Corbin Bernsen Is One Psych'd Fella
by Raven Snook
Corbin Bernsen, Psych
It's easy to take potshots at Corbin Bernsen. Although he was nominated for a pair of Emmys during his eight-year run as womanizing divorce attorney Arnie Becker on L.A. Law, his subsequent projects have been spotty. For every A-list appearance — a recurring role on The West Wing, the first two Major League films — he's made D-grade duds, numerous low-rent TV-movies and the third Major League film. That said, Bernsen's fans should be very enthusiastic about his hilarious new USA Network series Psych (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET). This comedic crime series (a "crimedy," if you will) revolves around Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a hyper-observant slacker who passes himself off as a psychic much to the chagrin of his disapproving father (Bernsen), a no-nonsense ex-cop. Bernsen chatted with TVGuide.com about his new role — and his reputation.
TVGuide.com: It's great to see you back in prime time.
Corbin Bernsen: Thank you. It's fun to be here. I don't want to jinx it, but I think we've got a good show. There's a real synergy among the cast, the crew and the executives. Everybody is working together and clicking, and that's not common.
TVGuide.com: Must remind you of your old L.A. Law days.
Bernsen: Absolutely. We were nine actors working in unison. Psych has that same vibe, and on top of that, the scripts are great. The tone is really set forth by [creator] Steve Franks, who wrote the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy. I was a big fan of that movie. It really struck something in me. Steve is a lot like [L.A. Law creator] Steven Bochco in that they both have a wonderful ability to blend comedy and drama.
TVGuide.com: Sounds like you always work well with people named "Steve."
Bernsen: That must be it.
TVGuide.com: Your Psych character, Henry, reminds me of Arnie in some ways. On the surface he seems like a jerk, but underneath it all he's a good guy who's just miserable.
Bernsen: I have the corner on that kind of character. A guy like Arnie Becker by all appearances should be happy — he's good-looking, drives a Porsche, makes tons of money, is a well-respected lawyer, he's got girls galore — but close the door and he's the most miserable guy in the world because he really wants to be with somebody. Henry was a good, well-respected cop and he retired with honor, yet he wishes he could be closer to his son. Both Arnie and Henry are seeking relationships that their own life agendas have not made available to them. No matter how happy and content they look, they're missing something enormous.
TVGuide.com: And yet in real life, you and your wife, actress Amanda Pays, are happily married and have four children, so you're the antithesis of these guys. How do you play them so convincingly?
Bernsen: It's something my mother [longtime The Young and the Restless star Jeanne Cooper] taught me. I have an enormous empathy with these characters because I know what they're missing.
TVGuide.com: That technique really works for you. Your relationship with your Psych son, James Roday, adds pathos to an otherwise light, witty series. I think it's the heart of the show.
Bernsen: You and the network both, evidently, because they've asked me to do much more than originally planned, which is good news for me.
TVGuide.com: Before Psych, you were appearing on General Hospital. Having started out on Ryan's Hope, did it feel strange going back to daytime?
Bernsen: I want to correct what you just said: I never viewed it as "going back." I love acting. I love this whole business. I don't see a hierarchy between soaps and feature films, B-features and A-features, prime time and daytime. It's all acting. I'm an experimenter, and I like it all.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel your willingness to do all kinds of projects — from independent films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to two rounds of Celebrity Mole to the direct-to-DVD feature Carpool Guy, which you also directed — has helped or hurt your career?
Bernsen: Well, I keep on working, so my ego has put aside all the people who go, "He's a schlock actor. He'll do anything." Here's the way I look at it: You're a bricklayer, and one day you're building a temple, and the next you're building a shed. At the end of the day, you're building something. We should all be so lucky that every project is a temple. Only the very privileged — Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks — get the pick of the litter. So I don't worry about it when Entertainment Weekly goofs on me.
TVGuide.com: Do they make fun of you a lot?
Bernsen: Oh, I can't get a kind word out of them! Although they did say something nice about Psych.
TVGuide.com: That's because it's "hip and cool."
Bernsen: Well, I'm not hip or cool — I'm a journeyman and a family man. I'm not getting busted or cheating on wife or making X-Men 3. I'm a guy who does his own little thing with soap operas and small films. So if Psych can be hip and cool, more power to me.