When Asher Grodman got his big break on TV, it was quite a relief.
He had long been a working actor, but not in the way he wanted to be.
“It was 18 years of mostly unemployment and refusing to give up,” Grodman says.
He just didn’t think when his moment arrived, he’d be wearing no pants.
It seems like the stuff of elementary school nightmares, but every day on the set of the hit CBS comedy series “Ghosts,” Grodman walks around with bare legs while everyone else is fully clothed.
The wardrobe is par for the course when your character is best described as “pantsless Wall Street bro.”
Grodman, who grew up in Califon reading about his high school fencing career in The Star-Ledger, stars as the ghost of Lehman Brothers trader Trevor Lefkowitz in the hit series. The character died sans pants in the year 2000. Consequently, the actor’s wardrobe consists of a suit divorced of its lower half.
“Maybe it’s a fencing thing because so much of it is in your legs, but my legs rarely get cold,” Grodman, 35, tells NJ Advance Media.
Just the other day, though, it was a bit more drafty on set than usual.
“In the summers, it’s lovely,” he says.
Grodman’s ghostly castmates on the show include Maplewood’s Richie Moriarty, who moved to New Jersey a few years ago. Moriarty plays the spirit of scout leader Pete Martino, who died in the ‘80s when a young scout accidentally shot him in the neck with an arrow.
Now, it’s there for eternity.
Grodman and Moriarty recently took a break from filming the second season of “Ghosts” in Montreal to talk about their spectral selves and life behind the scenes of the show. The half-hour comedy, based on the BBC series of the same name, premiered in 2021, delighting critics and viewers alike with family-friendly material that has a sharp-edged twist. Season two premieres Thursday, Sept. 29 on CBS and Paramount+.
Moriarty and Grodman’s co-star Danielle Pinnock, who grew up in Teaneck, spoke to NJ Advance Media ahead of the series premiere last year. Pinnock, who shares a trailer with Grodman, plays Alberta Haynes, the tuneful ghost of a Prohibition-era lounge singer.
The singer, finance bro and scout leader all died in different decades but haunt the same old Hudson Valley estate alongside a crowd of other ghosts, including a Viking explorer given to proclaiming his love for cod; a hippie from the ’60s; a Revolutionary War captain; a Lenape man from the 1500s with sharp comic timing; and the wife of a robber baron from the 1800s.
All the ghosts “live” out their days together in Woodstone Mansion. The only living person who can see and hear them is Samantha (Rose McIver), the freelance journalist who inherited the rundown place. Hijinks ensue as she tries to turn the creaky estate into a bed-and-breakfast alongside her husband Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a chef who can’t interact with the ghosts.
Grodman had been putting himself up for TV pilot season for years before he was cast in “Ghosts.” He tested for parts and never landed a pilot, though he had a string of guest roles on TV shows.
He also made a low-key appearance in the infamous “Boar on the Floor” scene of HBO’s “Succession” where patriarch Logan Roy commands his underlings to get on the floor and oink like pigs.
But Grodman was really struck by the script for “Ghosts,” penned by showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman.
“This is the most well-written thing I’ve ever read,” he remembers thinking.
Grodman didn’t let himself consider the possibility that he might land a part, though he did audition (it didn’t help that he got there two hours late because of another audition).
In March 2020, Grodman, who lives in New York City when he’s not in Montreal, was flown out to Los Angeles to do a table read and shoot the pilot.
The reading went as planned, but COVID-19 shut the world down and they never filmed the episode. The fate of the series remained in “pandemic limbo” for almost a year before they could work on the pilot, Grodman says. But that only meant another wait.
A day before his contract was set to expire, he was at home in Jersey on the family farm with his dad. He was waiting for the call that would tell him if “Ghosts” was a go or not. It had been so long, he figured it wasn’t happening. He started to drive back to New York and was halfway there when he got the call — the show got picked up.
Grodman says it felt like an 18-year weight had lifted. He had finally secured a regular gig on a major network series.
Grodman came of age in the Hunterdon County borough of Califon, about 10 minutes outside Chester.
“I was a really shy kid growing up in the middle of nowhere,” says the actor, who spent most of his youth on a farm with 14 dogs — Labrador retrievers and shar-peis — and five cats. (His current dog, Zazie, guest-starred in “Ghosts.”)
“I was the one Jew in a very, very not Jewish community,” Grodman says of his elementary and middle school days at Far Hills Country Day School.
In 1981, Grodman’s father, Dr. Marc Grodman, founded BioReference Laboratories, the lab testing giant headquartered in Elmwood Park (he later co-founded the Iselin genomics company Genosity). His mother, Pamela Grodman, is a former vice president of womenswear for Ralph Lauren.
His introduction to performing happened because he had a crush on a girl in seventh grade. During a song he had to sing in front of the whole school, he boldly changed the words of “Brown-Eyed Girl” to “Hazel-Eyed Girl.”
Grodman’s little public dedication did not have the intended effect. She was mortified.
But the stunt got him accustomed to an audience, and he started doing school plays. In high school, he got an agent and started auditioning in New York.
Grodman, an alum of Newark Academy in Livingston and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, first studied film and English at Columbia University, then sought training as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
“I essentially got my -ss handed to me trying to do Shakespeare,” he says. “I’m dyslexic, and I was always a really slow reader … it did not go well.”
In 2015, Grodman, who went on to teach acting at Hunter College, directed the short film “The Train,” starring Eli Wallach in his final film role.
Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive audience response, Grodman, Moriarty and cast are filming even more “Ghosts” this season, expanding from 18 to 22 episodes.
