Exclusive: Resident Alien's Gary Farmer Talks Representation & More

Gary FarmerEarlier in the week, Syfy aired the mid-season finale of its hit comedy, Resident Alien. In the series, based on the comic book of the same name, an alien (Alan Tudyk) crash lands in a small town in Colorado and takes over the identity of the town doctor, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle. During his time he meets Asta Twelvetrees (Sarah Tomko), who tries to teach him how to be human, which causes him to start to question his secret mission to destroy the human race.

Gary Farmer plays the role of Dan Twelvetrees, Asta’s adoptive father who owns the town’s diner.

Dan is a member of the Ute Native American Tribe. To Farmer, who is Haudenosaunee, representation is very important, and Resident Alien, which features many Indigenous performers and incorporates Native culture, shows them in a positive light. “As a performer,” said Farmer to SciFi Vision, “[I’m] very conscientious about representation and how we're portrayed on television, which for this particular show is very positive.”

Gary FarmerFarmer added that he has gotten positive feedback from fans on social media. “They're very happy with the representation, because we often don’t get portrayed positively, so, that’s important.”

Most of Farmer’s scenes are with Tomko, and the actor had nothing but good things to say about her. “She's a fantastic actress. You watch her on television and you just go, ‘Wow.’…We get on fabulously, and she's a lovely heartfelt, talented person offstage. So, you can't help but recognize that.”

For the rest of the interview, including more about the representation on the series, what Farmer’s favorite scene is, and more, be sure to read the full transcript below.

SCIFI VISION:  Can you start by talking about how you started working on the series? Did you audition? Were you offered the part? How did that happen?

I was on my way to shoot an independent film in Boulder, Colorado, from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had this audition. I think I had a call back at that time; I had to make my way to the other film. Me and my girlfriend were in a small hotel halfway between those two points off the road. We don't take the highway whenever we can. There was a small town and a little hotel, and we had to do the audition scenes again, and, luckily, my girlfriend was with me, and we were able to do it opposite [each other].

All the gang was there. I think there were three out of five there that morning, and we did the auditions, a lot of the first season stuff, of course, mostly the introductory scenes. It went well, I guess. I got the gig, and off I was to Vancouver, which is a familiar territory to me, because I’m a longtime actor in North America, generally, but we do a lot of work in Vancouver…I've had experience in early days in the theater in Vancouver.

Other than the script, is there anywhere else that you drew inspiration for Dan?

Indian country in general. In fact, our cultural adviser, I think of him a lot. I remember meeting him once at the Denver powwow years ago, and I have some mutual friends. And I think of Ute culture, because I've had some friends over the course of my life that were Ute, especially down around Santa Fe and always up at Sundance Film Festival in my day. So, the Utes were the ones that represented at the festival. So, I've had a lot of familiarity with the tribe. And I rely on the writing to, obviously, be credited with some of the slight traditionalism that comes through in the show from time to time. So, as a performer [I’m] very conscientious about representation and how we're portrayed on television, which for this particular show is very positive. Sometimes that's not regular.

…I just thought that was great, especially with the adoption and into our community, and all that that can bring from time to time. I mean, you think about the reservation right now, the images in the show, are this cornfield, right? The reservation is represented by this kind of cornfield, which is lovely, because corn is probably the biggest crop Native Americans have ever given to the Americas, a classically, indigenous crop. So, just even those kind of subtle tones make it wonderful to play as a performer.

Have you been approached by any fans because of the representation?

Yes, yes. I have on social media. Yeah, they're very happy with the representation, because we often don’t get portrayed positively. So, that’s important.

Now, I wanted to talk to you specifically about the way your character feels, your impressions. Dan seems very sort of laid back, goes with the flow. Do you think, though, that he's kind of worried about what's going on with Harry and Asta and just doesn't maybe always voice it? 

Well, I think anyone who's experienced traditional Native ceremony, and there's a variety as diverse as people can be, that's what I'm playing, my own experience within that ceremonial life and the knowledge of how we came to be on this planet, and where our traditional creation stories take us, and how those stories are told in our cultures.

And, of course, I feel related, because, originally, the comic book was my specific culture, Haudenosaunee, or otherwise known as Iroquois people. Of course, in the remake for television, it's the Ute. So, sometimes I'm thinking, “Oh, I can think my way too,” because originally the comic was there. So, maybe I'm a Haudenosaunee married into the Ute, but that's my knowledge.

So, no, I don't have any fear of an alien world, because I think there's strength there potentially. Especially the way we watched our own America unfold in 21st century, like where we been for the last 2100 years. It can't be more oppressive than what we're already experiencing in the world today. So, I look at as a positive.

