James Roday and Steve Franks on How ‘Psych: The Movie’ Came to Be & Future Sequels
Fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his best friend, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) have teamed up once again, for the two-hour Psych: The Movie special on the USA Network. Picking up three years after the series finale, a mystery assailant is targeting one of their own, leading Shawn and Gus on a wild and wildly unpredictable pursuit of the bad guys with often hilarious consequences. Directed by show creator Steve Franks and co-written by Franks and Roday, the movie also stars Maggie Lawson as “Juliet,” Kirsten Nelson as “Chief Vick,” Corbin Bernsen as “Henry” and Timothy Omundson as “Lassiter.”
At a press junket for NBCUniversal, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with James Roday and Steve Franks for a chat about why now is the perfect time for Psych: The Movie, how long this movie has been in the works, deciding on where they’d pick up the story, relocating the setting to San Francisco, deciding on the status of Shawn and Juliet’s relationship, designing the new Psych office, why movies instead of a full season is a better format for them, and why they included a #TeamGrimmie t-shirt. Roday, a huge Twin Peaks fan, also shared his feelings about that show’s return.
Collider: Why is now the perfect time for Psych: The Movie?
STEVE FRANKS: As there are some dark elements circling in our world, I felt like it was our duty to give people two hours, where you can laugh, feel good, feel love, and celebrate friendship and being together. Writing these characters again just felt so natural. It felt so good just to type these lines and send them to James [Roday], and then have them come back. It’s a group of people trying to make people happy and that doesn’t happen a lot with series television, but especially with two-hour movies.
JAMES RODAY: Without banging a drum or getting on a soap box, there are always ebbs and tides in this country, in terms of the political and social climate that we might be dealing with, at any given moment. I think this is one of those moments where love is important, laughter is important, fellowship is important, and believing in something is important. The seed that Psych was built on was all of those things. And laughing is really, really important right now. Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on, one thing that we can all agree on is that we’re not laughing enough, these days. Anything, these days, that isn’t divisive, I’m for it.
How long has this been in the works?
FRANKS: It was about a year ago that we pitched the movie to the network. After about five minutes, they were like, “Yeah!” I was like, “No, I’ve got more!,” and I wouldn’t stop talking. I went right to the end and made them listen to it. And then, we wrote the script. When we got done with the script, I said to James, “I feel like this is something that only you and I know about. It’s a great little secret. How amazing is it gonna be when we send the script out to the actors? How amazing is it gonna be when we shoot the movie? And how amazing is it gonna be when it airs?” It was all of these levels of revealing this secret that we had.
In the time since the series ended, had you thought about what these characters might be up to, if Psych came back, in some way?
RODAY: I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve thought about it, once or twice.
FRANKS: I had started a show (Rush Hour), James was directing Gravy, and Dule [Hill] was always working, so we had to get a time frame to match up. There was one or two bits I wanted to do, but when it became real, that first day of trying to think of the story was terrifying. It happened pretty quickly, but the actual story didn’t happen until we started. The one thing I did know that I wanted to do was to pick it up in real time. If it was one year after, two years after, or three years after, I wanted that time to have expired, and not to pick up two seconds after the finale ended. Most importantly, we didn’t want to erase everything that happened in the show and just reset the arcs of the characters. They’re now four years on from shooting, but three years on. They always liked to delay our airdates about 12 months, which is great when you’re trying to do topical humor. We’ll never do jokes that are too recent.
How did this come to be set in San Francisco, instead of Santa Barbara?
RODAY: We were always going to start it in San Francisco. Steve had a very vivid version of that opening. I think that was one of the things that was clearest to him when he started, so we always knew that we were going to represent San Francisco to see where the guys were and how they set up shop. And then, we got thrown a pretty massive curveball, a couple weeks before we were supposed to start shooting, when our dear family member Tim [Omundson] suffered a medical emergency. A movie that was supposed to be a flourish of San Francisco, and then back to Santa Barbara for old time’s sake, became about having it all be in San Francisco. We had a very short period of time to reconcile everything that had happened, emotionally, and then also go into the script and figure out how to make it work without going back to Santa Barbara, at all.
