Psych ended it’s Summer Finale in cliffhanger-y fashion this week, but PCZ is still has one last interview from our set visit last month to hold you over until Shawn, Gus, Jules and Lassie return later this Fall.
James Roday is a busy dude, and the day of our set visit was no exception. Playing the lead on Psych means that Roday is practically in every scene filmed. And if that’s not enough, he also writes and produces for the show, and has directed a couple of episodes on top of that. When he wasn’t in front on the camera during our visit, Roday was prepping for his next directing gig — the very next episode to be filmed — while also working on writing this season’s Christmas episode, and managing his fantasy sports teams. Somehow he also found time to talk to us:
Panel: How excited are you to be directing?
James Roday: I always get excited about directing because it’s the thing I know the least about. It’s the – it’s where I can learn the most. It’s where I feel like I can improve the most. I get to ask lots and lots of questions, and, you know, surround myself with people that have been doing it for a lot longer than I have. And that gets me jazzed.
Panel: Is it fun to boss your co-stars around?
James Roday: You know, they run all over me man. They know that when I’m up it’s all about having a really good time. And I usually try to do something in the script for each of them that gives them an opportunity to use a different muscle, or do something that they don’t usually get to do. And this year is no exception.
Panel: You don’t make Dulé do it, like, 36 times just ‘cause?
James Roday: No man, I’m king of one take and move on. You got to make our schedule, and I always like to – I always write big, so we’ve got to move, move, move, move, move.
Panel: Which role do you find the most – writing, producing, acting – which role have you found the most challenging?
James Roday: I think directing is definitely the most challenging, again, because it’s sort of like my newest toy that I know the least about. And at least, especially within the context of Psych, I feel like the acting is sort of second nature at this point. I mean, I don’t think there’s a whole lot left to throw at Shawn that he’s not going to know what to do with.
And then the writing I just – it’s just a fun collaboration. It’s like having a putt-putt course behind your house. It’s just, you know, you just go out and mess around, and that’s fun. But the directing is something that I’ve always been very serious about. I take the opportunities very seriously. I really want to get better. I want to be able to go back and watch each episode and see that I’m moving in the right direction.
Panel: Do you think it’s a natural progression for an actor in a long running TV series to turn to directing?
James Roday: I think it depends. I mean, I think sometimes a show will run so long that it’s sort of a like a “What the hey,” situation. “Let me see if this is something I might be interested in doing,” and if you run long enough, you might get a shot. For me, it’s something that I’ve known I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. And it was just matter of getting the opportunity and making the most of it.
And then there are some actors that I don’t think have any interest in directing. I mean, if you ask Dulé, when is he directing, his answer is probably never. You know, he’s just not inclined. But, I grew up a cinephile, and I love movies. And I love European cinema. I love different styles. And it’s, you know, I love having my breath taken away in a movie theatre the way I love being transported when I see live theatre.
Panel: What was the last show that took your breath away – the last movie that took your breath away?
James Roday: There’s a sequence in Inception that just knocked me on my butt.
Panel: Which one?
James Roday: It was the whole sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt having to figure out –
Panel: How to get the guy –
James Roday: How to get them all together…And make the drop. And there was one shot in particular where he’s got them all in the elevator, he goes out the top hatch to set the charges out of the elevator. And when he goes out and he comes through you could still see into the elevator where the six of them are floating. I love it when I can’t even sort of figure out how dudes are doing stuff, you know.
Panel: Who are some of the guest stars you’ve really enjoyed working with on the show? Any favorites? We’ve asked everybody that question.
James Roday: Yeah –
Panel: Everyone’s giving very political answers.
James Roday: I’ll try to sort of cover the different eras. I mean, early – fairly early on, it was such a pleasure and a privilege to work with Tim Curry, just because I’ve been a fan since I was yay high. You know, later on… I thought Alan Ruck did a really fabulous job on our show. And again, for me, big John Hughes guy, big Ferris Bueller guy.
That’s one of the greatest things about this job – because the Psych landscape is what it is, I just get to pitch actors that I loved when I was a kid, and it makes total sense to have them come on the show in some capacity. Whether they’re still working or maybe you haven’t seen them for a while. It’s like – it works to bring them on Psych. And then Ally Sheedy is just awesome. She’s awesome to hang out with. She had a great take on her character from the very beginning.
Mel directed her first. I had her second. It’s just such a joy to watch an actor, like, do their homework and come ready to play. And, we told her – we actually told her very little and just kind of let her go. And I think she just kind of turned that into, like, a really memorable piece of our show.
