Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dulé Hill: The “Psych” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: “Psych”-ing Out Dulé

Dulé Hill stars as Burton ‘Gus’ Guster on the USA Network series Psych which airs on Wednesdays at 10 PM ET/PT and at 9 PM CT. Best known for his work as Charlie Young on “The West Wing,” Hill first came to prominence as The Kid opposite Savion Glover and Jeffrey Wright in the Broadway production of "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk."
His stage credits also include "Black and Blue," "Shenandoah" and "The Little Rascals." In 2007, he returned to the stage where he starred in “Dutchman,” Amiri Baraka’s Obie award-winning play about a white woman who seduces a naïve, bourgeois black man on a subway train with terrifying results.
Born to Jennifer Garner and Bertholomu Hillshire in Orange, New Jersey on May 3, 1975 and raised with his elder brother, Bert, in nearby Sayreville, Dulé began attending dance school when he was 3 and received his first break in 1983 as the understudy to Savion Glover in “The Tap Dance Kid" on Broadway. He went on to perform the lead role in the musical’s national tour alongside Harold Nicholas.
In 1999, he joined the cast of the acclaimed NBC series "The West Wing," playing the personal aide to the President (Martin Sheen) and, subsequently, deputy special assistant to the chief of staff (Allison Janney). During his 7 seasons on the series, Hill garnered an Emmy Award nomination and 4 NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, as well as receiving 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards as part of the ensemble in a drama series.
On the big screen, Hill appeared opposite William H. Macy in an adaptation of David Mamet's “Edmond,” and Andrew Davis' “The Guardian.” His film credits also include “Holes,” an adaptation of the award-winning children's novel by Louis Sachar, plus “Sugar Hill,” “She’s All That” and the independent film “Sexual Life.”
Here, he talks about Psych, a lighthearted, crime-solving series where he plays a private eye whose partner (James Roday) pretends to be clairvoyant.

Kam Williams: Hey, Dulé, thanks for the time.
Dule Hill: Oh, it’s my pleasure.

KW: I’d like to start right in with questions sent in for you by my readers. Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Do you believe people have psychic powers? Have you ever experienced anything psychic in real life?
DH: I do believe that there are a few of those rare folks out there with a sixth sense who really do have psychic powers. But I think the majority of people who claim to be psychics are frauds. As for myself, I’ve never experienced anything personally, except on one occasion when I was a kid with a friend of mine who has passed away since. He was spending the night over at my house and tried to wake him up because he was mumbling to himself in his sleep. I asked him what he was talking about and he said, “Oh, man, I had this dream that your little cousin was here and bothering me by climbing on my back.” It turned out that later that day one of my cousins did come over and start messing with him. That was definitely strange. But besides that, I haven’t had any psychic experiences.

KW: I guess Miss Cleo of Psychic Friends Network infomercial fame ruined it for real psychics once she was exposed as a fraud.
DH: Yeah, any Jamaican could’ve told you from the first time they saw the commercial that she was a fake, because her accent was terrible. [Laughs]

KW: FSU grad Laz Lyles says: I love Psych. I just really want to know how they've been able to keep it so darn funny and fresh for this long. The show is hilarious!
DH: For one, you have to take your hat off to Steve Franks, the show’s creator, and to the writing staff that he’s assembled. They’re very good at seeing where we’re going both onscreen and as actors, and getting in that lane and taking it further. They also give us a lot of freedom, which is good. They’re not so strict about sticking to the script. If we come up with something really funny to do while we’re on the set, they’ll allow us to go off on that tangent, and 80% of the time it’ll end up on the show. Having that freedom to move within the structure helps a lot. It’s kind of like jazz or any kind of improv. It’s a great collaborative effort, which helps the show to be so funny. But it’s impossible to say exactly what makes it all click. When lightning strikes, you just have to enjoy it and hope it continues a while longer.

