Timothy Omundson on ‘Psych 3’ and Lassiter

Photo: Angela Weiss / Getty Images for BritWeek

Psych is a slice of blue sky that revolves around a fake psychic detective and his equally ridiculous best friend as they try, and always succeed, in solving crimes before their local police department does. And really, it’s a wonder to see: Shawn (James Roday Rodriguez) holds his fingers to his head and screams things like I sense!, while Gus (Dulé Hill) and his endless stream of nicknames smell of clues. But Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) does it just by being damn good at his job. During PsychLassiter was originally the no-bullshit main detective on the USA Network, who was rarely warmed to the duo’s idiocy – however effective it may have been – and ended the series in 2014 as the deserving new police chief. In 2017, however, Omundson faced an unexpected health crisis that changed both his personal and fictional Psych life.

As the actor has been open about in subsequent years, Omundson survived a “massive” stroke at the age of 47. It happened a few days before the first Psych follow up the film was to begin filming, leading to significant rewrites to ensure that Lassiter still had an influential presence in the show’s universe. Psyk 2 came last year with Lassie to a rehab center who recovered from, well, a stroke, and the new Psych 3: This Is Gus carries that weight even further: He is back at work at the SBPD, but convinced that he is locked in a professional stalemate and perceived as “such a fool” because of his health. “I do not know if I am ready to let go yet,” he admits in a rare moment of honesty.

That Psych film has also been a mirror to Omundson’s own recovery journey, which, as he recently told Vulture, includes the existential crisis of what the future of his career looks like. (All of his acting roles since 2017 have been stroke survivors, as seen on shows such as This is us and American housewife.) Besides that we should also talk about… beard!

You are my favorite character in my favorite show, which by that logic means you are the most important person on television for me.
I have to say that this interview is already going really, really well. Let’s just end this now.

I will start by saying yours Psyk 3 beard is amazing.
I begged and begged for that beard. Since I was old enough to grow a beard, I have had a beard on. When each Psych the season ended, I would beg [series creator] Steve Franks to let me grow a beard during a break so Lassiter would come back with a cool look. But it never worked because the new season always started when the old season let go, so it never tracked, in terms of continuity. But this time, a month before we started filming, I texted James, like e.g. Hi buddy, may I please grow a beard? We can insert the script that Marlowe thinks it makes him look like Sean Connery. James is a guy with a big beard, so he was very kind to the idea. It fit pretty well with my heroic entrance.

I found it interesting how the film opened with Lassiter triumphantly back at the station, but later he doubted his skills and became conspiratorial about people circling his job because of his stroke. Being vulnerable is still new to him.
After what I have been through physically and neurologically bestemt I definitely got the wind taken out of the sails. That self-confidence and dizziness just disappeared in many ways, mentally and physically. It’s been an insane struggle to get back over the four years I’ve been recovering. Lassiter and I are both going through the same thing – being knocked out at the height of our careers in what we want to achieve. It was amazing that I got respite to explore and play with it.

Yes, you’ve talked before about how to meet Psych movies have been in the form of mirroring your own journey to recovering stroke through Lassie. How does this third film continue to reflect your personal life?
It’s the scene between him and Henry on the porch that speaks to me. Lassiter says out loud for the first time the words he has in mind: Maybe he is unsure if he can move on as a cop and police chief. Henry tries to get him past it and move on. I have relied a lot on close friends with my journey as an actor. I was talking to Steve and James about some of the things I was going through, personally and emotionally, at the moment, and they incorporated them into the script. It’s supportive to know that I do not have to go back to what I was was, but embrace what the new version of me is. I’ve talked a lot with Corbin Bernsen about this in real life. When we had that scene together on the porch, it synchronized beautifully with our discussions.

What were you talking about in real life with him?
What the new version of Tim the actor is going to look like. Corbin told me he feels the new version can be even better than the old one. I do not have to worry so much about what I can not, as opposed to focusing on what I can. With this movie, I was able to realize that I can still come up with jokes and be funny. I was not sure if I could still play a comedy and be emotional. When you are hurt, empathy gets a big blow. It’s a great tool for an actor. I was not sure how much I could act emotionally, let alone physically. I was able to explore these beats a little more and I went from there with a lot more confidence.

There are many particularly poignant lines of dialogue in the scene on the porch, as Lassie says, “Recovery is not my thing after all” and “I’m not ready to let go yet” to Henry.
Lassiter was always, for lack of a better expression, a guy with toxic masculinity who would not allow any cracks. We have both been handed a massive, steaming plate of humility. Some things you just can not fight, you have to roll with it.

All of your acting roles since 2017 have incorporated your punch into the scripts. Are you at a comfort level now that you would like that to be the case?
That’s the big question. It depends on the role and what I need to perform physically. I can not hide that my left hand does not work and mostly stays in my lap. Even though I’m sitting at a table eating, I can not hold a fork in my left hand or cut food. I just can not do certain things. With time I can use a stick and walk slower. I’m better at hiding certain things than others.

How do you imagine Lassie continuing to evolve from here? Will he take Henry’s advice that there is “so much more than being a cop”?
I think you can see he’s pragmatic enough to know when he’s wrong. That humility was always hard for him. In this case, I think he will focus on being a father and the way he wants to be there for his family – even if it does not mean so much to be a police chief, and instead take that time and energy for his wife and daughter. And the dog Morrissey, even though he was absent in the movie, I ad-libred a line about Morrissey, but it did not reach into the final cut. Do you know what came in though? I’m on the phone with Dobson because I wanted to keep Val Kilmer’s character alive.

Do you love Ted Nugent and his music as much as Lassie does?
Absolutely not. My personal policy is very different from Lassiter’s. At its core, Lassiter has always been a crunchy and crunchy right-wing guy. He has a threatening sense of right and wrong and strives for justice. There have been a few references about Lassiter’s admiration for Gerald Ford and the NRA. A lot of Chuck Norris. He has always been a Republican, though I tend to forget that his mother is a lesbian married to a woman. It’s a hell of a backstory. I love the moments of sensitivity we got to explore with him. We did not get to see one lot of it, but it was always amazing when we got to see the heart of his guy and the emotional depth he could have. When he’s gotten divorce papers from his first wife, comes to mind, or when he hands over his daughter in the back of a taco truck. The fact that I’m still going to play this character eight seasons and three movies later is just incredible. I hope it will continue and my abilities are there to match it.

I know Steve wants six movies.
He said six, but now everyone wants to star ten.

To hell, make it a straight 12.
Yes, push it on, we’re making a dozen bakers.

So last summer in the heat of the pandemic, I decided to rank each section of Psych – again, my favorite show in the whole world – for fun. I’m curious about what you think ranks as the No. 1 episode.
Hell, that’s hard. I’ll have to pick a Lassier-centered episode. It’s supposed to be “Last Night Gus.”

Beautiful. It was also my No. 1.
I do “Heeeeere’s Lassie” as the second place and “1967: A Psych Odyssey” as the third. It was super fun to get to play two characters. I saw Dulé’s music track from “Odyssey” recently and I got stiff again. I wrote to him, Your voice, man! I remember getting out of my trailer early that day to see him perform for that scene. I also showed “Heeeeere’s Lassie” to my teenage daughters recently. We watched Evil hotel and they loved it, so this was the natural progression, even though I was horrified when I filmed it. They love horror, so they appreciated it.

However, we were a phenomenal show right up until the end, weren’t we? I mean, everyone has become my family and my friends. I am blessed to have had these people into my life. We are a family. This morning I sent a message to ours Psych group chat just to say how filled with gratitude I am for all of them. We just write to each other constantly about how much we love each other, or brag about our children.

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