Network TV is the place to be this season for all newcomer hits. Among the roster of standouts is CBS’ Ghosts, which first premiered in October 2021 and is based on the hit 2019 BBC One series of the same name. In the show, Samantha (Rose McIver) and Jay (Urtkarsh Ambudkar) inherit a beautiful country mansion and decide to renovate it into a bed and breakfast. However, after Samantha has a near-death experience, she suddenly is able to see ghosts, including the group of deceased residents who inhabit their new home.
Among the group is Sasappis, played by Román Zaragoza. A recent episode finally dives into his backstory, so LA Confidential sat down to learn more about it and what it was like working with his dad, Gregory Zaragoza, who appeared as a special guest.
On social media, you describe yourself as “a cross between Bruce Lee, Tarzan and Neil Patrick Harris.” Can you explain that?
My sister Ray came up with that, who is an amazing singer songwriter. She came up with that because one, I looked up to Bruce Lee growing up and I've done martial arts and I swear I looked so much like him when I was a kid. I just love the philosophy around kung fu; I actually study Wing Chun right now as well and so I definitely relate to him. Tarzan because I have long hair and I love being in nature. And then Neil Patrick Harris because, one, I'm a huge fan of How I Met Your Mother, but also because I'm a musical theater guy and I love theater. I love singing, dancing. I am such an NPH fan. t I feel like I'm a mix of the three of those people.
You have two older sisters. How did they impact your life and career choice?
My sisters were dancers and singers growing up and my mom would take me to sit and wait to pick them up from their dance classes and all this stuff. And then I think I was about five when my mom was like, “Do you want to start taking dance classes?” And I was like, “I don’t know. It’s mostly girls here.” And my mom was like, “Yeah, is that bad?” and I’m like, “Oh you're right.”
Let's talk about Ghosts. What have you enjoyed most about this series and playing Sasappis?
There's so many things, but I think the biggest thing has been really spending time with this cast. The cast is so amazing and kind and warm and they've been just helping me as a new series regular. I've never been in this situation before, So it's been just so much fun to have people really showing me the ropes and help me along the way and also just being good friends and having a good time in Montreal where we are shooting. It's been such a dream come true.
Playing Sasappis has been such a dream right from the beginning because from the casting notice, they put “Please use your normal accent, your normal voice” and when you audition for a character that is Native from the 1500s, that's usually not the case. So that was really exciting for me. I was like, “OK, he's of course trapped in the way he looks of appearing like a Lenape man from the 1520s, which he is, but he has adapted and he has learned English and his voice. It sounds like a contemporary American person.” I think it was really exciting to have that kind of representation because we've never really seen that before and so it's been fun to really have that collaborative process with Joe Port and Joe Wiseman. We also have an amazing Lenape consultant by the name of Joe Baker, who has been just an amazing resource and collaborative partner in this project. So the Joes would always go to him for questions about who Sasappis could be, and then also having John Timothy in the writers room, who is Muscogee Creek— it's just been really a really exciting process to have a lot of these different voices bring this character to life. It's not just me, it's so many people, so I'm just grateful to be one to one of those collaborative partners.
Episode 14 was something special. What was it like working with your dad?
We had worked one time previously together on a TV show called Stumptown and that was our first time working professionally together on screen, so that was weird. It was fun and weird. It was like, “Oh my god, my dad is playing my uncle who's mad at me.” It was just really funny. I think this one felt natural. It was just like we were playing ourselves. I feel like the conversation we have in the scene is a conversation we've had before. Instead of my dad saying, “Do you want to be a storyteller?” it’s just my dad saying, “Do you want to be an actor? Are you sure you want to do this? It's a crazy profession, but I want to support you if you want to do that.” It was a really special experience and the set they made was so fun and the costumes— it was a dream come true.
I'm just really excited for people to see more of Sasappis and to see what he cares about. I think we've seen such a cynical side from him, the sarcastic side, we've seen what he doesn't like. But now we get to see him be excited about something. We get to see him be passionate.
Why do you think it's important for primetime TV to have a show that scopes in on all these themes and ideas about death and life fulfillment through the lens of a sitcom?
In my opinion, I think comedies are such a strong way to deliver important messages because through laughter, people put their guards down. It doesn't feel as preachy because we're just laughing and then we're like, “Oh, wow, oh my god, that's a very big truth about death.” In the pilot episode when Richard Moriarty, who plays Pete, delivers this beautiful monologue about death and breaks it by talking about how his wife stole like the last donut hole, I think it's just so funny and it's so real. And death has been such a big part of our lives, but particularly a big part of my life since I was young and and I've been on a journey of trying to understand and accept the fact that we're all mortal. We all die. And I think this show really helped me see how life and death is not as disconnected as we think.
Let's talk about This is Their Land. Can you tell me about your experience as a producer?
Definitely my biggest project as a producer. I went to film school and produced projects, but nothing on this level before. It's still very low budget, but it's something I'm just incredibly proud of. We're in post production. We're finishing up and it's just so exciting to see this story come to life. This is Their Land is about the Modoc War of 1872 to 1873 between the Modoc people and the U.S. Army, and it's a story that I didn't know too much about before. I've heard a little bit about, but now learning about it, it's frustrating that I didn't learn it in school. I grew up in Los Angeles and I would love to learn more about Indigenous history of California because there's so much that happened in the last 150 years that we don't talk about, and so I'm really excited about this project to be able to bring this story to life and to honor the descendants of those people.
Do you prefer producing or acting? Is that something you can even really compare?
Producing is really exciting because I feel like I have more of a hand in everything…I'm able to interact with different departments, I'm able to be a leader, which is really exciting. Of course, I grew up acting, I love acting. I love escaping all of that as well, escaping the responsibilities of interacting with different departments and all that stuff and I can just focus on the scene. So it all depends. I really do love acting though because it's nice to not feel the pressures of all the factors that are happening with costumes, hair, locations. There's so much at play, and especially with COVID. It was just such a nightmare, but as an actor, you can kind of escape all of that and just be in that moment and you're chasing those moments, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful things about life.
I want to do everything. I think someone who I really look up to right now is Andrew Garfield. I think he's such an amazing actor and Anthony Ramos and these guys who can go from the theater to to shoot a movie to be on a TV show to go back to the theater. I'm such a theater guy. I love being able to do the beginning to the end in one night and to go on that whole journey with that character, that story. I think it's something so beautiful and to be with an audience right there, it's a different experience. But of course film and TV has so many beautiful aspects as well. You don't have to project to the last row. I can just be right here with my scene partner, which is so exciting. There are so many aspects that I love being in front of a camera or on stage, but after shooting Ghosts, I also want to do theater, definitely. So hopefully I'll get back onto the stage soon.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Ghosts is now airing on CBS and is available to stream on Paramount Plus and Pluto TV.
Photography by: Kim Newmoney