Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Timothy Omundson was still in single digits when he decided on the career path he wanted to follow, and he started that journey before he’d even entered his teens, studying acting at the Seattle Children’s Theater. After spending some time on the stage, Omundson made the jump to on-camera work with a high-profile start—an episode of Seinfeld—and promptly began climbing the rungs of the Hollywood ladder, quickly going from guest-starring gigs to recurring roles on seaQuest DSV and Xena: Warrior Princess. After securing a series regular role on Judging Amy, however, his career went into overdrive: A few years later, Omundson found his way onto Deadwood, and a few years after that, he was cast as Carlton Lassiter on Psych, the series that has arguably provided him with the most substantial—and most devoted—fanbase of his career.
In April 2017, however, Omundson suffered a major stroke, one so severe that he was convinced his career was over. Thankfully, he was wrong: Since then, he’s been steadfastly fighting his way back from the damage the stroke inflicted on his body. With the help of his doctors, his physical therapists, and his friends, Omundson has been back to work for several months now, not only with a recurring role on NBC’s This Is Us but in a reprisal of his role as Carlton Lassiter for Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, which debuts on Peacock this week. he talked to The A.V. Club about the many paths his career has taken, and the many friends that have helped along the way.
A.V. Club: How did you find your way into acting in the first place? What led you down that path?
Timothy Omundson: This sounds ridiculous, but… our class wrote a play in fifth grade, and I was the butler that did it. It was a very sophisticated work. [Laughs.] But that started it. And then in junior high I signed up for a great drama class, and my world sort of exploded. Acting was kind of the only thing I was good at. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t a great student. Drama class just sort of became the outlet for me, where I could kind of shine. And when I was around 12, I started studying outside of school and started taking classes at the Seattle Children’s Theater, and I just kept kind of going from there into bigger places. The summer before my senior year of high school, I went to New York and studied at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts. And that was it. It was off to the races!
AVC: Did your family support you in your endeavor?
TO: I was really lucky, yeah. They were totally behind me. I think my dad had dreams of being a big band singer that he never really pursued that far. I remember telling him one day, “I think I’m gonna be an actor,” and he was, like, “Okay, because if you have a talent and you don’t use it, then you don’t get to say you have the talent.” So, yeah, they were really great and supported me. They paid for classes at the Children’s Theater, even though I was doing work study there. And they paid for me to go to New York and the Academy. After high school, I went to drama school at USC, and they still supported me all the way through there. So I was very, very lucky that they stayed behind me. It’s just one of the many ways that I’ve been lucky.
AVC: Speaking of good luck, it appears that your first on-camera acting job was an episode of Seinfeld, which is not a bad first gig.
TO: That was my SAG card job, yeah! And it was quite the learning-curve experience. [Laughs.] I’d never even been on a sound stage before. I was working at Johnny Rockets on Melrose at the time, serving hamburgers and fries! So I walked onto this set with no idea what I was doing. I walked straight up to Craft Service to get a cup of coffee, and I realized that the coffee machine was empty. It was an industrial coffee machine like I used at the restaurant, and when you’re out of coffee, you make coffee. So just kind on reflex, I started making coffee. And the gentleman who ran Craft Service came up to me and was, like, “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m making coffee. You were out of coffee, so I’m making coffee.” “No, no. That’s my job.” And I was, like, “That’s awesome: somebody else gets to make the coffee for once!”
AVC: So was it just a standard audition situation that led to you getting the role?
TO: Yeah, I went in to audition, like anything else. I’d been out of school for… somewhere between six months to a year. I think I gave myself the imaginary expiration date of “If I don’t start working by the time I’m 25, I’ll figure something else out.” And I was probably 23 by the time I got that job.
It was only three lines, so I figured, “Well, they’ll tell me what the hell’s going on in the scene beforehand.” And I can’t remember if Larry David was in the room or if it was the director and somebody else, but they said, “Do I explain the scene to him?” “Nah, just let him do it.” So whatever the hell I did, it was apparently funnier than the red-headed guy who came in after me, because I got the job. [Laughs.] And then I figured, “Well, they’ll tell me what’s going on once I get to the set,” but I was quickly terrified to realize that they didn’t have time to talk to the kid with three lines and tell him what’s going on.
