Interview With Steve Franks and Dule Hill of Psych
by Laura Tucker
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Someone behind the scenes of USA’s psych that you probably don’t know, but should, is Steve Franks. He’s the Creator/Writer/Executive Producer. He’s definitely the guy behind the success of the show. I got a chance to join a conference call with him and Dule Hill, who plays Gus, this week, and there was one thing I wanted to know.
I wanted to know about that theme song. “I know, you know that I’m not telling the truth …” It’s literally stuck in my head every Saturday morning. I would love to pay the money for it and download it on iTunes, but it’s not there, unlike other songs by the same group, Friendly Indians. Here’s something you might not know … Franks is in the band. It’s his song; his music. So with the man on the line, that was the one thing I wanted to know talking to him, why I can’t get this song as a download from iTunes?
Franks told me the good news is that Friendly Indians are back and rehearsing and have a third album planned soon. When they went in to record the theme song, though, they got into a great studio, the same one where Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles had recorded. The only studio time they had was just enough for that one minute song for the intro to psych. They’ve always planned to go back and record the full version, but there just hasn’t been enough time. He does think it’s inevitable that they’ll get in there at some point to do it and get it released on iTunes. I, for one, will be waiting. In the meantime, Franks calls it unbelievable getting Boyz II Men to record a version of the theme for the episode that aired a few weeks back.
Here’s something else you might not know about Franks. He’s also a screenwriter for movies, the most famous of which is definitely Big Daddy with Adam Sandler. Asked if he plans to do more movie-writing, he states he’s always planned to do more, but by the time the end of the season rolls around, he goes home and collapses in his bed. He does have a screenplay he’s been working on the past few years, and he’s finally going to finish this time, he thinks. He admits it was in some ways nicer to write for movies as he didn’t have to write if he didn’t want to, but on TV, there’s much more pressure, needing to come up with a new thing each week, and that’s in turn made him a much better writer.
Franks has this advice for aspiring writers in the business, “Write, and keep writing.” He was working at Disneyland while in college and wrote five scripts. Three were terrible, one was less terrible, and the fifth one he thought was pretty good. He didn’t known anyone in the business and just always knew he wanted to be a scriptwriter from the time he was in 5th grade. He always encourages potential writers to just keep writing, and feels that way you find out who <em>really</em> wants to be a writer by how long they stick around. If they’re still in it years later, they’re into it for the long haul.
He was inspired to come up with the premise of psych, because he found TV too depressing. He grew up with the light hours of TV that were more fun, such as Magnum P.I., Rockford Files, and Moonlighting. He felt all he was doing with more recent TV was watching “murder and dismemberment and looking under a microscope at bones and flesh wounds.” He wrote a show that he wanted to see. His dad was a cop, so he thought, “Maybe now is the time to do a cop show.” Ah-ha. Now we know why Shawn’s dad is a cop on the show.
Franks wanted to do something that was “fun and funny and revolved around characters that also can take you into a little mystery each week, but that you really got yourself wrapped up and loved the characters, and to create a really fun world each week that does something that you don’t see on other shows.” In that case, Franks definitely succeeded. Nobody else is doing a murdered sea lion episode or one about an a cappella group involved in a drug sting.
As for the casting of Hill and James Roday for the parts of Gus and Shawn, they cast the part of Shawn first, and seeing Roday walk in, thought, “Who is this guy?” as he grows a long thick beard in he offseasons. Yet once he started talking, they knew it could be him, and by the time he came back for a callback, they knew it was him. Roday then came in to read with all the guys auditioning for the part of Gus. Once Hill walked in, they just had an instant chemistry. Franks says they have a “no a-hole policy” on their show, and Roday and Hill were really good people from the start.
Hill recalls that first meeting with Roday as being interesting, as he came from a much more strict environment of West Wing in which they stuck to the script. Yet with Roday, his improvisations are unbelievable, and he goes all over the place. It was a shock to Hill’s system, but he thought he was brilliant. They had a back and forth type thing going on between them that he thought people might like to see. Once he got a chance to get to know Roday personally, he liked him even more.
Fans just can’t help but notice how similar the theme of psych is to The Mentalist. Franks sees it as the sincerest form of flattery, and he fully admits that they take every opportunity they can to play with that a little and have a little fun with it. Hill agrees, saying it’s not like one show is taking away the audience of the other. He thinks there are great actors out there who have work to do and more television that’s being made. There’s enough to go around. As long as the folks on The Mentalist “can take us ribbing them everyone once in awhile, I think it’s all good.” By the way, Franks notes there will be a Mentalist reference on this Friday’s episode.
The question came up if Gus was going to get a girlfriend on the show, and how the character has changed since psych began. Franks mentions that one great thing about Hill is that he’s good about suggesting different things for the character. At the beginning of this season, he called and asked when Gus was going to get a girlfriend. Franks sees it great in terms of collaboration. Hill enjoys seeing where the character is going to go next each week. Gus had “unbelievably odd interests that somehow dovetail in the cases,” such as being a comic book geek, or a member of the largest online community to abolish taxidermy, so finding out these interests is always fun for Hill. He describes Gus as “a cornball renaissance man.”
The main thing Hill feels he has brought to the character is that he wasn’t just a nerd. When he was first introduced to the character, he thought he was the reluctant sidekick, and what he has bought into it is the idea that he actually ha a very rational thought process for why he did certain things. Gus thinks he’s cool and slick, but looking at him, he’s not cool and slick. It’s hard for him to explain it in interviews, though, as it’s more of an “organic thing.” It just happens.
Franks bristles a little at the word nerd, as he says he doesn’t think of that as a bad term. They see Gus as a “more fully realized human being,” Everything that Gus does is so thought out that it’s too thought out. “He analyzes everything in his life to the point of his own demise.” For Franks, it becomes a fun character to write.
As for the fall finale, Franks says it will be really fun and really intense, and they decided to do that after the big finale that ended last season, as they thought it was really fun to do that really suspenseful intense episode. It was actually shot third in the sequence of filming. When they got it back, they thought it was really intense and had an unbelievable finality to it. They’d like to do something more intense like this every half season or so.
Franks also provided a few hints for what we’ll see in the second half of the season when it comes back in the winter. He’s finally realized his dream to do a Jaws episode, an Outbreak episode, and a military episode. Guest starring in that will be John Cena, someone who they’ve been trying to work with since season one. Each episode couldn’t be more different than the last one, and Frank admits, “That’s the way we like it.”
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
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