The USA Network comedy series Psych returns for the remainder of its sixth season on February 29th, with a special super-sized episode entitled “Indiana Shawn And The Temple Of The Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger,” marking the return of Despereaux (Cary Elwes). Joining Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dulé Hill), the trio is in a race against an evil gang of art thieves to find a mythical dagger that, according to legend, will unlock the hidden treasure of a deceased billionaire.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor/producer/writer/director James Roday, who is ultra-charming and obviously very passionate about his craft, talked about what fans can expect from the remainder of this season, working with his first TV crush Mädchen Amick, how the fact that anything goes with the show really keeps things fresh after six seasons, how he decides which episodes he’ll direct, the process for determining what they’ll pay tribute to in each season, that they’ve already started lining things up for Season 7 (they go into production on it in April), and how invaluable he finds the communication with the show’s loyal fans. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JAMES RODAY: Oh, my gosh, you and me both!
If only for the length of the episode, I felt that much better.
RODAY: Yeah, it was pretty phenomenal. I’m such a huge fanboy of that show, and it was like going back in time and getting to be in an episode. It was pretty surreal. A lot of that cast hadn’t seen each other in 10 or 15 years. The show was like a reunion for them. It’s was awesome! It was emotional and very special.
What can fans expect from the return episode, “Indiana Shawn and the Temple of the Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger”?
RODAY: We are premiering with the third appearance from Cary Elwes as his character, Despereaux. It’s a bit of a tribute to the Indiana Jones franchise, on top of that. You can expect a little more action and adventure then we usually deliver. It’s a lot of fun. It was written and directed by our creator, Steve Franks. If you’re at all familiar with him and his episodes, they generally are the most bouncy and fun episodes that we do. It also happens to be my personal favorite of the Despereaux batch. I think fans will be pumped.
RODAY: It’s a fun idea that Shawn is enchanted by this guy. He’s one of the few criminals that has managed to either keep pace with us or stay ahead of us. It’s a little bit of the Roadrunner/Coyote act. And then, when Cary came up and was a complete and utter gentleman, and a lot of fun to hang out with, it clenched it, that we would keep the character coming back.
What was it like to get to work with your first TV crush, Mädchen Amick? Did it live up to the expectation?
RODAY: I was a little nervous, on the first day. That wasn’t something that I created to help promote the episode. She was legitimately my first major TV crush. I was 12 or 13 years old, and I wanted to be Bobby and I wanted Shelly to be my girlfriend. That was the deal. And, I’ve been friends with Dana Ashbrook for over a decade. Luckily, I got enough of a sense from him of what to expect from Mädchen, so that when she came up, I knew how to act, what she liked and what her deal with, which helped me considerably, versus going in cold and making a fool out of myself. She’s still very, very sexy, and she can bring it. She was a blast! We didn’t catch her, at the end of the episode, so there’s an open end there, as well.
Did you let her know that she was your first TV crush?
Do you enjoy the episodes where you guys get to do some more physical work?
RODAY: Yeah. I did a lot of physical stuff in the first couple of seasons, when we were coming out of the gates and trying to figure out what the show was and what this psychic thing was going to be. And then, we got away from that for awhile. Just over the last season or so, we reopened that box and what we’ve discovered is that it’s a lot harder than it used to be. I will say, without shame, that my brilliant stunt performer, who has been covering me for years, did a lot of work for me this past season. I used to be the dude that wanted to try all of his own stuff, if they would let me. Not anymore.
Is there a point that you realized that really anything goes with this show?
RODAY: Yeah, I think it was when they let me direct the first time and I did an homage to Friday the 13th. We were out there at the camp, basically shooting a slasher movie. That was Season 3, and that’s when it hit me that, “Wow, this show is anything we want it to be, as long as Shawn and Gus are doing their thing.” It’s pretty remarkable, and it’s certainly kept things fresh for us.
We come in, at the beginning of each season, with a wishlist of costumes that we want to wear and things that we haven’t done yet, and just start checking them off. It’s a very unique show, in that way, and it’s a testament to our writing staff and the cast, that we can move in and out of different worlds, every week. I think it helps with the longevity of the show. I think it’s kept us on the air, quite frankly. We can keep throwing fans surprises.
Like any show, we have episodes that aren’t as good, but I feel like because we always take such big swings, it’s okay to strike out, every now and again, because when we connect, I feel like we really do connect. It’s rare that you sit down for an episode of Psych and think, “Oh, that was just okay.” For the most part, we’re either really knocking the ball around, or we’re striking out and failing miserably, but you don’t ever want to be anywhere in between.
