James Roday and Dulé Hill Interview

SciFiChick.com was able to participate in a conference call Q&A session with James Roday and Dulé Hill, stars of USA’s Psych. Here’s the transcript from that call.
And don’t forget to tune in to USA on Friday night, August 7th, for the season premier of Psych!

The show is known a lot for its fast-paced banter between your characters Shawn and Gus. How much say do you guys get in what goes on in the dialog, particularly between the humorous segments and something like the nicknames that Shawn makes up for Gus?

J. Roday: Unlike, I think, the majority of shows on television right now we actually have a frighteningly high amount of say in what we do with the dialog. A lot of times it comes in great and all we have to do is say it, but any time we sort of recognize an opportunity to throw something in or add something or if we have a better name for Gus than the one that came in we just pull the trigger.

We’re pretty good at monitoring ourselves so that we only do it if we’re making it better, and it’s very rare that we find out later that the people down in LA were disappointed because we changed something. They’re usually pretty pleased.

D. Hill: Yes. And the names that we come up with most of the time it has to do with somebody that we know, somebody in the cast knows or somebody that one of the writers knows or a producer, something like that. I would say pretty much eight times to of ten there is some relation to the crazy name that Gus is being called.

What detectives, in real life or in fiction, have been an influence for the characters?

J. Roday: You know what, I go to this movie called Without a Clue that not a lot of people saw. It was Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, and the idea behind the movie 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. It’s a very, very funny movie that not a lot of people have seen.

But I love the fact that it was sort of rooted in the idea that these two guys absolutely, positively were dependent on one another to solve a crime, because Holmes was sort of the face of the franchise but Watson was the guy that sort of kept their feet on the ground and did a lot of the thinking. That’s not exactly what the dynamic is on Psych, but the sort of ying yang element of it of there’s no way that either of these guys could work on their own and there’s no way that they could accomplish what they were doing without the other one is definitely sort of a big element of what we do on Psych.

So that’s my answer. I feel decent about it. I’m passing it off to Dulé.

D. Hill: I guess for myself it’s not any real I guess template that I came in to with a preconceived notion about like in terms of a previous detective team. I guess if I had to choose one I would say Cosby and Poitier in Uptown Saturday Night. I want to say that would be the equivalence that I could think of, but besides that there’s not really anything that I’ve thought about before to say yes, this is what the template is.

What was behind the decision to actually feature Vancouver in an episode?

D. Hill: I think it’s that we work in Vancouver. We’ve been working—

J. Roday: Yes, it was an opportunity to finally not worry about everything that was in the background of all of our shots. We actually could play the locations for the actual locations, and make believe stickers and Canadian flags all those things were good. And it was actually a lot of fun; I’m glad we’ve lasted long enough to do one to do that. It was fun.

D. Hill: And we finally didn’t have to move our palm trees with this; we could leave the palm trees—

J. Roday: That’s right, our three movable palm trees got an episode off.

D. Hill: Right. They were tired, you know what I mean; the palm trees were tired. With every episode they were …

J. Roday: We gave them a much-deserved break.

I really enjoy the pop culture references that you make in the series. If you could be in any television show of the past which would it be? Or if you could spoof a show as an episode what would it be?

J. Roday: Well, my answer is one in the same. I would have given anything to be on Twin Peaks, and if we last another season we will be doing a Twin Peaks episode. So there you go.

D. Hill: I guess for myself if I could have been a Cosby kid.
If I could have been on Cosby that would have been great for me. And I guess if we could spoof any show I would say maybe Fame; I could be Leroy.

Is the show is as much fun to shoot as it is to watch?

D. Hill: Yes.

J. Roday: Absolutely.

D. Hill: We have so much fun up there. The cast is great, the crew is even greater, and we just have a lot of fun. No one takes themselves too seriously; we all come to work and we are pretty much getting paid to laugh all day. We sing songs; we have the best singing crew in Vancouver. One day if you get a chance you come up there and we’ll have them sing you Happy Birthday just for no reason in particular. We sing Happy Birthday about three or four times a day just because. There’s a really great bunch of people up there.

J. Roday: And we don’t pay royalties for it. It’s free; we can sing Happy Birthday for free.

At Comic Con you kind of teased that Twin Peaks would be this season. Is that not true?

J. Roday: That is not true, unfortunately. I think that something got lost in the translation there. This season has sort of been locked for a while; there are no unaccounted for episodes. That was us teasing with the hoax that if some of our executives were in the audience it was like a hint, hint listen to how bad everybody wants this. You have to keep us on the air. It’s a promise; it’s definitely a promise that if there’s a season five Twin Peaks will definitely happen.

