James Roday and Sheryl Lee Interview PSYCH: A TWIN PEAKS Reunion

     November 25, 2010


On December 1st, viewers of the popular USA Network television series Psych will be treated to a special Twin Peaks-inspired episode, entitled “Dual Spires,” that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the cult favorite. Co-written by show star and longtime Twin Peaks fan, James Roday – and with a cast including Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise, Robyn Lively, Lenny von Dohlen and Catherine Coulson – the episode kicks off with Shawn (Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) receiving a mysterious email inviting them to the annual Cinnamon Festival in Dual Spires, a small Northern California town that is barely visible on the map. When they arrive, they quickly find themselves in the middle of the mysterious death of a local high school student, and they begin unravel the many secrets of the town while working to figure out who’s responsible.

In a recent interview, James Roday and Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer, talked about paying homage to Twin Peaks, in the true spirit of the original series (which first debuted on television in 1990), why the series meant so much to both of them, and the moving experience of reuniting so many of the cast members. Check out what they had to say after the jump:

james_roday_image_01Question: James, having only been 13 and 14 when Twin Peaks was on the air, what was it about the show that made you so obsessed with it?

JAMES RODAY: I was a strange, dark little dude. I fell in love with horror movies, at a very early age. Somehow, as a first grader, I was able to convince my parents to let me go see stuff like An American Werewolf in London in theaters, so I was headed in that direction anyway. And then, I remember one night, my parents were out at a function of some kind and I had just gotten cable in my room. That was a big deal, and I saw Blue Velvet on HBO. It blew my mind in a way that I don’t think children’s minds are supposed to be blown, but they probably shouldn’t be watching Blue Velvet. From that moment on, I was obsessed with David Lynch.

When he came to television, there was no way I wasn’t going to watch. Of course, he delivered everything that you would expect David Lynch to deliver, and more, and he was doing it in primetime network television. Even as a 14-year old, I wanted someone in the room with me that I could look over and say, “Can you believe we’re watching this? Can you believe that he’s doing this? How is he doing this?” As short of a period of time as the show was actually on the air, he influenced and redefined television. I don’t know if we would have stuff like Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire, if Twin Peaks had never happened.

So, this really was a dream come true for you?

RODAY: Oh, absolutely! It was four years in the making, so we actually had to be patient and plan. It was really gratifying.

Sheryl, are you still surprised that people have these feelings for a show you did 20 years ago?

SHERYL LEE: Well, there’s two things that happen when people experience something, whether it’s a song, a television show, a film, a book or any piece of art. It connects them to a certain part of their life, and whatever was going on at that time in their life. So, in that sense, it doesn’t surprise me. The one thing that people tell me that they experienced so often with Twin Peaks was that it brought people together. People were watching it together as a community, and talking about it together at work, so when they think of the show, they’re also remembering that sense of community that they shared.

sheryl_lee_imageJames, how did you select the individuals that would participate in the episode?

RODAY: A lot of it was the story that we came up with. And, Dana Ashbrook is a very close friend of mine, that I’ve known for many, many years. I wasn’t going to give Dana a choice. He was going to have to be in it, no matter what, and then hopefully from there, we could spread the love and build an ensemble. I couldn’t imagine doing a Twin Peaks tribute without Sheryl [Lee] and Sherilyn [Fenn]. I felt like those were the two iconic faces that, if we didn’t have them, we might as well not even try. They were always on the board as musts. You’ve got to have Laura [Palmer] and Audrey [Horne]. We were lucky enough to have cast Ray Wise last season, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to get his character involved in the action, which we did. And then, it was like, “Who do match up for these characters?” I thought Lenny von Dohlen was a really interesting way to go for the Sheriff, and Robyn Lively represented a second season of Twin Peaks, all by herself. And then, we had always planned on a cameo from Catherine Coulson. The planets really aligned for us on this, and it came together really nicely.

How did you originally meet and become friends with Dana?

RODAY: I moved from New York to L.A. to do a show on Fox that lasted for about 10 minutes, but inside that 10 minutes I met Dana. He came on and did an episode, and I basically stalked him into becoming my friend. I’m not proud of it, but it was one of the boldest things I’ve ever done. I saw his name on a call-sheet, and went over and knocked on his trailer door and said, “Can I come in?,” and he was like, “Yes, I guess.” I just laid it all on the line and, luckily, he didn’t get scared. I think he was actually flattered. A couple weeks later, he took me to the Playboy Mansion. The rest, as they say, is history.

