Video Interview: Resident Alien - Sara Tomko & Chris Sheridan

Sara Tomko and Chris SheridanResident Alien, based on the comic book of the same name by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, follows an alien (Alan Tudyk) after he crash-lands on Earth and takes over the identity of a small-town doctor, Harry Vanderspeigle. Harry is determined to finish his mission: destroy the human race, but the longer he stays human, the more he wrestles with the idea.

Sara Tomko stars as Asta Twelvetrees, the town doctor's assistanct who works with and befriends Harry.

Tomko, along with creator and executive producer Chris Sheridan, recently talked to journalists during a junket that SciFi Vision took part in.

Be sure to watch Resident Alien on Syfy, and you can also read the transcript from the round table following the video of SciFi Vision's portion of the interview.

Zoom Call
Resident Alien
Sara Tomko and Chris Sheridan

February 22, 2021

***Some unrelated content from the video was removed from the transcript***

QUESTION:   So, I really want to know, is there gonna be a season two?

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   Yeah, we want to know that too.

Sara TomkoSARA TOMKO:   We want to know that too.

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   Yeah, we don't know. I mean, Syfy typically doesn't pick up a show until they air all the episodes. So, they're not saying anything. I mean, if you ask me, we will. They all like the show, and the show works. I have all the confidence in the world we'll be back. So, I'm not concerned.

QUESTION:   I know the filming of the show is kind of spread out because of the pandemic. Can you talk about jumping out of filming and then going back? And then, how many times did you do that?

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   I'll start, Sara, and sort of talk about the timeline, and then you can jump in [with] what it felt like maybe from an actor's standpoint.

We started shooting season one a full year after the pilot in November of 2019. Actually, it was Thanksgiving week we started shooting the season. Then we got about two or three weeks before finishing the season in the middle of March. When we got the call, I was talking to the network, and things were sort of getting worse and worse with COVID, and we made the decision to sort of pull the plug and take a break for a little bit to see what was going on. I don't think we knew the break was going to be as long as it was, but that was in 2020 last March. We were off for five or six months. We ended up going back in August when British Columbia opened up the borders to TV and film.

We all went back in August and quarantined for two weeks in our hotel rooms. Then at that point, because of all the COVID protocols, it stretched the number of days we had left to about 25 days of shooting, because we had to do shorter days and had to sort of reconceive how we shot some certain things. So, we came back and started shooting in September and shot for about five weeks and then finished in October of this past year. So, it was definitely stretched out. It stretched out what was already sort of a long process, but it's allowed us to air now, as opposed to last summer when it was supposed to air. And the truth is, people are ready for the show. People are ready to laugh and people are ready for something new. So, as far as timing wise, it hasn't hurt us.

But I am curious, Sara, what you have to say about it from an acting standpoint. Is that hard to start and then stop and then start again?

SARA TOMKO:   Yeah, well, I love telling everyone what you told us the last day we shot. Chris began his journey October 15 2015, and then we finished literally October 15 2020. So, five years from script to screen, and that's not even counting the years prior to that, that there were talks about it, or the months after, before it aired.

So, we already had this very long but appropriate - you know, for us now, we know in retrospect it worked out exactly how it was supposed to, but [we had] this long timeframe to get the show up on its feet. Then on Friday the 13th, which is already just like a weird day, the pandemic just shut us down, and we were two weeks away from finishing.

Chris SheridanSo, as an actor, and as someone who's never been a series regular before, this was a dream come true show for me…I was already like, “Oh my gosh, we got the pilot,” and then you have to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, and we pick up. Yes! Okay, but then we have to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait to shoot it. Then we shoot it, and then we're so close to the end, and then we have to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. [laughs] It just kind of kept happening. So, I got really good at waiting, and I got really good at holding Asta in my sweet little heart and just keeping her protected.

You know, I think it wasn't too hard to jump in and back and forth. I'd say that the hardest part about once we were shooting with a pandemic, was the fact that we couldn't have as much camaraderie on set. You know, we couldn't celebrate the end finale. We couldn't have a wrap party, really. We couldn’t even hang out with the crew.

Alan and I used to laugh, because he'd be like, “Might as well just roll out the red carpet,” because every time we walk in the room, they're like “First team!” and like they part the seas, because they can't touch us or be near us. It felt almost like we were lepers or something. Then, even when Alan and I or Alice [Wetterlund] and I are in the tent waiting to shoot, we have to be six feet apart.

It just had that element of everyone [being] excited to finish. Everyone was so supported by NBCU and by Amblin and Syfy and Dark Horse to come back and finish what we started, but it really had this element of [where everyone was] just like, “Hey, it's really good to see you. Everything's great. Everything's fine. The world's on fire, great. Blah, blah, blah.”

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   [laughs]

SARA TOMKO:   There was just this feeling of anxiety. I remember talking to Cory Reynolds, and you know, we're quarantined, and we've isolated, and we've done all the proper things to be safe, but he and I were like, “We're not going anywhere. I love you, Boo, but I'm not gonna....hang out with you.” Because nobody wants to be the one that accidentally doesn't, whatever, do it right, and then gets COVID, and then has to shut the show down. So, we all stayed isolated, except for Meredith Garretson and I, who is one of my best friends. We agreed to be in a pod...That was nice.

QUESTION:   …Chris, writing sci-fi for broadcast or basic cable, you've got a lot of competition out there now, and the thing that I have to give you huge kudos for, is, especially in the genre spaces, is the show doesn't have any breaks on its storytelling…You guys have been churning through so much really great story and moving things forward. Was that a conscious decision as a genre lover, as a TV lover, or even having any notes with Syfy about having a really proactive show that was going to give us a lot in what would not typically be done?

