“Star Wars” has introduced some of the most beloved characters in movie history, and a lot of them weren’t even human.
Lovable robots (or droids, if we’re being specific) like R2-D2, C-3PO and BB-8 have stood out in the space saga. Now, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” hitting theaters this weekend, a new hardwired hero, K-2SO, may make a mark of its own.
A reprogrammed Imperial droid now on the right side of the rebellion, K-2SO is played by Alan Tudyk, who has portrayed a robot before in 2004’s “I, Robot.” CNN spoke with Tudyk at New York’s Comic Con in October to find out what makes K-2SO different from the droids that preceded him, and what playing him was like. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me a little bit about what your character is like?
K-2SO is a droid… He used to be with the Empire, which is a little different, and now he is with the Rebel Alliance. Cassian, played by Diego Luna, he’s the one who reprogrammed my character from being an Empire robot and he left a couple of wires sort of not connected. K-2SO has an honesty in situations that is at times not as appreciated as you might expect, but can be funny to watch and entertaining anyway.
This is the not the first time you’ve played a robot. You were also Sonny in “I, Robot.” As an actor, how is it different playing a robot than a real person?
Each one has their own challenge. Sonny, in “I, Robot,” he was the one robot that was having emotions and a personality and that’s freaking everybody out. In “Star Wars,” the history of the droids is that they have personalities built in, so that wasn’t the journey of the role… This is a droid who’s been in the world, who has a lot of knowledge and can access it, and people react to him as a person, really, just one who has special abilities because he’s also a machine.
The Star Wars prequels haven’t exactly been well-loved. How can “Rogue One” create a prequel that fans are actually going to be really into?
Well we have those as a reference, the beginning three, to go, “Maybe… No Jar Jar Binks.” That’s the important thing… Actually, if you go to Lucasfilm in San Francisco, they’ve got Jar Jar Binks encased in carbonite. I don’t think they’re letting him out.
He was an animated character. They just animated and said, “This is how he’s going to move.” He moves like a cartoon. K-2SO, my character, and other characters are motion capture. They have a real quality to them that they missed there. They’ve made that change.
[And] this movie’s different from all the other movies, even “A New Hope” and the ones that come after it, because it’s grittier. It’s a bunch of people going to steal these plans and it’s almost like a war movie.
Can you talk to me about your process as an actor doing motion capture?
For K-2, he was on stilts. That was sort of the first hurdle, “OK, just so you know you’re going to be on stilts that are about a foot high, or a little over.” There’s a little process of adjustment. Running on sand was hard. Certain just physical challenges. Going down ramps of space ships, that took its own learning adjustment.
I had arms that we would put on at times that were really long. He’s got these big gangling arms and they work like puppets. Because it’s [visual effects company] Industrial Light & Magic who does all of this stuff, it’s the top of the line. All of the creatures that they make. They made robot hands.
…They made them out of a special alloy so they wouldn’t be too heavy. When I did my fingers like this, its fingers did that. It was amazing.
In the long history of “Star Wars” you’ve had beloved robot characters like R2-D2, C-3PO and BB-8. Do you feel that fans will appreciate your character… even though it is motion capture?
I think so because, you know, he looks like he’s in the room. The digital animation that they’re able to do now is so advanced, even from when we did “I, Robot,” they make it look like he’s actually there… They’re able to match a little bit more of my expression than C-3PO, [who] had a fixed stare and a rectangle mouth, which is a huge testament to his characterization that so much of that personality comes out just with voice and very stiff movements. I have a little bit more fluidity and the ability to show emotion through movement.
How did you come up with the voice? Was there anything that you based it on?
He has an English accent that is a bit proper because he was a robot who was programmed by the Empire. The Empire tends to be evil with an English accent, for some reason. The rebels had American accents so he has an English accent. That was sort of the way in and then the character as he’s written and as he behaves in situations affected him, effected the way he spoke as well. Just like any character.
So are you a R2-D2 or a C-3PO man?
R2 was cool. I like them both. It’s tough to take sides.
You’re an R2 man. You don’t have to be nice to C-3PO. No one likes him.
What! That’s not true… I know of several people who like him, including Anthony Daniels [the actor who played C-3PO], who really likes him.
Well, yeah. He’s a little biased.
He is, but you know, even BB-8. I liked BB-8 before he was in [“The Force Awakens.”] He was in “Cast Away,” as Wilson.