Amber Tamblyn on why The Unusuals might appeal to sci-fi fans

Amber Tamblyn—well known to sci-fi fans for her starring role in TV's Joan of Arcadia and film's The Grudge 2—stretches herself in one of her first regular roles as a full-grown adult in ABC's upcoming The Unusuals, a kind of magic-realism cop show, and she told SCI FI Wire that she's loving the strangeness of it all.

In the show, Tamblyn plays a rookie New York cop in a squad marked by the weird: One character has a secret brain tumor and keeps trying to die a noble death; another is a religious character with a less-than-saintly past, etc.

The show is being described as similar in style to M*A*S*H or Rescue Me, but with cops. The Unusuals premieres April 8 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Following is an edited version of our exclusive interview with Tamblyn. (Spoilers ahead!)

So tell is a little about the show.

Tamblyn: The show is an eccentric procedural. If you like watching casework, and you also like watching Adam Goldberg be neurotic and watching Harold Perrineau wear a life vest to sleep, a bulletproof life vest, then, you know, this is the show for you.

I know they've been describing the show as a bit like M*A*S*H, and I've also heard people say The Office.

Tamblyn: Yeah, I've heard a lot of things. I would say not so much The Office, because that's in more like a shaky-cam, realistic, almost like a documentary, very stylized. I think M*A*S*H is good. Maybe even a little NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Twin Peaks or The Wire. There are elements of all that to it.

Well, those are rarely things you hear in the same list. Twin Peaks and NYPD Blue.

Tamblyn: I would say there are minute pieces of that. There's not a lady that's going to come out of a fiery cave with a midget and tell you where the dead body is [laughs]. That's not what I meant. More in the sense that Kyle MacLachlan or any of the cast of The Wire, they created really interesting detectives or police officers. They're really interesting characters to watch. I think that that's what's really interesting about our show.

The way they've been marketing the show, it seems like there is an element of sci-fi to it. Is there anything like that?

Tamblyn: I think so. And it goes in and out of that. It's hard to explain. We don't even know what's happening as the actors. Everything is shocking to us every day. Like, "What? Really?" It's all pretty shocking. It's really interesting. It really keeps us curious about what the hell we're doing. ... Without giving away too much of it, Adam Goldberg's character continually escapes death. That's not explored a whole lot in the show. I can't say too much without giving too much away, but there are strange things that happen with that, within that idea.

Tell us about your character, Casey Shraeger.

Tamblyn: Casey Shraeger is sort of a rich girl. She came from a lot of money. Her family is a very rich family from the Upper East Side. She was raised with no rules, no sense of boundaries, no consequences and no repercussions. And so she's coming into this environment as a rookie cop. ... She's a real Tracy Flick [from the film Election] who wants to do everything by the book and be everything she can be. And, all of a sudden, she's thrown into a situation where her partner is throwing away evidence. Throwing away everything that was in his dead partner's locker. Getting rid of everything. There's bags of coke, S&M masks, that kind of crazy stuff. So it throws her off her mission, so to speak. And then it just keeps going from there. She meets stranger people who are involved with stranger things, and she's going to get sucked into that as well. ...

So what's it like playing a cop? It's a bit different from things you've done before.

Tamblyn: It's really not that different, except that sometimes I have to say things that really annoy me, and I hate saying them. I think that's the bad part about it, having to say, "I'll call CFU" five times in one episode. I do not know. But I will find out. But you have a great mix of that. There is one line where we actually make fun of that, where my partner says, "I'll call CFU and see if I can ID the fingerprint," and then I say, "I'm going to go to the bathroom and try to sweat out the image of that naked guy's body from my brain" or something like that. It's the sort of thing. ... You see this naked guy run down the street and get shot. You know. Just little things like that.

A pretty common occurrence in New York City, where you're filming ...

Tamblyn: It's actually true! [laughs] That's why it's so realistic! ...

You're also on the DVD extras for Twin Peaks, aren't you? Something about shoes? [Tamblyn's dad, Russ Tamblyn, was a regular on the show.]

Tamblyn: Oh, yes! [laughs] That is the truth. I had a pair of saddle shoes—those black and white shoes are saddle shoes, right?

Yeah.

Tamblyn: I was so young, and I ran around the wrap party for the second season and asked everyone to sign my shoes. So I had every single person who was ever on the show sign my shoes. And I couldn't understand why my mom wouldn't let me take them to school the next day to show everybody. She was like, "Ooh, no. Those are going in the vault." ...

Since you said you love the SCI FI channel, I have to ask you what you watch.

Tamblyn: Well, I just started to get into Battlestar Galactica, because my boyfriend is such a huge, psychotic fan of it. The other night with the series finale, he literally tried to kick me out of the house because I couldn't see it. He was like, "Babe, I'll meet you at a bar. I have to sit here and watch this." I said, "I'll go in the other room." And he said, "No! It will give everything away! You can't look at it!"

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