‘Ghosts’: Utkarsh Ambudkar on What to Expect When Jay Is Possessed by Hetty
On the Thursday, December 9 episode of CBS‘ Ghosts, somebody’s getting possessed.
The sitcom, which follows married couple Sam (Rose McIver, iZombie) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who are attempting to turn the mansion they inherited into a Bed & Breakfast. It just happens to be haunted by ghosts, and due to a near-death experience, Sam can see them. But in this episode, it’s Jay’s turn to get up close and personal with their undead roommates when he gets possessed by Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky), the spirit of the wife of an 1800s robber baron. It’s particularly bad timing since Sam and Jay have the opportunity to host their friends’ wedding at the mansion, but they have to impress the picky party planner (Enrico Colantoni, Veronica Mars) first, so getting possessed is the worst thing that can happen right now.
TV Insider spoke to Ambudkar about all the hilarious shenanigans we can look forward to this episode.
I didn’t know the ghost could possess people; how does that happen?
Utkarsh Ambudkar: The fun thing about this show is almost every episode, we learn something new about the ghosts. Where they’re from, who they are, and in some cases, that they have special powers. So in this episode, we realize that with a little electricity and some either good or bad timing, depending on how you look at it, possession can happen, and in this case Hetty possesses Jay.
This can’t just happen all the time right?
It takes a very particular series of events that’s almost impossible to replicate, so it’s happened only twice in three hundred years.
It’s happening at a perfect time too, because they’re trying to impress this big wedding planner.
Like most young business folk, we are just barely scraping by. We gotta get this house ready to be a B&B; it’s got all kinds of electrical problems, plumbing. Not to mention it’s inhabited by tons of dead people who talk to my wife. So we have this very fancy-pants wedding planner coming to check out the house, and he wants to look at my menus because I’m a chef. He’s played by Enrico Colantoni from Just Shoot Me and Galaxy Quest, among many other things. He’s a phenomenal actor, he’s so fun to work with. Right when we’re supposed to impress this dude, I get possessed by a robber baron maiden from the 1800’s. Hetty is very different from Jay in that she still thinks cocaine is a wonder drug.
She thinks that wild boar’s head is something you’d get at McDonald’s.
What is the experience like for Jay? Is he aware that he’s being possessed?
As he explains it, it’s like he’s in his own body but he’s watching somebody else control it. It’s got very light-hearted Get Out vibes. It’s like Get Out minus all of the stakes, commentary, social commentary, and drama.
Did you work with Rebecca Wisocky and study her performance at all to nail acting Hetty?
I hope I nailed it! Rebecca is such an amazing actor. She brings so much to that character. Something that any impersonators will tell you is, the bigger the character, the more specific the character that you’re trying to impersonate, the easier it is. Rebecca really just has created such a strong character in Hetty that from physical to vocal to her eye movements, there’s a lot of really juicy stuff to copy. It’s not easy–well it might be easy for me but it’s only because she did all the work. She gave me a few line readings of how she would say certain things at the beginning and then I kind of just let it fly. I also wanted to have a little fun with it. How awkward would it be for Hetty, this Caucasian woman with thoughts and feelings based on her time, which are anachronistic now, which are no longer are appropriate to have. What would it be like to jump into the body of this gangly Brown man and then look in the mirror. It’d be a little bit jarring. Just to be able to play that sort of surprise was really fun.
Jay is usually on the outside looking in, since he can’t hear or see the ghosts. This is quite a role reversal for him and Sam. Does that change his perception in any way?
Jay is slowly but surely finding his way into the ghost family. He’s become a lot more relaxed and a lot more interested in what the ghosts are doing. I think Sam has done a much better job of including him. It’s more of a perspective change for Hetty, because Hetty jumps into Jay’s body and all of sudden she can’t see her family anymore. She’s unable to see all of these ghosts that she’s seen for hundreds of years. She’s looking around and she’s like ‘wait, this is what Jay is experiencing, this is what it’s like to walk around not knowing ghosts exist?’ For her, she gains much more of an appreciation for her family. At the end, Jay is just stoked to be back in his own body, but he learns a little bit from Hetty, in terms of going for what you want. Hetty is very direct, very strong. Hetty helps Jay grow a little bit more of a backbone.
