CBS has a tiger by the tail with Ghosts, an adapted comedy from Britain that fires on all cylinders thanks to intelligent and funny writing and a cast that seamlessly works magic with their respective characters.
A significant part of the success hinges on the performance of Asher Grodman, cast as Trevor Lefkowitz, the most recently deceased of the ghosts. Trevor is a hard-partying Wall Street trader whose sudden heart attack in 2000 occurred while he was not wearing pants.
Trevor’s girl-crazy banter, sly one-liners, and reactions to the older ghosts in his trapped purgatory of Woodstone Mansion are comedic gold. But unfortunately, Trevor’s ghost character is not missing his loved ones as he is realizing the missed opportunity of not being around to crush dating apps like Match.com. And this coming episode, the mystery of just where Trevor’s pants were when he died will be revealed.
No pantsing spoilers, but Asher gave Monsters & Critics details about the guest-starring cast who are part of this missing pants mystery reveal episode, along with high praise for the hardworking core cast who collectively make the show a hit.
Ghosts’ premise follows couple Samantha, a journalist, and Jay, a New York City chef who decides to devest the urban life for a more pastoral setting, taking over an inherited run-down country estate.
The catch is Sam and Jay have no clue a coterie of ghosts from different eras also share their home. A freak accident allows Sam to see and hear the spirits of the deceased, while Jay is struggling to believe her and understand all of this.
This week’s episode reveals the big secret about Trevor’s missing pants, and Thor figures out that he may have a love match with Flower.
Exclusive interview with Asher Grodman
Monsters & Critics: When you first read this network script, an adaptation, which is not an easy thing to do from a British show, tell me your reaction.
Asher Grodman: Well, two come to mind immediately. The first is the second that I read the words for my audition. ‘It was the summer of 98. My Lehman Brothers’ boys and I scooped the ‘copter to beat the traffic out the Hamptons because that’s how we roll.’
I was like, who wrote this? These guys are awesome. One of the fun things about the show, as we’ve shot it, is I can take and read the dialogue and tell you which character says what line. The writing is so specific and so clear, and creative.
Our showrunners, Joe Port and Joe Wiseman, and our writer’s room are fantastic. So there’s that. In terms of the conceit of the show, you’re right. I’ve been doing it (acting) for 18 years before Ghosts came along, and I’ve read a lot of pilots, and usually, a pilot sets up a premise for the show and then in the pilot establishes where they’re going to go next.
And so what happens is you think, ‘oh, okay, you’re doing this, and then you’re going to do that. And I see the path you’re walking.’ With this pilot. There’s so much creativity on the page that they could go anywhere.
There was no telling what they would do next, and for an actor or any storyteller, I think and hope for an audience, that’s got to be exciting. If you don’t know what will happen next, it’s immediately more fun. We’ve got great writers, and that’s the source.
M&C: So much of what the ghost ensemble does is just pure reaction to Rose and Utkarsh’s characters, and as an actor, you’re reacting effectively for a laugh. Is that harder sometimes than delivering a line?
Asher Grodman: I don’t know that it’s harder or easier. There’s always a little bit of a thing, like when you have dialogue, and it’s just a human thing. Your goal is always to investigate the story, play with the relationships, and then allow the performance to happen at the moment spontaneously.
So when you’re in a situation where it’s your job to listen and be present, that process is always a little easier.
That said, I’ll say this, the relationships in the show are so clear, and there are so many of them, and they’re so fun and unique because these people should never be in the same room together. They’re either separated by life or death or these completely disparate eras of humanity.
So just the fact that we’re all there together, coming in with our points of view that we lived with, sets us up and does so much of our work because there’s so much potential in the juxtaposition between these very different people.
I think it’s just the cool thing for fans to realize is we Ghosts get to do all the crazy wild bouncing off-the-wall stuff that we get to do. However, none of it works without the work that Rose McIver (Samantha) and Utkarsh Ambudkar (Jay) are doing.
