‘Ghosts’: Rebecca Wisocky on Hetty’s Halloween Nemesis (and a Future Love?)

Rebecca Wisocky in 'Ghosts'
Bertrand Calmeau/CBS

Like all the actors who play dearly departed spirits on the hit CBS comedy Ghosts, Rebecca Wisocky has become an armchair historian of her character’s era. So she can confirm that the setup of the October 27 Halloween episode — Gilded Age socialite Hetty suggests Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and Samantha (Rose McIver) hold a séance to liven up their poorly attended last-minute Halloween party — is sound: “Spiritualism was very popular and fashionable in the late 19th century,” she says. “I think Hetty would’ve done séances as a party trick more than anything. She references that she threw a séance and only now realizes it didn’t really work and that she lives in a haunted house and was probably getting messed with.”

This time is different. “To her horror and dismay, the séance actually works and summons someone Hetty was least interested in seeing ever.” That would be her nemesis, Molly the maid (Hannah Rose May), the drop-dead gorgeous Irish mistress of her late husband, Elias (Matt Walsh). Wisocky dishes.

Before you started filming Season 2, some journalists got to watch the cast do a Zoom table read of the first two episodes. Watching you perform Hetty’s scenes with the washing machine — and seeing how much your castmates enjoyed it — made me love the show even more. What was your reaction when you first learned about Hetty’s sexual awakening?

The writers have always been so wonderful to Hetty, but this year they really have gone to town. I mean, come on! That’s an actor’s dream come true to get to do something so fun. I love doing physical comedy. You also mentioned watching everyone else react, and that is worth noting: We do enjoy one another, and you can see on screen how much we love each other and how much we’re genuinely tickled by one another’s sense of humor. It was very fun to play, and so much fun to get to have more scenes with Flower, played by Sheila Carrasco, because I love her so much and it’s such a great pairing of the woman who is so incredibly uptight and bound to these certain rules of her time and the woman who is completely, utterly liberated. It’s such a nice juxtaposition. There are so many pairings like that in our show, but that is a really fun one.

How do you look at Hetty’s arc this season?

It’s been wonderful. The thing I made them promise me is to stay true to this idea that change is difficult, and it takes a really long time and people betray themselves at every turn. They’ve allowed me to take a couple of steps forward and a few more steps back, which is very true to life. People tend to step out of their comfort zone and then scurry back to their hole! Hetty will continue to do that, but she does make great strides. I think in the possession episode in the first season, where Utkarsh had to channel Hetty, you got to see some of what her deepest desires were if she actually had access to a body in the world. All she wanted to do was drink all the wine and eat all the Cheetos and run to Paris. So we know that she’s a voracious creature, and she’ll find new ways to experience liberation this year. She’s a funny one, you know. She’s so concerned with power and status yet has a very limited understanding of her own bodily autonomy. And Flower unleashes some possibilities for her. We’ll leave it at that.… [Laughs]

Bertrand Calmeau/CBS

Do you think we’re building to, like, down the line in Season 7, Hetty finding love in the afterlife? That’s something that eluded her during her living life. Is it even on her radar?

I certainly wouldn’t count it out. I will say once this woman discovers her own sexuality, similar to what happens with her and Cheetos, she might have trouble controlling her own appetite. [Laughs]

What are things that have inspired the way you portray Hetty?

The Woodstone Mansion is the 11th major character in the show, 100 percent. There is so much texture and richness and history in the way this mansion has lived and died and changed over the years. And this is done so artfully by the production design team. I mention that because that helps a lot, and it prompts a lot of my exploration certainly about going down these rabbit holes of historical tidbits. There is a little Victorian hanky holder next to Hetty’s bed that is historically accurate. Costume does so much to help with my physicality. It is period-accurate, it is painful, and I feel like a turkey dressed up for dinner. It affects how I move, how I speak, and how I breathe. That did a lot of the work for me.

Here’s another tidbit, especially because it’s Halloween: I was surprised to learn that there’s a new genre of female authors writing gothic horror and ghost stories in the late 19th century that I had never heard about. I gave Rose a collection of stories for her birthday last year. It doesn’t count as horror, but did you read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper when you were in high school? It’s a classic short novel about this woman trapped in a beautiful house and trapped in the inner horror of having no place to go and being made to think that she’s crazy by her society and by her husband and by her marriage. I approached it in a new way, now that I’m playing the stereotype of this time period. So many women in this era were trapped and medicated by their husbands or their doctors. We know that about Hetty — she was probably treated like a hysterical woman who needed morphine to calm down. That’s an issue I think the show’s writers will continue to explore.

Getting back to Halloween, Ghosts premiered in early October 2021. Was it too soon for you to see a bunch of Hettys last Halloween?

Oh! There’s a great little video. Rose dressed up like Hetty last year! She’s game for anything. It was a delightful surprise. We started to believe that we’re looking more and more like each other, which is bad news for her but very flattering for me. [Laughs] We look like we could be distantly related. That mother/daughter surrogacy — we’ll definitely dig deeper into that this season, which Rose and I enjoy playing very much.

I won’t spoil it, but we do get an idea of how much Hetty has grown to care for Samantha in the Halloween episode. And, of course, that Season 1 finale scene where all the ghosts told Samantha what she’s come to mean to them was so special. Are those moments of affection, even played for laughs, something you look forward to?

Definitely! We have very childlike needs and demands of her. We’ve been with no outlet, no way to interact with the world or affect the world or know about the world, until Sam and Jay showed up to the house. We’re very demanding of them and their time, and that will create some problems in the house this season. It’ll be interesting to solve.

Speaking of Jay, I love when the show reminds us he has a relationship with the ghosts as well — that’s also something we’re treated to in the Halloween episode.

I love it. First of all, I love Utkarsh Ambudkar. He’s such a talent, and what he’s doing is, like, the hardest thing in the show. The thing I love about the “Jay” character is that he is on board! He’s game! We didn’t waste any time having him not believe her. He has a very invested relationship with the ghosts, and he gets deeper into it. He talks about the mythology getting expanded when Hetty sent Elias to hell. He’s keeping track of what the rules of the ghost universe are in a geeky kind of gamer way, which I think is really fun and exactly the way I would hope my husband would react if I told him our house was haunted. [Laughs]

Ghosts, Thursdays, 8:30/7:30c, CBS