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   It's mostly done as a TV lover, and I had a great writing staff with me coming up with all these turns.

Look, I've been studying these these cable dramas for years, you know, The Wire and Sopranos and Breaking Bad, and the Vince Gilligans and the David Mills and the Shawn Ryans of the world - who did The Shield - These are the people who really set the stage for a lot of these shows. One of the things that you learn doing these shows is just you can't save anything to later, because you just don't know if there's going to be later. I'd rather pack as much stuff in, make it interesting and exciting for the audience, and then figure out, “Okay, now what can we do?” I know that that's the path that a lot of these writers who came before us have [taken], and it works well.

Sara TomkoI mean, with five hundred TV shows on the air, you can't be precious. The slow burn is harder to sort of do these days. I think you want to keep the audience invested, want to keep the audience involved, get them hooked on the characters, keep them laughing, and give them great story turns where they want to see what's going to happen next week. In the writers’ room, that was our plan going into it. UCP and Syfy supported us throughout, and I think the result ends up being pretty compelling. I'm happy with how it came out.

QUESTION:   …One of the great joys of the show is that the quirks of all of these townspeople make them feel so real so quickly, but in particular, we're given a lot of really supportive women with each other…that are just very genuine. In working with these other actresses, or having conversations with Chris about what comes forth in the scripts, being able to achieve that, and really, even just keeping your ear to what feels real, and how you guys want to play that through this whole season, because it comes off so great.

SARA TOMKO:   Thank you for noticing and asking about the women as we approach Women's History Month.

So, Chris was so wonderful in asking all of us how we felt about our characters, what we thought we would do or say. He was really awesome, especially to the women, about asking what we felt like was appropriate for showing women on screen. Probably a little bit to his detriment, he gave us too much permission. Then, we were like, “Let me tell you something else.” [laughs] Because when you give a woman permission, we just soar. We just have so much to say about so many things.

And we have a lot of particularly strong minded opinionated women on the show in the best way. Alice and I have conversation upon conversation, just talking about, you know, women's rights, politics. The same with Elvy and Meredith and Elizabeth [Bowen]. We all have this same moral compass that is driving us, so we already have this camaraderie. So, it's incredible to be on set with these women who already have their own strong vibes that they're radiating out in the world.

Then, to be able to showcase that in a relationship like Asta and D’Arcy (Wetterlund) - oh my God, that scene by the campfire where we get to dance around and be silly - and we're not talking. I mean, in some ways, we are talking about guys, because we're talking about the past, and she's talking about Harry, but it's not like a focus. It's not a focal point, which is something we actually talked to Chris, like, “How can we raise the bar for showing women relationships and women friendships without it being about a man, and how can we just show each other supporting each other?” Like that scene with deputy Liv (Bowen) and D'Arcy at the bar in Episode Four, oh, God, it just makes me so happy, because you just see how we show up for each other. And there's this other scene that comes in Episode Six at the bowling alley, and you see how all the women just like line up for Asta. They're just listening, and then they like, give that final punch at the end of the scene. I remember on set that day, the women were so supportive of me, Sara, the actor, who had this really vulnerable monologue that was a lot of dialogue really quickly that I had to just kind of throw out. I remember Alice specifically just being like, “Yes, Sarah! Yes!” We're always cheering each other on, and then they're doing that as characters too. So, I'm really looking forward to - Chris and I have talked about season two - seeing a lot more of that. Seeing the women, especially someone like Kate (Garretson), coming undone and getting a chance to release and be supported, to see all of that is exciting.

SCIFI VISION:   Sara, this is mostly for you, but Chris, you can chime in. I'm just curious how hard it is to work with Alan and keep a straight face, because this show is so hilarious. I love it. But it seems like you would be giggling the whole time.

SARA TOMKO:   Great question. My first real big scene day was with him and D’Arcy at the bar in the pilot. It was pretty easy to not have to keep a straight face during that, because D’Arcy and I had our own thing going on, and then we're dancing, and we're all drinking, so it's fine.

Chris SheridanThen, the first time we have to do something pretty serious, he's opening the body of my father-like figure friend, and he's sniffing body parts in front of me. There's not a single take he's doing the same way, and I really had to keep my composure. It was my first time really working with Alan Tudyk, the comedic genius, who's just very organic and in the moment. It set the tone for the season. It gave me so much to look forward to when I get to work with him, because he's so fresh. He just so prepared, but he is just so hilarious. So yeah, it was hard, but I really just had to kind of ground down into “What a weirdo!”…I mean, in that scene, it's not that funny, like, “You're messing with my friend.” So, I had to really kind of turn back for the rewiring and see it not as funny, which helped me keep a straight face kind of, but it was so hard. We had so many takes where we would just cut, and then we would just both bust out laughing.

CHRIS SHERIDAN:   There's a moment, and I don't want to give away the circumstance behind it, but there's a moment in [episode] eight, in a couple of them, but one in particular in eight, where Alan does something, and Sara just is having a really hard time keeping a straight face, and editing had to try to cut it out. You know, she did great, but there were certain takes of like, “Well, she's laughing in this, and we can’t [use it].” She did a great job. I don't know how she does it. I don’t know how she keeps from laughing, because it's hysterical.

SARA TOMKO:   Really quickly, to go back to [talking about] the pandemic, that last day, Alan and I were working together, and we were in a very interesting predicament that day already, and we just looked at each other, and it was like, “Not only does it feel like the end of the world, but also it was really great working with you if I never ever see you again”...[laughs] So, I said that, and then we had a sobering hug. You know, it was like, “Nice knowing you.” [laughs]

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