I remember Jason [Alexander] was particularly nice to me. But they all were, actually. My scene was with Jason, Jerry, and Grace Zabriskie and Warren Frost were playing my parents. So I kind of cobbled together a character out of these three lines I had. Warren Frost, his character was kind of a jerk, so I was, like, “Okay, well, I’ll be a jerk, too. I’ll just be cranky.” And then halfway through rehearsal… You know, they always change the lines, but they changed one of the lines that I’d based my entire character on. [Laughs.] I went, “Oh, no, what am I gonna do now?!” So I was really thrown into the deep end. But I decided to keep going. And I didn’t get fired on that first day, so whatever I was doing, it kept working.
After I did the run-through, I went outside, and Jerry Seinfeld was sitting on the ground against the wall, eating an apple. And I said something about it being my first job, and he said [Doing a solid Seinfeld impression.] “Oh, it’s your first job? Congratulations! That’s great! You’re great!” It was very sweet.
A few months later, I ran into Jason Alexander in the parking lot of Cantor’s Deli, and I happened to be with my dad. So I said, “Hey, Jason!” and I introduced him to my dad. And Jason said something that will always make him number one in my book. He said, “Oh, you’ve got a very talented son here!” He couldn’t have been kinder. It was exactly what a young actor wants to hear a famous actor say to his dad. I’ve run into him a couple of times since then at charity stuff, and I’ve reminded him of that story. He’s still as sweet as can be every time I see him.
[At the mention of this role, Omundson immediately adopts a knowingly awful Irish accent and launches into a few seconds of vaguely Irish-sounding nonsense (“A-hoity, hoity, hoity, hoity, hoy!”) before concluding with the phrase “me silver lucky coin.”]
TO: The worst Irish accent on camera. It was pure Lucky Charms. Which I accept. And it’s probably the film I’m most known for. It seems like everyone under 18 has seen that movie, and I get so much love for it, and… I don’t have the heart to say how bad a movie it is. [Laughs.] Or what a horrible acting job I did. But the kids like it, so what can you do? They gave me all of, like, four lessons to learn how to Irish step-dance, and they’re going, “Kids start doing this when they’re 3 years old!” But—and this is going to hurt a lot of people, I know—there was a dance double.
AVC: This interview is over.
TO: I know, I know. As shocking as it may be, it’s true. [Laughs.] We shot that in Salt Lake City, and because my hair is orange in the movie, they dyed my hair. They airbrushed it for the film. So I was walking around Salt Lake City with bright orange hair. But on the other hand, that was also when I was hanging out with Henry Gibson and getting to know him. He was a lovely man.
Galavant (2016-2017)—“King Richard”
AVC: Had you met show creator Dan Fogelman before you were hired for Galavant?
TO: No, I didn’t know Dan at that point. That was one where I went in and auditioned like everybody else. That show took me the best of five months to get hired. I got the sides for it, and I was going over the lines with my wife, and she was, like, “You’re not going to do it like that, are you?” Because it was so big and bold. And I said, “I’m going to do it exactly like this. It has to be like this. Otherwise, I’m not going to get the job.” You had to go full Monty Python on that one for the audition. [Laughs.] But that’s kind of the job that I’d say I spent my entire life and career and studies moving up to. Friends of mine from theater school, when they found out I got the job, said, “Of course this is what you’re doing. Of course you’re playing King Richard.”
I went in and I tested, and… You know, the testing process is always such a nightmare. I tested for it once, and then the deal was that the head of the network, Paul Lee, wanted a big English movie star for Richard. So they sent offers out to a couple of people, and they kept waiting, but they weren’t hearing back. So the process just kept getting dragged out, but Dan Fogelman was really kind and was, like, “You’re my guy. Don’t worry, this is gonna work out. You’re gonna be the guy.” And finally, as it got closer to production and the third big movie star passed, he said, “Can I finally just have my guy? Can we please just hire Tim?”
