Tonight, Amber Tamblyn returns to TV for her first series role since Joan of Arcadia. She's playing Detective Casey Shraeger in ABC's The Unusuals, about a group of misfit cops in New York City trying to solve crimes while also battling their own personal neuroses. I'm still a little disappointed that the show isn't about superhero cops, but the crazy personalities in this show — played by Adam Goldberg, Harold Perrineau, and Kai Lennox, among others — make up for that a bit. Last week, I spoke with Tamblyn about her return to TV and why she looks so comfortable holding a gun. Read on for highlights:
Were you specifically looking to come back to television right now?
No, I never look for anything. I think the things you look for as an actor, if you want to do them, are like, "All right, I want to do a period piece! Let's do it! Let's find one!" TV's always there, film's always there, theater's always there, and I think I just look for something that is a very good character role, that you have something that's well-written and has good actors and you're surrounded by people you want to work with. . . . This was something that seemed sort of special to me, and I saw a lot of potential in the idea of this young female cop who's kind of a smartass and tomboyish. She's really smart, she's a really good girl and very honest, and it's a great character.
What was it about Casey that appealed to you specifically?
I think in every episode, when you see her sort of go into an interrogation room and rip the dignity out of some perp, it's really funny to watch. Because she is young, and she's the rookie cop who's coming into this situation, where everybody else is veteran cops but they're still not as good as she is at what they do for their job. It's a really fun concept. I also love that she's not a cliche female character. She's not a stereotype.
What kind of training did you have to go through to realistically play a cop? Did someone have to show you the right way to hold a gun?
I go to the shooting range a lot in Los Angeles, so I've shot guns before. I think what was really intense was seeing pictures of dead bodies, even though you don't see them in our show — and that's one of the great things about it as well, is . . . it's not about [dead bodies], it's about how it affects characters and what it does to them.
More from Tamblyn about what she learned from cops and her favorite police show of all time when you
Did you get any tips from real cops?
One of the things that they said — and I don't know if this is specifically about New York cops or not — but in the first episode Adam [Goldberg] says "Freeze! Police!" and they vetoed that right away. . . . That's a very TV show thing. Nobody says that. So that was good to know.
We learn one secret about Casey in the pilot, but in general, she seems like the least unusual of all the Unusuals.
I think that's the point, too. . . . The audience will relate the most to her and be like, "Oh my God, I've been in that situation." Or "I've got friends who are like that" or "I've worked with somebody who's like that." She's the most relatable, and she's also the one who — because she comes from a very rich background where there were no rules, there were no responsibilities, you just paid your way out of trouble — she's got this work ethic and this idea about the law and about morals and all of those things, and all of those things start to get compromised.
There are and have been a lot of cop shows on TV. What do you think makes this one different?
I think this is an actual cop show, where I think that for the most part the things that are on TV are not cop shows. They're procedurals. A cop show is a show about cops, at least in my understanding of it, and I think we are the only show on TV that takes a dark, sarcastic, sardonic yet dramatic, funny look at cops and how they solve cases and how their problems and what they go through leak out into their lives.
Is it different being one part of an ensemble instead of the lead of your own show?
The hours are the same, the work's the same. It's just great because you're working with more people. As opposed to you being in the schoolyard with just the ball, you're in the schoolyard with 50 kids and the ball.
Are there any other actors you've enjoyed playing off of so far?
I really love working with — and watching the partnership with — Harold Perrineau and Adam Goldberg. They are hilarious, and they're perfect yin and yang for each other. I work a lot with Kai Lennox, who plays Eddie Alvarez, who's sort of the Kramer of the cop world — he talks about himself in third person, and he really thinks he's gonna be the greatest cop ever, and he also does everything by the law and by the book, but he's a real asshole about it. My partner, played by Jeremy Renner, is always pulling pranks on him that are very, very funny.
Have you been a fan of any police shows yourself?
i was obsessed with The Wire. In the sense that there were such great characters on The Wire and they were so well developed, I think [The Unusuals] has some of those aspects. That would be the only one. I've tried to watch a couple of the other ones and I just can't wrap my head around that — I don't really like watching cases get solved. But The Wire was really great.