Bad Hat Harry and Geek & Sundry launch their first original paranormal comedy series Spooked, executive produced by Felicia Day (The Guild), on Hulu, Hulu Plus and YouTube on June 4th. Season 1, made up of four weekly 22-minute episodes, follows the Paranormal Investigation Team, also known as P.I.T., as they investigate phenomena at haunted locations across the country, dealing with ghosts, aliens and other unexplainable happenings. The show stars Julian Curtis, Neil Grayston, Ashley Johnson, Derek Mio and Shyloh Oostwald.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Ashley Johnson talked about how she got involved with this project, shooting this like a film with the full script, playing a wiccan priestess/voodoo spiritualist/occult specialist, finding the team dynamic, playing the love triangle, and why she’s a fan of supernatural comedies. She also talked about what she looks for in a project, working with Joss Whedon (she’s had roles in Much Ado About Nothing, Marvel’s The Avengers and Dollhouse), and when she got serious about acting, as a career. Check out what she has to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you get involved with this?
ASHLEY JOHNSON: I got an audition for it. The scripts weren’t out there yet, but there was a character breakdown and the story, and I thought it sounded really funny. So, I auditioned for it. And then, on my second audition, I realized that Felicia [Day] was involved, and I’ve been friends with her for a really long time. When I went to the next audition, I was like, “Felicia, what the heck?!” After that, I realized it was Geek & Sundry and I love all of the content that they put out there. From there, I got the part. I read with different actors for Connor, when they were trying to find him. And then, Julian [Curtis] came in and he was just awesome. That’s pretty much how it went down.
With Felicia Day behind this, did it take away your nerves a bit, as far as knowing that she has a reputation for smart, fun character stories?
JOHNSON: Yeah, of course. I was a fan of The Guild when it first came out. I remember one of my best friends saying, “You have to watch this show!” I’ve just been such a huge fan of hers, from the get-go. I remember when I first met her, back in the day, I was a little lost for words and a little starstruck. I was totally fangirling when I met her, but she’s just awesome. What she’s done with Geek & Sundry and what she’s turned that into is pretty incredible to me.
Once you finally got scripts, did you get them all at once?
JOHNSON: We got them all at once. We shot it like we were shooting a film. We shot it out of sequence, but at least they gave us the full script, so we knew where our characters were going and the story arc. After I got the script, I was just so excited. I’ve never really played a character like this before. And it’s just so fun. It has a 1980s feel to it. I love it!
What exactly is a wiccan priestess/voodoo spiritualist/occult specialist, and how do you prepare to play someone who is all of those things?
JOHNSON: I know! It’s so funny. I’m one of those people who really likes to do my research. I was like, “Are there any wiccan priestesses that I can talk to?” But, the turn-around from the audition to shooting was just so fast. I’m sure a real wiccan priestess might be appalled with the way I was playing it, but that’s the funny part of Morgan. She loves that world and wants so much to be an occult specialist, but I don’t know if she fully is a specialist yet. I think she needs time and to figure herself out, which helped because I was trying to figure it out, at the same time. But, it was so fun. The dialogue took some getting used to because some of the words and that world is not in my vocabulary. It was fun to try to tackle that.
Who is P.I.T. and how does Morgan fit in with the team?
JOHNSON: She is the guardian of the dead. It’s great because she has such a different viewpoint than everybody else. She’s just so excited to make the connections with the dead. Some of the stuff that happens is pretty funny. In relation to the team, her views are a little bit different, but she means it with her whole heart, even if she’s not good at it.
How did this team get together?
JOHNSON: You will learn that in the episodes. From reading the script, and then watching the first couple of episodes and getting the feel, you will find out how they got together. There’s a lot of heart to it. You’ll learn about Connor and Piper, and their parents passing away. They’re on this journey to get Piper out of her shell.
One of the things that I most enjoyed about watching this is how much fun this team and their interactions are. Were you worried about establishing that with only a handful of episodes, especially when it can take some shows an entire season to find that groove?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that is hard. Any show that I watch, if you go back to the beginning of it, the relationships were so different. When the actual actors get close, that can make it so different. That’s always a concern with something like this. We were shooting it all together, and could only hope that would be there. All of us became such good friends. They make me laugh, more than any other set I’ve ever been on. There were so many scenes where I was trying to stifle laughter. We just had such an amazing time. I know so many actors say, “Oh, it was an amazing experience,” but it really was. If I could work with that cast, across the board on everything, I would be happy.
Your character is also in the middle of a love triangle, with Connor and Elliot. How much tension will that create, especially when they’re in such close quarters, inside of an RV?
JOHNSON: I know! What makes the love triangle funny is the fact that they are all in an RV and there isn’t anywhere that they can go to get away. They’re all stuck with each other in such close quarters and they all have to deal with it. Everybody is just confused about what’s going on. I think it will be funny, how that pans out.
Because you shoot this on location, have you ever had people see the RV and think you guys are a real paranormal investigation team and try to hire you?
JOHNSON: I’m sure that happened. Some of the locations were pretty public locations, and when people walk by the RV, they can see the sign on the outside. I’m sure some people thought it was real. I hope they did because that would be awesome. So many people want to know about the unknown that it’s a never-ending search for answers for why we’re here and what happens after we die. Now, we’re getting into a way too intense conversation, but I love the way that Spooked handles it. In some ways, we’re all a little bit ill-equipped, but we’re trying.
Supernatural comedies have a real appeal for audiences, as it helps to diffuse the fear of the unknown. Are you a fan of supernatural comedies, yourself?
JOHNSON: Yeah. In general, I’m very drawn to comedy, especially with something like this, which would ordinarily be scary. I tried watching Paranormal Activity and I was horrified. It freaked me out, the entire time. My hand was over my eyes, even though I could have just shut my eyes. I don’t know why you need the extra protection of your hand over your face. But when it’s turned into a comedy, it eases the tension. I think it’s a really funny genre ‘cause you’re taking something that’s scary and making it funny. I love it. I’m a fan.
At this point in your career, what do you look for, in a project?
JOHNSON: I guess it’s instinct, at this point. There are so many different genres that I do love. It’s not like I only like doing comedy, or I only like doing drama. I just like things that I think are good and that I would like to be a part of, and that hopefully people will enjoy. I’m not incredibly particular. The only requirement is that it’s good.
There are very few filmmakers and TV creators who put together an acting family that they consistently return to. Because that is so rare, what has working with Joss Whedon and becoming a part of the Wedonverse meant to you, as an actor?
JOHNSON: I first met Joss because I auditioned for Firefly – that little-known show – back in the day. I was so young. I wasn’t the right age for it, at the time. But then, I re-met him during Dollhouse. We had shot so many scenes that just kept getting cut or edited out, but he would still bring me back to reshoot. So, over that time that we spent shooting stuff, we became such good friends. He’s just such an awesome dude. I just feel really lucky that he works with people and makes a family. He likes working in that environment of having the familiar people you work with and having it be familial. I think that’s where he thrives. I love that I get to work with such an awesome person.
Obviously, there are a lot of people who still remember the time you spent on Growing Pains, as a kid. At what point did acting go from being a fun hobby for you to being a career that you really wanted to get serious about?
JOHNSON: I always loved it, even when I was younger, and it was never something that my parents pushed me into. But there’s an element, when you’re little, where you don’t really understand exactly what it is and you have a love of it just ‘cause it’s just fun to do. It was probably in my late teens, and also working on projects where you’re dealing with more emotional stuff that I realized, “Oh, wow, this is a way to express yourself. This a different kind of art form than whatever else is out there.” It’s such a great job that I feel like it shouldn’t even be called a job. I just love it.