I had to test a second time, but I wanted this job so badly, so I did it. And like I said, this is after about five months, so virtually every person I knew knew that I was up for this job, and it was, like, “If this doesn’t work out, it’s gonna be hugely embarrassing.” So when they tested me for the second time, I had to sing for the audition, which… I hadn’t done a musical since high school. So I wasn’t exactly a singer. But in the meantime I started taking singing lessons, really trying to up my game there. But having to go in and sing an Alan Mencken song in front of Alan Menken was… pretty terrifying. [Laughs.] Plus, it was one of those things where… When you go in to test, you actually sign the contracts before you go in to audition, just to really add to the stress level. You’re basically signing this contract and going, “Oh, wait, if I get this job, this is the money I’m going to make?! This is gonna change my life!” It’s a pretty nerve-wracking experience.
So I was sitting in the waiting area in an office over at Disney, and I looked out the window and saw the 134, and across the 134 was the Forest Lawn Cemetery. And it just hit me. I went, “Fuck it: We all end up in the ground anyway. Just go pound this thing out.” And you know how there are some times when you audition for stuff when you just know you killed it? Well, I went in, and it was great. Dan and his partner, Jesse, were very enthusiastic and just incredibly kind. And when they called me, I still have the voicemail on my phone: “You’re my King Richard.” And then I was on a plane to the U.K., and… [Starts to laugh.] I just remember that I called my wife one day and said, “Okay, so I just had a crown fitting… and it was pretty freaking cool, I gotta tell ya!” Yeah, that was a dream job.
AVC: Were there any songs that you recall being particularly challenging?
TO: They were all challenging! [Laughs.] We’d record the songs first, and then on the day we’d shoot them, we’d record again live. But every day before we’d go in to record a song, I’d call Michael Kazarian, who was our musical director. He did all the arrangements, and he’s been working with Alan for decades. But I’d always call him freaking out, saying, “This song’s too high! I can’t sing this!” And he’d say, “Don’t worry, we’re gonna figure it out.” And every time he’d take care of me. I was so incredibly lucky just to be surrounded by great directors and producers on that one.
TO: I actually have an original drawing right here from that, which Alex Zamm, our writer/director gave to me for playing that part. Alex had been a friend of mine—our kids went to school together—and we’d wanted to work together for a long time, and he called me up one day and said, “I’ve got something.” And we went to the Smokehouse in Burbank and had a drink, and he told me about it. That’s another one that took me back up to Vancouver, and… you never know when you’re making a movie how it’s going to come out, especially one that’s geared toward kids. But I get texts from random friends every couple of weeks saying, “My kid has watched this movie 14 times, and they absolutely love it!” So it makes everything worthwhile.
You know, the first day on set with that, they had a stuffed woodpecker on a pole for me, and they’re moving the pole around, and I’m looking at the woodpecker, trying to follow it. And I’m, like, “Oh, so that’s the kind of movie we’re making: It could be aliens, it could be a spaceship, it could be a giant crow, it could be a dragon or whatever.” So very quickly on that first day I was, like, “How do I keep this grounded in reality and not make it too commedia dell’arte when I’m following a woodpecker who’s throwing pine cones at me?” It’s called acting. [Laughs.] You use your imagination!
We were out in the woods for that movie, and every now and then I’d hear a gunshot go off. I was, like, “What was that?” “Oh, they’re just shooting at bears.” “Oh. Okay. Good to know.” [Laughs.] And every once in awhile you’d hear someone say, “Maybe don’t walk through the woods to Craft Services. Maybe just sit down at Base Camp.” And then you’d hear a shot go off. “Yeah, okay, sounds great. I’ll be in my chair right here.”
Mission Impossible III (2006)—“IMF Agent”
TO: Oh, God. Okay… [Laughs.] I just remember being off-set and that there was a lot of running in that one. There’s a scene where they’re kind of screeching in to arrest Ethan Hunt, and I’m in the passenger seat and I’m supposed to hop out of the car immediately. So as we’re coming up, I had the door open a little bit, and my leg was kind of hanging out, ready to go. And I’m looking at the car next to me going, “He’s not making the turn. His angle is wrong.” And sure enough, he hits our car. And nobody got hurt, but I was realizing that if my leg had still been hanging out, it would’ve been gone. So that was a scary day.
