From show creator DJ Nash, the ABC series A Million Little Things follows a group of friends who initially bonded under unusual circumstances, but who stayed tight over the years since. After one of them dies unexpectedly, it leads the others to re-evaluate their careers and relationships, as they each wonder if they’re where they should and need to be. The series stars David Giuntoli, James Roday, Romany Malco, Allison Miller, Christina Moses, Christina Ochoa, Grace Park, Stephanie Szostak, Lizzy Greene and Ron Livingston.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor James Roday talked about how he came to A Million Little Things, the appeal of this character, whether he personally relates more to Gary Mendez or Shawn Spencer (from his previous TV series Psych), treating the issue of suicide truthfully and with respect, the chemistry he has with this cast, whether it’s harder to be funny in a comedy or a drama, researching what it’s like for a man to have breast cancer, and whether he’d ever direct an episode of this show. He also talked about the plans to definitely make another Psych movie, how humbling the staying power of that series has been, and directing Treehouse, which is one of the 12 movies that’s a part of the Blumhouse horror series Into the Dark, being released once a month on Hulu.
Collider : After so many years of talking to you about Psych, I have to admit that it’s a little weird to be talking to you about another show, but still good to talk to you, nonetheless.
JAMES RODAY: It’s weird the way that works sometimes.
And since we’ve also spoken about our mutual love of Twin Peaks before, do you think Gary is a fan of Twin Peaks, or do you think he’s never even seen an episode?
RODAY: Do you know what? I think Gary has heard of Twin Peaks. He probably vaguely remembers that it was a show, at some point, but I don’t know that Gary was rushing home to watch Twin Peaks, as a 7th grader.
How did this show and role come your way? Were you just reading pilot scripts, or was it specifically this one?
RODAY: It was specifically this one. I was not reading pilot scripts. It was quite the opposite, actually, as I was focused almost exclusively on directing. My peeps, my team, my gents called and said, “Look, there’s one script that you have to read.” When they call and say that, it’s an easy decision because, the truth is, it doesn’t take that long to read a script, and if they’re that excited about it, it actually means that they’re curating the material and are only sending me something that they think is special. So, when those calls happen, you usually get pumped because you’re like, “Let me see what you’re so excited about.” Psych actually happened very similarly. In that way, there’s some symmetry. So, I read it, and I totally got it. I got it in terms of what the show is, and what the responsibility and obligations would be, but more specifically, I got it because I personally have been touched by just about every issue that we’re dealing with. It really resonated. We just recently got through a breast cancer scare with one of my very best friends, about a year and a half ago. I just really felt like, “Hey, if you’re gonna call yourself an actor still, then these are exactly the kinds of things that you have to do.” And once I sat down across from (show creator) DJ [Nash] and talked about what his approach to the show was gonna be and what was important to him, it became clear that, at the very least, I would be doing a pilot called A Million Little Things.
I really appreciated that the series also had a PSA about suicide. It’s really important that people know there are people out there who want to and can help.
RODAY: We want to treat that issue respectfully, truthfully and authentically because of the fact that it is so ever present in our lives right now and it’s becoming something of an epidemic. It’s a really fine line that you have to be aware of. When you’re trying to craft a narrative and a television show around an issue like suicide, you can very easily fall into a lot of traps. I think the good news for us is that we we’re able to identify what those traps were, based on some other shows that have tried to do this, and say, “Okay, we can’t do that. That’s not right. That doesn’t feel real.” There is a pretty big checklist of don’ts, when it comes to how to deal with this. We’ve been working with so many consultants, and talking to so many survivors and people that have dealt with it firsthand that, collectively, we’ve got a pretty good handle on what not to do, moving forward. For anybody who’s concerned that this is a show that is somehow going to romanticize suicide, or glorify it in some way, or trivialize it in some way, or try to tell you that there’s a reason for it, we’re not doing any of those things.
Was Gary the only character that you’d thought about or talked about playing, or had you looked at all of the characters and felt most drawn to him??
RODAY: It was 100% Gary for me. The only thing that I knew, going in, was that Rome was African-American, so that wasn’t going to work. Gary spoke to me, so that was the direction that I went in.
Do you find that you personally relate more to Gary or Shawn (from Psych), or a combination of the two of them?
RODAY: I certainly feel like I relate more to Gary than I ever did to Shawn, and I think the reason for that is that I am the right age for this show. It’s a major wake-up call for any of us that are tiptoeing around that half-way mark, at the half-time of life, and are look in the mirror going, “Is this what I should be doing? Are these the people that I should be doing it with? How am I treating them? How am I treating myself? Am I living my best life?” All of those things that you don’t really care about in your 20s, and you’ve only begun to think about in your 30s, really become a daily part of the process once you hit 40, and that’s what this show is to me. That’s what it was when I read it. That’s what I felt when I read it. We’re all dealing, either directly or indirectly, with most of these issues that are in the show. It hit the middle of the target for me, as opposed to a role like Shawn, which was just more fun than you could ever shake a stick at, but I don’t know who can actually relate to being Peter Pan because you just can’t live like that.