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Psych 3’s Timothy Omundson on the ‘Mad Struggle’ of His Stroke Recovery

Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images for BritWeek

Psych is a slice of blue-skies excellence that revolves around a fake psychic detective and his equally ridiculous best friend as they try, and always succeed, to solve crimes before their local police department does. And really, it’s a marvel to watch: Shawn (James Roday Rodriguez) holds his fingers to his head and screams things like I’m sensing!, while Gus (Dulé Hill) and his endless stream of nicknames smell for clues. But Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) just does it by being damn good at his job. During Psych’s original run on the USA Network, Lassiter was the no-bullshit head detective who rarely warmed to the duo’s tomfoolery — however effective it might’ve been — ending the series in 2014 as the deserved new Chief of Police. In 2017, though, Omundson faced an unexpected health crisis, which altered both his personal and fictional Psych lives.

As the actor has been open about in the ensuing years, Omundson is a survivor of a “massive” stroke at the age of 47. It occurred mere days before the first Psych follow-up film was due to begin filming, which prompted significant re-writes to ensure Lassiter still had an affecting presence in the show’s universe. Psych 2 came along last year with Lassie in a rehabilitation center recovering from, yes, a stroke, and the new Psych 3: This Is Gus carries that weight even further: He’s back to work at the SBPD, but convinced he’s locked in a professional stalemate and perceived as “such a fool” due to his health. “I don’t know if I’m ready to let go yet,” he admits in a rare moment of candor.

The Psych films have 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 also had to talk about … beards!

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

I’ll start by saying your Psych 3 beard is stupendous.
I begged and pleaded for that beard. Since I was old enough to grow a beard, I’ve been wearing a beard. When every Psych season ended, I would beg [series creator] Steve Franks to let me grow a beard over hiatus so Lassiter would come back with a cool look. But it never worked because the new season always started when the old season left off, so it never tracked, continuity wise. But this time, a month before we started filming, I texted James, like, Hey bud, can I please grow a beard? We can put in the script that Marlowe thinks it makes him look like Sean Connery. James is a big beard guy, so he was very amiable to the idea. It suited my heroic entrance quite well.

I found it interesting how the film opened with Lassiter triumphantly back at the station, but later doubting his skills and getting conspiratorial about people circling his job because of his stroke. Being vulnerable is still new for him.
After what I’ve been through physically and neurologically … I certainly had the wind taken out of my sails. That confidence and swagger just disappeared in a lot of ways, spiritually and physically. It’s been a mad struggle to claw back over these four years I’ve been in recovery. 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 was allowed breathing room to explore and play with that.

Yeah, you’ve spoken in the past about how fulfilling the Psych films have been in terms of mirroring your own stroke-recovery journey 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, for the first time, says out loud the words he’s been thinking: Maybe he’s unsure he can move on as a cop and the chief of police. Henry tries to get him past it and move on. I’ve relied a lot on close friends with my journey as an actor. I talked to Steve and James about some of the things I’m going through, personally and emotionally, at the moment, and they incorporated those into the script. It’s supportive to know I don’t have to go back to what I was, but embrace what the new version of me is. I’ve talked to Corbin Bernsen a lot about this in real life. When we had that scene together on the porch, it synched up beautifully with our discussions.

What did you talk about in real life with him?
What the new version of Tim the actor is going to look like. Corbin told me that he feels like the new version can be even better than the old version. I shouldn’t worry so much about what I can’t do, as opposed to focusing on what I can do. With this movie, I was able to realize that I can still come up with jokes and be funny. I wasn’t sure if I could still play a comedy and be emotional. When you’re injured, empathy takes a big hit. It’s a big tool for an actor. I wasn’t sure how much I could act emotionally, let alone physically. I was able to explore those beats a little more and I left with a lot more confidence.

There are many particularly poignant lines of dialogue in that porch-side scene, like Lassie saying, “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 term, a guy with toxic masculinity who wouldn’t allow any cracks in. We’ve both been handed a massive, steaming plate of humility. Some things you just can’t fight, you’ve got to roll with it.

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

How do you imagine Lassie continues to evolve from here? Will he take to heart Henry’s advice that there’s “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 tough for him. In this case, I think he’ll focus on being a father and the ways he’ll be there for his family — even if that doesn’t involve so much being the chief of police, and instead taking that time and energy to his wife and daughter. And Morrissey the dog, even though he was absent in the film, I ad-libbed a line about Morrissey, but it didn’t make it into the final cut. You know what got 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 politics are very different from Lassiter. At the core, Lassiter has always been a crunchy and crusty right-wing guy. He has a looming sense of right and wrong and strived for justice. There have been a few references about Lassiter’s admiration for Gerald Ford and the NRA. A lot of Chuck Norris. He’s always been a Republican, although I tend to forget that his mom is a lesbian married to a woman. It’s a hell of a backstory. I love those moments of sensitivity we got to explore with him. We didn’t get to see a lot of it, but it was always great when we got to see the heart of his guy and the emotional depth that he could have. When he’s served divorce papers from his first wife comes to mind, or when he delivers his daughter in the back of a taco truck. The fact that I’m still getting to play this character eight seasons and three movies later is just incredible. I’m hoping that’s going to continue and my skills are there to match it.

I know Steve wants six movies.
He said six, but now all of the cast wants ten. 

Hell, make it an even 12.
Yeah, push it further, we’ll do a baker’s dozen.

So, last summer in the heat of the pandemic, I decided to rank every episode of Psych — again, my favorite show in the entire world — for fun. I’m curious what you think ranks as the No. 1 episode.
Damn, that’s tough. I’ll need to pick a Lassier-centric episode. It has to be “Last Night Gus.”

Beautiful. That was my No. 1, too.
I’ll do “Heeeeere’s Lassie” as the runner-up and “1967: A Psych Odyssey” as the third. Getting to play two characters was super-fun. I watched Dulé’s musical number from “Odyssey” recently and I was floored again. I texted him, Your voice, man! I remember getting out of my trailer early that day to watch him perform for that scene. I also showed “Heeeeere’s Lassie” to my teenage daughters recently. We watched The Shining and they loved it, so this was the natural progression, even though I was terrified when I filmed it. They love horror so they appreciated it.

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

Psych’s Timothy Omundson on the Struggles of Stroke Recovery