KW: I’d guess that the key is the chemistry and comic timing of the stars, you and James Roday, because you guys seem very natural and give the feeling that you really like each other.
DH: Well, James and I have been good friends ever since we joined the cast. There’s a mutual respect there for each other’s talent, artistry and humanity. Plus, we have a good time on the set, and enjoy being around each other. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. That goes a long way, because we don’t have to manufacture a sense of camaraderie when the cameras start rolling. We come to work looking to have a great time everyday. We get our job done, but the set is a fun place to be.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Has your role on Psych evolved, and how do you see it evolving further?
DH: The role has definitely evolved since the pilot season. Steve Franks had always promised that it was going to expand. If you compare the first few episodes from the first season to recent ones, you’ll see that the quality of Shawn and Gus’ interaction is richer, and that Gus stands up for himself a little more. It’s a fuller friendship at this point. As for where the development of my character is headed, I can’t say. But I’d really like to see Gus date more. He doesn’t necessarily have to succeed at dating, but just step out there, especially now that Shawn and Juliet’s relationship is really kicking off. Gus has to start asking, what am I going to do with my life?

KW: Nick Antoine asks: Are James Roday and Maggie Lawson dating in real life?
DH: I believe that’s public knowledge, now, so I think it’s safe for me to say, “Yes, they are.”

KW: Nick also asks: How much would you say you’re like your character, Gus?
DH: I don’t think I’m like Gus at all, really. I don’t store lots of trivia in my brain. He knows something about everything, like all these random facts about the Eighties. I think I’m not as hyped as Gus is. I’m smoother and more laidback. I do like to have fun and to play games; otherwise, I don’t think I’m too much like him.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I did tap dance for over 12 years which is one of my passions. Tap dance was very popular in the past with people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and the Nicholas Brothers. Later, Paula Abdul and Gregory Hines were among the few people who modernized tap. As an expert in tap dance, what would you say needs to be done to put this genre of art back on the map?
DH: That’s an excellent question, although I wouldn’t call myself an expert tap dancer. [Laughs] Something I’m constantly turning over in my head is a way of getting tap back into the public eye. I tried to take some baby steps by doing a tap episode on Psych this year. But I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight revival. It’s probably going to be something that starts small and builds into a multi-faceted groundswell. It might have to begin on the theater side, on the stage, before working its way to television more widely. The internet can play a big role, too, in educating the masses as a whole about what really good tap dancing is.

KW: Patricia also says: Your parents are from Jamaica. Marcus Garvey is one of the greatest heroes from your parents' country. If Garvey were alive today, what do you think he would have said about the fact that we now have an African-American president?
DH: Wow! I would hope that he would be proud of the country’s taking that major step forward. But I think he might also say that the race doesn’t stop there. We still have further to go to open the floodgates and create more opportunities for our people to achieve that same level of success in other fields so they can fully realize the American Dream.

KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles says: Psych reminds me of the TV series I Spy, with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Have you ever gotten that before and what do you think of the comparison?
DH: I have heard that before, but I don’t know much about I Spy. I’ve figured out that they were detectives, and that there’s a black and white connection, but I’ve never seen a full episode. So, I can’t say whether I see any similarities. Maybe I should try to download it.
KW: Harriet also says she read that you were recently denied membership on a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) committee because you couldn't prove residency. Do you think someone might one day object to your running for president on this basis?
DH: That information she received may be a little off. I don’t think that’s true, because I served on several SAG committees just last year. I actually asked to be pulled off some committees this year because of my schedule. I didn’t want to serve, if I couldn’t devote my time to it. So, I pulled myself off the committees.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
DH: I would say something about falling short of the bar I set for myself, or about my faith, because I’m a Christian.

