But it is surprise Sundance hit "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" that might catapult this talented duo to leading-man status. Director Eli Craig's comedy-horror hybrid, which pays homage to many a slasher flick, tracks goofy backwoods buddies Tucker and Dale after they're mistaken for serial killers by a gang of not-too-bright college kids. As the pair bounce from one goofy misunderstanding to another, Tudyk and Labine prove they're more than adept at carrying an entire movie—even one that calls for them to be caked in blood and dirt the entire time.
Back Stage: How did this project come to you both?
Tyler Labine: I got sent this script, "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil," and I read the title, and I was like, "No," and I didn't read it for a week. Then my agent called and said, "Look, the director wants you to meet with him." I was like, "I guess I should read this thing." I read it, and, as usual, I passed it on to my wife: "This is good, right?" When I think something's funny, I never trust myself. She read it, came back, and said, "Yeah, you should do it." I went and met with Eli, and he showed up with all these little binders: He had storyboards and pictures of locations and was just so gung ho. Once he gave me his spiel and it matched up with what I was hoping he would say he wanted to do with the film, I was like, "Cool."
Alan Tudyk: I got the script, and it was all pretty fast by the time I came on board. Once I had the job, it was just a couple weeks and then I was up in Calgary. I talked to Eli, and what I wanted to hear him say was that it was going to be acted seriously, even though it's a comedy. That it wasn't going to be completely winking at the camera. He was totally on board with that.
Back Stage: Had you two met before? Were you aware of each other's work?
Tudyk: Just in online chatrooms.
Labine: It was a little awkward when we figured that out midshoot.
Tudyk: "You're Manboobs24?!"
Labine: I was a big fan of Alan's. I think he's one of those guys that, as a fellow character actor, has been going through the grind for a long time. I've seen him in everything; I always love his performances. I think you keep an ear out for other actors like that.
Tudyk: I saw ["Flyboys," in which Labine starred]. I hadn't seen "Reaper."
Labine: Yeah. Not many people did. [Laughs.]
Tudyk: I finally did, and it was hysterical.
Labine: Yeah, I was aware of him; I think what Alan's saying is that he wasn't really aware of me. [Laughs.] But he is now, which is the point.
Back Stage: You have such awesome onscreen chemistry. Did you do any bonding exercises to prepare?
Tudyk: We met up and went through the script ourselves, just the two of us. I've never done that with any other actor. Just like, "Hey, let's do this, let's walk through this ourselves."
Labine: We came up with backstory, where we were from, how we knew each other. I felt like an honest-to-goodness actor. Other than that, it depends on what your definition of what a bonding exercise is. We definitely hung out a lot, got into some trouble. Fun trouble.
Tudyk: Lost some money at a casino.
Labine: Yeah, you know, drank a little scotch. Onscreen chemistry is one of those things that I think is apparent right away. As soon as we started working together, I was like, "Okay." You know when you can just look at someone when you're acting with them and you don't feel like there's problem? It's not always there.
Tudyk: Yeah. I didn't feel the problem then, but I feel it now.
Labine: Things are getting awkward.
Back Stage: It would be so easy for characters like Tucker and Dale to fall into stereotype. How did you ensure they didn't?
Labine: I think a lot of that's in the writing. But bucking back against the stereotype of a hillbilly, I think it was that way or no way at all. We weren't going to go into this movie and be just a couple of dumb hicks. Dale was written to be a simple-minded guy with a heart of gold. You could easily misinterpret that, I guess, but kudos to Eli: He found the actors who he thought were going to do what he wanted to do. And I guess we did it.
Tudyk: I grew up in Texas, and we lived in Dallas, but all of my extended family lives in rural areas. And these were just a couple of good ol' boys who like going fishing. I think right in the beginning, there was a costume thing I had, where they put, like, a hillbilly hat on me. It lasted for a second, and I was like, "Nobody wears these. I just need a cap, a hunting hat." And there was a minute where I was going to have blacked-out teeth. I remember finally getting a mirror, and I was like, "Goddamn, no way!"
Labine: I think my wardrobe was the only place I was willing to go kind of stereotypical. My one stipulation was I had to rip the sleeves off everything I wore. I don't know why. Whenever they put sleeves on Dale, I was like, "No."
Back Stage: Both of you have been referred to as "character actors"—which seems to be used to describe any actor who isn't, say, Julia Roberts. How do you feel about that term?
Tudyk: I paint a lot of people with that brush. Sean Penn is a character actor.
Labine: Phil Hoffman: character actor. But one of the best actors there is. I think "character actor," it's a thing I like to self-apply, because it means that I feel like I have a lot more to offer than just being the thing that people want to pigeonhole me with: goofy sidekick guy or whatever. That can easily become the thing that's the bane of your career. When you start looking for things that are outside of your realm of comfort, I think that's what makes you a character actor. That, to me, is a good actor. But I guess the term "character actor" just means I don't have a square jaw.
Tudyk: I feel like character actors can be leads. But leading people rarely become character actors. 'Cause I was pigeonholed as the Julia Roberts type early in my career. I had to fight. This is a hard-won title.
Back Stage: Thanks to "Firefly" and "Reaper," both of you have pretty rabid followings. What are your fan interactions like?
Labine: His is nuts. I'm in awe of the fans Wash has. They love him. He's also played a few other roles that are pretty iconic, like Pirate Steve. He gets a lot of free drinks. A lot of free meals. A lot of fights.
Tudyk: Oh, yeah. But that has nothing to do with what I've played; I just like to fight. A woman yesterday, she's like, "My brother, on his car, around his license plate, has, 'Wash is my co-pilot.' I was like, "That's awesome, we've got to take a picture and give it to your brother."
Labine: With a show [like "Firefly"], absence makes the heart grow fonder. Even "Reaper," it's only been a year, but I find that my fans are getting more and more adamant about getting in touch with me and saying, "When is the 'Reaper' movie going to happen? The comic book?" Some of them are really aggressive, they're like, "How dare you move on? How dare you do a new show? Go back to being Sock!" It just goes to show how much they care about that show. I started my own fan page on Facebook; I try to talk to everybody and get on there and interact.
Back Stage: A lot of people who've seen "Tucker and Dale" are already asking about a sequel. Would you two be up for working together again?
Labine: Working together again for sure. As far as the sequel, turn this into a franchise, that would be something that would entirely depend on the feasibility of a script that worked and if Eli was involved.
Tudyk: And more than 25 days of shooting. That was rough.
Labine: After day four, we were just covered in dry blood and mud all day, every day. So it would be nice to have a little more time.