She also talks about her hope that fans of the original series will like their take.
From co-showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman and inspired by the British sitcom, the CBS single-camera comedy series Ghosts follows Samantha (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), as they decide to give up their city life to convert an inherited but rundown country estate into a B&B. It’s only after making this decision and Sam takes a bit of a stumble down the stairs that they also learn the home contains the ghosts of a variety of deceased residents from a wide range of eras and backgrounds, which will definitely make their new living situation a lot more interesting and unpredictable.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, McIver talked about how iZombie helped prepare her for Ghosts, how much she enjoys the comedy of it all, her hope that fans of the original series will have fun with what they’re doing, working in the incredibly detailed house set, how Sam feels about her new ability, why she doesn’t have a favorite ghost, what she enjoys about the Sam-Jay relationship dynamic, and her desire to play a true villain.
Collider: Do you feel like your time playing a member of the undead as a zombie on iZombie helped prepare you to play somebody who can now see and speak with the actual dead on Ghosts?
ROSE McIVER: I’m starting to doubt I’m ever gonna get a show without undead characters again now. It actually did, in a funny way. There are very technical components when you’re acting to people who visually might appear or not appear to be there. We had divisions and all the ins and outs with iZombie. It actually really did help me, technically, in preparing for this, which is pretty complicated on set. We’ve dealt with ghosts and without ghosts, and with various clusters all over the room. It’s certainly set me up as a bit more of a technical actor than I would’ve been otherwise.
It seems like you can’t really do a lot of preparation to play somebody who sees and speaks to ghosts, other than maybe another show that’s along similar lines.
McIVER: Exactly. I can only watch Casper on repeat so many times.
When this project came your way, what was it that made you want to get involved with it?
McIVER: When I read the script, it was one of these scripts I’d read in a few years now where I really laughed out loud with each page. The jokes popped for me and I could imagine this ensemble of such different personalities and such a disparate crew of motley housemates. I hadn’t read anything that felt like that. I’m all about the collaborative process and knowing that I would be working with a bunch of comedians. I found out how many of these people had improv experience and were great at devising character. It just seemed too fun to be true and a really, really nice way to spend potentially months or years on set. You never know what you might be signing up for, and I thought that at least being able to laugh every day would be great. With iZombie, I had such a great time doing that, so the humor was the biggest draw.
Is there a different level of consideration, when it comes to signing on for a TV project, because it is something that you could be doing for many years? Are there different questions that you ask, before jumping into doing another TV show?
McIVER: Absolutely, yeah. I had definitely been careful in the past couple of years about what I’ve looked at because I got so lucky with iZombie and I almost didn’t want to jinx it and get it wrong the second time around, committing as a regular to a show. When you sign onto a project, it’s done in a very, very fast time frame. You might read a project, make a decision on whether you want to go in for it, sign a deal, book the job, and have a shooting schedule within three days. You really don’t have very long to think about these things initially and they really can end up affecting years of your life. You wanna be at least really optimistic. There’s always pieces that you can’t know until you’re there. For example, now we’ve ended up filming in Montreal, which is not what I thought was gonna happen, but it ended up being this incredible guest. It is an incredible city. The people have been so welcoming. It’s such a multicultural, dynamic little city that clearly enjoys the hell out of summer because their winters are so cold. Arriving here and being able to see the parks and the environment and practice my French, which was certainly very rusty high school French before I got here, has just been a great opportunity.
I read that you shot this pilot in a real house, and then the house was recreated on a soundstage. What is this set like to be on? What would surprise viewers about the detail involved? What can’t we see just from watching it on TV?
McIVER: Huge credit to our production designer, hair and make-up, and our D.P. because they had to take something that was already established and recreate it. When you see these sets and how they’re built inside a studio, each floor is a standalone big set and you really feel like you’re inhabiting a house when you’re in them. The wallpaper, the detail, the carving on the balustrades had to match what was already established in Los Angeles in a completely different time and place. The costumes were all recreated. They really did such a phenomenal job and really stepped up, going above and beyond in making that a seamless transition between pilot and series.
Had you been familiar with this British series, or did you go into this completely fresh to this idea?
McIVER: I watched the first season of the British series when I was cast and I was blown away. think Charlotte Ritchie and all of The Idiots who created it – that’s their name, I’m not being nasty – did such a brilliant job in conceptualizing these characters. I just hope that people are ready to go on a different journey with us because there’s 10 different actors playing in different iterations of these characters and it’s set in a different land. There are some big fundamental differences that I hope means that people are gonna be willing to take this journey with us, if they are fans of the original show. With any group of 10 actors, you’re gonna bring out different dynamics and find different details and nuances. Even in this first season, some of the departures from the original show were pretty remarkable.