KW: So, how important is faith to you, and how often do you fall short of the bar you set for yourself?
DH: Faith is the number one priority in my life, above all, and trying to live up to my potential. At the same time, I know that in my personal life, I fall short often. To me, it’s always about not repeating my mistakes and about trying to improve each day. That’s what I work on in quiet moments of reflection.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
DH: Yes, there are times when I’m afraid, but I don’t allow myself to dwell there. Whatever the situation is, whether emotional or physical, I don’t react to it, I just rest in it. I don’t reside in that area of fear. I try to rise above it and keep moving forward.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
DH: Yes, very happy.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
DH: I laugh every day, but I’d probably say I had my last really good one about three days ago.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
DH: My guiltiest pleasure? Video games and the spa. [Chuckles]

KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: Where in L.A. do you live?
DH: I live in the Valley.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
DH: Right now, I’m reading “The Enough Moment,” a book by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle about all the atrocities going on in Africa in places like Darfur, Uganda and the Congo.
And the last book I finished was “Desperate Networks.”

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
DH: Mostly reggae, gospel and some jazz. But I’d say about 85% reggae music.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
DH: [LOL] That’s a loaded question, because you’re implying that I can cook. When I do cook, I make French toast and scrambled eggs. That’s my wife [actress Nicole Lyn] in the background who’s saying “Don’t lie!” [Laughs some more] The key word there is “when” and those occasions are few and far between.

KW: What is your favorite dish to eat then?
DH: I love sushi, and two Jamaican entrees: Escovitch fish and jerk chicken.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
DH: Off the top of my head, I’d say I like Ben Sherman and Mark Ecko a lot.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
DH: I see a good brother who’s trying to make it happen. I may not be the greatest man, but I’m a good guy.

KW: How do you feel about being nominated for an NAACP Image Award seven times but never winning one?
DH: I’m sort of like the Susan Lucci of the NAACP Awards. {Laughs] So, whenever I get a nomination, I never take it too seriously. It’s all good, though.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
DH: One wish… Oh man… It would be for everyone to be met at the place of their greatest need.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
DH: I think it was going with my parents to look at the house I grew up in. I must have been about 2½ or 3. We were living with my aunt and uncle at the time.

KW: Larry Greenberg says: I read that you grew up in Sayreville, NJ. I was recently at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville for the first time. Did you
ever perform there when you lived there?
DH: No, I never even heard of the Starland Ballroom. [Chuckles] It probably was called something else back then.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
DH: That’s a good question. [Pauses to think] Hero’s a strong word. I’d have to say my maternal grandmother, Ivy Hayes, who has passed away, because she was always there, always about her family, and she sacrificed for her family. And Berris Hill, my grandfather on my dad’s side. Unfortunately, he’s deceased too.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
DH: When my family lost the house in Sayreville after 14 years. That time period taught me a lot.

KW: Can you come up with a good generic question I can call the Dulé Hill question when I interview other celebrities?
DH: Yeah, do you think that the success you’ve achieved in your career is because of you, because of a higher power, or because of a mixture of both?

KW: That’s a good one, thanks. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
DH: I’d say, set a vision and go for it, because there’s power in commitment. And you have to be disciplined, and willing to take risks and to put in the effort. I stayed the course when I was struggling in L.A. even after my dough got low and my agent had dropped me. I only had enough money to cover about another month and a half of my bills at that point. I remember sitting in my living room and saying that I was determined to be an actor, that I was either going to be successful at it, or spend the rest of my life trying.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How did you get through those tough times?
DH: It’s really about having faith in yourself. The mind is a powerful thing. You really have to challenge yourself to stay the course, even when everything seems to be saying, “Pack up shop.” When God told me to go to L.A., he didn’t say there wouldn’t be any struggles. He told me to keep pressing through. So, I had to get my mind right.

KW: The Tavis Smiley questions. First, how introspective are you?
DH: I think I’m pretty introspective. There are those moments when I’m spontaneous, but I generally think things through, especially during my quiet time.

KW: You know who you remind me of interviewing you? Ang Lee. You have a similar energy. Have you ever met him?
DH: No I haven’t, but now I definitely would like to.

KW: The second Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
DH: As a man who cared about others, who really put himself out for others.

KW: Well, thanks again Dulé, and best of luck with the season finale this week. And I’m already looking forward to next season and seeing your character further developed on Psych.
DH: Thanks a lot, Kam. I really appreciate it.

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