I’m sitting at a table with Alan Tudyk, and we are waiting for a delayed Nathan Fillion. A door opens behind us and a tall man walks through; Tudyk sits up in his chair and pushes his glasses back on before slumping down again. “Not Nathan.”
Tudyk is speaking with me at San Diego Comic-Con about Con Man, the web series funded through Indiegogo that he wrote and directed. At the time of our interview, the Con Man Comic-Con panel is still to come later in the day. “I’m introducing everyone to our baby,” Tudyk says. “I just hope it doesn’t crap its pants. You know, you always want your baby to be good when company comes over — especially when it’s 6500 people that you’ve invited,” referencing the packed crowds of Comic-Con’s Hall H.
Con Man tells the story of Wray Nerely (Tudyk), an actor unable to break past his role as the pilot in Spectrum, a cult sci-fi show that was cancelled too soon but still amassed an immensely passionate following. While Nerely cashes in on his Spectrum fame by attending various sci-fi conventions and events, his Spectrum co-star Jack Moore (Nathan Fillion) has gone on to become a major movie star. Watch the trailer below and see how many Firefly alums you can spot.
The 12-episode web series focuses on the weird and wonderful characters Nerely encounters on the convention circuit. And Con Man (and the show-within-the-show, Spectrum) has very obvious parallels to Firefly, a series that was hugely impactful in the lives of its fans. So how did Tudyk parody his own experiences without demeaning the fans themselves?
“I think it’s sort of natural. If you have respect for the fans, then you know where the lines are drawn. It’s like when somebody goes, ‘How do I know not to be racist?'” he laughs. “Just don’t be racist! And I absolutely do respect the fans, and I’m appreciative of their power. Many times in my life they’ve been a huge support and a catalyst for things that have shaped my life, so it’s a relationship that is important in my life and continues to grow.”
“You were very cognizant of it,” adds Con Man producer P.J. Haarsma, who has joined us. Haarsma is the author of The Softwire series, books which provided the inspiration for the world in which Spectrum is set. When Tudyk began work on Con Man, he approached Haarsma to ask if they could use his world for Spectrum, who readily agreed.
“And we have 46,000 backers,” says Haarsma of the astoundingly successful Indiegogo campaign which funded the series. “There’s 46,000 voices that should be heard.” That sense of community extends even to the casting, with some of those backers appearing as extras or in small roles throughout the series. As for his own acting aspirations, Haarsma also has a Con Man cameo, “in a skirt.” We can look out for him in the episode featuring the Dutch version of Spectrum.
We have talked around the issue, but it’s impossible to avoid the spaceship in the room any longer: Firefly. The parallels between Con Man and the cult Joss Whedon show and the subsequent lives of its cast members are unavoidable, yet I am more curious as to ways they diverge. After all, the eyes of every Firefly fan will be on Con Man, and maybe to an even greater extent, on Spectrum.
“No gaping chest wound,” Tudyk answers immediately when I ask, referencing his Firefly character’s tragic end. “I’m not dying, I’m in charge of that now.” He adds that he completely supported Joss Whedon’s decision to kill off his character, and launches into an impersonation of Nathan Fillion: “You can’t ask people to lay down their lives and then not have anybody lay down their life!”
It’s as if by saying his name, Tudyk has summoned his friend, who almost immediately appears in the doorway. “Don’t start without me!” They couldn’t have timed it better if they planned it.
Together the pair fall into a familiar double-act, going back and forth with ease. “The whole [Firefly] cast assembled on the [Spectrum] spaceship, that did not happen because I didn’t want it; if the whole cast was there it would be an even more immediate apples-to-apples comparison,” Tudyk says. “And no horses,” Fillion interjects. “No six shooters, and no browncoats.”
“It’s not going to be better than Firefly,” Tudyk remarks, to laughter and faux-outrage Fillion. “Oh you feel pretty safe saying that?” “Spectrum? Absolutely. Spectrum is not going to be better than Firefly.”
“It’s not a show about Spectrum,” Tudyk clarifies. “If you were watching a show about Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, you wouldn’t be watching Firefly, but Firefly would certainly be a part of it, right?” Fillion elaborates, looking to Tudyk for confirmation. “That’s well put.” “Thanks.”
“And we have aliens!” Fillion adds. “Big, badass aliens,” enthuses Haarsma, who has been watching the back-and-forth with amusement. “Aliens!” Tudyk joins in. It’s easy to see how these three could work together so well, with such an enjoyable end product. Con Man (or Spectrum) might not be comparable to Firefly, but after seeing Tudyk and Fillion’s chemistry up close and then again in the new Con Man trailer, the web series has captured its leading men perfectly. And as it should have. After all, they created it.
Con Man will premiere on Vimeo On Demand on September 30.