When this show starts out, neither of you can see the ghosts, and then your character has an accident where only she can see them. What was it like to do those early scenes where you had all the actors in the room, but neither of you could see them, and how did that compare to when you then could see them?
McIVER: As an actor, it’s technically a lot harder to be ignoring the other nine characters in the room than to be listening to them and engaging with them. Props to Utkarsh [Ambudkar] for that. That has not been a challenge I’ve had to deal with really at all. I had a little taste of it in the pilot, and then was able to bounce off all of the people around me, in every scene. I’m very grateful for that. But in terms of characters, I don’t know who’s in a more difficult position. Jay has to trust his wife who has made these outrageous calls. He’s having to really just go along with her and believe her. He has good reason to, but it’s a very difficult position for him to be in too. He’s surrounded by people he can’t hear and he can’t see, and he doesn’t know when they’re watching him. At the same time, in defense of Sam, do you want to be seeing and hearing and engaging with nine ghosts, at every moment of the day? I don’t think any of them have a very easy situation on the show.
Do you think she likes that she has this ability? Would she rather not have this ability? Does it depend on the day and the moment, as far as how she feels about it?
McIVER: Yeah, it really depends on the day. There are times when it’s pretty entertaining. We learn throughout the show that there’s a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from people who’ve lived hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Although she might not agree with lots of what’s going on, there are also some very, very helpful life experiences that these people are able to offer her. So, there are definitely positives, but I would say it takes a few episodes for her to warm up to seeing them.
It seems like there are definitely some places that you wouldn’t want to have a bunch of people watching you.
McIVER: Absolutely. And we do explore that in later episodes, so enjoy.
Before she gets this ability, your character takes quite the tumble down the stairs. Did you get to do any of that staircase tumble yourself?
McIVER: I had an incredible stunt devil who did the stunt and the majority of the work. All I had to do was pretend to trip at the top, and then lie at the base of the stairs and literally drop my head about two inches onto the mat behind me, to finish the fall. And somehow, I managed to smack my head really hard when I did that. I was like, “Thank goodness, they did not entrust me with the full roll.” Two inches and I was already embarrassing myself, showing what a soft actor I am.
What was it like to get to see how that turned out?
McIVER: I was amazed. I’m always amazed by stunts. I’m such a squeamish child though. I can’t watch them on set, in the moment. I wanna run in and tell everybody to stop. There are definitely some control issues that I need to get looked at. She really made it look horribly painful.
I love how much we’re surprised by things as they unfold.
McIVER: Exactly. It feels to me like the kind of show where we’re really only just scratching the surfaces of where it could go. It’s a show that literally spends thousands of years, in terms of the characters. There’s all sorts of national history and identity that is to be explored. I feel like there are so many directions that it could go. With each episode, I’m amazed with a new layer that we’re unpeeling.
I also definitely felt sympathy at how many times you had to scream because that’s not an easy thing to do.
McIVER: Yeah, I definitely wore my voice a little horse for the pilot, with that final scream. What can I say? It was all worth it.
Do you have a favorite ghost character, and does your character having a favorite ghost?
McIVER: I don’t have a favorite yet. Variety is the spice of life, when it comes to these guys. Just when she’s had enough of one person or somebody is driving her mad, there’s somebody else who offers her exactly what she needs. There’s so much to be enjoyed in each of the characters. We’re really only just starting to see what the show is capable of.
People definitely get the impression that funny happen on funny shows. What might we see on the blooper reel for this show? Are there any funny mishaps that happen? Is there someone who’s always the first person to crack up?
McIVER: What I’d say is that Utkarsh has a tendency to ask the most abstract questions right before “Action” is called. If you see some of those blooper reels, you’ll hear Utkarsh ask what the exact number they deemed the squirrel population of North America, or something equally arbitrary. There’s a lot of that stuff going on, on set. And when the 10 of us are in scenes all together, it’s like herding cats. These poor ADs have to try to keep us all focused, and people start improvising or laughing on camera.
This is definitely a funny show, but it also has its serious moments and because of that, it has to find the right balance. How do you figure out how big to go, in any given moment? Do you just try a variety of things to see what works best?