FRANKS: It felt like, if we went back to Santa Barbara and didn’t see Tim in the capacity that we would need to, it was gonna feel false. We spent a very hectic three days together, taking all of the things that we had thought of and mapped out, and shake all of the elements up in the box. We came up with a script, at the bar that we were writing it in, with something where we thought, “How the hell is this better than the think that we wrote over several months?!”
RODAY: Thank you, Vodka!
FRANKS: We do feel like it’s a more emotional script, it’s a funnier script, it has more danger, and it has higher stakes. So, I do think we owe a big thank you to Vodka and to those edamame with the Szechuan spice on them. That helped me, a lot.
RODAY: It also felt fresh and different. It’s the people you love and that you care about, but with a new setting and new green screens. Watching it was like, “Oh, wow! This is like Psych, but with a twist of something!”
FRANKS: It feels more feature like and more important.
Since there must have been a period of time where you were unsure whether you’d be able to include Tim Omundson at all, were you ultimately pleased to at least have him involved, in some small way?
RODAY: It was really difficult for us. First and foremost, the reason we made this movie was for our fans, and we know how beloved Lassiter is, as a character. There are diehard Psych-Os that would rather see Shawn get killed than Lassie. They love them some Lassie. So, to make the Psych movie without Lassiter was a real slippery slope. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do or not. When it became clear that there was an opportunity to involve Tim, then it became a no-brainer. We knew that we didn’t have to shoot his stuff in the body of the movie. We knew that we had four extra months. And after we all saw him and touched base with him and got a sense of where he was, we just knew, collectively in our hearts, that he would be able to do this. That was a huge motivating factor in moving forward, and it became a rallying cry. It lifted our spirits on that set, knowing that three or four months from now, Tim would do his part and the whole circle was going to be complete.
How did you decide where you wanted Shawn and Juliet’s relationship to be?
RODAY: Our fans kept us on the air for eight years, so we didn’t want to short change them. We didn’t want to make big decisions that they didn’t get to experience or be a part of. We didn’t want to be like, “Hey, guess what? Shawn and Juliet are married with a kid now, and you didn’t get to experience any of that!” That would have been a really crummy thing to do. For us, it was about how to construct it in a way that feels real and that feels right to Shawn and Juliet, the way that we know them and remember them, but that also doesn’t short change all of our fans, so that they feel like they missed out on something that they’ve been waiting for, for a really long time.
Whose idea was the new office?
RODAY: That’s a Steve Franks special.
FRANKS: It was late at night at my house and I was struggling with what the new Psych office would be. The old Psych office was so iconic to us and we were in there so much. I wanted to do something cinematic, and I started thinking about Chinatown. I always operated on the false assumption that Gremlins took place in San Francisco, which it doesn’t, it turns out, and I also was operating under the assumption that we would get to shoot some of it in L.A., and I know they shot some of it on the Warner Bros. lot. I had been working on a show on the Warner Bros. lot and I thought we would recreate the exact moment from Gremlins there, but then the budget came in and we had to slash $3.5 million out, and we were back in Vancouver. So, it was a tribute to James and my mutual love to Phoebe Cates, which is second only to our mutual love of David Bowie, and to Gremlins, which we had never properly saluted. It was also an opportunity to have something that looks great and cinematic. It was quite possibly my favorite set to hang out in. I was so sad, the day they had to tear it down. I would still be living there, right now, if they allowed us to, but we kept all the blueprints for it, so it could come back.
Now that you need to make an annul Psych movie the new holiday tradition, do you have other ideas for future movies?
RODAY: I think the model now, moving forward with these special movies, is perfect for us. Where I don’t know if we could confidently sit in front of you and say, “Yeah, we can do 13 of these again, no problem,” we can definitely come together and come up with one great idea, every couple of years. If we can’t do that, shame on us. I think it’s the perfect model for Psych, moving forward.
