Galavant’s Timothy Omundson on musicals, petty tyrants, and Frank Turner

Galavant’s Timothy Omundson on musicals, petty tyrants, and Frank Turner

Since its debut episode last year, ABC’s Galavant has been a strange little show, sending up both Broadway musicals and fairytales with equal amounts of glee. But where the first year was amusing, the second season has been downright adventurous, thanks largely in part to the journey of King Richard. As played by Timothy Omundson, the character began as a whiny, petulant villain and has since transformed into a bona fide—if still sometimes ineffectual—hero, not to mention best friend to the protagonist he used to hate.

Richard continues to grow in unexpected ways on Galavant’s two finale episodes, which air tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern. We caught up with Omundson to discuss the fascinating (and entertaining) evolution of the character, as well as the various left turns of his diverse career, from his eight seasons on Psych to singing Frank Sinatra on Judging Amy to a four-episode stint on Deadwood that led to him playing harmonica with Frank Turner.

The A.V. Club: When you got offered the role of King Richard, did you know about his eventual transformation into a hero?

Timothy Omundson: No, not at all. When I got the role, it was only the pilot, so it was who he was. He was this funny, childish tyrant, and as happens in the best of circumstances, writers get to know your strengths and start writing to you.

AVC: The childish tyrant seems to be a long-running character in fantasy stories. In Disney’s Robin Hood, you have Prince John, and in Shrek, you have Lord Farquaad. Is that something you were conscious of when you took on the role, this idea of expanding and putting your own spin on an archetype of the genre?

TO: You are spot-on with Prince John. I maybe only saw that Robin Hood twice as a little kid. It’s not like I watched it all the time, but for some reason, his voice was in my head. I’m the only American on [Galavant], so I’m the only one really doing an accent, although Mallory [Jansen] is Australian, so she’s halfway doing a British accent. I got to create this guy’s voice from the get-go, and it was a little of that, a little of this. But there’s definitely the nasally [Goes into King Richard voice.], bemused sort of thing that John does and everybody loves.

And it’s not like I sat down and studied him. I just sort of remembered that. I couldn’t tell you any other character’s voice except for that character.

AVC: Peter Ustinov played him, which may make him the most famous actor that Disney got to do a voice for Robin Hood.

TO: I didn’t realize it was Peter Ustinov! I didn’t realize I was ripping off Peter Ustinov.

AVC: He’s a good person to rip off.

TO: [Laughs.] He was always one of my favorite character actors.

AVC: It’s funny you mention that you’re the only American member of the cast, because I hadn’t seen Psych or Supernatural prior to Galavant, so I thought for the entire first season that you were British.

TO: That’s the highest compliment you can give me.

AVC: What separates Richard from a lot of the childish tyrants who have come before him is that, especially in the second season, he starts to realize how pathetic he is. Few villains achieve that kind of self-awareness.

TO: Frankly, it would get boring, otherwise. I never want to be playing the same thing, even season to season, and the character arc of King Richard is the greatest arc I’ve ever gotten to play. Last season, he started slowly realizing what was going on around him until the end, where he’s a broken man singing a lullaby to his best friend who betrayed him.

I was able to go from A to B last season, but this season is cuckoo bananas. Our amazing showrunners, John Hoberg and Kat Likkel—we went to lunch before filming, and they pitched me the season. They and [Galavant creator] Dan Fogelman sat down and wrote the bible for this season, of what the journey was going to be, and I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic about where they were going to allow me to lead this guy.

AVC: I kept waiting throughout season two for him to revert to his old ways, at least for a little bit, but the more challenges that were thrown at him, the more heroic he became.

TO: He was a guy who was never allowed to be that person. He even says it: “I was coddled, and nobody loved me other than Pearl, my nanny.” He sort of spun off the deep end early on. The crown is thrust upon him because his dick brother left. He was corrupted by power, but there was always that sweetness inside him.

And truly, I just love the fact that he becomes heroic. We spoil it in the opening song, and he draws the sword in episode two. We know that he’s going to become the One True King to unite them all. What’s fun to me is that the audience knows where he’s going, but he doesn’t. That’s why that scene where he and Roberta break up in episode eight is so heartbreaking: it’s all within his grasp, and... well, we’re not going to say what happens with them in the end, but it’s just beautiful stuff, man. And again, [this is] on a silly, goofy, little half-hour network comedy. That’s what’s crazy to me.

AVC: Exactly. Galavant started off as just spoofing musicals and fantasy stories, but it’s also created these complex characters that the audience has really started to care about over time.

TO: John and Kat, at the beginning of this season, said, “It’s about love and redemption.” They wanted to present something—not more important, but deeper, where we can still have the funny. We’ll make you laugh your ass off, but while you’re laughing, we’re going to come up and punch you in the feels.

AVC: Even a character like Madalena, who’s completely evil by this point, elicits sympathy. She can’t keep herself from wanting more power, even though she knows it’s damaging her soul.

