Interview With James Roday and Dulé Hill of Psych
by Laura Tucker
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
We were warned that the conference call with both James Roday and Dulé Hill who play Shawn and Gus on USA’s psych could get kind of crazy. Indeed it did, as they seemed to carry over their humor and camaraderie from the show straight into the Q & A session.
Yet, these two actors don’t always play funny. Hill notes that after seven years of drama on West Wing, to be able to come and do comedy, and work with Roday and the others in the cast, has been a blast. Since Roday improvs a lot, it challenges Hill to work different acting muscles he doesn’t normally use. Roday has done more comedy than drama, and feels it’s weird that it worked out that way, as he feels he took himself too seriously when he first came out of theater school. This particular comedy is different, though, as he’s been able to watch it grow and nurture for awhile. They have a lot of freedom on the show as well, and that sets it apart from any other role he’s played, no matter the genre.
In addition, Roday and Hill get a “frighteningly high amount” of say in the dialog. Many times the way it’s written is great, and they just have to read what’s there, but whenever they recognize an opportunity to add something in, like a new nickname for Gus, they “pull the trigger.” Roday feels they monitor themselves so that they’re only improvising if it’s indeed going to make it better. Hill adds that the nicknames they come up with for Gus are usually connected to somebody they know.
The most difficult part of portraying Shawn is the “tight wire act between slacker and man child,” and also for Roday to make him someone who we’d want to invest in emotionally every week. He recognizes the line between wanting to rub his head and slap his face is very thin. Once Shawn’s mother appeared on the show, he found walking that tightrope a little easier. Hill doesn’t get too cerebral with his character, but for him the hardest part is to not make Gus too nerdy, yet not make him too cool either. Too far in either direction, and he thinks it would change the dynamic of the show.
Looking back on their favorite episodes, Roday recalls Life’s Camera Homicidio, when his character was “thrust into the world of a Spanish telenovela,” and he got to improv in both English and Spanish. Hill points to American Duos, as he got to dress up like Michael Jackson and moonwalk, then have John Landis direct him while he was dressed up like Jackson in Thriller. He also loved working with Tim Curry, watching him riff along with Roday. He enjoyed working with Gina Gershon in that episode as well.
If Roday and Hill would have their pick of guest stars, Roday would like to see David Bowie on the show, and “anybody he wants is whom he will play.” Hill would like to see Chris Tucker on the show, with him playing some relative of Gus’. Roday goes back to David Bowie, saying he could even play himself, with an episode where Shawn and Gus get to just hang out with him. Hill suggested Bowie could even be Mr. Guster in season five, because “we change my dad all the time.”
Roday and Hill call on their memories of other fictionalized detectives to play Shawn and Gus. Roday was mostly influenced by a Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley movie, Without a Clue. The idea behind it was that “Watson was the brains of the operation, and Holmes was just this very theatrical sort of charlatan that diverted people’s attention and got all the ladies.” I think we can figure out which is Shawn and which is Gus with that comparison. Roday liked that Watson and Holmes had to depend on each other to solve the crime, and he thinks Shawn and Gus are the same way. Hill didn’t really approach the partnership the same way, but he figures the most equivalent would be Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier in Uptown Saturday Night.
When I asked who the two would investigate if they could investigate anybody, interestingly Roday chose actress/model Maria Bellucci, saying he’d just want to make sure that “she’s living her life along the straight and narrow, she’s not cutting any corners in life, in her work; just really get in there and make sure that she’s on the up and up.” Hill would want to investigate Halle Berry, I’m sure for the same reasons. Roday then replied, “That’s it; this is classy stuff you’re getting from us today.”
Looking at the season premiere airing this Friday, August 7, Hill and Roday were asked why it was decided to feature Vancouver in the episode. Hill joked it was because they film the show in Vancouver. Roday then explained a little further, saying it was an “opportunity to finally not worry about everything that was in the background of all of our shots.” Hill commented that they finally didn’t have to deal with the palm trees, and Roday interrupted, saying, “That’s right, our three movable palm trees got an episode off. Hill noted the trees were tired.
With all the pop culture references that are made on the show, such as a Thomas Crown/Remington Steele reference in the season premiere this Friday, Hill and Roday were asked if they could be in or spoof any television show from the past, what would it be. Roday was quick with his answer, saying he would have given anything to be on Twin Peaks, and if they last another season, they will be doing a Twin Peaks episode. Hill would have liked to have been a Cosby kid, and if they were going to spoof Fame, he’d like to be Leroy.
To bring even more pop culture references in, when asked about possible merchandising, Roday joked he’d like to see some Shawn and Gus bobbleheads. Hill riffed right off of that, and said he already had a President Obama bobblehead, so he’d then have Shawn, Gus, and President Obama bobbleheads sitting on his counter. Roday decided he’d add in an Ichio Suzuki bobblehead just so that it would be a quartet.
Throughout the rest of the season we can look forward to seeing more of the Expedition Canada, a catch a jewel/art thief episode, an Exorcism episode, and “Shawn and Gus save an old western town,” with everything you could imagine coming from that, including a grizzled, gray-bearded James Brolin. They’re also doing an American Werewolf in London homage, with Roday joking it’s more of a tribute to werewolf movies in general, featuring David Naughton and Josh Malina.
The two stars have also recently become co-producers of psych, but don’t feel it changes the dynamic much. For Hill it’s just more of a title, and for Roday, he was already writing some of the episodes anyway. None of their producers have ever been up in Vancouver with them, so this was “just sort of a necessary thing” to take on more responsibility, helping the show to run more smoothly.
Hill and Roday, along with all the others on the show, including producers and writers, are aware that the show could become predictable or stale. That causes them to not settle and to always push to put out the best show they can. Roday notes that although it gets more and more challenging the long they’re on, they don’t want to be one of those series that drops off and just goes on autopilot.
Judging by that, it seems like season four just starting up will be far from the last of psych.
Laura Tucker Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack, and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, and is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at LauraBelle@realityshack.com
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org