We all rely on Rose’s ability to do a scene with eight people who suddenly are not there, her ability to be in a room where there are two cameras. So we’re all there, but she can’t look at us, and we’re all delivering lines, and she has to look at a spot and do it all at once, eight different times.
There are eight of us in the scene, that is such a hard thing to do, and her ability to do it lets the whole show work, and then Utkarsh’s ability to do the opposite, which is to be in a scene with eight people and ignore all of them except for one. So technically, those are exceptional skills, and it does make the show.
In essence, we rely on them so much.
M&C: Your ghost ensemble collectively misses their old lives remembered before their deaths. Do you ever have conversations with the cast in your downtime about interpretations of the afterlife?
Asher Grodman: Yes, we’re always playing imaginatively, wondering and asking questions about the world, and thinking of funny little twists and stuff like that.
Even like, what are the rules around being sucked off (the Ghosts’ term for leaving their purgatory plane)? How does someone get sucked off? There’s a lot of fun to be had in just exploring this world.
Devan Chandler Long’s character Thor would’ve died around a thousand years ago. Román Zaragoza’s character Sasappis would’ve died probably 500 years after that. So there are hundreds of years there where Thor was alone, there are hundreds of years there where the two are just together sitting on a rock before the house is built.
Then Brandon Scott Jones’ character Isaac shows up before the house even exists. So we have all of this history that you can mine and play with as an actor, and that’s so much fun.
We get a little existential, and we have a little fun. Hopefully, it shows up on the screen, and I think it speaks to the depth and possibilities our writers have set up.
M&C: Your character, Trevor, is not as toxic as (film) Wall Street’s Charlie Sheen. Trevor is a sweeter version. Did they give backstory when you got the role?
Asher Grodman: No. When I auditioned, they told me when I was testing for it in the final stages of the process. They told me they had an idea and wanted to do a backstory of Trevor’s life and death.
But I didn’t get those details, and it’s funny because we were in LA to shoot the pilot in March of 2020, and then the world shut down.
So for a long time, we sat in limbo, and the writers came to me. Joe and Joe were like, ‘so how do you think he died? Like what would you, any theories thoughts?’
I pitched them some ideas, and I am so glad that they ignored every single one of them. Because what they came up with is so much better.
And it is going to surprise everyone. But, in terms of where those pants are or what happened to them, there wasn’t a backstory.
I only found out a week before we shot the episode because television [production] moves fast, which is one of the miracles of this process: decisions are made on impulse, and let the story be your guide.
You look back, and you’re like,’ oh wow, that worked, just like we did it.’ And of course, when you make a thing, and people respond to it, there’s nothing better.
M&C: Who does Trevor naturally click with, and who does Trevor have difficulty connecting with on Ghosts?
Asher Grodman: I think Trevor resonates the most with Pete, even though their worldviews are very different.
Pete and Trevor would’ve had some overlaps, at least in terms of culture in the world, and also, that little kind of dynamic duo is what kind of sets the pilot’s events and brings Sam into their orbit because they caused the accident.
Trevor caused the accident. However, Pete’s there cheering him on, giving him moral support. That is the ghost he connects with the most.
Thor lived in a very different world from Trevor in terms of the ghosts that he’s the most disconnected from, but I think maybe the world view of Hetty and Isaac, who look at the things that Trevor does and the freedom with which he does something, there’s a bit of a divide there.
But that’s a lot of fun to play with as an actor because I know Trevor’s stuff he says and does will trigger Isaac or Hetty, and vice versa.
Trevor’s [personality] is unleashed, and those two are buttoned up. So I think that’s a fun little point of departure,
M&C: Another thing is that the nature of gender and the role of men and women and how it changes over time is a very subtle thread that nobody talks about a lot. And I think it’s fascinating.
Asher Grodman: Yes. And it goes back to the writers and the performers because there’s some stuff that Rebecca Wisocky’s character Hetty gets to do with her character and how she’s learning and time-traveling herself a little bit through this. Danielle Pinnock’s character, Alberta, is helping to empower her a bit.
