During a recent set visit on the set of Psych, various other media outlets and I were able to interview C. Thomas Howell, who happened to be filming that day as well.
Can you tell us about your character in this episode?
Howell: I play Federal Agent Driggs, who is put on the case to search for [an] international mystery woman. And I’ve been tracking her down and following her to Santa Barbara. You’re thinking as I’m going through things that maybe I’ve got something to do with the shenanigans here. Because I’m sort of a hard a**, and it looks like I might be the one driving the problems.
Is there a bit of a friendship then between your charater and Lassiter, since both are so tough, or is there tension?
Howell: Well, I’ll tell you a little secret between me and Lassiter. The original pilot that was shot, the screen test came down between me and Tim to play Lassiter. So there’s definitely some hate between the two of us. And on day one over at the studio, take one, day one, I accidentally stepped on one of Tim’s lines and cut him off. And he said, “Howell, give it up. You didn’t get the role, for god’s sakes. Okay, get it over it.” So when they asked me to come up, I couldn’t wait to come up and do evil things to Tim when he wasn’t looking.
You’ve been acting forever. Was there ever…
Howell: Pretty much. Methuselah Howell.
Was there ever a time in which you contemplated another career, or was it just always this?
Howell: You know, all of my family are stunt people – my father was one of the top five stunt men in the business for years, and years, and years. He’s semi-retired now. My sister, my mother, my cousins, my uncles – all stunt people. So at Thanksgiving when we’re sitting at a table like this it’s all stunt people.
And somebody inevitably is like, “Would the sissy pass the potatoes?” That’s what it’s like in my house. So if there was a career change, I probably would have done stunts. So I would have been in the same business. There was never an inkling of going off to college to become, a doctor or something. I always knew I would be in the business. I just thought I would be doing stunts. And when I was a young man I did stunts with my father all the time.
And when I was 12 I got the role on ET because I could do stunts on the bike. I was one of the only kids that could actually do the stunts on the bike, so that’s why they went with me. I was sort of the stunt kid, the other kids were the acting kids. And, that sort of lead to the audition process for The Outsiders, and I was cast in that. So I went from Spielberg to Coppola, and then some agents started scratching their head going, “Maybe you shouldn’t do stunts.” And the rest is history.
Is there a specific genre that you prefer working in?
Howell: You know, it’s funny. I would like to do more comedy. I would. But, I tend to get the – I don’t know if you saw Southland, but I played a dysfunctional cop. And again, it was sort of coined as the bad guy. I’ve been getting a lot of that lately, I don’t know what happened. But I don’t get many comedies. I think people are watching things like Criminal Minds. And I’m getting more of that…
… But I think I’m funny. I don’t think I’m a bad guy, [though] kids might argue that. It’s funny though, as I grow older, the parts change of course. But I embrace the change. I embrace the grey hair and the lines. It’s like a good wine, you know. I was the kid with the leather coat and the sneakers, and now I’m the kid’s dad.
Fortunately, it’s a little bit different with males, I think, than females. I mean, they have it rougher aging in this business. But a little salt and pepper hair and some wrinkles they’ve treated me right, so. My agent keeps wanting me to dye my hair, and I keep firing them.
Did you understand as a kid the gravity of working with Spielberg and Coppola?
Howell: No, no, that’s why they cast me, because there was no, sort of, what would it be called? I really didn’t give a rat’s a** who they were. You know, and that’s what I think attracted them to me personally. And when we did ET that was like a living freak show. I mean, there were, you know, little people, people with no legs, big people, rubber dolls, mechanical dolls, all kinds of things taking place. So there was a major distraction.
Nobody thought that was going to become the phenom that it became – at least I didn’t. Somebody did – I mean, Spielberg – the security on the set was like trying to get into Fort Knox. None of us ever read a complete version of the screenplay. We were handed pages every day before the next day, and I was told, “Learn these.” So I didn’t really even know what I was doing. I just knew that I was showing up, having an incredible time.
And Steven, who’s a genius, would come in and say, “We have a very busy day kids.” And he would go like this, and somebody would wheel in some brand new bicycles. And say something to the effect of, “If we can finish our day on time I’ll let you have those.” So he pretty much wrapped us around his little finger that way.
That’s the only thing that works on kids. Right, I mean, I’ve got kids. Kid’s crying, kid wants candy, give kid candy – pretty basic.
The summer finale of Psych airs Wednesday, Sept 8 at 10/9c on USA Network.
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