Just watching Tom Cruise doing his own stunts was really and truly amazing, watching him fly up over that car, where he gets tased in midair and then comes down. At one point, he’s on the ground, and that’s where we’re gonna arrest him. So J.J. [Abrams] says, “Okay, you,” pointing to me. “After we tase him, you cuff him.” And the technical advisor comes over, and he says, “Okay, here’s what you do. You’re gonna put your knee in the small of his back and pull his arms around.” I said, “Uh, yeah, no, I’m not.” Because just before that, J.J. had said, “Don’t. Hurt. Tom. Cruise.” “Okay, good note.” [Laughs.] Which I understand. They don’t want some day player hurting their multi-million dollar franchise man. That’s all they were talking about. But I knew from Psych that cuffing someone is actually really difficult to do unless you do it every day. And it hurts! So I said, “Hey, Tom, I’m Tim, I’m gonna be cuffing you. Yeah, I’m gonna put a little pressure on your back, but I don’t wanna go too hard, so let me know I’m going too hard.” He said, “Yeah, I will, don’t worry!”
At one point, I was chasing Tom, and he looked and me and said, “Try to keep up!” And sure enough, I could not. I think for that entire movie he just runs. He’s a very fast man. I was not. [Laughs.] By the end of filming, I could barely walk, I was so sore!
Starship Troopers (1997)—“Psychic”
TO: Johanna Ray cast me in that one. She was kind of an early champion of mine. She’s a great casting director. She also cast me in seaQuest [DSV]. I read this huge monologue in the audition, and then I get to set, and… it was a massive, massive film. A huge budget. I mean, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before, so my head’s kind of reeling. And there’s Paul Verhoeven! But what I hadn’t realized was that the lines I’d done in the audition were for a voiceover role! But they gave me that job anyway. They were, like, “Just give him the part.” [Laughs.] But I’m always surprised when people comment on that. My one second on screen!
AVC: I think it’s closer to five seconds, actually.
TO: [Laughs.] Well, that’s generous of you to say.
TO: I mentioned seaQuest, but there were these guys named John Sakmar and Kerry Lenhart, and we ended up getting along really well on that show. I think I did four episodes. But I ran into John and Kerry one day on the street, and I said, “Hey, what are you doing?” They said, “We just had a meeting about this show. How loyal are you to seaQuest?” I said, “I’m as loyal as the next guy without a contract. What do you want to do?” They said, “Oh, we wrote a part for you in this pilot, we’d love for you to do it.”
And sure enough, true to their word, a few months later I got an audition for Medicine Ball. That was a tremendous show, because it took me back home to Seattle. My mother was, like, “Are you going to live at home?” I said, “Nah, I think I’m gonna rent an apartment, Mom. As much as I love you, I don’t want to spend my first really big TV job living with my parents!” [Laughs.] That was an amazing time in my life. I made friends that are still close to this day.
AVC: We talked to Donal Logue for this feature, and since he was also on Medicine Ball, he said he remembered a scene where you had to instruct an old lady on the use of herbal treatment.
TO: Oh, I remember that! It was one of my first days on set. I was playing a physician who’s, like, a holistic expert, and… I say something to this woman, and the voiceover for her is just [Very slowly and distinctly.] “Uh-huh.” I mean, it’s so clear that it was really done in ADR. And every time I’d see Donal, I’d go, “Uh-huh…”
All these years later, we still laugh about that. Donal was so good in that. He’s good in everything he does, that son of a bitch...
AVC: He also mentioned another project that you two were in. He said that there was this time John Enos called him and said, “I’m playing a detective in this Playboy movie about vampires...”
TO: Oh, my God.
AVC: …and said the guy playing the doorman in the movie didn’t show up, and when he asked Donal if he’d do it, he said “if I could wear a cowboy hat and have a bad English accent.” So he went downtown, and there you were, playing the club manager.
TO: You know, I was actually going to have an English accent on that. But they said, “Nope, Donal’s doing one.” I said, “Okay, let Donal do it, then. He’s better at it than me, anyway!”[Laughs.] Oh, God, what was that called? Was it Dead Of Night?
