Artist talks about his favorite part of the creative process and co-directing the short Mater and the Ghostlight with John Lasseter

We recently had a chance to sit in on a conference call with Psych stars James Roday and Corbin Bernsen. This show, from the USA network, stars Roday as young police consultant Shawn Spencer who solves crimes with powers of observation so acute the precinct detectives think he's psychic -- at least that's what he lets them believe. Psych also stars Dule Hill as Shawn's best friend and reluctant sidekick, Gus, and Corbin Bernsen as Shawn's disapproving father, Henry, who ironically was the one who honed his son's "observation" skills as a child.

Psych was the No. 1 new show on Cable TV for 2006.

James, have you heard anything from psychics who may feel like your portrayal of them is less than flattering?

James Roday: If there's been an intense psychic backlash the powers that be have done a fantastic job of shielding me. I've heard nothing. I do think, however, I'm giving charlatans a lot more publicity than real psychics.

What have you learned about your characters this season and do they take any steps to mend their relationship?

James Roday: I think the natural evolution is that slowly but surely these guys, because it's not a loveless relationship, they're gonna want to find some common ground. I hope that that's not gonna happen to quickly. It's tough, I think it's very tempting to have guys like that get over their problems so they can start having fun and doing silly things quickly. The truth is, I think that conflict sort of anchors our show.

Corbin Bernsen: Yeah.

James Roday: I feel like if that goes away too quickly we could be in trouble.

Corbin Bernsen: Early on, and I hate to go back to L.A. Law, but it was my training ground and another successful show that ran 8 years. I asked Steven Bochco at the beginning, I said, "When do I get to go into court? When do I get to show that I'm a good lawyer?" He said, "You're Arnie Becker, man, you are what you are we'll slowly, slowly, slowly peel back layers but you're never gonna get to that place that you think you want your character to get, because people come back week to week to see you be Arnie Becker." They don't want you to change.

What I find to be really exciting to explore... depending on how long you want the show to go... what I discovered at the end of shooting the first season, was this incredible conflict this guy has. He wants his son to be a certain thing and he wants it to be done in his way. The fact is, James's character is being everything I want him to be, but he's not being it my way. That gap between how much I can accept it his way is fine. He's exceeding my expectations, what I wanted him to achieve, but he's not doing it my way. How much I am able to live with him not doing it my way... that's what's fascinating to me.

Do you think that Psych brings something new in terms of comedy?

Corbin Bernsen: Over the years I've come down on one huge belief, it's all about the writing, it's all about the story, and to some degree with television, the characters. That's what sustains you week after week. Go to IMDB, next to Michael Caine I probably have the longest list of stuff, a lot of it crap, some of it interesting, but the one thing I have learned over and over is that it does come to story. It does come down to script. I think that's what's happened here. While it appears seamless and easy to watch and all of that... it's all in the script... there's this relationship that I have with James that allows the comedy to get big. If it wasn't scripted in... what James and Dule are doing, it almost becomes too much.

James, how do you ground your character when you're playing that part?

James Roday: It's been an interesting balancing act for me. I think I'm getting better as we go along. Initially, I was having so much fun with this Peter Pan-type guy, you could argue that maybe there wasn't enough on the underneath to keep it in balance. The trick of it is is privileging the kid in the sky. Also, layering in some sense of a moral compass and kind of wanting to do the right thing. Even if his way of getting there is unconventional, and he makes it as ridiculous as possible to cross the street, the point is he still recognizes he needs to cross the street because a good person needs help.

How do you explain viewers attractions to psychics and mediums?

James Roday: I think we've always, as a species, been fascinated with stuff that we don't understand. Anytime someone can shed light on that, whether it's legit or just somebody's fantasy of what that stuff is, I think people take notice. The idea that you can cross a dimension, or commune with the dead, or life on other planets... these are the great unknowns. They will be debated as long as their is life. I think there's an inherent interest from people in what that stuff is. I think we've fully road those coattails, "Okay, there's an interest for all this stuff, now lets just make fun of it."

Corbin Bernsen: My take is a little more grand. The world is in a strange, strange place these days. I'm looking at the things that my kids are subjected to, I know I wasn't. Between the environment, war, the things we're doing... I think we're coming around to this place where we kind of want to believe there's something grander. We just want to believe it isn't what it is, black and white on the paper everyday.

James can you talk about writing an episode of Psych?

James Roday: My writing background, up until this point, has lived in the genre of horror. I've co-written a couple of horror features that our creator knew about. He read one of them and came to me and said, "What do you think about the idea of doing a horror episode?" I said, "Well, that would be unbelievable. Is there any chance that we can get away with that?" It was sort of like, "Lets give it a shot." We somehow snuck the outline of the idea by them without too much trouble, and before I knew it it was gonna happen. Obviously it's important that these shows be funny, first and foremost, while it is dark for our show it's probably not that dark by other people's standards. You see some scary things on screen and not off screen.

Then we came up with this idea of, "Well, if we're gonna knock this out of the park, so that maybe we can do it again, who should be bring in that can handle that sort of balance between scary and funny?" At the same time the creator and I were both like, "John Landis." Then we're like, "That's not gonna happen." It really goes to show you that it never hurts to ask. He took a look at the outline and he watched our show, and thought it was very, very funny, and we ended up getting John Landis's first ever episodic, television adventure.

New episodes of Psych will begin airing Friday, January 19 at 10pm on the USA Network.

Evan Jacobs