Amber Tamblyn must have a taste for the unique, especially regarding her television projects — from Joan of Arcadia, in which she received assignments from God, to the unseen pilot for the dark-humored, zombie-themed Babylon Fields (“I wish [it had aired]; it was so good,” she says).
Now she embarks on another unorthodox project, a new series that takes the tried-and-true police detective drama and incorporates the comic insanity sometimes found in that profession. The Unusuals, premiering April 8 on ABC (HD) and airing Wednesdays, follows a team of NYC Homicide cops who examine the “unusuals” — murder cases that are out of the ordinary. But that’s also a term that could apply to the team of eccentrics itself. There is the ultra-cautious officer who refuses to remove his bulletproof vest, partnered with a cop who is trying to get himself killed in the line of duty. There is a very religious detective, and one who has no qualms about stealing cases.
And there’s Tamblyn’s character, Detective Casey Shraeger, newly transferred to the strange new world of Homicide from Vice.
“She comes from this … very rich family,” says Tamblyn, “and she’s sort of trying to deny that she comes from money and … be taken seriously as a cop. When you see it, you will realize how revealing it is for Casey’s sort of tomboyish quality that she has … it is really a great transition for her the way she goes from being a hooker [in the Vice department], which she is not too great at, to suddenly being something else that she can really, really try hard to be good at.”
Casey gets to work on that right away in the first episode, in which she investigates a cop killing while coming to realize that her fellow officers harbor secrets — while keeping a few of her own.
Producers have explained that with this series, they are trying to get back to the character-based police dramas of years ago, such as Hill Street Blues — where personalities often took precedence over cases — while combining the offbeat comedy of a M*A*S*H. Tamblyn agrees that this is something viewers may be unused to seeing on TV today.
“I think we’re doing something unique for television, and especially something unique for a cop show. It’s been a lot of fun.”
She gets back to talking about the fun she also had working on the offbeat Babylon Fields. “Such a unique premise, it was so amazing,” she says. “I thought it was really, really good. It was a very sort of straightforward look at zombies on Long Island. But they weren’t very zombieish. The humor was very deadpan. It was just about a lot of these dead people coming back to life and how the living on Long Island dealt with it in a tiny town. It was very cool. It was for CBS, and I just think it was the wrong network. I’ve got nothing but love for CBS — they made me — but it should have been on like Showtime or HBO.”
CBS did indeed “make” her thanks to the success of Joan of Arcadia, about which fans still talk.
“A lot of people do [come up and talk about the show]. Probably not as much as the soap opera fans [Tamblyn originated the role of Emily Quartermaine on General Hospital]. Soap opera fans are SERIOUS. They’ll remember right down to the episode, something you did. It’s crazy.”
Tamblyn recently had kind of a crazy fun time working with actresses Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Parker Posey. It’s a comedy about three thirtysomething women who get away on a vacation to an island that’s a popular getaway for college kids. The film debuted at Sundance the day I talked to Tamblyn in Los Angeles at a TV critics tour, so she unfortunately could not be at the premiere.
“We worked really hard so I could fly directly from here to Sundance,” she says, ” but it just [didn’t] happen. I’m bummed, but I’ve been getting texts from Rachel and Amy all day. Apparently it’s been getting a lot of good buzz there. It’s a film that’s been shelved for two years; they just really didn’t get it. Probably still don’t get it — because I think it’s going straight to Blu-Ray [yes, it’s on DVD April 7]. I’m really hoping somebody finds some love for it and does something with it. Any which way, I’m really happy that it [was] at Sundance. We all felt vindicated by that. Very sweet and funny, and meant to be kind of cheesy. Amy Poehler like slapping someone across the face with a bikini and doing beer bong shots. And then you have Parker Posey humor in it. It’s a wonderful little film.”
In addition to comedies, Tamblyn has also made a couple of notable horror films, including The Ring and The Grudge 2. She admits that there may have been a time when she sought out these types of roles.
“I think I went through a phase [where I liked scary movies],” she says. “Where I didn’t like myself very much [laughs]. I think there’s something to be said when you do back-to-back films where you get dragged around by the hair and punched in the face and stabbed, definitely. Especially as a woman statement. Perhaps I was going through some things when I wanted to do those movies.”
In addition to acting, Tamblyn is also an accomplished and published poet.
“I’m actually going to put out a book this fall,” she says, “with this publisher that I really wanted to publish with. They’re really tiny, from San Francisco, called Manic Depress. They publish some of my favorite authors, and I really vibe well with the editor there.”
Regarding writing novels, or for the screen, she’s pretty sure that’s in the cards.
“I thought about [scripts and novels]. There’s actually a book I tried to option last year to write a script for. I really wanted to. But it’s just one of those things where somebody bought it out from under me. To be honest, it was really ambitious, I just felt like I had such a sense of what this character was, and a real sense of the book. I’ve never written a script before. It seems way more complicated than writing fiction or something. In order to create a story within the confines of writing all the ‘Exterior: Day’ it seems like it might be hard for someone like me who oftentimes has OCD [laughs]. Not clinically, but I think it would be hard for me to focus. But I will. I know I will, I know it’s going to happen.”