‘Ghosts’ Star Rose McIver Talks Season 2 Christmas Special

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “The Christmas Spirit,” Episodes 9 and 10 of “Ghosts” Season 2.

As is typical with a second season sitcom, CBS’ “Ghosts” has now gotten to try its hand at one of the hallmarks of the genre: the Christmas episode.

The two-part midseason finale “The Christmas Spirit” sees Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) host Jay’s sister Bela (Punam Patel) at their upstate New York mansion for Christmas. Bela surprises Sam and Jay when she shows up with her single and extremely eligible friend Eric (Andrew Leeds), but is quick to assure everyone (including a pained Eric) that there’s absolutely nothing romantically going on between them. But Sam, being a romantic and a Christmas fanatic, sets her heart on recreating her favorite holiday movies, and getting Bela to fall in love with Eric.

But Sam doesn’t account for Bela’s lingering crush on Trevor (Asher Grodman), one of the many ghosts who lives at the mansion. (Bela became the only living person besides Sam and Jay to know about the ghosts in Season 1, when Trevor managed to hijack an iPad and seduce Bela via dating app.) Knowing that Jay once accidentally got possessed by Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky) when he electrocuted himself and fell through Hetty’s ghost body, Bela goes behind Sam and Jay’s backs and convinces Eric to get possessed by Trevor so they can spend one physical night together. Obviously, the plan has a number of consequences — including getting Sam possessed by notorious Christmas hater Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long).

McIver spoke to Variety about channeling her experiences on “The Christmas Prince” movies and “iZombie” to create a perfectly ghostlike holiday special.

Having been in Christmas movies in the past, what were your thoughts upon realizing “Ghosts” would do a Christmas special?

They wanted to do a bit of a riff on the classic Christmas movies and the Hallmark style, and I love it — because our show does the same thing that “The Christmas Prince” did. It simultaneously makes fun of genre, but is totally on board with the joy that that genre brings. The projects I like to work on don’t take themselves too seriously, but celebrate the reason that something is a popular idea in our culture.

How did that experience inform your process on this episode? Sam’s obsession with matchmaking for Jay’s sister and Thorfinn’s Grinch attitude about the holiday play with the regular tropes, but having ghosts possess humans was obviously unique to this show. 

First, it was awesome that it was a one-hour episode broken into two. So many fans have been so sweet about saying they wish “Ghosts” was longer, and play out arc that you’re not racing through in 20-something minutes. And knowing that Sam was going to be possessed by Thor, I really wanted to lean into the opposite of that for the first half. Really play her sweetness and her traditional Hallmark vibe.

And playing the Thorfinn aspect, I worked on “iZombie” for five years, where I would eat a brain and take on a different character each week, and it’s so different on this show. On “iZombie,” the person I impersonated was a cadaver lying on the morgue table; I didn’t really get to play with that person. On “Ghosts,” my impersonation was of somebody who not only I worked with, but I’m very familiar with and love, and who’s built such an awesome character. It changes the stakes a little.

Was Devan Chandler Long, who plays Thorfinn, watching you off-camera and giving you pointers? Or Utkarsh Ambudkar, whose character Jay got possessed last season?

Devan was incredibly generous. He took lots of time [out to help me]. I would make him film things and send them to me. Utkarsh and I work pretty differently: I love prep, it makes me feel more confident, and he’s a much more instinctual, off-the-cuff performer. 

And it’s a fusion, right? It’s not like I’m actually Thorfinn — it’s Sam who is possessed by Thorfinn. So the way I think of it is like there’s a little guy sitting in a bulldozer, operating Sam’s body. It’s freeing in that it allows you to be a blend of both; it’s not supposed to be a direct replica or clone. There’s parts of this character, vocally, that are just not attainable to me, and his size. He’s got a pretty big presence. And there were times where he’d be like, “No, you’ve leaned way too ‘pirate’ on this.” 

Speaking of leaning on your ensemble, there’s also the brief moment when Bela’s friend Eric dies and becomes a ghost, and it looks like the show might have a new permanent cast member. But then Thorfinn, in Sam’s body, revives him, and his soul shoots back into his body. It seems like the show is hinting at a willingness to add more ghosts to the mix. Right?

There’s so much more. The “Ghosts” rules and universe is so enormous and complex, and we’ve shown that it can expand and things can change. We’ve had people visiting from heaven or hell — who have gone down or been sucked off — and come back from the afterlife. In this episode with Eric, it reminds us that we have this great flexibility for so much creativity if the story depended on it. And at the same time, it doesn’t put the cart before the horse. We don’t need to use all of these tools in our arsenal in Season 2. I hope this show runs many seasons, and there’s plenty of opportunities for ghosts to join us. We’ve also discovered other ghosts on the property. Considering the rural traps of this one haunted mansion, it’s certainly a very expansive universe. We’ve been able to meet Nigel [John Hartman] in the shed and we’ve been able to meet the Farnsbys [Sam and Jay’s neighbors] and the ghosts that exist there. I like the idea of dangling carrots of how the universe can expand without having to exploit all of those opportunities too fast.

The way Sam gets overwhelmed by her love for Christmas — how much it hurts her that Thorfinn hates it, and her desire to get Bela paired off — reminds me of the childlike nature of the episode in Season 1 when she goes to meet the ghost of her mother. How have you approached Sam’s emotional journey this season and in this episode?

Sam has some quite splintered elements. There are some parts of her that are very much trapped in a juvenile state. She’s obviously got unresolved stuff with her family that we haven’t quite wrapped our heads around, that I don’t think the show has given us access to yet. But she really loves fantasy. She loves getting swept up in the escapism of Christmas. Christmas can be a really difficult holiday for a lot of people. It’s a time that reminds you of what you do and don’t have, and who isn’t with you. For Sam, Christmas movies provide a fantasy version of what a holiday can be, and the ghosts have given her a sense of belonging. We see when Bela comes to visit how desperate she is to connect with Jay’s family and develop those relationships as much as she can. She’s clearly on a search for belonging and identity. And I think this is another great episode that underlines how meaningful those connections are to her and how this house has taken up very important place in her life.

Are you as big a Christmas person as your character? 

I am more of a Christmas person when I watch Christmas movies and shows, and when I am playing parts in them. We were filming this episode, and I remember seeing how beautiful the house was decorated. Zoë [Sakellaropoulo], our production designer, is an absolute wizard. Her and her team made that house feel so festive and so beautiful. We were filming the scene where Jay and I get to listen to the dulcet tones of the ghosts, who are all singing for us — or, singing to me. Jay’s just staring into space as always.

After filming that, I went to Etsy and immediately bought this Christmas mug, which is so not something that I would have done if it weren’t for the spirit that was fostered on set at the time. It’s nice to feel childlike, to retreat into not making decisions and not having responsibilities. Just the world of play. I think Sam particularly loves and identifies with that. And hearing the ghost choir! They did a great job. We’re still angling for a musical episode, which seems to be just outside of our grasp right now, but we hope in the future that we’ll get a better taste of the ghosts’ musical prowess. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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