TO: It’s heartbreaking because you see the potential, and she goes to the wrong side. Every actor gets their due. Vinnie Jones and his relationship with Madalena has floored me. I said to him, “Dude, I don’t know what happened between this season and and last season, but you became an actor.” That’s not to take anything away from his work before, but he was, you know, Vinnie Jones.

AVC: The first time I saw him on screen, he was smashing in someone’s head with a car door.

TO: Or he’s got a gun. But this year, that’s not Vinnie. And I love him as a human being. He’s one of the kindest, sweetest, biggest-hearted men you’ll ever come across. Mallory this year just destroys me. So does Karen [David]. Everyone has come into their own.

AVC: One of the other big shifts in the second season is a more direct parodying of specific showtunes. There’s the “Summer Nights” riff with you and Roberta, and then the West Side Story bit. On set, how much is that musical history part of everyone’s vocabulary? When you do a Grease spoof, how much are you all talking about the fact that it’s a Grease spoof?

TO: It’s the complete opposite. I don’t even look at them as spoofs, but more like homages. And that’s all Alan [Menken] and Glenn [Slater]. That being said, when we did “Giants Vs. Dwarves,” we said, “Yes, this is absolutely West Side Story.” West Side Story is [choreographer] Ashley Wallen’s favorite musical, so we very much talked about it. But with the Grease number, we didn’t talk about that stuff at all. Can you think of what other ones were direct riffs?

AVC: There was a song between Gareth and Madalena that was reminiscent of “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.”

TO: Yeah, that was definitely their Cole Porter.

AVC: Someone in The A.V. Club’s comments section said that the battle duet between Madalena and Isabella was reminiscent of Wicked. I’ve seen Wicked, but I didn’t pick up on that.

TO: I don’t think they were doing that at all. [But] I think there are always going to be overlapping things, stylistically. There’s that great dance number between Darren [Evans, who plays the Chef] and Sophie [McShera, who plays Gwynne] where they got the guy who used to arrange for Sinatra.

AVC: Did you have a lot of experience with musical theater before Galavant?

TO: I did all the musicals in high school, and I loved it. And then I got to theater school at college, and was like, “No, I’m a serious actor. I want to do Shakespeare. I want to do classical theater.” I took myself very seriously. So that was it for me and musicals. I hadn’t done one since high school. But I always sung. I play harmonica. I used to play upright bass. I sang around town with friends, [and] on Judging Amy, I actually sang a Sinatra tune at Amy Brenneman’s wedding on the TV show.

That came out of us doing karaoke at Amy’s Christmas parties. The producers were like, “Tim’s a crooner. He does a good Sinatra.” Ten years later, Psych did a musical episode. We actually talked about doing that for the pilot, because everyone sang. Even the creator, Steve Franks, is a musician, who wrote and performed the theme song. And it took him seven years to write the musical. And by then, everyone had done a musical episode, you know?

AVC: Buffy did it, 3rd Rock From The Sun did it...

TO: Scrubs did it. But this was a proper two-hour episode. We had Tony Rapp from Rent guest-star. It was big. And it just rekindled all this love [in me] for musical theater. And I was like, “Why the hell did I stop doing this?” My New Year’s resolution that year was to sing more. Cut to Psych ending after eight years and me staring at the wall, saying, “What am I going to do now?” I left the casting pool at 38. I went back into the casting pool now a middle-age character actor. What’s it going to be for me? Am I going to be the boss? Am I going to be the police chief? The dad? There aren’t a lot of great parts out there that are interesting for people in my category.

Then, this thing comes along, and I couldn’t believe it. A fairytale musical? I already had a beard because I would grow one on every hiatus. I actually created a wish list when Psych ended about what I would do if I could write my own ticket. I wanted to do a period piece. I wanted to be on a show that people would actually watch, that was of quality. On Psych, we toiled away on cable for eight years. It had a huge cult following, but unless you were a part of that cult, you hadn’t heard of it.

AVC: I heard about it way after the fact.

TO: We did 120 episodes of really clever stuff that nobody saw. Well, not nobody, but that a lot of people didn’t see. So I wanted to be on network. I wanted to be on something that had more backing. And I wanted to sing. [Galavant] checked every one of those boxes. I went in, and there was already an offer out to a big British movie star, like there always is. So it took me five months to get this job—three auditions over five months.

AVC: You’ve also played harmonica for Frank Turner, right?

TO: [Laughs.] Yeah! Are you a fan of Frank Turner?

AVC: For sure. So are you into punk and protest music, then?

TO: No, I’m into Frank. [Laughs.] Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am a massive Frank fanboy. A friend of mine turned me on to him about three years ago. I heard “Prufrock” and was like “What is this? I love it.” It’s not about protest or punk to me. He’s just one of the greatest songwriters and storytellers that I’ve come across. As you know, he puts on a show like it’s his last day on Earth, and as an actor and a performer, I have tremendous respect for that. Last season, the first thing I did when I got to England was check his tour schedule. He was playing on a Friday, and I happened to have Friday night off. So I look online, and it’s a sold-out show, small venue. Then I said, “Wait a sec. I’m on Twitter, he’s on Twitter. I know we have crossover fans.” The times I do tweet about him, people are like “Dude, you’re into Frank? I’m into Frank. That’s awesome!”