Panel: When you’re doing the guest stars, do you make a long list at the beginning of every season, and, you know, or do you figure out which ones will go with which parts as it –
James Roday: We actually kind of do. We sort of – we have, like, a wish list, and then we have people that we know have expressed interest in doing the show. And then, on a role by role basis you sort of figure out where you can plug people in. John Gries, who’s doing the episode that we’re shooting right now [‘One, Maybe Two, Ways Out’], has been on our wish list since, like, Season One. Because he was Lazlo Hollyfeld –
Panel: From Real Genius.
James Roday: From Real Genius.
And, you know, that’s probably my favorite movie of all time. And he’s also Uncle Rico for Napoleon Dynamite fans. And it was just a matter of figuring out how to use him so that he could do his thing. And we don’t want to be selfish and bring great actors on and give them nothing to do. So a lot of times it takes discipline to make sure that you put them in the right role.
Panel: Now, I read that there’s going to be a Twin Peaks themed episode.
James Roday: Hell yeah, there is man.
Panel: Oh, rock on.
James Roday: Steve and I have been talking about doing that since the first season, actually. And it took a while, I think, for us to a) build up our confidence to actually go for it, and b) establish enough of a sort of cult audience that we knew that the people that watched our show would also appreciate a show that’s riffing on Twin Peaks. But I kind of feel like the planets have aligned themselves.
A very, very dear friend of mine is Dana Ashbrook, aka Bobby Briggs. And he’s sort of been instrumental in helping some of the pieces fall in place. And I think there’s going to be some really, really happy Twin Peaks fans. Because I think we’re going to hit a home run, and I think there’s going to be a lot of faces that they’re going to be really excited about seeing.
Panel: Yeah. Is the episode going to open with a body wrapped in plastic?
James Roday: It may.
Panel: So Shawn’s sort of matured slowly throughout the five seasons. How does that go with the progression of the show? Like, the darker themes that we’ve been seeing throughout all the crises?
James Roday: I think they kind of run parallel. I mean, I think it’s inevitable that Shawn has to mature as he gets older, just so that he can stay endearing. And then there’s this other road where, like, we want to keep challenging ourselves. We don’t want to get complacent. Actors want to do things that they haven’t done yet. Stylistically wanting to do things that we haven’t done yet. So, conceptually they’re very similar in that you want to keep, sort of, moving forward.
I don’t know, maybe there’s a little bit of a marriage between Shawn getting – growing up and themes being darker. Like in ‘Mr. Yin Presents’, for example, where his own mortality hits him, or he almost loses someone he cares about and he gets a wake up call. But for the most part I think it’s all just let’s not look back, you know. Let’s keep feeling like we’re relevant, and that we belong on the air. And we’re delivering the goods, you know.
Panel: When you filmed the pilot did you project, or did you just hope for what you’ve got?
James Roday: I was so wasted and burned out on bad television experiences that I had zero hope. I just assumed that – I thought I was the kiss of death. You know, I thought – I warned everybody, like, I’m the last person that you want to get this role, because we’re doomed. Luckily, we had Dulé on the same show, who’s only known mad success, who sort of balanced out my curse.
But, no, it never ceases to amaze me looking back, like, where we started, and the fact that we’re still here. And what a blessing it is to be with these people that I love so dearly every day. I think that our crew – there’s been so little turnover. With the exception of a few faces, it’s, like, we’ve all been together from the very beginning. It’s pretty special.
Panel: Now, I have a question. I mean, it seems like last season there was more of a focus on Shawn’s, again, on his growth. But this season it seems as if there’s a little bit more of a return to the comedy. Because last season seemed a little dark, but the first three episodes of this season seemed just a little bit lighter. There’s more … between you and Gus, more back and forth, more Abbott and Costello…
James Roday: You know, it’s weird. It’s, like, some kind of mandate comes down from [creator and executive producer Steve Franks] every year, just because I think he feels like he’s supposed to have one. And it never holds. Like, this year it was supposed to be, “You know, we’re ratcheting up our cases. This is going to be the year of the cool, twisty, well constructed mystery.” We’re on episode nine and I feel like you’re probably way more on base than with the fact that we’re doing funnier stuff again.
It’s such a hybrid show, and it’s such a moving target that – especially on the writing staff. We never really know, like, what the bullseye is. We’re just throwing tons, and tons, and tons of darts, which is the greatest part of our job is that we have that many darts to throw. But yeah, this year was supposed to be, “All right man we’re going to Mamet-ize this thing, you know – knock people out of their socks. Show comedy writers to write mystery.”
It’s, like, no we can’t. What are you talking about? So you didn’t change one person in this room – how are the cases going to get 300% better? But I think you’re right, I think we’re just having – a lot of these episodes that we’ve done really reminded me of stuff we did at the beginning of the series, you know – sort of throw backs to just Shawn and Gus acting a fool.