What’s the actual physical experience like for Hetty while she’s possessing Jay? What is it like for her to actually feel like she’s living for a minute?
Imagine you’ve been dead for two hundred something odd years, you haven’t been able to taste or feel for that entire time, and all of a sudden you come to in a world where Cheetos exist, and beef jerky, and gravy, and M&Ms. It’s a veritable wonderland, it’s like you’ve been reborn into heaven. Hetty, with this newfound ability to taste and feel, is over the moon. She has no desire to let this more sensual aspect of this new life go away. She wants to try everything. She realizes that when she was alive, in her own words, she didn’t really get a chance to put herself first because the way that society was structured for women. She’s feeling this need to live and explore and be free and sort of emancipate herself. Which goes in direct contradiction to the fact that we need to plan a wedding and Jay needs to be in his body in order for that to happen.
So she’s having a blast. I’m sure she pops up during some rather inconvenient moments for them.
Oh, for sure. She’s having a full-blown life epiphany, and Jay is literally just trying to make a roast chicken.
What’s Enrico Colantoni’s wedding planner character like?
His character is very suspicious, skeptical. Very intelligent. Hints of our food critic from Ratatouille. He really is not easily impressed. It’s very important that Sam and Jay make a good impression with him, otherwise they won’t get this wedding. He’s the Siskel and Ebert of food, of wedding menus. Or he’s like Gordon Ramsey mixed with James Lipton.
This is Jay’s time to shine and he’s not even able to be present.
Well, he’s present. He just isn’t driving the car.
Does Sam know that Jay is possessed?
Eventually, yes. The third or fourth time he responds to her telling her to dress appropriately she’s like ‘wait a minute, this is somebody else.’
How do the other ghosts react to the possession?
I think with a lot of enthusiasm, actually. These ghosts have been around for hundreds of years. Not many interesting things go down, so for one of them to possess a human is must-see-TV as it were. They’re all very excited. You know, they start to miss Hetty as well. They want it to go well, they want Sam and Jay to stay. So they have to figure out a way to help Hetty realize that she needs to let this body go.
I’m sure that goes well.
Uh yeah, you can imagine.
As we said, possession is super rare. But if it ever happens again, if Jay ever gets to get possessed by another ghost, who would you want it to be?
Oh man, take your pick. It would be a dream to be able to… I mean from an ensemble perspective, it’s just a chance for me, Utkarsh, to gently roast any of my other cast members. So, if I can play any of them and bring out their more humorous qualities, I think the group as a whole…we all really loved it. It’s really fun for us on set. But maybe Pete (Richie Moriarty) would be fun, he’s so positive. Alberta (Danielle Pinnock) would be fun because I just love the way that Danielle turns a phrase. Flower (Sheila Carrasco) would be really fun. I would pass on Thorfinn because I just don’t want to do that kind of damage to my vocal cords. Devan Long–Devan Chandler Long, we gotta say all three names–Devan Chandler Long is a beast. He’s so good, but I don’t feel like yelling in Viking all day. So maybe everyone except for Devan, that’s my answer.
You said that Jay’s not driving the car, he’s just a passenger here. But Hetty doesn’t possess him for the entire episode. Is he fighting her, or sometimes she just loses her grasp?
I think he’s actively fighting for his won freedom. He says in the show, ‘I’m actively being colonized’. He’s trying very hard to not repeat the mistakes of his ancestors. He’s trying to get free, but it’s Hetty. She’s a very strong-willed, powerful, intelligent woman. And she has not lived literally in hundreds of years, and she finally has the chance to do so, and she’s not letting it go without a fight.
Ghosts, Thursdays, 9/8c, CBS