RODAY: It usually starts with a concept. I knew I wanted to do slasher. I knew I wanted to do Hitchcock. I volunteered to do Christmas because I thought it would be an interesting challenge. I was the last person that anybody at our network or on our show expected to direct a Christmas episode, so I felt like I should toss my hat in the ring and give that a try. And then, once we have a concept and a story, because I usually write the ones I direct as well, I do generally try to marginalize Shawn, as much as I can, and put the focus on the other actors, which is twofold. That allows me more time to focus on making it look as good as possible, and I love watching my co-stars work. Nothing pleases me more than when they get a chance to do something that they don’t usually get to do, or they have a central storyline. It’s a way to guarantee both of those things.
And The Shining tribute episode, “Heeeeere’s Lassie” (Episode 11), is the next episode that you’ve directed?
RODAY: Yes. That is a Tim Omundson special, I’ll tell ya. It was so much fun. It was such a joy to watch him tackle that. He went full Jack [Nicholson] and had so much fun. He killed it! And, Dulé [Hill] was every bit his equal, turning in his Shelley Duvall. The ideal, for me, when I’m directing is something where Shawn is used judiciously and I can really play with the other guys and give them the chance to do something different.
When you guys decide, each season, what things you want to pay tribute to, have any of the other cast members ever said, “You want me to do what?!”?
RODAY: They get so pumped, when we come to them and say, “Okay, you’re going to get to do this.” They watch Dulé and I do it, every week. It’s like getting the call to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth in the World Series. It’s really exciting for them. They’re so good at what they do, and they’re so great at keeping the show on the ground and making Dulé and I look good that it’s great for the producers and the writing staff to say, “We’re doing a Juliet (Maggie Lawson) episode and you’re going to work with William Shatner,” or “We’re doing The Shining and Tim, you’re going to get to do your best [Jack] Nicholson.” They light up like Christmas trees. I wish we could do it for them more often. The longer that we last, I suspect that we will. But, we’ve got gamers on the show, man. When you say, “Jump!,” they say, “How high?”
What other tributes or homage episodes do you have lined up, for the remainder of this season?
RODAY: We riff on The Bachelor, except I guess it would be The Bachelorette because it’s one girl and a bunch of guys. And then, our season finale is a little bit of an homage to Chinatown. We call it “Santabarbaratown.” And, we’ve got three others in the mix that are all their own concoctions, one of which is directed by Jennifer Lynch, who you should know from writing Laura Palmer’s diary. She’s making her television directing debut on our show, which was absolutely thrilling. It’s a weird, twist-y little go-down-the-rabbit-hole episode that we constructed, especially for her. French Stewart guest stars and plays a wonderfully weird little character. It’s also got a lot of Woody the coroner (Kurt Fuller) in it, which is always fun for me. I’m looking forward to that one.
Now that you know that you’ll have a Season 7, are you already trying to line up things you want to do and see if you can get certain guest stars?
RODAY: Yeah, we’ve started. The writers are all back and we go into production in April, so we’re starting to break stories and call around and check on dates for people. We promised everybody a Clue episode last season and we weren’t able to do it because of some scheduling problems, so that’s back on the board and looking good for Season 7. Things are in the works to make that one happen. And then, as far as a musical goes, it’s anybody’s guess, at this point. It takes such an unbelievable amount of work to pull it off, and I think (show creator) Steve [Franks] would say the same thing. Once we actually sat down and started talking about it, it hit us, just how much prep and work it was going to take to do what we wanted to do, which was not only do a musical, but do a good musical that was different than any other show’s musical. It was like, “Huh, when are we going to do this? When are we going to be able to make this happen?” It’s still definitely on the board and it’s still being discussed, but we’re all in agreement that we shouldn’t do it unless it’s spectacular.
Are you surprised at how badly people seem to want to see a Clue episode?
RODAY: I would say yes, normally, except that I dated a girl in college who was so obsessed with that movie that it exposed me to the level of fandom that exists. I was educated as to the true cult status that that movie has. She would say, “You think it’s just me, but there are others. There are many of us.” She would show me websites and I was like, “Wow, you’re not lying!” So, the Clue fans are out there, man. I certainly dig the movie. It’s fun, and it was one of the last things we got from Madeline Kahn, so it’s always special for that reason. It is a bit of a phenomenon, and that means we can riff on it ‘cause that’s how we roll. We’ll try to get as many of those guys to come up as we can, the way we did with Twin Peaks.