So I put out a tweet—this is why I love Twitter—“For the love of God, does anyone have an extra ticket to Frank Turner tonight?” About 15 minutes later, he tweets me back, and we have this email exchange where I tell him I’m an actor and I’m out here. Literally, he was my playlist whenever I got into costume, because of all the English nationalism stuff. I love listening to it for the character [of Richard]. He said “There’s two tickets waiting here for you.” I said, “Dude, I’m by myself. I just need one. I’d love to thank you afterwards, but I understand if you’re busy.” He emails me back and says, “There’s going to be a wristband for you for the meet-and-greet afterwards. By the way, me and my crew are all massive Deadwood fans.” So I was just on cloud nine. We immediately hit it off and became friends, strangely enough. I’ve subsequently become friends with his band. Nigel, the drummer—his girlfriend’s a huge Galavant fan, so they came down to set last year. Matt, the keyboard player, has become a close friend of mine. Ben, his photographer, is becoming a close friend.

So I play harmonica, and Matt knew I played harmonica, and there are a couple songs that have just a little bit of harmonica. It’s like the song where the roadie will come in and play his bit. Matt one day was like, “Frank. Tim should play on it.” Frank said, “You want to play on it?” And I was like, “Fuck yes, I want to play on it!” [Laughs.]

So I played with them in Munich. Then I played with them at a show in Southampton in England. It’s just every rock ’n’ roll fantasy of mine. It’s literally a 20-second solo, and I get thrown offstage. It’s not like I’m sitting there jamming with the band. But [in Southampton] I told Ben, “Dude, I’m playing tonight on a song. You get in a good spot, and you get some gold money shots.” In the photographs that Ben took, it makes me look like a rock god. [Laughs.] Frank is to my left jamming on guitar, and there’s another one where he’s kissing me on the cheek while I’m playing. I’m such a geeky fanboy for it. It’s just stupid. It’s absolutely stupid.

Photo by Ben Morse

AVC: Do you think you’ll ever get to play on one of his recordings?

TO: Nooo. No, I never... [Laughs.] That’s silly, although I did cover him on The Thrilling Adventure Hour. It’s a podcast on Nerdist they were doing for about 10 years. It’s a live, old-timey radio show. Everyone dresses up—it’s fantastic. This year for Christmas, for a charity event, we did a variety show, and they asked me to sing. So I did a cover of “Balthazar, Impresario.” It’s one of my favorite songs of [Frank’s]. I got Matt to do the arrangement, and I got Petra Haden, who’s just this amazingly talented musician and singer who I knew from around town. So she played fiddle, and it was pretty damn cool, I gotta say. It’s not perfect, but it’s good.

AVC: His music’s very scrappy, so it works if it’s not quite perfect.

TO: That’s what I love about his voice, that it has a rawness to it, but he can also just sit and sing quietly. The stories that he sings are amazing.

AVC: One of the best musical story moments in Galavant this season is “My Dragon Pal And Me,” where you sing to a bearded dragon named Tad Cooper. When actors work with animals, you always hear stories about them bonding, like when Jamie Foxx bought the horse he rode in Django Unchained. Do you have a similar relationship with the lizard who played Tad?

TO: [Laughs.] No. The lizard’s name was Bruce. I don’t know if you have reptiles, but I don’t, and I’m not a reptile guy, so we had very little connection. He would just sit on my hand and not move. I have a much stronger relationship with Prince, the horse I rode on the show, but I also can’t afford a horse.

AVC: Tad’s also played by a rubber lizard for much of the time, whenever someone gets rough with him or throws him. So I could see how you wouldn’t get close.

TO: We had to be so gentle with that lizard. The animal people were on set all the time. We’re shooting in England—it’s winter, it’s cold. We had to keep him on a hot-water bottle to make sure he was protected and taken care of.

AVC: Where did the name Tad Cooper come from? I assumed it was a pop-culture reference or some famous person, but every time I Google it, I just get a real-estate agent or something.

TO: I don’t know. That is an inside joke between the people on the musical side that I am really not privy to. [Laughs.] But why the hell not?

AVC: Without spoiling too much, is there anything you want to say about the finale?

TO: For me, these are two of the best episodes of television I’ve ever done. They’re definitely two of the biggest for us. They’re epic and wonderful.

AVC: The battle scenes are especially impressive.

TO: There’s a day in Morocco on this episode coming up where we had 300 extras. John was like, “Look at this call sheet. Look at this number. Look around you. This is never going to happen again on network TV.” We were shooting in front of a fortress wall that was built for Lawrence Of Arabia on a little ABC half-hour comedy.

I just hope people discover this show. It may take a year or two for them to find it. But whether we get a season three or not—and I hope we do, because there’s still so much story to tell—I think this is going to be one of the shows that lives on for a really long time. And I can’t believe I was able to be a part of it. I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and this is the part of a lifetime. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire career.