‘Ghosts’ Star Rose McIver Explains How Making a Sitcom Helps Her Deal With Mortality


Rose McIver is no stranger to the supernatural, with a filmography including cult favorites such as “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “iZombie.” His most recent project, the SCS sitcom”Ghosts” in which she plays the role of Samantha Arondekar, is more grounded than those … but only minimally.

Based on a British series of the same name, “Ghosts” follows Sam and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a young married couple who move into a crumbling mansion in upstate New York after inheriting it from a distant relative of Sam. After Sam falls (or stumbles invisibly?) down a flight of stairs and is almost dead, she wakes up from her coma with the ability to see ghosts – and there are eight of them who live in his new home. Jay can’t see them, but thinks Sam and the new family of ten need to learn to coexist peacefully.

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While actively filming Season 2, McIver spoke to Variety about finding her place in an adaptation and how playing Rose touched her own life.

How much or how little of the original British series did you watch to prepare for this role?

I watched the first episodes of the original British series. At some point I’m going to dive in and finish it, but I really wanted to get a good momentum with what we were creating, not feel like we were just trying to do an imitation. I’m a big fan of the first ones I’ve seen, but I didn’t want to get too upset watching Charlotte [Ritchie] absolutely nail the performance the way it does. I wanted to build my own thing.

The roadmap is the same. We have the same premise, some of the same characters. Any opportunities we had to ground ourselves in our own truths and ideas were just going to help us feel creative ownership of the characters.

Because your character is the only living person able to see the ghosts, many scenes have to be shot twice – with and without the ghosts. How does this change your process and performance compared to other roles you’ve held?

It’s definitely more technical than I expected for a half-hour sitcom. We have a lot of fun on set, but that’s definitely one of the things I’ve focused the most on a project – trying to physically remember where the people are, whose voices were coming from where, the energies that they each gave with each take, [which] I want to match. I try to take a photo print of what they do when they’re on stage and then when they’re gone I have these frames that I put them in. It’s a bit of juggling. There are 10 of us too, and it’s a huge listening exercise, this whole project. Making sure we make room for everyone all the time, and that we all serve each other and prepare to take it down. That’s what works so well: it’s a very generous cast.

So the scenes are usually shot with the ghosts before removing them, instead of the other way around?

Almost always. And because we’re shooting in Montreal and it’s French-Canadian, we call it ‘ghosts’ and ‘ghostless’ – with ghosts and without ghosts. This is very fun. And it’s not just a technical project for me – it’s also very technical for our team. For example, one cannot move a piece of furniture on which they are sitting. For example, when one of the guys sits on a bed, so as not to leave a physical footprint, which we normally would, he places a wooden board under the sheets. There are a lot of little details like that that people have to think about all the time. For something that ends up being a lot of fun, I have a lot of respect for all the focus that went into it.

[When shooting takes without the ghosts], people try to stick around so that at least I can hear the actors read their own dialogue, which makes all the difference. I was taught that to act is to react. It’s very important to me, as far as possible, not to have to work with a yellow tape cross stuck to a tennis ball on a stick. It happens, and we all understand why and why and how it happens, but it makes everything better when people have other scene members to play. Even just a sound signal makes a big difference.

Rose McIver

Rose McIver

What does the rehearsal process look like for a show like this?

What repetition process? We wish! We are moving pretty quickly. For example, this year we have 22 TV episodes to shoot by Christmas, so we’re not rehearsing a lot at all. I think there is good and bad in all of this. I love rehearsals because I feel like I can be looser and funnier when I’ve prepared just as well as possible beforehand. It’s good to have some stuff lined up before you jump in and hope the theater catches up to you. But I think there is something very fresh, surprising and impulsive that happens when you work without [rehearsing]and that really suits some of the people involved.

Well, it looks like this cast could pull off a good improvisation. But how is this possible given the continuity problems posed by the joint editing of “ghosts” and “without ghosts”?

The group around me improvises a lot. I’m not too interested in this project. A lot of what I do is [being] a portal to them. I provide a portal for the public. But when we have time to bring these elements, [we do], and this season, more and more, we are beginning to understand each other. Knowing where you come from, how to play tennis, how to hit each other.

You mentioned wanting to create your own version of Sam as opposed to Alison in the original series. What were your priorities in coming to see this woman? What stood out to you about her?

When I play a character, I don’t think he becomes someone else. It adds an extra layer of work that I personally don’t feel like I need. What I like to do is take out anything that doesn’t serve Sam in Rose. I’m going to approach the character and say, ‘What parts of Rose really resonate with Sam? What can I somehow refine in me that resembles him? And there are many things. Sam desperately needs to be loved. She’s a total people pleaser and wants to do it right – and doesn’t always do it well. I can totally identify with these qualities. I think a lot of actors can – that’s probably part of why we ended up with this job. But the flip side of always wanting to please people is the reality that you can’t, and that can seem pretty scary. I think that’s where Sam’s desire to control or look for things she can hold on to comes from.

I really enjoyed filming flashbacks of him in high school. Hopefully we can explore a bit more where she came from. We understand that between not having a very strong family – her relationship with her mother was quite fractured – and not being one of the cool girls in school, she really craves soul mates, for lack of a best word. And she really surprisingly found them in the house despite everything. With Jay’s most supportive husband on the planet and this incredible group around her in the ghosts, she’s kind of a little coming-of-age experience through this series.

The episode where Sam, accompanied by Jay, finds her deceased mother who is now a ghost is particularly profound. How did you approach filming?

It’s no surprise that people who are always busy solving other people’s problems haven’t quite solved some of their own. Sam, through and through, is really worried about the dynamics and relationships between all these ghosts and how people are going to get along, when she hasn’t made peace with her own dynamic with her mother . There’s a lot of heartbreak in Sam. We cling a lot to a childish version of herself.

I think she found this incredible rock in Jay, who is so deeply supportive. We always talk about the fact that if the ghosts each had a superpower, Jay’s superpower as a ghost would just be unconditional love. He stays with her despite – I mean, we know what the premise of this show is. It’s outrageous that he just stays there, really. And I think she knows that, and it’s probably been key for her to be able to develop trust and intimate, meaningful relationships in her life, and also a key for how she relates to ghosts.

[“Ghosts”] made me process some things for myself on a deeper level, and I really hope it does for the audience as well. We had some pretty amazing interactions with the fans. The conversations about mortality or things you wouldn’t expect to see in a half-hour sitcom were really prompted by the show I’m on. It’s a huge gift. I’m just so grateful that we can come back and do more.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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