And Sheila Carrasco’s character Flower and Rose McIver’s entrance into our world as Sam. Of course, all the ghosts’ personalities are influenced by the time they’re from, so you get to see this kind of transformation and commentary on different periods.
I also like that the character Hetty despises the Irish to her bones. It is such a tremendously specific thing.
Hopefully, it makes people realize, ‘oh, I wonder if there’s something that I can’t stand or that I have prejudgments on that in a hundred years, they’re going to be like, that was the stupidest thing ever, and we’re laughing at?’
It’s a great commentary about time and how relationships change over time.
M&C: When we were on the TCA panel, you mentioned briefly you grew up on a haunted New Jersey farm. Could you elaborate on that?
Asher Grodman: Yes, the story of our family’s old stone house built in the 1700s and classified as one of New Jersey’s haunted houses.
And the story was that there were friendly ghosts who helped guide the American soldiers during the Revolutionary War through the swamp surrounding the area.
I never saw anything. However, those woods are creepy, making you not want to stray too far from the house, especially at night.
When my parents bought the house, they heard noises in the attic and thought, ‘what the hell could that be?’
They busted a hole up there and found hundreds of bats. And in New Jersey, bats are a protected animal. You can’t touch them or do anything to them. So what they did was they just left the hole open, and they stood outside the house.
And one night, the bats just started leaving, and I believe [they counted] 314 bats up in the attic. So were those the ghosts? Maybe? I don’t know.
Maybe they’re still there. My dog is out there and barks into the darkness all the time. And so perhaps my dog is seeing something, I don’t know.
She is on the show. In the Jay’s Sister episode, she’s the dog seen in Trevor’s obituary. So she sees the ghost, so maybe she knows what’s up.
M&C: You teach acting at Hunter College. What are your favorite lessons to teach novice actors?
Asher Grodman: I’ll say this, acting is an amorphous, ephemeral thing. Because the only person that you’ll never see act is you, maybe you’ll see it six months later after someone has edited the footage together.
But you can’t watch yourself as you’re doing it, and you can’t do it as you’re watching yourself. So it’s very disorienting.
And so, for me, inviting students to get their attention off of themselves and focus on the story and the relationships within the story, and then really the spontaneity of listening is key.
A lot of my work as an acting teacher is battling anxiety, and I have so much anxiety and finding my way to work and get jobs. I had a ten-year period where I couldn’t get a job, and my anxiety was off the charts.
For me, it was fun to have students walk in and be terrified and then give them the tools to empower them and help them realize that the best way for them to stand out and be unique is to work from themselves and trust that if they’re spontaneous, and that their flair will show up.
No one else in the world can do you, even though you’re not going to be playing you, because a script lays out a character that’s going to be different.
If you work from yourself, you can find your unique voice. And it makes it so much more fun and exciting. So many people get into acting and try to control every bit of this, but it’s actually about letting go of control even when the pressure’s on.
There’s a great clip that I show students of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is my hero, talking about acting, and that you have to find chaos within a structure.
So there’s a story that you have to follow because there’s this story that we’re telling, but how do you experience that story in a chaotic way? Because life is chaotic, we can’t control anything around us.
In acting, the future is preordained by the script. So it’s our job to be even more spontaneous to find the equilibrium that we experience in life between structure and chaos.
M&C: Anything on the horizon that we need to know about that you’ve got cooking?
Asher Grodman: I just did this movie, Out of Order! with Brooke Shields, which was a blast. She is terrific and more impressive than I imagined her to be.
And with Ghosts, there are some great guest stars you will see this week on this coming episode.
Rob Huebel (Ari) is so funny and so talented. Robert Bazzocchi, Blair Penner, Brian Cook, Julius Cho, and Matt Keyes are all guest starring. We got a great group which you will see in this episode.
Ghosts airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBS and is also available to stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.