D. Hill: I guess a little teaser too Twin Peaks would be Ray Wise doing our show this year. A little prelude.

J. Roday: That’s true. It’s a Twin Peaks prelude.

The jokes that you made about The Mentalist in the premiere were really funny. When that show started were you guys like going, “Hmm, that sounds familiar,” and was it sort of fun to sort of point that out on screen?

J. Roday: It was. No one is off limits when it comes to us, including ourselves. We’ve made fun of our own sort of resumes on this show. As long as they have a sense of humor over there I would think that they would be sort of flattered and get a kick out of it.

Obviously, it’s not malicious in any way, but it’s what we do on our show and if you’re going to go make a bigger show that’s kind of like our show and get four times as many viewers and Emmy nominations then you should expect to hear about it when our show airs.

Do you guys have a favorite episode to film or that you think is the best episode you guys have done so far?

J. Roday: I like different ones for so many different reasons, but I can say that for me personally, just as an actor, I think the most fun I’ve ever had on our show was an episode called “Life’s Camera Homicidio” when my character got thrust into the world of a Spanish telenovela and I got to improvise in both English and Spanish. That was a blast.

D. Hill: Well I guess for that episode I guess Roday to be able to improvise in Spanish he was getting in touch with his roots so he was really excited about that.

But for myself it would still have to go back to “American Duos.” I just can’t help it, I just loved dressing up as Michael Jackson and being able to do a moonwalk, have John Landis direct me while I’m dressed up as Michael Jackson in Thriller. And there was a crowd there, too, so you can’t really beat that. You can’t really beat that. That’s one of my all time favorite experiences on Psych.

Do you have any things that you could tell us about this upcoming season, whatever you feel free to share either overall or specifics about what we can expect this season.

J. Roday: In terms of sort of themes for episodes you saw that we’re doing sort of an expedition Canada, catch a jewel/art thief episode, and we’re doing sort of a Shawn and Gus save an old western town and everything that comes along with that that you could imagine, including a grizzled, gray bearded James Brolin.

D. Hill: Exorcism episode.

J. Roday: Yes, we’re paying tribute to the Exorcist with our exorcism episode featuring the aforementioned Ray Wise, who is just fantastic in the episode I have to say. Just really came in and knocked it out of the park.

D. Hill: American Werewolf in London homage.

J. Roday: That’s right, a little love letter to American Werewolf in London and werewolf movies in general featuring David Naughton, obviously, and Josh Malina. And lots of other fun stuff.

I have to say I think we’re kind of storming out of our gates this year with some really good stuff. I think last year we stormed in our heads, but we were actually like trotting at a casual pace, and this year I actually think we’re storming out of the gates for real.

How many of the pop culture references come from you, including the Chad Michael Murray reference?

D. Hill: I would say about 99.9% of them do not come from me. Maybe if there’s something in the ‘70s that might be something that I came with, but most of the ‘80s references I have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s not until after I film it that I turn around and say, “Okay, now what was that about?”

J. Roday: Who were the twins that you knew that I had never heard of in Tuesday the 17th?

D. Hill: The twins? Oh, the Mowli Twins.

J. Roday: The Mowli twins. That was your 0.01% man.

D. Hill: That and what’s the other one? I don’t even know if it made it to air, the Gill Scott Heron.

J. Roday: Oh, that was. That made it two. That made it two.

D. Hill: Gill Scott Heron. That’s my two for the year.

J. Roday: Yes. Most of them come from the writers and then I throw in my fair share as well. Chad Michael Murray became the target of some early jabbing for us after I saw some interview where it was like a behind the scenes of House of Wax and he was wearing a wife beater. It was just a real serious interview, and I got such a kick out of it that we had to have some fun at his expense. Hopefully he’s a good-natured guy with a sense of humor.

How does becoming co-producers affect your roles on the show?

D. Hill: I don’t know what Roday thinks, but from my side I don’t think it really changes that much. I think from the beginning of the show the dynamic has pretty much been what it is. Maybe say from Roday’s side he may write a few more episodes, but he was already writing episodes anyway. From my side I would think it’s more of a title; it hasn’t really changed the actual working dynamic that much. Maybe a little bit changes, but nothing too major.

J. Roday: Yes. I think, like Dulé said, the dynamic was sort of set from the first season. Because none of our producers are up in Vancouver with us it was just sort of a necessary thing that we take on a little more responsibility to help the show sort of run smoothly. They finally decided to throw us a title for it.

