Last week I got a chance to visit the set of USA’s Psych. While there we got to interview the entire cast. There were six of us on the panel of questioners and we just threw out questions and he answered them until our time was up and he had to go back to work. They were on the fifth day of shooting of episode six, “Talk Derby to Me.”
First up was the fake psychic detective himself, James Roday. In person, or it could have been because it was so early, he comes of as much more quiet and reserved than his character of Shawn Spencer, yet still very funny.
We were all sitting around in a small room with a couple of couches and office chairs and as recorders were being put out on the coffee table to capture his answers to our brilliant questions, James started things off.
James Roday: What’s going on? You guys all get in yesterday?
Question: What time did you guys start this morning? (Note: We arrived on set sometime after 8:00 a.m. and it wasn’t long after that we were talking with James. The entire interview lasted about 12 minutes.)
Roday: We are setting up here for our first shot now.
Panel: Oh, all right.
Roday: Yeah, yeah.
Host: Don’t be shy now.
Roday: Yeah, don’t be shy, guys.
Panel: I see you had a roller derby thing. That’s fun now.
Roday: True, that’s true. Juliet goes undercover to try and nab some criminal activity, compliments of some tough roller derby chicks. And we actually used a bunch of real, like real roller derby girls from here in Vancouver.
Panel: We actually met a couple of them. Well, one, one of them. Who was it, from…? Sidney from…
Roday: Sidney is from LA. She’s on the LA team.
Panel: The Derby Dolls.
Roday: The Derby Dolls. She is actually playing one of the principle—but then we filled out the rest of the team with the local Vancouver team—sordid lot. [laughter] These girls are no joke.
Question: So did they get you on skates?
Roday: I did. I had to lace up for the final little scene, but I didn’t have to look good. My whole thing was that I like, almost fell, so that worked out. But, you know, the Derby for me growing up was fake. It was like wrestling.
Panel: Yeah, and we were talking about that at dinner last night.
Roday: It’s not fake any more. Like these girls have one bout a month because it’s real. And then they take the rest of the month to like heal their wounds and their broken bones, and then they go out again. So it was like—because they’re so tough. Tough girls. And we’ve got the WWE Ladies Champion guest starring in the episode as well. So there’s that. There’s that happening.
Question: How has the season changed compared to the first term?
Panel: Twenty percent bigger? (Note: We had been told the night before at dinner, by the writer of the episode that was in production, Tim Meltreger, that this season was to be “twenty percent more laughs, twenty percent more action and twenty percent more bitchin'”)
Roday: Twenty percent more everything. [Laughter] That was sort of the mandate that we put on the table, and we’re kind of—we’re sort of blowing it out with the summer stuff, sort of using pretty much our entire season’s worth of budget on just the summer season. [laughter] So look forward to a lot of winter episodes that happen primarily in the police station. No, we’ve got big stories! We’ve got pirate treasure and dare devils and roller derby and Shawn and Gus’ high school reunion. The idea sort of being that, you know, try to compete with the summer blockbuster entertainment that’s always available and just go big and [indiscernible]. So that’s what we’re doing.
Question: I hear there’s going to a more emotional side of you this season. Can you elaborate on that?
Roday: Twenty percent more everything! [laughter] No, I think that the challenge that was sort of posed to us, which we’ve chosen to accept from our network, was, you know what, like, you know, so you guys want to be the torch bearer for the USA. Like we want you to sort of start adding layers, and one of those layers is the idea of sort of earning our comedy with each episode, sort of giving it an emotional spine.
You know, one thing that Monk has had from its conception is that, you know, his wife was murdered, so they always sort of had that to go back to any time they needed to get, you know, heavy on that show. And we don’t really have that, so it’s sort of like, with each episode we’re sort of coming up with sort of an emotional backbone that launches us into the world and helps sort of balance some of the silly things that we do. It’s been good. I think its sort of, its got everybody on their toes. We’re all sort of working muscles that we haven’t necessarily been working in the first couple of seasons, and I think we’re doing, I think we’re doing it. Yeah. Every episode there’s been at least one or two scenes that you’re seeing different sides and all that garbage, doing things that we’ve never done before.
Question: Can we see some of that with the introduction of your mother?
Roday: Absolutely. That’s what sort of kicks it all off. You sort of find out that everything isn’t necessarily what it may have seemed, and Cybil Sheppard came in and did a—[she said], “You guys did a nice job.” It was tough. It’s sort of tough to sort of come into a situation like this when you haven’t been with the group from the beginning. You got a lot put on your shoulders, and we’re also counting on her to deliver this pivotal scene. Really just [indiscernible] cast. She was up to, she was up to task. So, yeah, we definitely set the tone in the premier for this new sort of soft side of Psych. That’s going to be [kind of dark].
Question: Is it a fine line to walk between getting too comfortable with a character after two seasons?