“It’s a marathon,” Grodman says of the filming schedule, which runs from July to December. Spending half a year or more living with the cast in Montreal has made close pals of all the “ghosts,” who have been known to go on group hiking trips.
Breaks from the show are more cast-centric than if the ghosts were filming in New York or Los Angeles, says Moriarty, 42. He just hosted a brunch for the cast at his Canadian home.
“We really are each other’s support systems outside of the show,” he says.
Moriarty credits showrunners Port and Wiseman for the winning chemistry among the show’s undead.
“They assembled the best team of people,” he says. “Truly, I’m friends with everybody on the show.”
The love translates to the screen, Moriarty says, describing the “Ghosts” setup as “the purest form of an ensemble comedy.”
He likens the series to “Cheers”: Since the ghosts tend to “haunt” a single space a million different ways — usually by communing with their one living friend — the show happens in the same place with the same main characters every episode.
“We’re so rarely more than a foot apart from each other,” Moriarty says.
Moriarty moved to Jersey from Brooklyn with his wife and young son after taking NJ Transit to Maplewood in 2018. It was Pride weekend, and they took in a drag show.
He didn’t know anything about New Jersey, but he was smitten by what he calls a “wonderfully accepting liberal enclave.” They put down roots in Maplewood and welcomed a daughter — his kids are now 4 and 1.
Grodman had never acted in a comedy when he was cast in “Ghosts.” (So it probably helped that he has no pants on, the actor says.) Since then, he’s filmed a role as a villain in the upcoming comedy movie “Out of Order!” opposite Brooke Shields, who grew up in Bergen County.
But Moriarty, who grew up in Rockville, Maryland, has a background in sketch comedy. He says fellow “Ghosts” cast members embrace the collaborative nature of improv and will suggest ad-libbed lines for each other.
The Boston College alum started as a cast member at Boston’s Improv Asylum in 2006, and in 2013, he joined New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where he wrote and performed alongside his wife, Ciara Moriarty. His memorable UCBT characters include “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli.
For a while, comedy was a side gig. Moriarty spent eight years working as an architectural photographer in the Boston area. So he knows what he’s talking about when he spies a “stunning” midcentury modern house near his Maplewood home (he later discovered the same house was used in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).
Moriarty co-hosted Comedy Central’s “Cinema Social Club” and has had a recurring role on Amazon’s “The Tick” and guest spots on FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The Last O.G.” on TBS, among many other series. His films include “How to be Single” (2016) and “Going in Style” (2017), directed by South Orange’s Zach Braff.
In 2018, Moriarty appeared in a CBS football teaser for the AFC Championship game starring a very perturbed John Malkovich. The spot was such a hit — winning Emmy and Clio awards — that he was invited back in 2019 for another comedy short to open the Super Bowl with Malkovich and Peyton Manning.
On “Ghosts,” Pete and Trevor are very different.
For one, Trevor is the only ghost who can move objects if he tries really, really hard. But it helps that they are from neighboring decades.
“They really have each other’s back,” Moriarty says.
Even if Pete doesn’t approve of Trevor’s sexist remarks, he acts as something of an older brother to him.
The general chasm between the time periods of other characters becomes more apparent when they sit down to watch a ‘90s retrospective in the season two premiere — for Trevor, it’s recent history. For everyone else, no less than a record of future past.
In another upcoming episode, Samantha takes on a challenge to make a true-crime podcast investigating Alberta’s murder. The resident 1700s ghost, Isaac (Brandon Scott Jones), asks their living friend what a podcast is.
The 1920s chanteuse waves away her definition.
“What you’re describing is radio,” she says.
But the ghosts come in handy when Samantha is trying to drum up business for the bed-and-breakfast. They spy on a pair of guests to tell her what they really think before the couple has a chance to leave a scathing Yelp review.
Individual ghosts do get their own episodes, usually revealing something previously undisclosed about their death. An installment last season uncovered the true reason why Grodman’s Trevor will forever be without pants.
The onetime vodka-chugging Wall Street trader, aka T-Money, routinely brings some casual ’90s misogyny to the table. He tells everyone he wound up half-naked because he had sex with a limo driver before dying from a mix of drugs.
What really happened: Trevor gave his pants to a young colleague who, thanks to a hazing ritual, would’ve otherwise been forced to walk from Woodstone to the city in just a T-shirt. Then he died from a heart attack triggered by a cocktail of pills and alcohol.
Moriarty’s relentlessly upbeat character Pete, a Pinecone Trooper leader and former travel agent, moved on to the afterlife in 1985. An upcoming episode titled “Pete’s Documentary” will zoom in on the nature of Pete’s demise when a documentary crew visits Woodstone to film something called “Dumbest Deaths.”
“It was an incredibly fun episode to shoot,” Moriarty says. The guest stars “will definitely make headlines,” he says, staying mum on the lineup.
“Ghosts” fans can also look for Sasappis, the Lenape character played by Román Zaragoza, to finally call out Pete for his unrelenting cheeriness. It’s part of what makes him so fun to play, Moriarty says — his default mood is usually miles from the affable scoutmaster.
The most critical or upset Pete ever really gets is when he finds out his wife has remarried — or when he surveys the streaming options on TV.
“Man, picking something to watch is much more difficult than it was in the ’80s,” he says. “Too many choices.”
The season two premiere of “Ghosts” airs at 8:30 p.m. ET (new time) Thursday, Sept. 29 on CBS. The show runs weekly at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays on CBS and is also available on Paramount+.
More from 2021: Meet N.J. ‘Ghosts’ star Danielle Pinnock
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Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AmyKup on Twitter.