Being a huge Twin Peaks fan, what was it like to work with the real Laura Palmer?

RODAY: It was crazy! I think there are Twin Peaks fanboys out there who actually go to sleep and dream about what I got to do. It was remarkable. It was like three experiences in one. It was them getting to see each other for the first time, after all these years, and us getting to watch them, and they were getting emotional, which made us emotional, and then, on top of everything, it was the closest I’ll ever come to being in an episode of my favorite show. It was ridiculous! Only in our line of work, do we get to do something like this and call it work.

james_roday_image_02Sheryl, what made you decide to do a Twin Peaks reunion on Psych, rather than just doing a regular reunion show?

LEE: Well, in regards to doing a reunion show for Twin Peaks, that’s probably up to David [Lynch]. This happened on Psych because James got it together and asked us.

RODAY: As a fan, I am holding out hope for the real thing, though. I know that there is a hunger for it, and it would be wonderful to see all of those guys come back together again. They’d have to figure out a third character for Sheryl, but I’m sure David already has something in mind.

LEE: Yes, there already was one, if the show hadn’t have been cancelled.

How did it feel when you walked on set and saw a lot of your castmates from Twin Peaks?

LEE: It was such an incredible gift that James and everyone that’s a part Psych gave us because some of us hadn’t seen each other in years and years. It’s such a wonderful group of people, and it’s such a wonderful group of people at Psych as well, that it was truly a gift. It’s hard to believe that 20 years has gone by, but to be able to see these people who have such a special place in my heart was really wonderful.

When  you started up with Twin Peaks, what were your expectations? Did you have a feeling that it would make an impact it has?

LEE: I had no expectations. At that time, I was living in Seattle and doing theater. I wasn’t thinking at all about moving back to L.A., or doing film or TV. I just got a call that David [Lynch] had seen my headshot in a local casting office up there and had thought that I was this dead girl, in this thing that he was doing that was all very secretive. So, I was originally hired for just a few days worth of work, as a corpse with a couple of flashbacks, wrapped in plastic and thrown on the beach. That was for the pilot, which was shot in Washington. But then, they all went back down to Los Angeles, and I stayed up in Washington and kept pursuing theater. It wasn’t until months later that David called and said, “Would you like to move to L.A. and come back on the show?” Then, all of a sudden, my life took a very different turn. I had no experience in TV and no experience with the entertainment industry in L.A., so I had no expectations. I wish I’d had a handbook, at the time, to know how to get through all that craziness, but I didn’t. I was winging it.

sheryl_lee_twin_peaks_imageWere there any challenges in playing a dead girl, wrapped in plastic, aside from just being still and holding your breath?

LEE: Yes. This is going to sound corny, but it really was an opportunity to meditate on death, and I don’t mean that in a morbid way, but in an absolute way. I had studied a little bit of meditation, at that time, and knew that there was a possibility of slowing the body down, slowing the breath down and slowing the mind down. For me, that was what all those scenes were about. It was an exercise in that and an exploration of that. Also, it was such a great opportunity because I had not been on a set before, so to be able to just be on a set as a sponge and get to soak all of that up was an incredible learning experience.

Was it creepy at all to look at yourself as a dead person?

LEE: It’s not something I would ever choose to do, on a regular basis. I think it was much more disturbing for my family, especially my mother.

James, in addition to the Twin Peaks cast members, you also landed Julee Cruise to perform the Psych theme song. How did that come together?

RODAY: We were swinging for the fences across the board, with this episode. Luckily, we’ve set precedent with messing around with our theme song in previous episodes, so it was really easy to say, “Let’s go after Julee and hope that she wants to get in on the fun,” and she did.  It’s my favorite of the different renditions we’ve done of our theme song. It’s pretty inspired. Props also goes to our composer, Adam Cohen, to whom we just said, “Dude, come up with a Twin Peaks-inspired, slowed down, synthesized version of our song.” And then, Julee came in and just nailed the vocals. We’re all pretty stoked about the theme song.

Sheryl, what was your experience of working with the Psych team?

