Despite being a “ghost”—and contrary to that kind’s reputation for inciting a chill—Brandon Scott Jones does not enjoy the cold. Yet he has enough winter weather gear to compete in the Iditarod.
The Los Angeles-based actor has been experiencing weather whiplash over the last two years, as he travels back and forth to the Montreal set of the CBS comedy Ghosts.
In the series, about a bed and breakfast owner who hits her head and wakes up discovering that she can see and speak with the spirits of all the people who have died on the property, Jones plays Captain Isaac Higgintoot, a Revolutionary War soldier who died of dysentery. Isaac and his fellow ghosts from over the decades—a Prohibition-era jazz singer, a Native American, a douchebag investment banker—spend a lot of time outside traversing the grounds of the manor’s set, perhaps the only aspect of shooting Ghosts that hasn’t been a joy for Jones.
Back in October, Jones walked into a North Face store in Montreal. “I said, ‘Hi, I live in L.A. I am nervous about the winter.’ The woman was like, ‘Say no more,’ and she brought me to a back room where it was, like, Kevlar suits,” he says. “So I have this big, bulky black coat. I am obsessed with it. It is keeping me alive.” The purchase might have been for wearing on a television set, “but I can now withstand whatever it is a biathlon athlete does.”
When Jones phones The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, he’s taking shelter from the cold while shooting Ghosts’ Season 2 finale. Asked to reveal everything that happens, he laughs. “Sure. Just tell me your lawyer’s name and I’ll be asking him to represent me.”
It’s a bit of a surreal moment in Jones’ career. Not only is he wrapping a second season of his show, but when we next talk to him, it’s in the ballroom at a hotel in Los Angeles, where the Critics Choice Awards had just taken place. He had swapped his fluffy parka for a debonair gold tuxedo jacket with black trim, as both he and Ghosts were nominated—him for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy and the show for Best Comedy Series. In between chats with his best friend and date for the night, D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place, A League of Their Own), and Billy Eichner (Bros, Billy on the Street), he marveled with us over the unexpected success of both the show and of himself.
The series has become a headline-making hit for CBS—in its announcement last week that it had been renewed for a third season, the network touted Ghosts as the top comedy on television in live and streaming viewership over a week. Alongside ABC’s Abbott Elementary, it’s been heralded as an example that the broadcast comedy isn’t just making a comeback in terms of viewership, but in critical and media buzz as well.
It’s also the biggest showcase Jones has had thus far in his career. After performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in both New York and Los Angeles, he began booking recurring roles on series like The Good Place and The Other Two. His major breakthrough was a memorable supporting role in the Rebel Wilson-starring satire Isn’t It Romantic, playing Wilson’s flamboyantly gay neighbor and confidant in her rom-com fantasy world.
Ghosts is his first regular series role, and, beyond the platform it’s given him, it carries special meaning.
While, yes, Ghosts is a very funny comedy centered around the hijinks that ensue when a modern woman suddenly must deal with the demands of ghosts from different eras of American history, it’s also surprisingly poignant. The show explores what it means for people from different generations (spanning hundreds of years) to be forced to evolve their views on the world—and of themselves—as they grow accustomed to changing times.
The emotional core of that is Isaac’s storyline, as he finally admits to himself, and then to his fellow ghosts, that he’s gay, reckons with 250 years of being closeted, and finally starts a relationship with another (dead) soldier.
“If you were to tell 12-year-old Brandon that this is the character he’s playing on television, it would blow his mind,” Jones, who is gay, says. “I just didn’t see too many characters like this on a sitcom. Or if you did see them at all, a lot of times it was in very, very dramatic, very, very painful stories.”
For Jones, the past two years have felt like being shot out of a cannon into a different echelon of the entertainment industry, after a career as a journeyman character actor and comedy writer. It’s been an unmooring experience, but one that has resonated and pierced the disorienting chaos of press junkets, talk show appearances, and, now, walking down red carpets of awards shows as an acting nominee because of how personally significant Isaac’s storyline has been.
Still, that chaos has been…chaotic.
“I tend to get overwhelmed very easily, so I sometimes end up shrinking a little bit,” he says. “I remember the day of ComicCon, it was almost like a lucid dream. Like, you wake up at five in the morning and you’re getting your hair and makeup done. Certainly, you didn’t sleep well the night before, so it already sort of feels like you’re asleep. And then you’re on a rooftop and you’re having really nice coffee with one outlet, and the next thing you know, you’re on a yacht and you’re dancing. And then you’re walking to the next event, watching people pass by you dressed like Star Trek characters.”
