In the whimsical world of Pushing Daisies, it's nice to have a straight-talking detective like Emerson Cod to cut everyone down to size. Emerson's real-life alter ego, Chi McBride, was hanging out on the show's set when I visited back in July, and I stole a few minutes with him to talk about Emerson's dry humor and love for yarn crafts. Here are highlights:
Does Emerson's function on the show shift at all this year?
He's on a mission to find his daughter, but he's going to go about it in a very unconventional way. He's also a huge fan of pop-up books, and he wants to create a pop-up book that will lead a little girl who reads it to find her father. He feels sure that some little girl is out there wondering, "Where's my daddy?" And so he writes this book to try to see if he can get her to find him since he can't find her, so that's his mission this year. And in the meantime, if he happens to make a couple bucks, well, good! It's not just about getting stacks and stacks of money. I think that him being a provider, or not being able to be one, probably has a lot to do with why he's so obsessed with money. He just takes on a completely different tone once you start peeling those layers and finding out what he's really after.
Do you feel like it's a problem to have been off the air for so long?
I hope not, I really do. That's one thing I really wish people would wake up and understand, is that . . . audiences do not like to be played with. Sometimes I think we're in this business and we take it for granted —"Aw, everybody wants to go to the movies! What are you worried about?" Look, the audience does not like to be fooled around with! When baseball went on strike, it took years and a juiced ball and steroids to get everybody back. . . . Television's the same way. People take this stuff really seriously. They want to get home, they want to kick their shoes off, they want to watch their television shows. You start messing around with that, especially when you can make reality shows for nothing and get any schmo off the street to open his train wreck of a life, and people are saying "Hey, what's that?"
Lots more on Emerson's witty one-liners and that knitting, so just
How many of Emerson's one-liners come in the script, and how many come from you?
The writers and I have a really good relationship. Most of the stuff they write, I say — 99.9 percent of the stuff. Every now and then, I'll do something a little different, and nobody will come back to tell me not to do it, so I'll just keep doing it. They give me a little bit of rope, and I try not to string myself up with it.
When you were looking for your next role after The Nine, were you looking for something that would have a comedic element to it?
Yeah, I didn't want to do any more crying. I didn't want to do any more hand-wringing and holding my head in disgust — I just didn't want to do it. It's really hard work! Comedy's hard too. But, you know, comedy's something that I started with and got away from for a long time. You make choices in your career for different reasons. I got into drama so people would take me seriously as an actor. And then, you know, when you want to do comedy again, people go, "He's not funny." So I was really glad to come back to comedy, but it had to be something good. No "You gettin' on my last nerve! Pow!" I didn't want to do that.
How much did you know about Emerson coming in, and were there things that came up in the first season that surprised you?
I knew everything! I pitched the story about Emerson — I pitched a story to Bryan [Fuller] that Emerson became a PI to find his daughter; his ex ran away with his daughter, and he wants to find her, and that's why he's so obsessed with money, because he wasn't a good provider. Bryan loved it. He had a completely different story. I don't even think he remembers what it is now.
I love all the details of his character, like the knitting.
It's a pain in the ass, though. You know, I learned it, and I can stitch one stitch, which is great, so I can make a scarf that will reach from here to the moon. But that's the one thing about the strike — that knitting, man. It's not like riding a bike. It just doesn't come back.