LEE: It is a fantastic group of people. They are so blessed, and the wonderful thing about them is that they know how blessed they are to all get along so well and to have such beautiful respect for each other. It’s one of the happiest crews that I’ve ever seen. They have so much care and respect for their actors because of the way that their actors care for and respect them. It’s an absolute delight. It’s a fun set. There’s no hidden angst anywhere. I’m so grateful to have gotten to play with them.

psych_tv_show_image_james_roday_and_dul__hill__3_What was it like for your character to discover a dead body wrapped in plastic, like your Twin Peaks character had been? Was it an out-of-body experience?

LEE: Yes, that is the perfect way to describe it. I actually did feel as if I was out of my body, that whole day. It was a very strange, surreal feeling, mostly because it’s hard to understand how that much time went by that quickly. I remember that day, as if it was yesterday. There are a lot of things in the past 20 years that I don’t remember, but that day, 20 years ago, laying on that beach in the freezing cold, I remember as if it was yesterday. So, it was very surreal, and it touched me deeper than I expected it to. It snuck up on me.

James, what do you think it is about Psych that draws such a large crowd, that keeps coming back for more?

RODAY: Over the course of the first couple seasons, we were able to negotiate a tone on our show that allowed us to really stretch the parameters of what we may have thought we were going to be, after the first season. In doing that, we’ve become this hybrid show that can do almost anything we want, and still put it in the box that keeps it an episode of Psych. We’re able to reach a much wider audience because, as long as we solve a case every week, we can do stuff like a tribute to Twin Peaks, a Jaws episode, a musical and an entire episode dedicated to John Hughes.

What do you love most about playing Shawn Spencer?

RODAY: I guess the fact that the character really lends itself to improvising and changing, within the context of him being the same guy each week. The fun of the character is that, no matter what they throw at us, what the world is or what the case is, Shawn never really has a plan. It’s always jump first, ask questions later. That’s a fun character to play because most of us are not like that in life. We can’t afford to be because there are consequences and ramifications. In the real world, it doesn’t always go your way, like it can on a television show.

Sheryl, were you a fan of Psych before doing this episode?

LEE: I feel so bad saying this, but I hadn’t seen it before. Now, I’m a big, huge fan. There are very few television shows that I do actually see, especially ones that are on later than 9 o’clock at night, but I’m a fan now

Do you have any upcoming projects?

LEE: I have a film that is coming out next year, called The Fields, with Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and directed by Ami Mann.

twin_peaks_the_second_season_dvd__large_James, having had really high expectations for the Twin Peaks episode, and being four years in the making, how well do you feel it lived up to expectations?

RODAY: I was really, really, really, really pleased. There’s about seven or eight minutes worth of this episode that you won’t be able to see, unless you buy the Season 5 DVD, but other than that, I was pretty tickled. We got the right director. I really struggled with the idea of not directing this episode because I knew I was going to be micro-managing. But Matt Shakman, as it turns out, is every bit the Twin Peaks fanboy that I am. He even took it one step further by purchasing the secret Laura Palmer diary that Jennifer Lynch wrote. As soon as he told me that, I knew we were going to be fine. There was just too much good stuff and, because we wanted it to breathe and feel like a Twin Peaks episode, pacing-wise, we just couldn’t keep it all in. Other than that, I love it.

How do you think viewers will react to the episode, whether as major fans, or people who vaguely remember it or have never seen it?

RODAY: I would say the diehard Twin Peaks fans are in for about 48 minutes of pure bliss. I don’t think any of the winks or tributes will be lost on them, and that will be wonderful. For people that were casual fans of Twin Peaks, some of the bigger homages will probably come through for them. But, it’s also just a really well-acted, well-crafted episode of our show. Even for people that are just Psych fans and may not know Twin Peaks at all, my hope is that, after watching this episode, they will go seek out the show and buy the DVDs or find it online, and have that experience for the first time.

What was your favorite Twin Peaks reference, in this episode?

RODAY: It’s overstuffed with as many as I can think of. The big ones are obvious, so they speak for themselves, but there are some really small ones that made it that I’m pretty happy about. I’m tickled by the fact that the episode starts by panning off a chocolate bunny that’s sitting on my desk. It’s really quick, but one of the biggest laughs I ever had watching Twin Peaks was when Agent Cooper said to Diane, “I am now holding in my hand a box of chocolate bunnies.” So, my little tribute to that opens the show. That one makes me feel warm inside.