AVC: It was Dead Of Night, and it’s on YouTube in its entirety.
TO: Is it really?
AVC: Yes, but it’s of such bad quality that your identity is probably safe.
TO: Well, it was made for the Playboy Channel, but it’s not really softcore. It’s more… softcore-ish.
Deadwood (2004)—“Brom Garrett”
TO: Prior to Galavant, that was the job of my career. That’s another one where the audition was one I’ll never forget. It was at the old section of Paramount, and Sunset Boulevard’s one of my favorite movies, so any time I get on the Paramount lot, I get a little excited. So I go to the audition, I walk in the door, and David Milch—who notoriously has a bad back—is laying on the ground. [Laughs.] So I do the scene, and because I had done a lot of classical theater, I felt like I knew that guy, this New York dandy from the turn of the century. So that one I felt really comfortable about. And when I finished doing the scene, Walter Hill said, “That’s great. Finally, some acting!” And I thought, “Okay, that feels good.” And I remember walking in the door and telling my wife, “This one’s mine.”
But lo and behold, it originally wasn’t mine. I was doing Judging Amy at the time, and there was a scheduling conflict, because with Milch, you never knew when you were going to work or when the show was supposed to happen. Because of the conflict, they just moved on to the next guy… but fortunately on my end—if unfortunately on his end—he was let go after his first day of work for some reason. So I got a call a month after auditioning, saying, “David Milch would like to know if you’d like to drive out here and say hello.” And I don’t remember where I was, but it was about an hour past Santa Clarita, so it was a two or three hour drive… and I said, “Yes, I do!” [Laughs.] So I drove up there, and David and Walter come up to me and say, “Hey, do you wanna work tomorrow?” “Yes, I do, sir!”
So I show up the next day in wardrobe, walked onto the set, and they’d already blocked and lit with the previous gentleman. So suddenly I’m having to hit this blocking and just really trying to figure out how I’m doing with someone else’s blocking. Molly [Parker] was there, and she’s fantastic, but there was still that fear of trying to justify what I’m doing as an actor. But in that first episode with Ian McShane, he sort of makes that grand entrance down the staircase and says, “Brom Garret! Scourge of Deadwood!” It’s this great scene where he and I are drinking whiskey. And I was a huge fan of McShane’s. So we’re standing there, and I’m thinking, “I’m standing here in a saloon drinking pretend whiskey with Ian fucking McShane.” And my character really emulated him and kind of wanted to be him. So I just tell myself, “You’re this guy. You’re in the exact same situation. You want to be Ian McShane. Just… don’t act. Just say the goddamned words and stay out of your way.” And that was it. [Laughs.]
Ian was lovely to me. But that whole cast... Oh, my God. I swear, I’d sit on set whenever I could and just kind of hang out. And I’d see these actors and actresses walking by, and I’d just be going, “They got him? They got her? That’s amazing!” I’ve never been so starstruck on a set.
TO: So Richard Speight and I… He’s also on Supernatural, and he and I have known each other since college, so he put in a good word for me with the producers and the writers on that show. Robbie Thompson, specifically. So Robbie wrote that role for me, and… that’s one of those shows where the people on it are so close. And a lot of the crew I’d known from Psych, so it made me just feel right at home. And Jared [Padalecki] and Jensen [Ackles] are so incredibly welcoming that… I dunno, I just felt comfortable in that guy’s skin right away. And then by the time we got to the second episode…
I’d had a conversation with Robbie Burns, the gentleman who wrote the second episode, and he said, “We want you to do another one,” and I said, “Okay.” So we went and had a meeting, and I said, “Okay, here’s what I’d really love to do. If I’m lucky enough to do an arc on this show, then I’d love to see where this guy came from.” And that’s when they wrote me a little back story. God, that second episode was so funny. And to break into that fan circuit and sort of travel the world with those guys and gals has been the most amazing fringe benefit you can imagine. That fandom has really helped me get through my stroke recovery. The support that they’ve offered me online… It’s been really extraordinary.
Down With Love (2003)—“R.J.”