James, have you visited any actual psychics in order to watch and observe them in action? And Dulé, being an encyclopedia of useless knowledge that oddly becomes useful every week, is it anything like the way your brain works in real life?

D. Hill: Well from my side no; I try not to fill up my brain cells with useless information. So most of the time I’m pretty much just learning it as it comes in the scripts.

J. Roday: And for me I visited a couple psychics back before we shot the pilot just because I was sort of interested to hear their back stories and sort of how the power manifests itself.

And of course you never know if they’re legit or not, but there were some interesting stories in terms of like physicalizing the gift. I was interested to hear like does it ever take over your body, does your body heat rise, stuff like that; anything that I could steal. Of course I did not tell them while visiting that I was going to be playing a fake psychic nor did they figure it out on their own, so maybe that tells you everything you need to know about the people that I met with.

What’s the one question that you both wish someone would ask you that no one has ever asked you?

D. Hill: I guess I would say that question you just asked me. It would be just a reoccurring cycle just would keep going around, because then my response would be the question you just asked me if you would ask me the question again.

J. Roday: Wow. That’s a tough one. That’s a good one. I love talking about my fellow cast mates, because I think they’re all geniuses and I think they’re all so talented. So anything that allows me the opportunity to go off ranting about them and watching them work and what a joy it is for me to sort of sit back if I’m writing or directing and sort of watch them do their thing is a great question that I feel like I don’t get asked enough. But that’s it; that’s the best that I can give you.

Which one of you is the most like your character on the series or are you completely different?

J. Roday: I think we’re both pretty different. I do. I think that’s one of the things that is really cool about our show is that we have as much fun as we do, A, and B, we get to play characters that are pretty different from our real life personas.

D. Hill: But actually going back to someone’s previous question about useless information I would say that Roday is more like Gus in that area, especially with film trivia, ‘80s trivia. He and Steve Franks can lift off songs on an album. I guess—

J. Roday: I have the trunk of useless knowledge.

D. Hill: Yes.

You guys have such great chemistry on the show, does that come naturally?

D. Hill: I think so; I think it comes naturally. From the time we first got together there was a good vibe there, and we’ve had a cast that continued to grow with it. I think even off screen we get along very well. The cast as a whole we like hanging out with each, making each other laugh, going out having dinner, playing poker, playing mafia. It’s just us up there in Vancouver, so if we didn’t get along then I think it would show itself on screen. So I would say it comes pretty natural.

J. Roday: I agree with all of that.

There’s a danger in comedy when you go across a number of seasons that you could become predictable or stale. How do you guys keep this show so fresh?

J. Roday: It’s a good question, and I think part of the answer is that all of us, from producers to writers to actors and everybody, is sort of hyper aware of what you just said. You couldn’t have a group that was sort of more acutely aware of not getting complacent, of recognizing how important it is to not become predictable and to not get stale, because it happens to so many other shows. And so when we go to break stories and we’re on set it sort of pushes us, quite frankly, to not settle for stuff that feels like it could be better and that’s sort of the way we’ve been treating the show from the beginning.

And while it may get more and more challenging the longer that we last the truth is we don’t ever want to be considered one of those shows that dropped off after season blank and then was just sort of on autopilot until the end. And I don’t think anyone will ever sort of break in that regard; we’ll always continue to challenge each other and make sure that everybody is working as hard as they possibly can.

D. Hill: And I think it’s very easy to, I guess, just to do what you think works. I think, as Roday was saying, we keep challenging ourselves to keep raising the bar, to keep staying engaged, and even as the actors on the set to keep staying connected and staying alive each time we do it.

And then also I think certain things we try to make sure we don’t run certain things to the ground, like Gus is not going to run screaming out every episode. After you find yourself doing certain things for a while you kind of say okay, let’s go someplace else with it to keep the characters alive.

J. Roday: Absolutely.

Both of you play characters who are more complicated than they first appear, like it would be easy to play Shawn as just this grifting slacker but there’s more to him than that. What do each of you think is your character’s most difficult trait to capture and what moment in the show has allowed that character element to shine?

J. Roday: Well that’s very insightful and thoughtful indeed. For me I would say the most challenging thing about playing Shawn is the tight wire act between slacker and man child, and then also somebody that you really do want to invest in emotionally and like every week. And the line between wanting to rub his head and slap his face is very, very, very thin. And sort of walking that line and always knowing when to stop is sort of the most challenging on a day-to-day basis.

