Q & A: James Roday (Psych) and Sheryl Lee
If you’re a fan of Psych, then you already know that series star, James Roday, is a huge fan of Twin Peaks. And you probably also know that he’s wanted to have a Twin Peaks centered episode since the first season.
I talked to James and Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer!) in a recent conference call where they were both raving about the episode. They talked about how they chose who would come back from Twin Peaks, why the series meant so much to both of them and what it was like for Sheryl to reunite with her former co-stars.
For the full interview, click onto the audio link above or download from iTunes.
Sheryl, I wanted to know, how did it feel when you walked on set and saw a lot of your castmates from Twin Peaks?
Sheryl Lee: Well, I keep telling everyone it was s such an incredible gift that James and everyone that’s a part Psych gave us, because some of us hadn’t seen each other from Twin Peaks in years and years. And 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, truly a gift to – it’s hard to believe that 20 years have gone by, but to be able to see these people who have such a special place in my heart. It was really wonderful.
James, we know you’re a huge Twin Peaks fan, so what was it like to work with the real Laura Palmer?
James Roday: It was crazy. I was like, I think there are Twin Peaks like fan boys out there who actually go to sleep and dream about what I got to do. It was remarkable. And like Sheryl said, it was like three experiences in one. It was – you know, 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, you know, on top of everything it was the closest I’ll ever come to being in an episode of my favorite show, so it was ridiculous.
Only in our line of work do we get to do thing like this and call it work.
It must be a little daunting to work with people you’ve worshiped for so long. How did you select the individuals that would participate in the Twin Peaks episode?
James Roday: Well, a lot of it was the story that we came up with and then Dana Ashbrook is a very close friend of mine that I’ve known for many, many years. So, I wasn’t going to give Dana a choice. He was going to have to be in no matter what and then hopefully from there we could sort of spread the love and build an ensemble.
I couldn’t imagine doing a Twin Peaks tribute without Sheryl and without Sherilynn. I felt like those were sort of the two iconic faces that if we didn’t have we might as well not even try. So, they were sort of always on the board as musts. You’ve got to have Laura. You’ve got to have Audrey.
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 sort of like who do match up for these characters? And, you know, Lenny von Dohlen, I thought was a really interesting way to go for the Sheriff and you know, Robyn Lively kind of represented a second season of Twin Peaks all by herself.
And then we had always planned on a cameo from Catherine Coulson. So, the planets really kind of aligned for us on this and it came together really nicely.
How did you originally meet and become friends with Dana?
James Roday: I moved from New York to L.A. to do a show on Fox that lasted for about ten minutes, but inside that ten 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 I went over and knocked his trailer door and I said, “Can I come in,” and he was like, “Yes, I guess,” and I just laid it all out. I laid it on the line and luckily he didn’t get scared. I think he was actually flattered. And a couple weeks later he took me to the Playboy Mansion and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sheryl, what was it like for you to – in the commercial we see that there is a dead body wrapped in plastic, à la your character Laura Palmer was. Was it sort of an out of body experience to see someone positioned in the way that you had iconically been?
Sheryl 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, you know, I – it’s hard to understand how that much time went by that quickly and I remember that day, for me, as if it was yesterday.
There’s a lot of things in the past 20 years 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. And so, it was very, very surreal and it was more – it touched me deeper than I expected it to. It sort of snuck up on me.
Sheryl, Can you tell us a little bit more about the experience of working with the Psych team?
Sheryl Lee: Oh, well, 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 and 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 and respect them – care for and respect them and it’s an absolute delight. It’s a fun set. It’s – there’s no hidden angst anywhere. It’s just an absolute delight. I’m so grateful to have gotten to come, you know, play with them.
What was about Twin Peaks that turned you on that just made you obsessed with such a great show?
James Roday: Well, I was a strange, you know, dark little dude. I fell in love with horror movies at a very early age. And somehow as a first grader, was able to convince my parents to let me go see, you know, stuff like American Werewolf in London, like in theaters.
I was headed in that direction anyway and then I remember one night I think my parents were out at a function of some kind and I had just gotten cable in my room, it was a big deal and I saw Blue Velvet on HBO, I think. And 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.
But, from that moment on I was – you know, I was sort of obsessed with David Lynch and then when, you know, he came to television there was no way I wasn’t going to watch. And then of course, he delivered everything that you would expect David Lynch to deliver and more.
And 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?” Like, “Can you believe that he’s doing this? How is he doing this,” you know and I think it redefined television.