Roday: It’s always a fine line, with this character especially. I think the longer that we go, the line will get even finer because like the older that I get the tougher it gets to [solve] this sort of puckish guy who doesn’t want to grow up. There comes a certain point, I think, where it’s just sort of sad. [laughter] So, yeah, it’s always sort of walking that line and, you know, making this guy likeable and slappable at the same time.
Question: Now the character of Shawn has got an eclectic job history. Are there any roles that you’d like to see Shawn go in undercover that use talents that you think might just be fun?
Roday: You know what, I grew up a big jock, so I’m ready for a sports episode. I mean, I’ve played everything, so they can throw everything at me, and I would have a blast with that.
Roday: Except for hockey. [laughter] Except for hockey.
Panel: So that’s the one they’ll do.
Roday: So, yeah—no. I’ve actually, I think there’s mutterings of a football episode this season, which would be awesome. But that’s sort of like the foolproof set up of this show is, you know, he’s worked so many jobs and just about anything that comes up somewhere in the world, he did it. And if he didn’t, then, you know, Gus has read about it. [laughter]
Question: Speaking of Gus and your character, what has been your favorite nickname that the writers have come up with?
Roday: [sigh] Wow! You know, it was sort of, they’re not unlike our Psych Outs, the first couple sort of happened very kind of on the spot sort of organically, and now it’s become like a challenge in the writers’ rooms to top each other every week. [laughter] You know, the first one we ever did was Silly Pants Jackson, and that was just me messing around. I think the early ones are probably sort of the best just because there were no expectations for them. Now we’re getting into it, it’s just ridiculous. [laughter]. In this episode was Long Branch Penny Whistle. [laughter] But it’s one of those things that you just, you never know what’s going to catch on. We do so much messing around out there that it always shocks me what the writers take to and say, “Oh, that’s something fun. We’ll do that every week now.” The names caught on.
Question: Speaking of names, Billy Zane? [laughter]
Roday: I just wanted to get that guy on the show. If I can keep dropping him in there once or twice a season, then maybe we can actually get him on the show. There are certain actors that I think really lend themselves to what we do. They sort of bring a cool sort of kitch back to it, and Billy Zane is definitely the guy.
Roday: We just got to come up with the right role for him.
Panel: Traveling pineapple salesman?
Roday: Yeah. [laughter] Yeah. And it’s just, you know, we do so much fun stuff with like the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. The references we have to learn. I don’t know. To me, Billy Zane just looks like [inaudible] pretty well. Plus he’s Billy Zane. [laughter]
Question: What was your reaction when you heard Cybill (Sheppard) might get cast?
Roday: Yes. It was not completely surprising to me because Steve Franks is, sort of worships at the altar of Moonlighting. He does, I think, the spirit of Caron. He named the character Maddie. And you know, there’s that sort of snappy repartee dialogue that, you know, they kind of coined for that show. So, yeah, it wasn’t a shocking name to have come up. The fact that we actually got her was probably more surprising than the idea itself. You know, I was stoked. She was really good on that show and there is the whole like, how exactly did two super Arians come together and make me [laughter] but I don’t know, I think it was a score for the show, and she seemed to have a pretty good time while she was out here. And for Steve it was big.
Question: I got a question for you. I think we’re getting Dulé in next. What questions should we ask him that would get us an interesting story?
Roday: You should always ask him about tap dancing [laughter] because he loves to talk about that. You should talk to him about when or if he’s ever going to get any action on this show. [laughter] I’m sure he’ll have a few things to say about that. And sort of the same thing, like we’re sort of putting the same thing on the table for everybody, so.
Question: Are Shawn and Juliet going to get a little bit closer this season?
Roday: Well, it’s the elasticity thing where, you know, we start to go there and then everybody gets nervous, and we don’t really want to go there, so we stretch it back out again. It’s going to happen a couple of times this season where we start to inch towards that and then we’ll probably you know, put the brakes on. It’s still, it’s only season three, you know. That’s the kind of thing that you really have to hold onto in case we do this three or four more seasons. You just can’t put those two together too soon; otherwise, you’ve sort of—you’ve played that card and then what do you do? You got to bring a kid on the show. [laughter]
Question: So who’s the best Mafia player on the staff? (Note: It had also been mentioned the night before that the cast had taken up playing Mafia and that asking them about it would potentially get us some good stories.)
Roday: You know what, you’re going to get different answers to this question. [laughter] I’m going to say myself. I guarantee you Dule’s going to say himself. I think we’re all pretty confident. We’re all pretty confident Mafia players. Yeah.
Then we all took a group picture and thanked him for talking with us. He left and we awaited the arrival of Dule Hill. There was a photographer on hand to take photos all day, so when we get those, I will add them to the above.
Our interview with James Roday was a pretty good start to what turned out to be an outstanding day on the set of Psych. Throughout the week and leading up to the third season premiere on Friday, July 18th, I will have more from the visit.