TO: Boy, that was cool. That was my first time on a set for several days. Most of my feature work at the time was like Starship Troopers, where I was in for one day. But that one was, like, four days. And I loved the period style. It was right up my alley. And it was so much fun. There were some great actors on that. Warren Munson, who was in that boardroom scene with me, was my sponsor for the Television Academy. And it was super cool just seeing Ewan [McGregor] walking around.
AVC: Did you get to interact much with Tony Randall?
TO: He was on set one day. I just kind of said “hi” to him. There’s a reference in Psych to me looking like Tony Randall. [Laughs.] I’m very proud of the selfie we took.
AVC: You were also in a pilot with Carol Burnett.
TO: [Sighs.] Oh, that one killed me. Well, actually, if the stroke didn’t kill me... Anyway, that show not going really took its toll. Carol Burnett was just incredible. It was amazing being on set with her. She’s still sharp as a tack, as fantastic as she always was. We got on like a house on fire, too. It was such an honor to be in that show and get to work with her and share a set with her. You know, she called me right after the stroke, when I was recovering in this rehab and physical therapy facility. I just picked up the phone and [Doing another solid impression.] “Hi, Tim, it’s Carol!” “Oh, my God, it’s Carol Burnett!” [Laughs.] I handed the phone to my wife, and she freaked out. I was, like, “Carol Burnett did not just call to see how I’m doing!” It was kind of incredible.
I think that show could’ve gone, and I’m sorry it never went. I mean, I’d obviously had the stroke and couldn’t do the job, but I just so wish that had seen the light of day. Not just for me, but everyone was so good in it, and she was amazing. And Amy Poehler was part of it! And she’s another one who couldn’t have been sweeter. I remember when we filmed it, nobody could get a ticket. That thing would’ve been massive. I still don’t understand a world where that show didn’t go. So, yeah, I wish that would’ve gone. But I just show up and say the words, so that’s not my call. But the Deadline article announcing that I’d be working with Carol Burnett... That’s something that’s still forever at my fingertips.
AVC: Judging Amy was basically the biggest job of your career until Psych.
TO: Absolutely. I always say I learned how to act on TV on that show. And seaQuest, too, for sure. But working with Tyne Daly was a master class. What an experience, to get up in the morning and go in and work with her. That’s another show where I made lifelong friends. We just tried to make each other laugh throughout the day. I loved the relationship between my character, Sean, and her character, Maxine… there was this genuine love for each other. Tyne and I… I consider her a dear friend. She started my kids’ college fund! She gave us the first installment for each of our daughters. I actually saw Tyne just before the lockdown. She happened to be in town from New York. She’s the real deal. She also does not suffer fools. [Laughs.] But nor should she! She’s as good as they get.
TO: Xena was a job that came at just the right time in my life. I think I was still working at Johnny Rocket’s. I couldn’t get an acting job to save my life, or if I was getting them, they were jobs that were for one day. And I kept saying, “If I could just get two jobs in a row, I could get ahead of my bills, and I’d be fine.” I was totally out of money. But then a buddy of mine who had a furniture-moving business called me and said, “Look, I’ll give you $60 cash to come move furniture.” And I said, “Okay, I’m back to manual labor.” Because I’d done roofing when I was younger and some mild construction, so I’d done enough grunt work that I could say, “Okay, I will gladly take your money.” [Laughs.] I remember he worked for a designer, and people would go into this designer and buy this expensive furniture, and you’d take it into the rich peoples’ homes and move it around. It was a pain-in-the-ass of a job. But I said, “It’s fine. I’ll move furniture.” And the very next day, I got Xena.
Ted Raimi is who I owe that job to, because Ted was a pal from seaQuest, and he said, “They’re looking for a Jesus-like character.” I had long hair and a beard, so Ted got me an audition for that, and I got it, and the next thing I know I’m in New Zealand. The first time my character was on there, it was for three episodes, so it got me ahead of my bills. And I always swear that it was because of sort of humbling myself to the universe and saying, “I’ll do whatever I have to do to feed my talent.” That was also the job that led me to never work in the food industry again. [Laughs.] I was able to hang up my apron for good!
