Timothy Omundson on his 'overwhelmingly wonderful' return in Psych 2: Lassie Come Home
Premiering Wednesday, the follow-up to 2017's Psych: The Movie finds Lassiter recuperating in an expensive rehab facility after being gravely injured in the field. Omundson could relate to Lassiter's predicament because he spent time in a recovery clinic after suffering a stroke three years ago right before production began on Psych: The Movie. In fact, shooting Psych 2 last spring marked Omundson's first time back on a professional set since the accident (he shot his guest-appearances on This Is Us and American Housewife after Psych 2).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it feel stepping back onto the set?
TIMOTHY OMUNDSON: It's pretty complicated. I mean, mostly, it was overwhelmingly wonderful. And then it was also really kind of terrifying because I was trying to figure out how to work with my new brain and new body post-stroke, which was a very, very different process. So there was a pretty steep learning curve. I used to have this super power of being able to highlight my sides once and have the lines just memorized, which I quickly realized, once I got on set that, that had gone out the door.
But I knew I had such an incredible support system with that cast and crew, that they were going to take care of me no matter what happened. And in fact, after the first day — the first day was a little rough, just in terms of the whole process of physically moving around and being able to get the lines out — James [Roday Rodriguez] and [Psych creator and Lassie Come Home director Steve Franks], our writers, came to my hotel room that night, and we went over the next day's work beforehand because our show changes really quickly. The lines always changed sort of on the day. We just punch up jokes and figure out new funny stuff, so it's hard to memorize sometimes. So they came over. We kind of punched up the same amount of times. And so, then I had all night to do professional work of actually learning my lines like a professional actor, like I used to do, and that next day went much smoother. So I just kind of really doubled down on working much harder to memorize my lines throughout the rest of the shoot.
Did that added challenge make it harder for you to get back into character as Lassiter again?
It came pretty easily, although there was something that was missing. So much of Lassie was his voice, because where that voice was located sort of deep in his chest was very much how I got that character. And my voice was really affected by the stroke, my lungs were pretty affected, so I wasn't able to have that same sort of boom that I used to. In fact, I was watching the movie again last night, and felt that I wish I could’ve shot the whole day again because my voice is much stronger than when we did it. And so, I mean, I can tell the difference, but hopefully nobody else will. But the lines were so strong. Those guys know the characters so well and know me so well that because of the lines they wrote, he came back pretty quickly and especially having my old cast there. That fell right back into place, sort of lockstep with where we left off.
James told me that he and Steve sent you versions of the script to review and give feedback on what they wrote for Lassie. How did it feel to be involved in the writing process?
It felt much more secure that way, because they knew my physical limitations. I was able to say very early on, "I don't want to pretend I didn't have a stroke.” Or, I didn't want to pretend that my left arm works, because it doesn't. And so, they were fully on board with that, so that really helped put my mind at ease.
We’ve never seen Lassie in such a vulnerable position before. Did you feel like you were discovering something new about the character?
Absolutely. Because he was always a tough guy and put up his Dirty Harry Callahan front all the time, except when he was being handed divorce papers of course. But yeah, so I really had kind of rely more on [and] go much more emotional. Watching the movie last night, it really dawned on me how much what Lassiter says and expresses is what I was really feeling and going through at the moment. So a lot of those lines are things that I pitched of just his vulnerability and the worry about his family, how they were going to react. So, it’s really true life in that regard. [I] actually got quite emotional last night watching the movie.
Have you ever had a role that felt so connected to what you were personally going through before like this?
Certainly early on, I could really identify with Lassiter wanting to be part of that team and sort of feeling like an outsider. Most kids go through periods of being the outsider in the group. But other than that, no, certainly nothing that has ever hit me this emotionally deep and true to form, which is lucky because it all came about from this obviously life-altering health experience. So luckily, I hadn’t had to play that before.
The movie also gives us some insight into Lassiter’s relationship with his father [Joel McHale]. During the run of the show, did you come up with your own backstory for Lassiter, and if so, how did it compare to what we ended up learning in the movie?
In fact, Steve and I talked about this once, but [Lassiter] only really mentioned his dad, I believe, in the Old Sonora episode [season 4’s “High Noon-is”] where we talk about my dad not being around a lot and my mom dropping me off at Old Sonora and Hank becoming such a big father figure to him. So yeah, what happens in the movie was right on track. And I lost my own dad a few years prior to shooting this movie, so [one of the] scenes with Joel was pretty close to home with my dad. Did they tell you the story of how Joel came to the movie?