In terms of like a single event that sort of helped me with that I would say probably when we brought Shawn’s mother onto the show, first episode of season three. Kind of we peeled back a layer that I think by tapping into it has allowed that sort of tight wire act to get a little easier just because you sort of saw a side of him that was way vulnerable that he didn’t have complete control over. And once we sort of put that out there I think it made things a little bit easier in terms of the balancing act.

D. Hill: And then just for myself is one I don’t I guess get too cerebral with my character, so I don’t really think about it like that too often. I guess when a question comes up it makes me think about it, but in my day-to-day action on the set I don’t really process it I just do it.

I would say I guess for me it would be that Gus to not make him too nerdy but not make him too cool, because he is a nerd. But at the same time you want him to be cool also, and I think too far in either direction would change the dynamic of the show. So it’s always trying to find that balance of cool nerdiness or nerdy coolness or something like that. That would be my answer to that.

You said what your favorite episode was, but you guys have done so many great things together on the show what has been your favorite like moment on the show?

J. Roday: Well since we’ve already sort of thrown out the Duos thing a couple of times I’ll try to name one that doesn’t involve us dressing up and singing at the end of that episode. I don’t know.

D. Hill: There are so many.

J. Roday: There are so many good ones, but I think back at some of the early ones just because they were the moments that sort of helped set the tone and define the series. I think it was a lot harder to come by moments like that in the early episodes, as opposed to now when we’ve been doing it so long.

So I’ll say the scene in Forgive Me Not where we were pretending to be doctors from other countries and spoke in the ticktock language to the zoo doctor. I think for where we were in the series that was pretty inspired that—

D. Hill: Yes. I would have to agree with that; that was one of the classic moments. It wasn’t planned to go as far as it did, and Bob Dansky just let us run with it and it turned into that where we just were– I don’t even know how we were communicating, but we were doing some kind of language to each other that kept on going.

In the new episode you work with Cary Elwes, what was that like and were there any Dread Pirate Roberts jokes going on?

J. Roday: We went pretty light on him. We went pretty light on him with The Princess Bride jokes. He came in and he was very focused and he wanted to do a really good job. He had given his character a lot of thought, and that was sort of enough for us, I think, just seeing an actor of that caliber come in and be definitely sort of concerned and tuned in as he was. I mean don’t get me wrong; we had a great time with him and he was a blast to work with, but we didn’t rib him too much.

In season three we got to see a lot more of the serious side of the characters. Are we going to get more of that in season four?

D. Hill: Definitely.

J. Roday: Yes, a little bit. You don’t ever want to go too far in that direction, because I think people have plenty of shows that they watch to watch people be serious. I think at the end of the day it’s always going to be important for us to mostly deliver what has made us successful, but there will definitely be episodes this year where you see us flip our serious switches. Gus has a serious jackal switch where it’s still a jackal but it’s a serious jackal.

D. Hill: Yes. That will have to make its way out some time this year.

What has it been like to be on USA Network, and do you think kind of there’s any big differences being on cable? Do you guys ever feel like you’re in a sort of friendly competition with newer series, other multiple of detective, spy, comedy series?

D. Hill: From my side I think it’s great on USA. They really take the time to nurture their shows, they give you the chance to grow, and they give you the freedom to try different things. I would say everyone over there at USA, Jeff Wachtel, Bonnie Hammer, they all are very brilliant at what they do and they know what works. They know what works for their network and their track record proves it.

In terms of like feeling in competition I myself don’t. I always feel that your journey is your journey and what’s good for one is good for all. If the network is doing well then it’s great for all of us, so if they have a show that comes and premiers well great; that makes us that much more stronger. As long as we can hold down our spot then I think we can keep going along for a good …

J. Roday: Yes. I think what we do is fairly unique on Psych, and we just have to keep doing that because that’s what got us where we are. So you can’t really worry about any other show, whether it’s on USA or not. You have to stay true to yourselves and hope that people keep watching, and in the meantime just be, like Dulé said, just be happy for the family because it seems like everything they churn out right now turns to gold.

How did you enjoy Comic Con this year?

D. Hill: I actually loved it. I wished that I wasn’t so tired, because we had worked the night before in Vancouver and we flew down to LA I guess Wednesday and then I got up and flew to Comic Con Thursday morning. So I was pretty exhausted, so I wish I had more energy to be able to walk around. So I’m hoping to be able to go back next year and make sure I get some rest.

But I enjoyed it. It was great being there with all the fans and seeing people’s reactions. I enjoyed seeing the different outfits that I did see. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to do it for many more years.