TO: Like most of the things in my career, Psych was an audition situation. I was going to read this interrogation scene, so I put on my blue cop suit and went into the audition, but just before I started, Steve Franks, the creator, said, “Just so you know, this is not NYPD Blue. Think Moonlighting.” I thought, “Okay, I can do that.” Again, it was one of those where the audition just went so well, and they were so lovely in the room, that at the end I looked at Steve and said, “I’m getting the hell out of here before I screw this up.”
I remember I was on Riverside when Steve called me. I pulled the car over, we had this lovely conversation, and he said, “Let’s go to Canada, and let’s go to work!” And then getting on set in Vancouver… That cast was really lightning in a bottle. We were together for eight years, 120 episodes, and not a bad word between any of us. To this day, we’re still incredibly close. I love those guys, all of ’em. And my kids were pretty much raised in Vancouver. So, yeah, that was just an amazing time in my life.
AVC: Did you have a favorite of the… stunt episodes, I guess you’d call them?
TO: Oh, God. Well, “Dual Spires” was pretty spectacular, because to see that cast... The cast of Twin Peaks hadn’t seen each other in, like, 15 years, so to see their reunion happen in front of our eyes… Yeah, that was pretty spectacular.
AVC: Do you have a favorite Lassiter spotlight episode?
TO: “Heeeeere’s Lassie” is probably the big favorite for me. I’m not a big horror fan, whereas James Roday [who plays Shawn Spencer] eats, sleeps, and breathe horror movies. To me, The Shining was the scariest movie I’d ever seen, other than The Exorcist, so when the script arrived… Roday said, “Tim, you’ve gotta watch the movie again.” I said, “I can’t do it.” He said, “You have to watch the movie again, just for the jokes.”
So I was flying back and forth between Vancouver and L.A. a lot, and the only way I could watch that movie without turning into a scared little boy was on my laptop, on a packed plane, at eight o’clock in the morning. But I just re-watched that episode during the Psych marathon they had on USA, and it’s still so good. James and Todd [Harthan, who co-wrote the episode with Tim Meltreger] did an amazing job on that. And Dule [Hill’s] Shelley Duvall will go down as one of the best Gus moments ever.
There’s a photo of me online somewhere… We were shooting on location for that episode, and I was walking around with my Jack Nicholson look—I’m kind of unshaven, and I’ve got this really manic, crazed look in my eye—and a paparazzi up there got this shot. I’m like, “Great—anybody seeing this out of context would think I’m out of my freakin’ mind!” [Laughs.] But that’s okay… although I still want to find that picture and put an asterisk next to it saying, “In Character!”
TO: Getting to shoot [Psych 2: Lassie Come Home] up there was pretty intense and wonderful, because it was really the first thing I’d done for real since the stroke. The first movie, they wrote the cameo for me, because I had the stroke just while they were in production. Just to show what incredible people they are, they sat down, rewrote the movie, and threw that cameo in for me. So by the time we got to the second movie, it was a much bigger part and a much bigger deal. And it was not easy by any means to show up on set that first day and figure out how to work with everybody with a new brain. But I had that cast and crew there to support me the entire way. I couldn’t have done it without them lifting me up.
TO: I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to be on that show. That came about because, of course, I knew Dan Fogelman from Galavant. But our friend Karen David, who played Princess Isabella, she would have dinner parties, and Chris Koch, a writer/director who worked on Galavant and then on This Is Us, would be over there. One of the first times I was out of the house in the wheelchair was over there, and they actually had to carry me in my wheelchair and lift me over the threshold to get in the house to have dinner. But as I slowly but gradually improved, Chris said, “You know, Dan had said that maybe we could figure something out for you on the show.” And I thought, “Well, yeah, I guess I could be a guy in a wheelchair. I don’t know.”
Every few months I’d be over at the house with those guys, and he kept noting the progress I was making. And two of our Galavant producers, John Hoberg and Kat Likkel, were massive parts of getting on the show, because they were keeping Dan abreast of my recovery. Well, I had a 50th birthday party that Chris, John, and Kat came to, and I gave this speech, and they commented that if I could give the speech I gave after however many Old Fashioneds I’d had, then I was ready to get back to work. [Laughs.] And one of them recorded it and sent the speech to Dan, and Dan texted me a little bit later and said, “Are you feeling like working? I think we can find a spot for you.” And he said, “I was thinking of writing a guy who’s recently recovered from a stroke.” I said, “Put me in, Coach! Let me play!”