Oh no, they didn’t. I just remember reading they surprised you with him.
Oh, it’s amazing. So Joel and I have been pals for a while. It turns out we actually grew up about 20 minutes from each other up in Seattle, but didn’t know each other back then. Our kids went to school together down in L.A., and we became friends. And Maggie Lawson was working with him on Santa Clarita Diet. I think James came up with the idea and broached Maggie saying, “You think we can get Joel to play it?” and so Maggie asked Joel, and Joel was all for it. The thing is how they all kept it from me — even my wife [Allison Cowley] knew he was going to play the part — because [they] wanted to have this big surprise.
Once we got to set, I kept asking everybody, “Who’s playing my dad? I really want to know,” because he was obviously a pretty emotional anchor point for Lassiter in the movie. Steve and [executive producer] Chris Henze wouldn’t tell me. They were like, “Oh no, we got somebody great. We got a local guy.” All [they] would say is that he nailed it in the audition.
They even came up with a fake name for the call sheet. Somehow I got ahold of the call sheet and looked at the fake name that Joel had proposed and IMDB’d it and found the guy had no credits. And I was like, “Son of a b----!” Then, we were on set one day, and Steve said, “So do you want to see who’s playing your dad?” I said, “Yeah.” So, I’m sitting on set and Steve made an announcement, and in walks Joel, and I just burst out laughing. It was like the biggest belly laugh I think I’d had since I had the stroke. It was just incredible. We had an amazing time together. Joel immediately felt like he’d been with us forever.
Did having Joel in the role end up helping with the emotional material?
Yeah absolutely…And Joel was actually really integral to my recovery and my stroke. The day I had my stroke, I was in a Tampa, Fla., ICU. My wife rushed to the airport to fly down to me, and she literally turned a corner in security and ran into Joel, who was flying to the East Coast. It was like seven in the morning for both of them, and Allison’s looking obviously very distraught, and she bursts into tears that I’d had a stroke. Then, Joel proceeded to send me funny videos and texts throughout the entire time I was in the ICU in Florida just to keep my spirits high and make me laugh.
At one point, I was in a recovery house kind of similar to the one Lassie is in, although it wasn’t a mansion. I spent a lot of time in this house just bored out of my mind, and Joel would send me videos of his family just to make me laugh, and then out of boredom, I would send him videos to make myself laugh. That went back and forth for weeks. He would just send me texts like, “Hey, Tim, you want to go for a run? Oh, that’s right, you can’t. You had a stroke.” Just totally irreverent stuff to make me laugh. I would narrate my breakfast [for him], just anything to keep myself amused. So, he was always a big part of my recovery right from the get-go. Then to have him play that role in the movie was more than I could have hoped for.
If Peacock wants to make another movie, are you interested in returning?
I'd like to see them try and stop me. I will do as many of these movies as they could possibly come up with. I think the entire cast and crew would just love to keep doing this for as long as people will watch. And speaking of the emotional anchors of my cast on the show, there's also the crew. A lot of our original crew from the series came back. So it couldn't have been a more comfortable environment to start working again.
We have this tradition on our show. When an actor or director we really liked wrapped, we would sing them out [with] "Happy Birthday," which sounds strange, but it wasn't "Happy Birthday," it just meant, "We love you, and you're one of us." And while I was in that house recovering during the first movie, the crew would occasionally send me videos of them singing Happy Birthday to me. When you're stuck in a medical condition like that and feeling really down and alone, to have all your friends do something like that was just...[I] can't describe how much it lifted me up.
So the first day we got to Vancouver — it was a couple days before I actually started shooting — we got a call asking if I'd like to come up on set and say hello to people before we started working. So they drove me out to set of the Hershel House. I walked into the foyer of the mansion, and I look around to see all the actors there and a lot of the crew there. I catch [Camera "A" Operator Marco Ciccone's] eye, and Marco all started singing the song to me. Our longtime boom operator immediately started crying, and my wife Allison started crying, and then I started crying. It was one of the most emotional moments I've ever had on a set. Just to be swaddled in this love of these people that I'd worked with for so many years, was truly an experience I will never forget.
Psych 2: Lassie Come Homes arrives July 15 on Peacock.