As short of a period of time as they were actually on the air, I think he’s influenced television in a way that, you know – I mean, I don’t know if we have stuff, you know, like Deadwood and – you know and Boardwalk Empire, you know, if Twin Peaks had never happened. Like, I truly feel that way.
So, this really was a dream come true for you?
James Roday: Oh, absolutely and it was four years in the making, so we actually had to kind of like be patient and plan and, yes, it was really gratifying.
Sheryl, are you still surprised that people have these feelings for a show 20 years later that they still love it as much as they did back when it first aired?
Sheryl Lee: Well, you know, there’s two things that happen, I think, when people experience something, whether it’s a song or a television show or a film or a book, any piece of art that they’re experiencing it for what it is. But then, it also connects them to a certain part of their life and whatever was going on at that time in their life.
So in that sense, no it doesn’t surprise me because I know for me, you know, I can be driving around and all of a sudden hear a song on the radio and boom, I’m back at that time in my life.
What’s the most memorable moment in filming this episode?
James Roday: Well, for me it’s very easy and I’m not just saying this because Sheryl is on the phone, but it was – you know, it was the moment, the precise moment that Sheryl’s character opens the plastic and reveals the dead girl. The juxtaposition of Laura Palmer looking at Laura Palmer, it was kind of mind-blowing.
When did you realize that you wanted to become an actress?
Sheryl Lee: It was actually – I think it found me. I was in high school and I had wanted to be a dancer or an artist and I tore my knee up on a tobogganing accident in Colorado and ended up on crutches for a while and was getting very antsy because I wasn’t dancing and I was getting sort of ornery around the house, I think. And my mom said, “Why don’t you try out for the school play?”
And I had always been painfully shy and I said, “Absolutely not. I cannot speak in front of people. No way.” And then, my English teacher, one of my teachers at school also said, “Why don’t you try out for the play?” And so, I thought, “All right, I’ll just try,” and I ended up getting it to play the mother in The Bad Seed.
And I will never forget the first day of rehearsals. Auditioning was excruciating for me and it still is, but the first day of rehearsals it was that moment where I went, “Oh, this is it. This is what I’m supposed to.”
So, you still have issues with shyness?
Sheryl Lee: Oh, I definitely still have issues with shyness and auditioning.
Sheryl, when you started with Twin Peaks and Laura Palmer, what were your expectations? Were you like, “Wow, this stuff is really weird and who’s going to get this,” or did you have a feeling that it would make an impact?
Sheryl Lee: You know, I had no expectations. At that time, I was living in Seattle doing theater, wasn’t thinking at all about moving back to L.A. or doing film or TV or anything. And I just got a call that David 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 and to – you know, to be wrapped in plastic and thrown on the beach. And then – so that was for the pilot and – which was shot up there in Washington, but then they all left and went back down to Los Angeles. And I stayed up in Washington and, you know, kept pursuing theater.
And it wasn’t until months later that David called and said, you know, “Would you like to come back on the show and move to LA?” And then, that was a – you know, then all of a sudden my life took a very different quick turn. And I had no experience in TV and no experience with the entertainment industry down here and 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.
Are there any challenges to playing a dead girl wrapped in plastic, aside from just being still and, you know, holding your breath?
Sheryl Lee: Yes, for me it was – it – I mean, this is going to sound corny, but it really was an opportunity sort of meditate on death and I don’t mean that in a morbid way, I mean that in an absolute way. And, you know, I had studied a little bit of meditation at that time and knew that there was a possibility of sort of slowing the body down and slowing the breath down and slowing the mind down.
And so for me, that was what all those scenes were about, was an exercise in that and an exploration of that. And also, just being able – it was such a great opportunity because I had not been on a set before and so to be able to able to just be on a set as a sponge and get to soak all of that up was an incredible learning experience.
James, we know you had really high expectations for the Twin Peaks episode, so after four years in the making how well do you feel it lived up to expectation?
James Roday: I was really, really, really, really pleased. I mean, the only thing I would – I wish I could do is – you know, is – there’s about, I don’t know, seven or eight minutes worth of this episode that you won’t be able to see unless you buy the Season 5 DVD. Other than that, I – you know, I was pretty tickled.
James, can you tell me what you love most about playing Shawn?
James Roday: I guess the fact that the character really lends itself to, you know, improvising and changing, you know, within the context of, you know, he’s got to be the same guy each week.
I think the fun of the character is that no matter, you know, what they throw at us or what the world is or what the case is, you know, he never really has a plan and it’s always sort of jump first, ask questions later. And that’s a fun character to play because most of us are not like that in life because we can’t afford to be because there areconsequences and ramifications and in the real world it doesn’t always go your way like it can on a television show.