Categories: Interviews

Interview: Brandon Scott Jones (‘Ghosts’) on Found Family Dynamics, Dinosaur-Themed Weddings and Isaac’s Fate

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When Hollywood actors and writers hit the streets last year to strike for better wages and protections, TV and film productions across the industry stopped work to join the fight. The overlapping strikes, which lasted from May to November, effectively shut down the fall TV season, with most returning shows delayed well into the spring.

For the hit CBS comedy Ghosts, the third season premiered in mid-February, months after its cliff-hanger second finale left everyone wondering which of their favorite Woodstone specters had been “sucked off” – the titular ghosts’ term for a spirit moving on in the afterlife.

Luckily, the dearly departed spirit was Captain Isaac Higgintoot, played with effervescent glee by Brandon Scott Jones. When last we saw Isaac, he had just gotten engaged to Nigel Chessum (John Hartman), though their journey to the altar hits some roadblocks along the way.

As fun as he is to watch on Ghosts, Jones is even more delightful to talk with in real life. We talked about everything from dinosaurs to the beauty of found family and pondered on what the future may hold for our favorite almost-Founding Father.

Karen Peterson: Isaac is such a popular character and people love you so much. How does it feel to be part of something that has so many positive social media reactions and Reddit threads?

Brandon Scott Jones: Great. I mean, it feels great. I’m always to the point where I’m a little suspicious of it. I’m always like, “Surely there has to be some sort of band of people that don’t like this.” You know what I mean? And I don’t know, it’s just been a really, really positive experience all around, where my brain sort of tries to always approach it with a little bit of caution that surely the other shoe’s going to drop at some point. You know what I mean?

But it really is so wonderful, and I think the people that watch the show, the fans, are so loyal, so invested. You get history buffs, you get people who are into the supernatural. It really kind of hits these quadrants that people don’t talk about often. So, it’s been really, really, really, really nice.

KP: How often do you allow yourself to actually dive into what the reactions are, and how much do you try to avoid them?

BSJ: This year, I really spent most of my time avoiding it. I don’t know. It’s not because it’s been bad. That’s the thing, is that it’s all so nice, so there’s really no reason not to. But this year, I sort of just wanted to see what it would be like if I just… Not to do it in a vacuum, but to just sort of say, “Okay, this is the show that I’m on, and I can’t control how people feel about it.” It sort of just allows it to just be more of something that I’m a part of and creating rather than trying to fluctuate. I guess my biggest fear would be that I’d find a tweet where somebody’s like, “I don’t like the way Isaac was standing,” and then the next thing you know is I’m trying to change my way of doing it.

KP: Isaac has a huge arc in season three. At what point do you find out what’s coming for your character?

BSJ: It kind of varies. A lot of times it’s in the table read. A lot of times it’s sort of like you’ll find out… You’ll read something, and you’re like, “Oh, this is happening,” and then something like a twist will happen, or it goes a different direction. But when it came to the end of the season, they did come to me, and they let me know that they were thinking about splitting Nigel and Isaac up, and I was like, “Oh, okay.” But again, still the surprise of it was not knowing the machinations of it, where… I waited till the table read to see how it all sort of played out. But there’s other cast members on our show that are very good about finding out what’s going to happen, but I seem to always be the last to know anyway. 

KP: Is that by choice? Are you just like, “I’d like to just be surprised”? Or…

BSJ: Well, I mean, I think anytime that there’s an emotional thing that’s going to happen, anytime that I’m playing more of a larger arc, like, “Oh, okay.” I was really grateful to know that we were going to be breaking up, because then I can start in other episodes, even where the story necessarily isn’t focused on that, threading that through a little bit in my performance. But there’s also another thing, too. I am a writer as well. I’ve made my other half of my career as a writer, so I know that things can change, and I know that everything seems to evolve, or you end up going down a different path, whether through a network note or through a creative decision or whatever it is. So, I think that there is a little blissful ignorance in terms of where it’s going sometimes that allows me to be a little bit more free, because I would hate to hang my hat on something and then find out that, oh, they had to go in a different direction, which is totally understandable, but then my brain also now having to course correct.