Even when Harry himself is sometimes afraid of the aliens coming? Dan thinks that everything will go all right with that, then?

Well, again, I trust the knowledge that he brings to the world. I'm learning to trust. I think I'm written to kind of be contrary some[what], but always challenging my daughter through her quest, because she's the real one that's experiencing it firsthand. I'm just there to hold her hand and to catch her when she falls, and that's what a father does, in my experience.

Can you talk a bit about working with Sarah on the show? Most of your scenes are with her.

It's perfection. She's a fantastic actress. You watch her on television and you just go, “Wow.” In a ball team, you’ve got a pitcher and you’ve got a catcher. I'm the catcher; she's the pitcher. And we get on fabulously, and she's a lovely heartfelt, talented person offstage. So, you can't help but recognize that, along with all the other cast. I've been in a lot of serious situations in my career, and it's not always flowers and perfume.

Yes, everybody seems to get along. Is it hard, though, on the set to keep a straight face sometimes when you’re filming? 

Not necessarily, because you've already read the script five times and found the laughs, what you experience as laughter. So, the first read for me, I'm laughing through most of it…but my laughter comes on the first read.

Fair enough. What do you find the most difficult about the role?

The amount of commitment, I guess, in terms of time. I mean, for the most part, at my age at 69, I've worked a solid year with this and other projects, of course, but it's keeping me healthy. I'm keeping my health up to match the intensity of my commitments, and that's been very good at my age. I'm very thankful. I haven't experienced this kind of success. I mean, I have fun with [it]. [laughs] I always check it out with things, and I haven't been this high on Internet Movie Database since the 90s, when I had a more successful film career than I do now, but it's been a wonderful ride, and I just appreciate how the storytelling has taken a new leap. I'm just proud to be a part of it and watch all [the] young people come up behind me; it just feels so good. Then, the middle generation is the creatives, and the older generation, we're just trying to help them tell these stories. So, that three generational cycle within our Native creative communities is exciting.

Other than how you're doing popularity wise, have you learned anything else about yourself since working on the show, either as an actor or just as a person that you can think of?

Well, it's all confidence building. I mean, an actor's got to act, right? [laughs] You only sustain while you keep it [going], and, and sometimes you're pulling on things that you didn't even realize. I mean, we're finding storylines two weeks before we get there...So, it's a total discovery as we execute.

Do you have a favorite scene in particular?

I kind of like that boat scene. It was my first scene back. I spent a month in Spain on another show, and it was the first scene we had to do. It was a brand new crew; there were only a few survivors from the past season. You know, the crew is so vital to our experience.

Then, to see Sarah again, after a few months, was wonderful, and I kind of liked that scene. It was just fresh off the thirteen hour flight from Paris over the Arctic, literally, hours later on set. So, that kind of warmed my heart, watching that particular scene.

Since you do have most of your scenes with Sarah, who's somebody on the show that you'd like to get more scenes with?

I've had scenes pretty well with everybody now, of course, the Sheriff (Corey Reynolds) and some with Liv (Elizabeth Bowen) now. [laughs] My first scene with they mayor (Levi Fiedler) got cut…I thought it was pretty funny. It was a funny scene, but I guess some part of that shot didn't work. So, they had to [cut it], but outside of that, I've worked with everyone but Meredith [Garretson], I suppose. I love the scenes with Harry. I've had some scenes with Harry, and it's always wonderful to work with him, all of them, And of course, Alice [Wetterlund], we have had a lot, especially the second half of this season, there's a lot more experience for us, and also, Jenna [Lamia], for the first time. I love working with the kids. I've only had a couple of things with them. I don't know what they used in a certain episode. I watched them all, but I think they cut it, but I had some fun with them. They're a lot of fun to work with, those kids.

Do you have any other projects coming up that you want to promote?

Just The English on BBC; Amazon released in September. An opportunity work with Emily Blunt was just amazing, and my dear friend, Chaske Spencer. It's an 1875 Western set in America.

And I’ll hopefully be on the Los Angeles stage for a play called Desert Stories for Lost Girls at the Los Angeles Theater Center this fall, starting October.

Do you have a sort of dream role that you'd love to get to do at some point still?

After the success of a film of mine in ‘87, I was the last one at the time, or the first one in a long time to get a MGM motion picture deal to develop something, and I remember they sent me around to all the heads of the networks. Of course, back then, there was just the three of them, the primary ones. They asked me that question, and I told them my answer and it was a little ahead of its time, I guess. But you know, the detective thing is always fun. I saw somebody mock up an Indian detective kind of concept, and I really appreciate that. Especially interspersing with American militaristic police forces might be really fun from a Native perspective. I did pitch a show like that.

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