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Actress Kirsten Nelson

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Kirsten Nelson is the actress best known for her role as Chief Vick on the hit USA drama/comedy, Psych. She has also appeared in the DCOM, Stuck in the Suburbs, as well as guest-starring in many popular TV shows, like Boy Meets World, Malcom in the Middle and, more recently, Parenthood. Ms. Nelson has also tackled the job of directing with her short-film, 8 Minutes.

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Ms. Nelson for Teen Ink.

Rachel- Tell us about yourself.

Kirsten Nelson- I am an actress on Psych. I have been [acting] professionally for a long time. I grew up in Chicago. I went to [both a] fine arts grade school and high school.

After school, I helped for a theater company, Life Theater in Chicago. I had moved out [to L.A] shortly after getting married, and did this full-time.

So that’s kind of me in a nutshell.

RH- What actors have you learned the most from?

KN- I love studying and watching the Brits. People like Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson...

But on the other side, when I was in grade school in Chicago, we took classes from Second City. (Second City is improv troop; [it’s] kind of like a training ground for Saturday Night Live.) We got to train with them. We were kind of being taught how to do that fast thinking acting; to come up with stories at the drop of a hat.

RH- Has there ever been a scene in Psych that was entirely improv?

KN- Oh, every episode has at least four or five different things!

James [Roday] and Dulé [Hill] are kings of taking a moment just a little further. We noticed from the pilot that they have this beautiful synch with each other. (They’re synched on Psych; wow, that just sounds really weird!) They became as good of friends off the set as they appear on the set. It was great to see them take what was on the page just a little bit further.

James and Dulé like to fist- [and] chest-bump as Shawn and Gus. At the end of one scene, James asked William Shatner, “At the end of this next take, can we give each other a chest bump?” We were all just mortified that he’d ask this man, who’s up in his years, to do that, and [William] said, “Absolutely!” It’s hysterical! After the next take, they finished their sentences, looked at each other and did a chest bump.

RH- So what is it like working with James and Dulé?

KN- Oooh, like candy corn on Christmas!

They’re fun guys! It’s really wonderful to see how sometimes they are so unlike their characters.

James, as Shawn, is such an outgoing, child-like man who has a tremendously good heart. And James, the actor, is a quiet, introverted genius. To watch him work that way is really great! [He’s] so impressive!

Dulé is just a crack-up! [He] is more adventurous in real life. [He’s] always willing to crack the joke first.

[James and Dulé] are really good guys, and I hope that comes across on the screen, because behind the scenes, it’s just so much fun!

RH- What’s your favorite part about playing Chief Vick?

KN- Being a mom myself, my favorite part of her is her warmth and her caringness [sic] for [Shawn and Gus]. I think that she has such a warm feeling for Shawn, and I love to play that side of her.

I also think that the character has an identifiable angle for the audience. In the middle of all the craziness that Shawn and Gus are going crazy at, the audience wants to know, “Who are we supposed to listen to?” And I try to bring that to Chief Vick: this is the grounded character. I like that! I like being the voice of that.

RH- You were actually pregnant for the first episode, weren’t you?

KN- Yeah, for the pilot! My daughter [just turned] six. We shot the pilot in November and December of ’05. So, I was very much pregnant! We shoot in Vancouver, Canada, and I had to get a doctor’s note to fly in an airplane, to even leave the country at that point!

When I did the audition, I didn’t tell the executives that I was pregnant. I could still hide it. But once they said, “We’d like to call her back for another reading,” I had to fess up and say, “My body’s about to change drastically.”

Luckily, the executive producers loved that idea! They loved having this very strong, stern woman being pregnant at the same time. So I had the support of my executive producers.

When we came back, they had to put a pregnancy pad back onto me because I had had my daughter by that time. I still needed to be pregnant for a couple of episodes..

So it was a pretty wild time. I got a lot of gifts here. It was a very happy Christmas!

RH- Describe a typical day on set.

KN- Maggie Lawson and I usually are called in first. The women have a lot more time to get pretty. The boys get called in [and] they brush some powder on their faces, put some gel in their hair and they’re ready to gorgeously go.