KP: Yeah, I get that. Speaking of being a writer and an actor, obviously, this season was a little bit delayed because of some very important work that you all were doing last year. How did the strikes affect the season or affect the cast and the show?

BSJ: This cast is really very close in a way that is lovely. We stay in contact with each other even in the off season – the regular off season. And so the extended off season, we sort of made it a point for some people here in LA and I know the people in New York that we would get on the lines and we would be able to keep that rhythm that we have with each other, just in a new way. I will say that just on a personal level, I remember when I came back, it was such an extended break that there was a little like, “All right, how do I do this again?” Make sure that I figured out how Isaac… Just where I picked up at the end of last season. I wanted to make sure I kept that energy. I ended up re-watching some of the episodes to remind myself where I was.

But I think ultimately, I can imagine that our showrunners and our writing staff, that’s where it really starts. They’re the front lines when it comes out of the strike that they have to get right back to work. And so, with a shorter season, I can imagine some things were adjusted, some things were changed, some things were scrapped and moved or whatever. Again, these are all my assumptions. I don’t know any of this for fact, but I definitely think that they made the most of a situation like that and made the most of a season that I think, again, truncated or not, I think they did a great job piecing something together.

KP: What they gave us was excellent. I think season three was just a fantastic season for all the characters, including Isaac and Nigel. What were some of the most fun moments for you?

BSJ: That hands-down was discovering that dinosaurs really existed. That was the most fun, I think. Just because I love that… It’s a fun color for Isaac to play stupefied and joyous and excited, and that his whole world is rocked, and it’s not necessarily something emotional. It’s more of a fun, “Oh my God,” childlike energy, which I think was a fun color to play with him this year. I think that to me is also the sweet spot of this show, where it takes a very real fact of history that the Founding Fathers, the people that we think about starting this country, they actually had some really big blind spots. I think any time we can expose that through Isaac is very, very, very fun. So, that was one of my favorite things. I think I even remember texting the showrunners when I got that script, because that was brand new to me. I didn’t know about that, and I was just like, “I’m having so much fun doing this.” So, it was really, really, really great.

KP: It was so funny, and you played that so well. What would a dinosaur-themed wedding have looked like?

BSJ: I think there is definitely the Jurassic Park theme involved multiple times, and I think maybe a little bit more jungle-y, people emerging from bushes and plants and shrubbery. I think that’s ideally what he would want it to have been. But I think what he ended up getting was also very, very nice. Clearly very expensive. Sometimes when I’m on set, I’ll be like, “Oh, my God, Sam and Jay must have paid a fortune for this.”

KP: Speaking of money, that’s another big part of Isaac’s story this season too, and thinking that he has so much money and not understanding what that equates to in our dollars. But then investing, and…

BSJ: I know. His financial advisor, Trevor (Asher Grodman), really made… He within one day made a hundred and something thousand dollars. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” I mean, that’s like a mind-blowing amount of money.

KP: He needs to be helping Sam and Jay more, I think.

BSJ: I know. It’s so funny. Isaac, this season for me also was like, I kind of realized how messy Isaac can be, that he is this dead man that has all this money, and he’s still being stingy with it, and he’s still sort of lording it over people who have all the power. I think he’s grasping at straws to have any type of leverage with anyone.

KP: He totally is. And where do you think that comes from with Isaac?

BSJ: I often think that it’s a remnant of the world in which he was in when he was alive, how desperately he wanted to be part of that core group of people that we now consider our Founding Fathers, and how he was always maybe not even one step to the side, like multiple steps. And so, I think that he… I have this backstory in my brain that I kind of bring, which is that he and his wife Beatrice were almost like a very unsuccessful Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They would kind of plan all these things to social climb and to get themselves into these spaces that… They knew that something big was happening, but then they just never were able to execute fully, because their own shit got in their way.

KP: I love that! Do you think at some point they might work it in or just leave that as something that is just for you to know?

BSJ: You know what? If they don’t work it in, I’m also happy to leave it something that I just know. I mean, they have their own idea of where the character is going and what they want to do with it. And so, I think these are just things that help you in that day-to-day. Because the one challenge of playing a ghost is sort of like that supreme want. You know what I mean?