McIVER: It’s a lot of just listening to what the group around you is offering you. If there’s anything you learn from being on set with this many comedians and people who’ve had experienced writing and devising characters themselves, it’s that it’s so crucial to listen to each other. Somebody might have a funny idea, but if it doesn’t fit into the scene and it doesn’t serve the story, it’s not gonna make it into the show and it can harm the product. We try to feel it out and we feel from each other, when it’s warranted to push it. There’s some surprisingly emotional stuff that happens in the first handful of episodes. Even in the table reads, we would hear these turns in characters happening that make you realize how much somebody’s growing or the loss that a character has experienced that we didn’t know about.
What have you most enjoyed about exploring this relationship dynamic, especially at this point in their lives where they’re both thrown into something that’s very unexpected? What are you enjoying about seeing how they react to that and how it affects their relationship?
McIVER: What I like is that initially, in some ways, they seem like an unlikely couple. She’s very fastidious and particular and driven and somewhat controlling, for want of a better word. Jay is very go with the flow, very social, and quite relaxed and grounded in lots of ways. As the show progresses, we start to see how much they really need each other, like those personalities do in the real world as well. The fact that she’s dragged him out to this crazy place in the middle of nowhere might seem like a curse for him at first, but he’s able to discover all sorts of things about himself. They have a lot more adventure and fun than he maybe would’ve had, if he’d stayed in the same job that he was gonna do and if they’d ticked the boxes of the status quo a bit more. So, I’ve enjoyed seeing how they are actually a really well-suited couple, and also seeing some of the ways in which Samantha can manipulate the situation, given she’s the only one with real access to what the ghosts are saying and doing. She’s able to decide when she wants to disclose that to Jay and when she doesn’t. She can end up backing yourself into a corner in certain situations.
Will we see more of what happens with her ability to see ghosts, when she goes outside of the house? As the season goes on, will we see more of that?
McIVER: Absolutely. In one of the final episodes, we’re gonna have a chance to see how her new skill set really impacts the life that she already had, and that will involve her going out and finding ghosts elsewhere. That’s all I’m able to say.
Is there anything that has surprised you or that you’ve learned about comedy from doing this show, that you hadn’t really experienced before?
McIVER: Between iZombie and Woke, which I worked on last year, and now Ghosts, being surrounded by lots of different people with totally different experience levels and backgrounds, you realize there’s not one way to do it and that you really have to respect everybody’s process along the way. For some people, preparedness might help you feel really, really good and present and in the moment. For others, keeping things fresh and keeping things exploratory can be their magic ingredient that they bring to comedy. There’s not really one right way to do it. So, I feel like there’s something to be learned from everybody I’m working with. The big takeaway, for me, has been the musicality of the group. When you’re doing a giant scene, everybody’s playing together, and if you’re not playing together, it’s distracting and the song doesn’t sound good. Whatever it is that you’re bringing to the group, it has to be in the slow and in the rhythm and in the musicality of what the rest of the group are offering.
You’ve played Tinkerbell, you’ve played someone who’s become a queen in the Christmas Prince movies, you’ve played a zombie, you’re playing a woman who can see ghosts. Is there a type of character in the fantasy realm that you’d still love to play, but haven’t gotten to do yet?
McIVER: I haven’t ever been able to play a true villain, and I would really love to play a villain. It’s something that I think maybe because I’ve been told I have a rather non-threatening face, although I don’t know exactly what that means, it isn’t something I’ve had the opportunity to be cast in before. I think true villains can come in all different forms, so I would like an opportunity to play that. I think that would be a really cool challenge. Working in all of these genres and with all this fantasy material, one of the best things is seeing everybody who dresses up and gets so invested in these characters. I think Ghosts is gonna be such an amazing opportunity for fans to identify with different characters within the group. You might see yourself as the Viking of the pack, or the scout leader. Who knows what you might feel like you identify with, in this show, but it’s gonna be a chance to dress up and embody somebody, no matter where you’re from or who you identify with.
I love how you can do all of these different projects that all technically fall under the fantasy umbrella, but they’re so different from each other.
McIVER: Yeah, what a privilege. It’s really been such a treat. I can’t believe people keep giving me the chance and that these opportunities keep presenting themselves, but I’m just really grateful every time they do. I really think that right now, the chance to escape into fantasy, whatever we might think that to be, is such a valuable role and something that is a good, soothing tonic for 2021. Hopefully, people are able to enjoy this show, in that moment.