J. Roday: Yes, I was absolutely blown away. I mean working up in Vancouver, to an extent, sort of puts us in a bubble. To be able to come face-to-face with our fans and see their reaction I felt like the fourth Jonas Brother and I feel like Dulé was the fifth black Jonas Brother.

Even though it was only for an hour it was just an overwhelming, heartwarming response. I don’t want to go as far as to say it’s like a validating thing, but you really sort of felt for a moment there like wow what we’re doing is connecting with people, and that’s the best feeling you can have as an artist for sure.

If people haven’t started watching Psych yet why should they tune in now?

D. Hill: Well there’s so much serious stuff going on in the world I think it’s a great show to come and sit back, put your feet up, and laugh for a little bit; just clear your minds. I think anyone who comes and watches this show definitely laughs out loud at least once, so if you’re looking to just step away from all the stress for a second then I would say check out Psych.

You know we’re like kids in a candy store, and it kind of brings people back to a time in their youth when people just dared to do anything, and that’s what we do on Psych.

J. Roday: And there are so few rules that we have to follow in terms of making this show. I don’t think there are a lot of other shows out there where one week you’re wearing chaps and spurs and riding a horse and the next week you’re running from a potato sack headed killer chasing you into the woods with a machete, and yet you’re still laughing both times. I think it’s a pretty unique little hybrid; it has something for everyone.

Going to go back to the American Werewolf episode. You wrote that, James. Right?

J. Roday: Yes. I co-wrote that with my best friend Todd Harthan.

Can you talk more about it? And is John Landis directing?

J. Roday: The original plan was to have Landis direct it for obvious reasons. He is off directing a feature in England right now. So we got the incomparable Andrew Bernstein to step in in his place, who did a fantastic job, who Dulé has known since his West Wing days.

It’s not unlike Tuesday the 17th; it’s an episode that needs to sort of stand on its own feet, but will definitely have moments where we’re winking and nodding and proclaiming our love for the original. But it has its own little story and its own little twists and turns.

Just having David Naughton on set was enough for me, because I got to pick his brain for the better part of a week and ended up getting a signed picture of him mid-transformation with the elongated torso reaching up at me. That’s getting framed and going on a wall.

How has the success of this show changed your life?

D. Hill: Well for myself it hasn’t really changed that much, because I had come from the West Wing before. So West Wing had more of a bigger change in terms of my daily life than going from West Wing to Psych. The only thing I would say there’s more fans, because the audience is different.

But in terms of regular life I wouldn’t say it’s that much. I guess doing the show has changed my life because I’m in Vancouver six months out of the year. So you’re kind of battling that being settled in one place, because by the time that I come home and I get settled in LA and used to being home and having my home life I now have to go back to Vancouver and live six months up there. But there are worse things I can be going through, so I’m not complaining at all.

J. Roday: My socks and underwear don’t have holes in them anymore. That was a big deal for me.

Would you guys think about anything in the future that you would like to possibly write or direct?

D. Hill: Well in terms of writing, I think in the future you will see me writing something called Nothing; it will be a blank piece of paper with nothing written on it, because I have no ambition to write so that’s not going to be happening. I’ll leave all that up to James Roday.

J. Roday: Yes. I feel like this have been an invaluable sort of experience for me, because I’ve managed to kind of cut my teeth doing all of the things that I do aspire to do. Hopefully by the time this show has a long and successful run I’ll have sort of banked enough stuff to sort of go out there and get myself another gig writing or directing.

I can tell you that when we do the Twin Peaks episode it will probably either be myself or Steve Franks directing, and the two of us will certainly write it because I don’t think anyone else knows half as much about that show as we do. So I don’t think we would feel comfortable handing it off, unless David Lynch wanted to come in and direct, in which case we’d make an exception.

You’ve had a ton of fantastic guest stars. Who would you like to see on the show and who do you think they would play?

J. Roday: My answer is going to stay the same until we get him on. The answer is David Bowie, and anybody he wants is whom he will play.

D. Hill: And for myself I would like to get someone like Chris Tucker on the show. It would be great if he could play some kind of, I mean he could play anybody he wanted to also, but he could play some kind of relative of mine or something. It would be a lot of fun.

J. Roday: I think David Bowie could also play David Bowie if he wanted to, and Shawn and Gus could just have an episode where they hung out with David Bowie.

D. Hill: I think David Bowie could play Mr. Guster in season five.

J. Roday: He could.

D. Hill: There you go—because we change my dad all the time. Like dude, your daddy is David Bowie. … is not showing.

J. Roday: That would be fantastic.

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