DC Comics fans have had the pleasure (and occasionally the pain) of getting to know The Batman (and Bruce Wayne) through plenty of on-screen adventures. We’ve even gotten to know his sidekick Robin and his butler, Alfred. But we haven’t seen much from members of the Wayne family. That’s mostly because Bruce’s parents are dead (spoilers). In Powerless, however, Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Rogue One) has been tasked with embodying a new type of Wayne — Van Wayne, the head of an office where a team of inventors effort to craft ideas that shield regular folk from the hazards that come from living in a world of superheroes. Think Bruce absent the heroic impulses, but he’s not all bad.
In our recent conversation with Tudyk, we discussed his character’s growing rapport with his co-workers, why the insurance business wasn’t for Van, why Arrow’s exercise routine might distress his neighbors, and why Van mustn’t find out Bruce Wayne’s darkest secret.
For your character, and just for you as an actor, what was it about the insurance company elements from the previous stab at this that just didn’t work in comparison to what you’re dealing with now?
Well, it came from the writers as far as what the challenges were with that premise. By the end of our first pass at the pilot, it set up my character as opposed to Vanessa’s [Hudgens] so we were on either side. Every storyline was going to be “How do these two tangle today?” and one of the main points of contention is if you’re going to be in an insurance company that either green lights or turns down insurance claims, that was a constant episode subject that just didn’t have room to grow.
I’d also imagine there’s a little more room for comedy when you’re not saying no to insurance claims as opposed to creating gadgets that can shield people, etc.
Yeah, that. Exactly. That war can only be funny for so long. Whereas, the way it is now, we’re on episode eight, we are shooting episode eight currently, and they’ve had a great time in writing stories and writing different scripts. We’ve been having a lot of fun playing with them. My character doesn’t just square off with Vanessa’s. They’ve had a chance to put different characters together and the one we’re shooting right now Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, Jennie Pierson and I are all sort of together in one storyline and the last one was Ron and I. Vanessa and I — it has room to grow.
We’re not always at odds. We’re working together. We’re this office living in this world and [laughs.] a lot of times, the victim of the super and it’s not just self-inflicted frustration.
Was the appeal of doing an office comedy — of which there aren’t as many as there used to be — what brought you to Powerless, or was it just a combination of that and also doing something in the superhero realm?
I think it was that, [working] within the superhero realm. Because, it’s such high stakes and it’s also fun to see that side of it. That isn’t shown. There’s not just a lack of office comedies, there’s a lack of [superhero comedy] stories that — a lack of shows — I don’t know of any, do you?
Not really, I mean Deadpool is really the first kind of comic book thing that went, even a little bit, toward humor.
Right. You know, I have seen pilots that kind of play off of The Tick.
Oh, yes. I forgot about that.
Yeah, as a framework where you’re in the world with the not-so-supers and they’re the second class — B-class supers. It was also done by Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. A villain who’s moist, that’s his only thing… he’s moist.
This is more… I also thought of, like in Arrow. Who’s the guy who lives next door? “He’s always working out with weights. What is going on? All I hear is clanking of weights and he’s up all night. What’s happening over there? You see what he takes to the cleaners? What’s all that leather?” Those people who are on the outside, there’s just a lot of opportunity for humor. That’s what I was drawn to.
I just got off the phone with Danny Pudi and I asked him the same question: Are we gonna get a look at Van’s life outside of the offices? Besides mentions of Bruce Wayne, his other family, his friends, is there going to be a love interest at some point?
I imagine so. So far, we’ve seen a little bit of the family dynamic with his father. He comes to the office. And then wants Van to… There’s an episode where Van is in Aspen or something. So he’s off skiing with a woman. He’s being forced to take care of her daughter and is a terrible parent to the daughter and so they’ve already started to touch on that. It’s great. It’s great. I imagine that’s where it will go at some point. See his house, where he lives. Yeah, who knows? There’s a lot of directions.
When you’re trying to build the character, do you look back at some of the past Batman portrayals to kind of get an idea of what Bruce Wayne is like in some of the other projects to see if you can pick out certain things to kind of exploit or play off of [as Van]?
There is so much, you’re right. There’s so much. Gotham is fun to watch. The way it was explained to me who Van was as far as this relationship to Bruce Wayne, is they grew up knowing each other. So he was just this other kid. Who happened to not have parents and lived in a big house with an old man, but…
That’s not weird at all.
[Laughs.] Exactly. But he knows Bruce, they grew up together and then Bruce became… you know, fulfilled his place as the head of Wayne Industries. But, I dunno. I think we all have a piece… sort of an amalgam of who all of the Batmans have been. Or who all the Bruce Waynes have been, because Van doesn’t know that they are one in the same.
Would you ever want him to find that out?
I don’t think so.
Would that just be too much? Would that be crushing?
It would. It would be his only obsession. That would be… It wouldn’t be crushing, except he would want to be involved in every way, so he would just be in Gotham hanging out, trying to get involved. Trying to partner up. Trying to lend his services… I don’t know. It would be too much to handle. I don’t think he can keep a secret. There are so many problems that would come up. [Laughs.] So I think it’s best, for Batman definitely, for the longevity of the show, that he never find that out.
Powerless premieres tonight, February 2, at 8:30pm ET on NBC