by Gerry Strauss

EDGE Interview

Jonathan Wenk / CBS

If Richie Moriarty strikes you as one of those performers you swear you’ve seen everywhere, there is a reason…he is. The veteran actor’s résumé includes roles on House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Orange Is the New Black, Adam Ruins Everything, The Tick, Power and What We Do in the Shadows—as well as an unforgettable 2019 Super Bowl teaser with John Malkovich and Peyton Manning. Richie is at his best when he is part of a quirky cast and, currently, he co-stars in the CBS series Ghosts, the top-rated new network comedy in 2022. Although he is a master at blending in, his character in Ghosts is impossible to miss: deceased scoutmaster Pete, best friend of the series lead, who roams the earth as he died, with an arrow through his neck. Recently, residents of a certain Essex County enclave have spotted Richie, sans arrow, roaming their streets. Gerry Strauss wanted to find out why.

EDGE: What brought you to Maplewood?

RM: My wife and I met in Brooklyn and we were starting to raise our son there. Right around when he started crawling and getting mobile, we were like, “Oh, we can’t do this in our tiny one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.” So we started to chat with people about where people go. You know, where can we go to actually afford a place to live—but still be close enough to the city where we can both commute? The towns of Maplewood and South Orange just kept coming up as great commuter towns on the train line, 30 minutes roughly into Penn Station. It’s hard to beat. In Jersey, we could afford a multi-bedroom house as opposed to the terrible one-bedroom that we could afford in Brooklyn with that same money. My wife and I took our baby son out on the train to Maplewood, did a little 12-hour tour of the area and really fell in love with it very quickly, and started looking for houses very soon after that. I feel so fortunate that we got here in 2018 before the explosion of home prices. We’ve just really loved our time in Maplewood. It’s a really great place for us to be.

EDGE: The blend of offbeat humor and genuine heart in Ghosts won over audiences quickly. What’s been the secret to maintaining that balance?

RM: Our writers and showrunners have done such an incredible job with that balance. I do think it is what makes the show special—and is exceedingly difficult to do well. It never feels forced and always has this tone where you can be laughing one second and brought to tears the next moment. A lot of that comes from the audience’s connection to the characters on the show. Everyone has done a masterful job of inhabiting these characters and bringing a fullness to them. It’s hard for a guy with an arrow sticking out of his neck to not feel like a cartoon, but the writing has been so great that it’s given us all backstories, and it’s made the audience feel a real connection with us, which really helps in selling those more emotional moments.

EDGE: In many respects, Ghosts is the ultimate ensemble comedy, not only because there are so many of you, but you are also often all performing in a small space within a house. What’s the secret to creating the right chemistry among such a large and talented cast?

RM: You know, I tell everybody who asks about the show how lucky I am to be a part of this particular group of people. The entire cast has all become close friends of mine, and I feel so fortunate to be doing this job with these people. Honestly, part of what I think contributes to what you’re talking about is the way that we started this show. We were all cast in February or March of 2020, and then the world shut down. I was actually flown from Jersey to LA to shoot the pilot and during Day Two of pre-production, when we were finalizing wardrobe and props and all that stuff, we were shut down and sent home. We all really thought that this opportunity was going to disappear, because a lot of shows over that next six months were released from networks because nobody knew what the future of filming was going to look like in the world of COVID. So from March to December, the cast had this crazy window where we had no idea if this opportunity was going to disappear, if we were ever going to get to do this thing together. Over the course of those seven or eight months, we were on constant text chains with each other. We were Zooming all the time just to check in with each other because we felt like we were on this weird island where we still had this great opportunity that was coming down the road, but we didn’t know if it was going to disappear. I think it really bonded us in a special way. By the time we finally did shoot that pilot eight months later, we all felt like we were so much closer than we would’ve been had we shot in March. We were just so excited about finally getting this opportunity to do this thing together. We’re so fortunate that it was actually picked up to series and we got to make the series, but I think that has a lot to do with the chemistry that you see on screen. We were unified in a very bizarre way during the pandemic, and by the time we got together we felt like we were friends, you know?

EDGE: What do you enjoy most about playing Pete?

RM: I think the main difference between Pete and myself is his eternal optimism. I mean, the amount of cheeriness and optimism this guy has—I wish I had 10% of it [laughs]. It’s really fun to step into those shoes and view the world through a lens that I don’t typically view the world through. There’s something really special, too, about the fact that all of our characters are period-specific. The 1980’s is when I grew up, and I very much feel like this character is my dad in a lot of ways. He was roughly the age that Pete was in 1985 when he died.

EDGE: Pete’s backstory is deeply emotional. Does that hit home for you?

Sarah Coulyer / Paramount+

RM: For sure. When we filmed the “Pete’s Wife” episode—where his daughter and grandson, who Pete didn’t know even existed, show up, my wife had just given birth to our daughter. She was six weeks old when we moved to Montreal for six months to film the first season. Of course, everyone is very raw emotionally when they have a newborn [laughs]. You’re low on sleep and you’re falling in love with this brand-new human. That made it very easy for me to tap into the emotion of what that would mean to see your adult daughter for the first time and then get the news that you have a grandson, and that your legacy and your family is living on.

EDGE: Your résumé is full of amazing scripted performances, but you also have a deep improvisational background. Which style of performing do you prefer?

RM: I definitely prefer improvising. There’s something magical about improv. There’s also something lovely about not having to memorize lines [laughs]. I’ve been improvising for more than a decade now. I started in 2008 or so, and I love it.

EDGE: Is there room for improv in Ghosts?

RM: The mantra in improv is to have each other’s back and to support your scene partners, and that comes into play all the time on this show. You’re always looking for opportunities to amplify other people’s voices or see opportunities for them to make the scene stronger. There’s this team mentality, because you’re creating this thing together. In terms of improvising on set, it’s always a little bit director-specific. Some directors come in and love to find opportunities that aren’t on the page to punch the script up and make it better, but the scripts come in so tight and so funny already that we don’t have a ton of leeway. Really, the opportunities are the button of a scene—the final line in a scene can sometimes be an opportunity to throw in a very quick improvised moment. God knows, we try to do a lot more than that, but those moments often end up on the cutting-room floor because there just isn’t a ton of time in a network sitcom to play like that.

EDGE: Time to spill a trade secret. Your character Pete was killed by an arrow that was accidentally shot through his neck, and his ghost is destined to be stuck with that arrow for all of eternity. Is that thing a clip-on, or does it involve hours of make-up and glue to attach it to you every day you are shooting?

RM: Luckily, they have made it very fast. We were tinkering with it a lot during Season One to try to get it to maintain a certain angle all the time so that it looks consistent, and it’s tricky to do. One of the people that works in wardrobe is a woman named Julie. She’s in charge of my arrow specifically, so before every take she’s making sure that thing is set perfectly. There’s a metal bracket that fits behind my neck and it has two screws—one on each side—and so the ends of the arrows just screw on. Wow [laughs]. They tuck that metal bracket in my scarf and then they puncture two holes through the scarf so both ends of the arrow can be screwed in. It’s pretty quick, easy on and off.

Editor’s Note: Ghosts airs Thursday nights on CBS and was just renewed for a third season.