It’s about a 12 hour day of shooting everyday. It doesn’t matter the order of our scenes; we shoot by location. Whatever the location that we’re at, we’ll do [scenes] in that order.

There’s a lot of hard work sometimes, especially if it’s difficult scenes, either emotionally or some of the Blueberry car chases; [those] will take a lot of planning. We’ve had a couple explosions and they will take a lot of planning, concentration on the set.

But a typical day is mainly 12 to 14 hours. But a lot of it’s fun! A lot of it’s good work!

RH- Where is your favorite location to film?

KN- The chief used to go out on locations a lot more the first two seasons. {laughs} We realized that, a lot of times, the chief of police doesn’t usually go on calls. So we had to make it a little bit more realistic.

I’m still very at home in the chief’s office in the police station. It’s the most personal space to me. I keep personal items in my desk; nothing that is valuable! {laughs} But I’ll have notes in there, my pens. I have figurines that have been there for six years now! I have pictures of my actual daughter. So that is where I feel most [at] home.

But if I had to choose a location, I love it when we shoot in White Rock, British Columbia. [That] is where all the Psych office exteriors are; when they’re on the ocean or they’re on the pier. It’s just beautiful! It’s on the water and the scenery is stunning!

I also love it when we go shoot in the mountains. Different typography for me is just a breath of fresh air! So I love those two outdoor places and I feel most at home in Chief Vick’s office.

RH- What is the craziest thing that has happened behind the scenes?

KN- {laughs} You know, I was thinking about that! Our craziest stuff is pretty well publicized with the Psych-Outs, our outtakes which are aired almost after every show.

Our antics [are] how Psych-Outs actually started. During that pilot, when we were all still getting to know each other, shooting our first episode, everyone realized that there’s something special between James and Dulé. They were completing each other’s sentences; they would break out into song at the drop of a hat in perfect harmony. Once we started keeping the cameras rolling, they said, “Let’s put that at the end of a show. It’s now a Psych-out.”

I’m just thinking of Lassiter doing his “I’m Too Sexy for This Shirt” Psych-Out, which was awesome in its embarrassment! {laughs} But so committed and it was great!

At the same time, what’s not publicized so much is all the really cool things that happen, like Corbin Bernsen, who plays Henry, hanging out with Skyler Gisondo, who plays the young Shawn. They have a great rapport. All the personal relationships that we have that a lot of people don’t see, because it’s warm.

But there have been stunts that have gone array! But, knock on wood, we’re all still here! That door handle, during the explosion, did not go into someone’s face; stuff like that.

But I think the craziest stuff is already on camera! (If you don’t count me stealing Dulés peanut-butter and banana sandwich that he just had craft-service make for him.)

RH- What has been your favorite episode to film?

KN- I’ll have to go back a couple of seasons to the one I did with Jane Lynch; “There Might Be Blood.” Jane played my sister. She is such a neat woman! I really wanted her to be my best friend by the end of [the episode]!

I think, for me, too, besides just working with her, it was going on all the different locations that that one offered me. We did gun training; we had to be on the water; we had to do boat chases; we had to do fight sequences!

Every now and then, I’ll still see Jane Lynch and say hi. At least she remembers me, so I’m pretty happy about that!

RH- What was the most difficult thing for you to do on that episode?

KN- Our director for that episode, John Badham, basically put the two of us in a room together and [Jane and I] had to improv a fight between sisters. [It] had to keep escalating. I think what was most difficult was to try to keep up with her. I was so nervous that I just wasn’t going to be funny; that she was gonna eat me alive. I was nervous about that!

But I did okay! I stepped up and met the challenge of being with this improv force from Heaven. So it was difficult, but it was also gratifying.

But I think overall, as far as Psych goes, the most difficult thing for me is to be away from my family here in L.A. I commute now to Vancouver. I try to get home as much as possible. If I’m not working, I will jump on a plane and come home.

RH- So that scene with you and Jane, what we saw onscreen was entirely improv?