RODAY: We really wanted to do something with David Bowie, and one of the original pitches for a vampire episode was to make it more like The Hunger because that would be the perfect way to get Bowie on the show. But, we just can’t get him because he’s essentially retired and I’m sure he has no idea what Psych is. I think we finally had to raise the white flag on that one. I think a David Bowie/The Hunger-themed episode would have been pretty awesome. But, one door closes and another door opens. By doing the version that we did, we were able to put the original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) on the show, and then have her fall in love with Lassiter (Tim Omundson). It gave us its own gifts.
Is there anything that you would love to see Shawn and Gus get to do or go through, before the show is done?
RODAY: Yeah, I would love to see Gus meet a girl, in a real way, so that they have to deal with that on Gus’ side, the way they’ve had to deal with it from Shawn’s side. I’m encouraged by the fact that we’ve been around long enough to start talking about real character development. The fact that the guys are getting older – they’re not that young anymore – opening up the ideas of mortality and maturity and responsibility, and have them resist it, but at the same time, embrace it, could make for a new, fun energy, just in the way that they approach their cases and everyday life. It’s that moment when Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are sitting on the steps in Wedding Crashers, and it hits them and they go, “We’re not that young.” That’s a whole new dimension that we can start exploring, as we head towards our twilight on the show. And then, I’ve been pitching a porn episode for years, so far to no avail.
RODAY: Well, it’s tricky. Right now, you basically have a relationship that’s 100% based on deceit. As cute as they are together, and as much as they may compliment one another, the fact is that Shawn has been lying to her, since the very beginning. I guess you could go a couple different ways with it, but to have her just let him off the hook feels like cheating and taking the easy way out, to me. I think there’s going to be a reckoning, at some point, and I can’t imagine that initially it’s going to go over very well. We’ll have to see if that’s something they can bounce back from or not. I’m just as intrigued as you are.
Do you plan that reveal ahead of time, or do you just see where it fits organically, as you go along?
RODAY: That’s been our approach to that relationship, for better or worse. In doing that, we’ve managed to find some really nice moments, and we’ve also managed to spin our wheels a little bit. Because we’re getting closer to the end, it probably makes sense to start mapping it out a little more and decide if it’s an endgame or if it’s a bump in the road. We’ve got fans that are so loyal and so awesome and who have been hanging with us for so long that I want to give them the absolute best version of everything, as we start wrapping things up. For my part, I will definitely be championing the idea of planning some stuff and making sure that we pay it off. That’s where we are, at this point.
How much more challenging is it, at this point, to keep coming up with nicknames that Shawn has for Gus?
RODAY: Everyone is in on the joke now – our entire writing staff and our writers’ assistants and everybody – so I have a lot of help. Every episode, there are at least one or two that are scripted, and then, along with the scripted ones, there are usually five or six alternatives, plus whatever I pull out of my rear-end, in the moment. Luckily, we still have a wealth of options, as well as for the “Gus, don’t be’s.” Those have gotten almost as popular in the writer’s room as the nicknames. There have been so many. At this point, I lean towards the “Gus, don’t be’s,” just because you can literally say anything. It doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be an inanimate object, an existential idea, or anything you want it to be. With the names, you want them all to be A+’s, so it takes a little more effort.
RODAY: I think it’s invaluable. It’s an umbilical chord that keeps us on the up-and-up with the perspective. They’re like fuel for this machine. We need to keep pushing as hard as we can and putting as good of a product on the air as possible, and how much more validation do you need than going to Comic-Con, or having a fan appreciation day, and feeling all that love? It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s really special, and we all get it and appreciate it. It’s why going into Season 7, we’re every bit as excited as we were in Season 1 or Season 2. It’s because of that relationship. Psych is a cult show, and anytime a show takes on a cult status, it means that the fans are a huge part of it. USA has been great about creating and manifesting these opportunities for us to connect with the fans. I’m totally slacking, in terms of being on Twitter or Facebook, but I know the rest of the cast are all on there and they Tweet all the time and know the fans by their handles. I think that’s fantastic. At some point, I imagine I will catch up with the Joneses, but for now, it remains this thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around.
Psych airs on Wednesday nights on the USA Network.