Amber Tamblyn is playing a detective in ABC’s new series “The Unusuals” — a role that came about after she insisted she’d never do a cop show.
“It was a script that was sent to me, and an offer. They said, ‘We want you to do this role,'” Tamblyn recalls. “My agent said it’s a cop show, and I said, ‘Absolutely not — you couldn’t pay me, no way, I’ll never do a cop show.’ And she was like, ‘Will you just shut up and read it?’ Then I read it, and I realized instantly … that [the character] has this really fun, sarcastic sense of humor, and I started to realize it was about cops, about who they are and how they deal with things. It wasn’t just going to be me doing a procedural thing. I like to describe the show as an eccentric procedural.”
It’s an apt description. “The Unusuals,” in which Tamblyn plays Casey Shraeger, a newly minted New York homicide detective from a privileged background, serves up a healthy dose of dark comedy with its crime-solving and features characters with enough issues to keep a fleet of psychiatrists busy.
In a phone interview last week, Tamblyn talked with me about what drew her to the part and what viewers can expect from the show.
This may be just me reading into it, but this role kind of feels like you announcing you’re all grown up now.
I don’t think it is. The last four things I’ve done have all been adult roles. I think people see me as younger because my face looks like that of a 10-year-old. But the second “Sisterhood [of the Traveling Pants”] movie, she’s in college, which is not that far off from being a 25-year-old rookie police officer thrown in with all these people who’ve been doing it forever. Then I did — which you haven’t seen yet — a film with Michael Douglas called “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” where I play an assistant district attorney.
But this is fun, because I still get to keep the youthfulness of it, which I think is kind of important to my acting and how I like to act and the things I like to do — along with having a bunch of other really jaded, funny older characters.
What attracted you to playing Casey?
I think what attracted me was just the idea of working with these actors and doing something that was not a drama about cops’ lives. It was about actually seeing that there’s a lot of humor behind these cases and how people deal with them and deal with each other. There’s a lot of really good, solid humor in this show, and I think that’s so important — everything from the cops pranking each other to finding a naked guy running down the middle of the street and getting shot at.
Do later episodes get more into why she chose this career, given her wealthy background?
You sort of see it in the beginning, but I really think the first couple episodes are just about her acclimating to this strange environment — trying to figure out how to be a detective in a world where people’s neuroses and problems and mental state matter more than the cases they’re working on. Where people draw the line as far as what they’ll do to get a case solved, what they’ll do to protect a [fellow] cop. You see her as a moral leader who wants to do good by the law and solve cases. You kind of understand that she came from a world where there are no rules, no responsibilities, no repercussions or anything. So that’s why in this world she really enjoys doing things by the book — but immediately she’s thrown into a situation where it’s not going to be by the book.
Does the show balance the week-to-week cases with the larger corruption investigation the sergeant [Terry Kinney] asks you to take on in the pilot?
Kind of, but that actually takes a back seat to the cases and to the way in which people solve the cases. My executive producer [Noah Hawley, a writer and producer on “Bones”] said it best. He said that the cases solve the characters. I know that sounds funny, but I think it’s a great description. Things happen that either force them to deal with things that they physically can’t or wouldn’t, or it helps them get deeper into whatever depressive state they’re in [laughs].
The idea that everyone on the squad has a secret seems like it might set the show apart from some other cop shows.
There are secrets, but the audience gets to know them right away. Actually, that’s not true — two of the characters, you don’t, and that’s actually really great that stuff gets dragged out. But they’re not secrets that you yourself wouldn’t know. The audience gets to see it and be part of it.
What can we expect from the show and your character in the coming weeks?
I think you’re going to see her trying to be the best cop she can be, trying to solve cases — it’s almost a Tracy Flick kind of quality. And she just completely gets run over by multiple different things — everything from other cops not doing their job … so it reflects on her, and also her just being a rookie and not knowing how the politics of favors works and not knowing how to get things done in certain ways. You’re just going to see her run into a lot of roadblocks, because the people around here are roadblocks — very, very funny, quirky roadblocks.