KN- Yes! {laughs}

Shawn, Gus, Juliet and Lassiter, are outside of Chief Vick’s office, looking in. And [we're] yelling at each other! That was all improv. That was the writers coming up and saying, “I think we need you guys to say something, maybe like having a fight?” And we’re like, “Okay!”

That’ll happen sometimes! Knowing it was going to be in the background, the writers didn’t feel too much pressure to write us a whole scene. That whole scene was just improv. Which happens a lot more than not on the set.

RH- What is one of your favorite memories from your time on Psych?

KN- Oh! I think overall a lot of my big memories that I’ve had are so far the fan events. We’ve been pretty lucky the past three years to go to Comic Con down in San Diego. [It’s] been really wonderful!

Then this past October we were in New York City for another fan event. Again, seeing everybody up close and personal, to meet them, because we’re so far removed being in Vancouver. {laughs} They don’t show Psych in Canada! So sometimes we wouldn’t even know how the show was doing at first. Which actually helps with James and Dulé because they can kind of blend in on the streets of Canada. Nobody could care less who they are. That really does help with the anonymity for their personal lives.

...Obviously Jane Lynch has been a highlight! When Curt Smith from Tears for Fears played his guitar in season 5.

Maggie and I are pretty close and being the two gals when we’re up [in Canada], we get to hang out a lot.

RH- What can fans expect on upcoming episodes of Psych?

KN- We’ll actually get to see where Shawn lives! Shawn does have an apartment, or a room. So people will get to see that one. Because, no, he doesn’t live with Henry. Really.

Lassiter has got some fantastic episodes! They really wrote some good ones for Tim Omundson this year. He gets one where he’s going crazy, a lá The Shining. [Tim] has got some really, really good turns. It’s nice when they can push the envelope just a little bit more and flesh out his character. And Tim was obviously up to the task! That was really fun to watch toward the end of this season was to see Tim having a lot more fun to do.

So, I think the fans will really enjoy that!

RH- When you guys go back to film the new season, what do you hope will happen?

KN- Everyone wants to do our musical episode! Everyone finally wants to make it happen! It was supposed to happen this year, but it didn’t. It’s more difficult to write a musical episode than people thought. We would love to finally make that musical episode! How it fits in to Psych? I have no idea. But I think that that one would be a pretty darn special one.

I can’t tell you all the stuff that’s going to lead up into season seven because our season finale is a cliffhanger, and it’s going to be pretty fantastic! So it’ll definitely have to explore the story lines that the season finale leaves open…

RH- Do you have any other projects that you’re currently working on?

KN- Last year, I directed a short film. It’s called 8 Minutes, with a cast of four. It turned out so well that we’re showing it at film festivals.

As far as onscreen projects, nothing during this hiatus. There are auditions [that I’ve done], but nothing in the line-up.

RH- What advice do you have for aspiring actors?

KN- Think about the long run; what do you want to do here? Take your time and try to enjoy this ride. Take other opportunities that might come your way.

I would like to encourage actors to see the whole picture: working on the set, doing lights, building sets, making costumes; so they can have an appreciation of what the final product will be and to really understand what a gift it is to be an actor as part of that whole production. You may be the most visible, but there are a lot of people who are just as important in making your dream come true.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

SHER_locked This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 16, 2013 at 3:14 am
Oh my god, you actually met her?! I am so jealous! I am totally in love with this show! How did this happen?
 
TheJust This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 16, 2013 at 8:28 pm
I didn't actually meet her, face-to-face; we talked over the phone. She is like the sweetest person I've ever interviewed! We talked for nearly an hour (also my longest interview ever). This isn't even half of it. She had so many cool stories and said so many funny things, it was hard to cut it down to the Teen Ink word limit. The whole interview is going to be posted within the next few weeks to my website, RachelHerriman (daught) com in honor of the new season of Psych, so look o... (more »)
 
SHER_locked This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 18, 2013 at 2:18 am
Wow, that's so cool! I will totally check out your website. :) I may have to do that research, thanks!
 
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