FRANKS: We have ideas.
RODAY: You never want to be caught with your pants down, so we have to be ready, in case the studio jumps for joy, after this one airs and everybody thinks it’s great. We don’t want to be starting from zero.
FRANKS: And we have leftover things that we didn’t get to do in this one, budgetarily. We’re most excited that we brought this one in under budget and on time. If people show up on the first night, like we hope and think they might, then just call us and tell us when and where, and we’ll be there.
There are always so many little nods to things on Psych. Do you plan all of that, or does any of that every just come up, in the moment?
RODAY: When we sat down, a million years ago, when I looked 10, our love for two iconic ‘80s characters – Ferris Bueller and Chris Knight – was certainly an engine for this show, but it’s not like we decided that it was going to become a love letter to the ‘80s. It evolved and became that show. Anytime you’re lucky enough to be on something that lasts longer than half a season, you never quite know what kind of life the show is gonna take on. Luckily for us, we have so much useless ‘80s pop culture knowledge stored in our brains that when it started to turn in that direction, it was like, “Oh, my god, we finally have an outlet for all the movies that we watched when we were kids!” It was a happy accident and a lovely development, for both of us.
FRANKS: Most of the time, it’s in the script, and not because we want to be that planned out, but usually because we’re just sending things to each other to make each other laugh. Right to the last day of ADR, James was doing his last bit and I threw out an obscure line from the beginning of American Werewolf in London, and he delivered it immediately. American Werewolf is a movie that we love so much, but if you don’t know it’s American Werewolf, it doesn’t feel like a joke. It just feels like something he says when he’s leaving. That’s the best part.
RODAY: With the movie, we probably policed ourselves more than we would, like in an episode of Season 8. I thought it was important to treat the fans to a classic Psych caper, as opposed to veering pretty far off the tracks because it’s late in the show and we can get away with it. I think we did a pretty good job of balancing the winks and nods, but also telling a coherent story and catching people up and making everybody feel like they’re a part of these characters again.
James, what made you wear the #TeamGrimmie t-shirt?
RODAY: It’s still hard to wrap our heads around what happened to Christina, but she was an avid Psych-O and we were huge supporters of her. The fact that her family has put together a foundation and is trying to turn an unthinkable tragedy into a way to help people means a great deal to us, and we want to support them, any way that we can. I’ve personally managed to keep up with her best friend, over the years, and the opportunity presented itself. It was obviously a no-brainer. The great thing about USA and Universal is that anytime we want to do something like that, they never have to run it up the flagpole and run it through a bunch of nonsense. It’s Psych, so we can pretty much do whatever we want. I was like, “I want to wear this t-shirt in the last scene,” and they were like, “Obviously!” It’s that easy.
As a Twin Peaks fan, which we’ve bonded over in the past, what did you think of the return on Showtime?
RODAY: It was very polarizing, and I had Twin Peaks fans coming at me, from both directions. I was in Canada shooting a movie for the first eight weeks of the new shows, and I couldn’t get Showtime Go to work in Canada, so I was dying because I did not want to hear anything. I avoided social media and told everybody that was texting me to stop texting me. What I realized, pretty quickly, is that you have to let go and appreciate it, as its own animal, as quite possibly the last time that anyone will ever give one of the greatest filmmakers of our time (David Lynch) that much money and that much real estate to do whatever the F he wants. If you can appreciate it on that level, I think you’re going to be smiling, most of the time. If you need to feel the old Twin Peaks in your bones as you’re watching, I understand that you’re probably going to feel a little let down. That’s not what it is. I think it was branding that gave him an opportunity to do one more run at anything he could think of, and for that, I feel grateful. I feel privileged that I got to go on that ride. But for anyone who hasn’t started it yet and is curious and was a fan of the original Twin Peaks, you have to know that you’re signing up for a brand new adventure.
Psych: The Movie airs on the USA Network on December 7th.