As my wife and I were driving to set that first day, we were running about 10 minutes early, and we pulled the car over and she said, “A year ago, you almost died. And now we’re driving to the set of the No. 1 show on TV.” It was incredible to be going back to work. My very first day on set was having to walk across a lawn. I still have difficulty walking, even with a stick on a sidewalk, so that was incredibly challenging. But that whole cast was so lovely and inviting, so I had great people around me. And Dan was on set that day, too, so it felt right like being back at home. I’m so grateful that they gave me that opportunity to get back in front of the camera on a show that’s so well known. If I have another kid, I’ll have to name him “Dan.”
AVC: I know you had physical therapy today. How is your recovery coming along?
TO: Every day it gets a little better. I’ve been lucky, in that I’ve got great physical therapists who are still working with me even under quarantine. We do it virtually. I mean, the big milestone is going from the wheelchair to be able to walk again. It’s pretty incredible. It’s a little bit like I’m wearing a suit of armor. My left leg still doesn’t work very well, my left arm is pretty non-compliant, and I have a bit of a problem with my vision on my left side because the stroke affected my optical nerve. So it’s actually like wearing a suit of armor with half the visor down. So it’s… It’s been a big challenge.
But every time I was on an episode of This Is Us, I got a little better, I think, and just a little bit easier. But I get this tiny jolt of excitement every time I keep moving forward. And on that show, I was lucky enough that people who would truly support me gave me a chance to do another take if I needed it. I mean, the best part about the business is working with friends, but when you get in a situation like that, boy, was it really important.
TO: I remember the audition very well, because it was at Amblin Entertainment, which was [Steven] Spielberg’s little kingdom on the Universal lot. So to even to get admission to Amblin was exciting. But I got the job, and I was originally supposed to only do one episode, but that’s another one that turned into four or five. I mentioned earlier that that’s where I really started to learn how to be a screen actor, and it’s true. Because I’d just come out of theater school, where I’d done a lot of Shakespeare, but I had no idea what I was doing in front of the camera.
One day I’m doing this scene with Roy Scheider where we’re in this little capsule thing, and he just looks at me and says, “Hey, kid? You don’t have to project. You have a microphone pinned to your chest.” And I looked at him and I said [In a cracking high-pitched voice.] “Oh, thanks, Mr. Scheider!” And Stephanie Beacham, who was one of the female leads on that show, she taught me how to do off-camera acting. I’m doing my off-camera lines, and I’m kind of leaning about five feet away from the lens. She said, “No, darling, put your face right next to the lens.” I had no clue how it worked. I was so fortunate that they allowed me to sort of learn on the job, which is an opportunity you don’t get from everyone. But it ended up being a show where a couple of guys from the cast—Ted Raimi and Marco Sanchez—are still some of my closest friends. Those guys, they just took me under their wing immediately and made it such a great experience.
The weekend of the premiere—I still remember this—my wife Allison, who was still my girlfriend at the time, she and I were living near Beachwood then, and we were at the Gelson’s there, and she had a seaQuest baseball cap on. You have to remember that it was such a massive thing. Like, all of the magazines at the checkout were about seaQuest. I think at the time it was the most expensive show on TV. And she had people in the store stopping her and saying, “Are you on seaQuest? I cannot wait for that show to come out!”
When I was 5 years old, we took a trip from Seattle and drove down to California, and one of the stops was Universal Studios. I remember being on the tram at Universal, coming down off the hill from the upper part of the studios, and seeing all these people working and walking back and forth, and thinking, “I don’t know what these people are doing, but that looks cool. I wanna do that!” And the day I walked in for seaQuest, I’m literally heading for the stage… and a tram goes by. And I just sort of stopped in my tracks and went, “Oh, my God. I’m here! I’m doing the thing I’ve wanted to do since I was 5 years old!” Every time I’m on that lot, it still gives me a thrill.