Panel: How do you balance the comedy and drama when you’re writing?
James Roday: When I write, I feel like it’s an opportunity to push the envelope, I won’t lie. I feel like I get a little more latitude than some of the other writers when I write. And as a result, I kind of feel an obligation to sort of go as far outside of our comfort zone as we can. Which is why a lot of my stuff tends to be a little darker than the norm.
But, this year I’m doing a Christmas episode that isn’t dark at all. But it’s still pretty left of centre in that we’re doing some pretty bizarre stuff that we’ve never seen on the show before. So I think it’s less of a balance between comedy and drama, and more of a focus on let’s do stuff that we haven’t done when I write.
Panel: What can fans expect from the Christmas episode this year?
James Roday: It’s A Wonderful Life is the template, but only in the sense that Shawn gets to peek at what life would be like if he wasn’t a part of it. But we – obviously, we never do anything truly supernatural on our show, so we had to find a different way in.
Which I think will allow for a lot more fun. It’s about his – I don’t know, it’s about as risky as I think you can get comedy-wise for our show on cable. It’s a pretty big swing. And I’m sure there are going to be some people that don’t love it, but I think there will be just as many people who are like, “I can’t believe they did that. That’s awesome.”
Panel: Now the character of Shawn is pretty geeky. And I asked Dulé this same question that I’m going to ask you. What are you geeky about?
James Roday: Fantasy sports. It’s my only true vice, and it’s a big one. There is no day in the calendar year where I’m not competing, because I go straight from football, to basketball, to baseball, and they cover the whole calendar year. And it’s multiple leagues for each sport, and it’s not just friendly leagues. I play at, like, a national, sort of, high-stakes level now. I’ve gone as far as someone can go as a fantasy sportsman.
And, you know, everything is sort of handled online. And it’s just it’s my peaceful place. I can lock myself in a room for an hour and a half and fiddle with my squads, and it just brings me – it’s like you can just feel it’s cascading over me, and the stress just drips away for an hour. That is – and then movies. I’m a geek about movies – horror movies probably the most.
Panel: So when you sneak off the set and you’re on your computer you might actually be trading –
James Roday: On set I always make sure I have some sort of script template up. My trailer – all bets are off.
Panel: Your favorite horror movie?
James Roday: That’s a constantly sort of moving, changing thing. There’s so many different types of horror, you know.
Panel: 1970s slasher film — Have you seen Let the Right One In?
James Roday: It was my film of, like, the last three years probably. I’ve no doubt that [they] probably butchered that remake, so I probably won’t even go.
Panel: Why do they even need it?
James Roday: Yeah, the thing about the Let the Right One In, it’s just an amazing movie. I mean, it has genre elements, which I’m sure is what helped it sell in the United States, but the fact is it looks like a Bergman film. It’s like if Fanny and Alexander were vampires. And it’s just beautiful to watch, and those two kids were amazing together. I saw it three times in theatres – loved that movie. The subtitles. Loved that movie.
Rosemary’s Baby holds up – psychological, sort of, paranoia-type horror. American Werewolf in London holds up as a homerun for trying to marry the very sort of tricky horror and comedy sort of hybrid. The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre is pretty awesome. The Shining – awesome. Remake of The Thing – John Carpenter did it with Kurt Russell – awesome. I think they’re doing another one of those too.
And then I can just – I can watch the slasher franchises all day just because it’s mindless. And you get to root for the bad guy.
Panel: Is there a guest star that you would actually want to see on Psych that hasn’t been on before?
James Roday: I have a couple. If we could ever figure out a way to get Val Kilmer on this show I think that would be fantastic. I think David Bowie would be awesome. I’ve been fighting the good fight to get Billy Zane on this show for a while now. We just can’t seem to get on the same page. He almost did two episodes this season, and we couldn’t work out scheduling conflicts. He was almost John Michael Higgins, if you can imagine how different that would have been.
Panel: I think that Cybill Shepherd does a really awesome job as Shawn’s mom. Do you know at all if she’s planning to come back this season?
James Roday: We have plans to bring her back. It’s tricky with her because, you know, we don’t own her the way we own the rest of the cast. So we can only get her if she’s available. But we do have plans to bring her back. Because, you know, we’re wrapping up Yin Yang this year. She was sort of a pretty big part of that. So we kind of want to bring back everybody that it’s affected.
[Hopefully it goes without saying, but PCZ is grateful for the chance to be part of the set visit. We’re also thankful for the transcribed interviews and photos from the set, as well the opportunity to hang out with a group of cool writers from some great outlets. Thanks for a great day, guys.]