LEE: I haven’t seen the series in 20 years, so I don’t remember a lot of the stuff like that. I remember my experience of working on the show, but I don’t remember the show itself, as much. But, when we were working on Psych, there was something that Ray Wise said in a scene that just made me feel a giggle, at that moment. I love him so much and he’s such a talented actor, and I was looking at him and seeing my dad from 20 years ago. That tickled me.

psych_image_james_rodayJames, did you have to go back and re-watch Twin Peaks to get all of those jokes in there, or is it still that fresh in your mind?

RODAY: I did go back and watch the first 15 episodes again, to make sure that there was nothing that I was missing because I hadn’t watched it as a complete set probably since I was about 23 or 24 years old. It was a great excuse to go out and get the gold box set. I so clearly identify watching episodes of that show with a very specific time in my life, and it just takes me back there immediately. It’s uncanny, the way that that works.

Sheryl, how do you feel the Psych team did, in capturing the true essence of Twin Peaks?

LEE: I thought they did an amazing job. Over the years, there have been little things that I’ve been asked to do, that didn’t feel right to me. They didn’t feel like they would have been done in a tone that felt authentic, in that way. The guys at Psych did an incredible job of making it exactly what they said it would be. Those of us who were on Twin Peaks can very easily make fun of it, but we get along really well and we have a playful energy together. There’s power in numbers. The more of us that are there, the more comfortable we all feel. We’ve worked together before, so we can get to those places really quickly. At the same time, we would be the first ones to say, “You know, something about that doesn’t feel right,” but as far as I know, none of us ever had to say that. Everybody at Psych did such a wonderful job of walking that balance.

James, how well do you feel Shawn and Gus handled themselves in this episode?

RODAY: Schematically, the idea was that Shawn and Gus become Agent Cooper, by coming to this town. They’re the outsiders. Of course, their combined intelligence doesn’t come anywhere close to Coop’s, so obviously it wasn’t quite as smooth. You can’t give them too much credit. They needed to be fully rescued, in this episode.

What can you say about the rest of Season 5 and what the fans can expect from it?

RODAY: The Twin Peaks episode is easily the most proud I’ve ever been of any of our achievements on the show. It’s hard to even look past that one. But in addition to that, we also have a holiday episode coming up. We took off last year and didn’t do a Christmas episode, but we came back with one this year and it’s pretty wild. It’s like It’s a Wonderful Life on acid. Shawn gets a glimpse into what everyone’s lives would be like, if he had never come back to Santa Barbara. We did some pretty crazy stuff there. Ralph Macchio swung in and did a very funny episode that was us ripping on Police Academy. And then, we close up shop with the finale of the Yin-Yang serial killer trilogy, which I thought came together pretty nicely. Ally Sheedy and Jimmi Simpson are back, which is a testament to our writing staff, for being able to come up with a way to bring back a character that’s dead. And Mena Suvari came up, and she was fantastic. All questions are answered and everything comes out in the wash. So, even though it’s a short season, I feel like it’s pretty packed with goodness, richness and stuff that smells of deep, rich mahogany.

psych_image_twin_peaksViewers have seen how Gus (Dule Hill) reacted after finding out about Shawn and Juliet (Maggie Lawson). Is that relationship going to change the dynamic between Shawn and Gus, in the future?

RODAY: Not very drastically. Shawn underestimated Gus’s ability to deal with the situation, and while there’s a little bit of conflict, it’s not a major thing. Shawn’s had a girlfriend on the show before, and Gus and Juliet get along, so it’s not a major riff.

Shawn still hasn’t told Juliet the truth about not really being psychic. Is she ever going to find out?

RODAY: That’s a great question, and I don’t have the answer. I can tell you that it’s not going to happen any time soon, so he’s digging himself deeper and deeper, with each passing week.

Are there any other tributes coming up, in the future? What’s the status of the musical episode?

RODAY: I think the musical episode will happen next season. I think we’ve dragged our feet enough and it’s time to do our business or get off the can with that one. As far as other tributes go, we’ve been talking about doing a baseball episode for a while. And then, I think a vampire episode is in the works. That’s another tricky one because there are a lot of parodies out there already, and vampires are an easy target. We’re going to have to come up with something that’s better than that and make it worth everybody’s while. There’s a lot of stuff that’s easy to pick on and make fun of. It will be a challenge. We did werewolves, and that was pretty fun. I think vampires needs to happen, it just needs to happen in the right way. That one’s on the books for next year, too.