IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Psych' star Dulé Hill on Hollywood diversity and the legacy of 'The West Wing'

"In the midst of a time of pain, a time of struggle, a time of loss, a time of anger, we also need a time to laugh," the Emmy-nominated actor said of the new "Psych" movie.
Image: Dule Hill stars in \"Psych,\" available on NBC's \"Peacock\" streaming service.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News; AP; Getty

In the age of gritty cable TV, “Psych” was an anomaly: a bright and breezy detective comedy with a running gag about pineapples. But the eight-season series enjoyed solid ratings and cultivated a loyal fan base: the “PsychOs.”

Dulé Hill, who co-starred as straight-laced sidekick Burton “Gus” Guster, isn't surprised by the show's under-the-radar staying power. “Psych,” he said in a recent Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles, is above all else an “escape” from reality.

Hill, 45, has twice returned to the part since the show ended in 2014, first in a 2017 made-for-TV movie and again in a sequel film that debuts July 15 on the Peacock streaming service. (Peacock is a product of NBC News' parent company, NBCUniversal.)

The sequel, “Psych 2: Lassie Comes Home,” also marks the triumphant return of Hill's co-star Timothy Omundson, who continues to recover from a major stroke he suffered in late April 2017.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Hill discussed the appeal of “Psych,” the push for racial diversity in the TV industry, and the renewed enthusiasm for “The West Wing,” the show that gave him his breakout role as stalwart presidential aide Charlie Young.

Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

The series finale of “Psych” aired in 2014 and the first film premiered in 2017. How did the sequel film come together?

The sequel came together, I would say, because of two words: Timothy Omundson. Unfortunately, Tim suffered a stroke before we started doing the first film. We had to regroup, and his role in the first film was minimized. As much as we loved doing the film, it just wasn't “Psych” without [Omundson's character] Lassie being an integral part of the story. We all committed, from that moment, to get at least one more done. When he started to make strides in recovering, it all started to come together. That was the rallying cry: to get Tim back on set as Lassie.

Every time I think about the second movie, I just think about seeing Tim walk on set. It was such an emotional, heart-filling moment — not just for the actors, but for the crew and everyone involved — because there really had been a void. Tim's journey is inspiring.

The show has a devoted cult following: fans who call themselves “PsychOs.” What is it about the show that inspires such loyalty?

I think it's because nobody is really a grown-up on the show. We all have a little bit of a childlike capacity in us, and I think that's what is attractive to people. “Psych” is an escape. It's about two friends who love each other, respect each other and can be themselves around each other.

In the midst of a time of pain, a time of struggle, a time of loss, a time of anger, we also need a time to laugh. Hopefully, during this time, “Psych” will give a little bit of levity to the soul, because there's so much hurt and so much frustration going on in our nation right now.

The protests across the country, among many other things, have put a spotlight on issues of diversity, inclusion and representation in entertainment. In your industry, television, where would you like to see change?

I want to see change happen across the board. I think we can have more people of color as leads on television, not just in supporting roles. I think we can have more people of color in the writers' room, especially, and people of different sexual orientations.

I don't feel there's anything good that comes out of an echo chamber. I think we could have more diversity in terms of directors, producers, the executives from the network who are developing the projects. I think we could definitely have more diversity in terms of who is calling the shots on top, who is the one who can greenlight a project.

I'm fairly confident that most of the people who have an ability to greenlight a project do not look like me. I have a very funny feeling that it's a very homogeneous group of people who have the power to say, “yes.” If you have a more diverse group on the top, then I think you'd have a more diverse group of projects that are being developed and get to air.

“The West Wing” has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the Trump era. How do you think the show speaks to the moment we're living in right now?

The thing that speaks to where we are right now is that there were smart arguments, whether you agreed or not. I didn't feel there was any point of view coming from a place of hate or ignorance. It was always just: 'We have different points of view about how to attack a certain problem.' I think now we're lacking that. It seems like some people are 'against' just to be 'against.'

I mean, wearing a mask is a political issue. How absurd is that? The idea that would even be an issue inside the world of “The West Wing” — it's like, what? I really think some of that is what is resonating with people because it's looking at a time when there was intellectual discourse about issues.

I think there was a genuine love for humanity on the show that I think is lacking from our leadership right now. I think “The West Wing” inspired us to dream that we could be the best versions of ourselves, individually and as a nation. There's a moral void in our nation right now.

The show was famously idealistic in its vision of how the presidency operates and how Washington works. But some critics have said that idealism was unrealistic and conveyed a false idea of politics. How do you feel about that commentary?

I disagree that it's unrealistic. I think it's unrealistic if we expect it out of the leadership we have today. [Laughs.]

You may not believe in all the political alignments that President Bartlet had, but he struggled with decisions, he tried to weigh and hear arguments and balance them out in his mind, and then he'd take time to decide on the best thing to do. He made sure he had people around him who could check his own emotions.

I don't think that's unrealistic idealism. I think it's a high bar, but that's what we should be pressing for — and if you're aspiring to be the president of the United States or be in any position of leadership in this country, you should be pressed toward the high bar, you should challenge yourself to be the best person you could be. Otherwise, stay on the sidelines and have a radio show. [Laughs.]

You've had a lot of experience performing on stage. What has it been like seeing so many theaters shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, and do you feel optimistic that Broadway can recover when it's safe to go back to venues?

The show always goes on, but a shutdown for so long has been shocking. I feel for the artists — the actors, the dancers, the singers, the crew, wardrobe, ushers, everybody involved — because it's a challenging time.

I think theater will come back because we need that type of medium to hold up a mirror to our society, to tell stories, to challenge us and to relieve us. I don't know if, in the short term, you're going to see packed houses. But I do believe, at some point, it will open back up. Look, this is America and capitalism reigns supreme, and there's too much money for too many theater owners. [Laughs.] It'll be interesting to see how that all plays out.