“It was really hard for my brain to process where I was,” he adds. “It’s sort of like when the ship came over the horizon to the New World: what people must have thought seeing the ships rise over the horizon. It’s like, oh my god, like an alien world.” Or, perhaps, suffering a bad fall at the bed and breakfast you run, waking up, and suddenly the ghosts of a Revolutionary War soldier and a Boy Scout leader with an arrow in his neck are talking to you.
At the time the pilot script for Ghosts came his way in 2021, Jones had been working on a pilot he had sold to NBC that he was going to star in, but which hadn’t gone forward at the network.
He remembers thinking how funny the Ghosts script was, but also that he would never book the role: “They’ll never think of me as a soldier. No one would believe that.” But the second he started reading the lines for his audition, it just felt right. The style of it reminded him of the movie Clue, “like an ensemble piece of insane characters running around the house together.”
While it was obvious from the way Isaac spoke and behaved in the pilot that he was closeted, there was one thing that wasn’t revealed right away: that his last name is Higgintoot. Jones only found that out when shooting started and there was a prop Wikipedia page that had been created for Isaac on set, revealing his full name as Captain Isaac Higgintoot. “I thought it was so funny.” (Editor’s note: It is. I’ve giggled each time I’ve written it in this piece.)
When it came to trying to understand what it would have been like to be a closeted gay soldier in the Revolutionary War, there wasn’t exactly a trove of firsthand accounts to mine as research. “I tried to think of this in terms of, if not the character that existed then, but as one who has also existed for 250 years,” Jones said. “Like, what have you seen over time?”
As a baseline, he called on what we know about Revolutionary War soldiers through pop culture, from projects like The Patriot, the John Adams miniseries, and, of course, Hamilton. (A hilarious running joke in Ghosts is Isaac’s past rivalry with Alexander Hamilton and his bitter bafflement that he became such an iconic figure through the Broadway musical.)
Growing up in Bel Air, Maryland, Jones also visited Colonial Williamsburg often as a kid, so he went through his brain’s files of what he learned on those trips. Even though this was a comedy series, “I wanted there to be a skeleton of truth to the historical experience,” he says, making himself laugh. “That’s going to be the headline of this article. ‘Brandon Scott Jones: A Skeleton of Truth.’”
One of the remarkable things about Ghosts is that, by having a cast of ghosts representing so many eras of American history—and the biases that may have existed during those periods—it portrays the utopian ideal of how time and community can lead to moral evolution and acceptance. Even when it comes to one’s self.
“I think there’s a world where Isaac probably didn’t know how the rest of the ghosts would react,” Jones says about Isaac’s coming out storyline. “He probably didn’t know how he was going to react.”
There’s also a lot about that arc that lightly touches on today’s sociopolitical discourse, in which people stand their moral ground on so-called “controversial” issues like LGBT rights because it’s what the Founding Fathers “wanted.” Isaac very well could have been part of the group that made those decisions—yet the truth of his very self was made too agonizing to accept because of those very people.
“He’s a guy who existed at a time in history when he absolutely couldn’t be who he was, and he was also part of creating a longstanding legacy that people still refer back to—referencing what people in that time period thought was right, no matter how ridiculously wrong it was,” Jones says. “I think there’s something subversive about that.”
There’s a valid argument that it’s silly or antiquated to, in 2023, treat a coming out storyline on network TV as something still progressive and meaningful. It’s been decades since Ellen and Will & Grace. Over 10 years have passed since Kurt struggled to come out on Glee. LGBT characters on broadcast series have been steadily on the rise.
Yet there still is no discounting that watching Isaac come to terms with his sexuality and his comfort level expressing it is moving, even after all this time and progress. (Try watching the Ghosts Christmas special from earlier in the season without tearing up.)
Ghosts, again, is the number one comedy on TV right now, on a network with a wide, mainstream reach that includes broad demographics. And it’s investing one of its biggest storylines in a person’s experience navigating their sexuality—in an extremely positive way, to boot. “That’s what blows my mind,” Jones says, referencing again what 12-year-old Brandon would think.
Jones’ most high-profile acting jobs have been playing gay men, and, in The Other Two and Isn’t It Romantic, embracing a freeing unapologetic attitude and flamboyance. Things are a bit more understated when it comes to Captain Isaac Higgintoot on Ghosts (giggling again), but that’s the point—and, for him, why it’s been so rewarding to play.
“I don’t know if the sexuality has anything to do with the approach,” he says, then once again laughing. “That’s another great title for the piece. ‘Brandon Scott Jones: The Sexuality Has Nothing to Do With the Approach.’”
The Daily Beast