After seven seasons of serious politics on The West Wing, Dulé Hill is enjoying tapping into his silly side on the USA crimedy Psych, which begins the back half of its freshman season this Friday, Jan. 19, at 10 pm/EST. As Burton 'Gus' Guster, the pent-up best friend/reluctant accomplice of bogus psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday), Hill huffs, pouts, rolls his eyes and protests all of his buddy's schemes to no avail. He's the Cameron Frye to Roday's Ferris Bueller, if you will. But while Hill is technically the second banana, he ends up with the lion's share of laughs due to his endearing portrayal of a neurotic nerd. Hill chatted with TVGuide.com about his two signature series, his theatrical background and why he's glad he traded network for cable.
TVGuide.com: Hello, Dulé? [Coughs] Wow, you sound like you've got a bad cold.
Dulé Hill: I do. I'm trying to fight it off since I'm performing in Dutchman.
TVGuide.com: That's right, you're doing a revival of Amiri Baraka's play off-Broadway. How's that going?
Hill: I'm excited about it. It's really fun and challenging.
TVGuide.com: I remember that you started out in theater. Years ago I saw you tap-dance in Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk.
Hill: I haven't been on stage since I left that show in 1998. And Dutchman, which is about the seduction of a black man by a white woman on the New York subway, is the first straight play I've ever done.
TVGuide.com: Well, you've had plenty of experience with drama on TV.
Hill: But being on stage is very different from television or film. I can't yell, "Cut!" or, "I didn't really feel right with that one, can we do it again?" You know what I mean?
TVGuide.com: True. Is there a reason you stayed away from theater for so long?
Hill: I didn't have the time to do it. When I was on West Wing, I did 22 episodes a year. I didn't have a life outside of the soundstage. I always said that if I did more television, I wanted to do cable.
TVGuide.com: And along came Psych.
Hill: Yup.This show is exactly what I was looking for. It answered all of my desires. After West Wing, I needed to do a comedy. Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of fun on that show, but on Psych we're not leading the free world every day. I also wanted more of a leading role. And now I have six months off a year to do other things.
TVGuide.com: While Psych is built around Shawn and his shenanigans, I often feel that Gus is the heart of the show.
Hill: Why, thank you.
TVGuide.com: He's just so adorkable... and yet all the ladies always swallow Shawn's shtick. That really bugs me. Can't they see that Gus is the man they should want?
Hill: [Laughs] As the episodes go on, Gus starts to get more play. Don't worry, we'll start to balance it out.
TVGuide.com: Is Gus going to have a girlfriend by the end of the season?
Hill: Not a regular one, but there will be possibilities — and they won't just be Shawn's castoffs, either. One of the actresses playing a potential love interest is my real-life wife, Nicole Lyn.
TVGuide.com: Working with her must have been fun.
Hill: Working on the show in general is a blast. Gus is very different from Charlie, my West Wing character. He's nowhere near as serious and doesn't have as much pain. After doing drama for seven years, I like having a chance to work my comedy muscles. James Roday gives me so much stuff to work off of, and he's a very cool and laid-back dude. And the rest of the cast, too... we have a nice tight unit.
TVGuide.com: You do seem to joke around a lot on set. Like those "Psych-Outs" you and Roday do at the end of each episode, when you sing retro songs off-key.
Hill: Yeah, when we did the pilot, James and I discovered we both loved old '80s and '90s songs, whether it was Michael Jackson or some boy band. So throughout the whole taping, we kept singing. The last scene we shot was when James was talking to the murderer, and I was singing "Man in the Mirror" in the background. The director thought it was hilarious and said, 'Let's put it on film.' The network loved it so much they asked us to do one for every episode. So it went from being a funny little thing to extra work for us.
TVGuide.com: It sounds like you and Roday have a fabulous friendship. But sometimes I wonder why your alter egos, Shawn and Gus, are friends.
Hill: They do have a bit of a love-hate relationship.
TVGuide.com: It seems like Shawn has a love-hate relationship with pretty much everyone. Doesn't Gus ever get fed up?
Hill: Sometimes... but in the episodes coming up, you start to see why they're friends. They're more like brothers, really. Sometimes they might argue or get on each other's nerves, but in the end, they can't get away from each other. Also, Gus starts to relax more. He unbuttons his collar a little bit and stops being so uptight.
TVGuide.com: Are you anything like Gus in real life?
Hill: I'm nowhere near as nerdy, I hope. That's definitely acting!
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