Even just looking at other characters that are politically adjacent or fully politically, like Veep. You know what I’m saying? The entire time with that character, you knew she wanted to be president, whereas now Isaac, he wanted something back then, but now he doesn’t have it, and he’s sort of stuck in this purgatory, so what’s that supreme want? And so, I think anytime he can get a chance to do something or live vicariously through somebody else or have his name out there, I think that’s what’s sort of driving me, and that’s just the little bit of the backstory that I put, but I would love to have that be part of the backstory. That’d be kind of fun to see…

KP: I’m imagining the flashback. That would be so much fun.

BSJ: Oh, my God, I know. The flashbacks are so fun. Shooting a flashback, when you get it, we always… Even the cast is like, “Ooh, we get to hold things,” and “We get to lean on things.” Yeah.

KP: All those details you forget about when you’re watching, yeah. So, by the season finale, it’s supposed to be Isaac and Nigel’s wedding, and then someone named Chris comes along, and…

BSJ: Oh, I know.

KP: Can you talk a little bit about that?

BSJ: An absolute hunk comes along. Yeah. Yeah, it’s so funny that Isaac kind of really falls for what I assume is just a very classic thing, which is he fell in love with the stripper at his bachelor party, and now he’s having second thoughts. And I think it’s ultimately… What I loved about that episode was the way they sort of connected Pete’s storyline, which is really the heart and the meat, I think, of the larger ghost thematic, which is this idea of, what do you have to live for when you’re already dead?

And I think when [Pete] comes back, almost more than Chris, that was the thing that sort of twisted his brain that… We’ve all had that experience, right? You meet somebody, and you’re like, “I had no idea that you were on this planet. How is this possible? You’re changing my world so rapidly.” Almost like… It’s a crush, but in that heightened way. And then, I think, to have that and then sort of compounded with Pete’s really wonderfully performed and written monologue, I think it all kind of started to… I don’t want to say make sense, because it goes back to that Isaac messiness, but this was maybe one of the first times he’s ever acted on instinct and not what he should or shouldn’t be doing. Does that make sense?

KP: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think to the point about Pete coming back and that being sort of what snaps Isaac into the reality of what he really wants, one of the magical things about Ghosts is you have all these people who never could have met each other in life because they lived in such different times, and yet they all are close, they matter so much to each other, and they’re helping each other out, and they really have become a family.

BSJ: Yeah. It’s so unique to have a conversation between a Viking – to have a relationship between a Viking and a hippie. You know what I’m saying? I can’t think of another TV show where that would even be possible, and I think that we get to have that in this, which is cool. And what’s interesting, too, and this is something I know they do say in the writer’s room, and it’s something that we all felt as actors. It’s almost like two pods came to the same thing, which is, we’re not time travelers. We’re people from eras, but we’ve obviously met people that we never would’ve met before. And so, you sort of change and adjust, and it’s kind of fun to see where everyone’s landed now that this found – literally – family is there and what those dynamics are. It’s really, really, really fun.

KP: Yeah. And of course now, Isaac’s fate is a little bit up in the air.

BSJ: God, I know.

KP: Stuck in the dirt somewhere.

BSJ: Yeah. Speaking of reading it, I read that in the table reading, and I was like, “Okay. He’s coming back, right?”

KP: Well, it took a while for us to get to see Flower again, so…

BSJ: Yeah, I know. I mean, maybe Ghosts will be Isaac-less. I do have this funny bit in my brain that if Isaac is missing for a while, all the ghosts are kind of like, “This isn’t that bad.” It’s like, “We don’t miss him as much as we thought we would.” But yeah, I hope that… It’s a fun ending. I’m mainly just excited to see who Patience is, not only the actor that plays her, but the character that she’s going to be and what havoc she wreaks in the house, which I think could be really, really fun. It’s interesting to me, too, that this is another person with whom he’s sort of… I don’t want to say killed, but left for… I can’t even say left for dead. There’s so many things you can’t say when life and death is taken away. But I’m excited to see what the ramifications of her being back are going to be.

KP: It’s going to be really exciting to see.

BSJ: I hope so.

KP: Season four coming this fall.

BSJ: Yeah, season four is coming this fall. Unless…Something else happens.

Brandon Scott Jones is Emmy eligible in the category of Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Ghosts. All three seasons of Ghosts are available to stream on Paramount+.

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