but has a cult following that just grows and grows.

Tudyk plays Nerely, who has a much more begrudging attitude toward his life on the fan convention circuit than his real-life counterpart does.

Nerely resents the fact that his canceled show (called “Spectrum” in the world of “Con Man,” where, amusingly, “Firefly” also exists) is the best thing he”s ever done. Tudyk”s resume has no shortage of greatness – from the hilarious British comedy “Death at a Funeral” to ABC sitcom “Suburgatory” to voices in “Frozen” and “Wreck-It-Ralph.” But perhaps the real-life actor can relate to his fictional character”s attitude toward the particular brand of fame that comes with starring in a beloved canceled sci-fi show – Tudyk told HitFix that he loves being introduced as the creator of “Con Man” at conventions now after so many years of being “Wash from ‘Firefly.””

Tudyk writes and directs all of the episodes, and he co-produces the show with fellow “Firefly” alum Nathan Fillion and novelist PJ Haarsma.

Fillion appears throughout “Con Man,” and there are oodles of nerdy celebrity cameos in the show. Felicia Day plays a fan-turned-enthusiastic assistant, “Battlestar Galactica” actress Tricia Helfer plays a love interest for Wray, prolific game industry voice actor Nolan North plays a self-proclaimed “mocap king,” Seth Green appears as a comic book store owner, and Sean Maher and Sean Astin are among the actors who play themselves.

The project got off the ground with a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Three more 10-minute episodes will debut on Vimeo tomorrow. As for a second season, “the arc is there,” Tudyk said, and he hopes to find a production company to fund 10 new half-hour episodes.

HitFix chatted with Tudyk about why he literally worked up a sweat worrying about offending fans, when we can expect to see more “Firefly” alums in the web series, about and kissing Helfer inside a TARDIS. (We also talked with Tudyk about “Star Wars” spin-off “Rogue One,” now in production. Stay tuned for another post to read what he was able to divulge about that little project.)

WARNING: “Con Man” spoilers ahead!

HitFix: You”ve pretty much mastered the art of cringe-inducing comedy with “Con Man,” with Wray Nerely constantly digging himself into a deeper hole.

Alan Tudyk: Whenever he gets too self-involved or too egotistical, he needs to be smacked back down. He pays for his insensitivity, whether it”s in a voiceover like in [last week”s] episode or his disrespect of soldiers with his casual use of “thank you for your service.” He”s saying the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time in the wrong way.

How much of the character”s convention adventures are based on your own real-life experiences?

Many things that I wrote about I actually experienced. The doll convention was happening simultaneously with another con.

That was a real thing?

That was real thing in Orlando, Fla. where there was a north tower and a south tower. The dolls were in the north and we were in the south. It happened in a similar way – I was standing in the lobby in a very long line for some reason, and I was watching all of these older women with strollers, and everybody had a baby. There are differences [from the show]. There was no Louise that I met and had any kind of romantic interest in. No Tricia Helfer in the doll world that I met. But a woman walked up with a baby doll that was small, like 6 inches. And I was like, “Oh my God, that”s a doll. Oh my God, these are all dolls!” Got a little freaked out by it, but then when I went to do the convention in the south tower, I saw people with action figures, and I was like, “Well how is this really – really at its core – any different?” We”re all playing with dolls. Our dolls mean something to us, and their dolls mean another thing to them.

Wil Wheaton – I mentioned it to him. I said, “There was a doll convention at this one hotel.” He's like, “Oh my God that's weird.” I said, “But wait a minute. Hear me out: Then, on this side there were action figures-” He”s like, “Different. That”s different. That”s very different.” I love that he can have that prejudice very comfortably. [laughs] “No, no. That”s them, not us.”

The action figure in the show really does look like you!

A fan gave that to me. A fan made the head. And we had that body made. It really just worked out that I went to a convention that I believe was in Salt Lake City, not this past one but the one before. This gentleman came up to me, and he gave it to me. It”s [detailed] all the way down to Wash”s boots that [look like] they have dirt on the bottom, they”re scuffed. Amazing.

So when faced with the opportunity, could you just not resist writing a scene where you get to kiss Tricia Helfer inside a TARDIS? 

Well, I have to say, in the original script that I wrote, her character”s a bit more prim and proper. She would say, “Kiss me on the cheek,” and then as I went to kiss her on the cheek, she would just maul me and slap my face and pull my hair. Like, “Woah, woah, I guess she”s a hellcat!” And then she”d calm down and be prim and proper and ask for another kiss on the cheek, and then she”s go right back into it. She had signed up for that. Then I [changed it to have Wray] just get a lot of cheek “cause I thought it was funnier. My commitment to making ‘Con Man” as funny as possible goes really far.

How weird has the meta experience of promoting this show at cons been?

It”s amazing. And it”s very interesting. I”m always introduced as “Alan Tudyk, but you know him as Wash from ‘Firefly.” And ever since the crowdfunding campaign, when I”d do a panel, Nathan and I were introduced as “the Con Men.” I loved it. Of course I loved it. Just that people embraced it so readily and were able to say, “Yes, you're Wash, but now you're doing this new thing.”

One thing, when we showed it to the fans – there was a private screening for some backers before it was released online. Nathan was there, and I was there, and Mindy Sterling and Felicia Day. I was sweating. I sweat through my shirt for fear of them possibly not liking it or being offended by the humor. There”s a moment where Wray says, “I hate sci-fi,” and there was a gasp. People didn't laugh. The only thing you heard was a gasp. And I guess a couple people in the back laughed who were not fans, who were just some people that I had invited. But by the end, as Wray gets what's coming to him, and Felcia's character Karen goes, “I”ve got a good impression of you…” But just like a true fan, after she says all these [unsavory] things about Wray, she turns to him and says, “I love you.” [laughs] Fans are some of the most generous, accepting people. Forgiving, also a great quality. 

Whose house plays Jack Moore”s house?

It is a very rich man's house. He rents it [to film and TV productions]. It”s one of these many houses around L.A. There was a Beyonce video where she pours champagne all over herself in a pool. That”s the same pool that we use. I love that house. It redefined, for me, what rich was. And what is possible as far as living in Malibu.

I have to say, I appreciate that when you needed a copy of “The Merchant of Venice” in “Con Man,” you used a Folger, my preferred edition of Shakespeare plays.

Michael Dorn was given a choice. I said, “Which one of these do you want?” And that was his choice. He does theater. He does Shakespeare.

If your buddy Joss Whedon directed another Shakespeare film, and you got to be involved, which play would you want it to be, and what character would you like to play?

I”d like to play Jaques. I don”t know how much I like “As You Like It” though. Jaques is a great role. I mean, it”s sort of done and over done and done again. But “Midsummer Night”s Dream” – I wanna play Bottom. I really wanna play Bottom. I love that role. He”s so hysterical to me. It”s so funny to me that he just wants to play every damn role. “No, no, listen to how I”m going to play it!”

On ‘Con Man” so far you”ve had six out of the nine main cast members of “Firefly,” plus Joss Whedon. How long do we need to wait to see Moreena, Adam and Ron?

It”ll just be about getting their schedules right. That was what happened with all three of them. Moreena”s schedule was so full. She was doing not just “Gotham” but “Deadpool” too. She's on fire! But she really wants to do [‘Con Man,”] so we”ll figure it out.

Three more episodes of “Con Man” will be available to purchase on Vimeo tomorrow, Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

Photos, from top: 1. Alan Tudyk and Mindy Sterling in “Con Man.” (Vimeo), 2. Tudyk, Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres in “Firefly” (Fox), 3. Tudyk and Tricia Helfer in “Con Man”