Román Zaragoza on Ghosts ‘Sweet Messages,’ Representation & Acting Alongside His Father






Román Zaragoza is a rising star.

As part of the uber-popular CBS comedy, Ghosts, Zaragoza’s Sasappis is a no-nonsense voice of reason who likes to stir the pot occasionally. A cynic at heart, Sas stands out amongst the assorted group of ghosts, and Zaragoza plays him to perfection.

As we near the end of Ghosts Season 2, Zaragoza jumped on a call with us to discuss the series as a whole, his brilliant character, representation, and so much more.

Zaragoza was as pleasant as they come and so much fun to speak with, full of mirth, positivity, and kindness. We got a chance to really get to know the young actor, so grab some popcorn and check out this enchanting chat!

Firstly, I wanted to say congratulations on the third season pickup of Ghosts.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Yep. In today’s television landscape, renewals aren’t a guarantee. What do you think it is about Ghosts that resonates so much with the audience?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. We constantly ask ourselves, “What is it about us that people are really resonating with?” And I think one of the biggest things is we are such a comedy. We are big laughs.

It’s a show that I feel like you can laugh out loud with, but then also has so much heart to it when we deliver these very sweet messages and we talk about life and death, and we talk about these really big topics, but in a really funny way.

And so we can give the audience the opportunity to escape the craziness of life but also touch on some really deep topics.

Yeah. And as a series, it is this beautifully funny and different take on life and death. Is that something that drew you to the series, and what particularly drew you to the role of Sas?

It definitely did draw me to the series. I’ve been someone that has been very much obsessed with death since I was a kid. And my mortality. It very much affected me throughout my early childhood and throughout my whole life of thinking about my mortality.

I didn’t really grow up with religion, so it was one of those things that always kind of terrified me, and I didn’t understand. And so I’ve always been interested in death and people who talk about death.

So that was definitely something that drew me in. And then Sasappis was so exciting right off the bat because the audition, while at first, I was a little nervous because it says 1500’s Lenape man, and I’m like, “Oh no, they’re going to make me put an accent on. They’re going to make me do some stereotypical thing.”

At the audition, they ended up, they wrote specifically in the character description, “Use your normal voice, your normal accent.” And I was like, “Oh, thank God.” So then I very much auditioned, just playing it like how I play it now, very dry, kind of like myself.

And I was just very excited that they wanted that, and didn’t want some stereotype, and wanted someone, I don’t know, that maybe appeared to be what people thought native people look like.

But then it’s like, “You know what? We’re going to change the narrative, and it’s not going to be just that stereotypical warrior or that stereotypical wise elder. No, he’s going to be this young, jaded, sarcastic, pizza-loving, romantic.”

Do you see any similarities between the character and yourself?

Yeah, I see a lot of similarities between Sas and me. I will say there are things that are different between the two of us. He is very blunt and very honest, and he is not afraid to say how it is. That’s something I’ve been learning from Sas because I’m not as good about that.

I’m a people pleaser, and I probably sometimes don’t speak up when I should. Just the other day, I ordered something at a store, and they gave me the wrong thing, and I was like, “Oh, I’ll take it. It’s fine.”

Oh, no.

I think Sas would be like, “Excuse me, this is the wrong thing. You need to give me this.” That thing happens very much. He gets what he wants. He’s not afraid to make people feel uncomfortable. And I’ve been learning that from him, but then there are a lot of similarities between us.

And a lot of the stuff we’ve been exploring with season two has been so exciting because we’re seeing more of his vulnerable side. We’re seeing more of this hopeless romantic side he possessed when he was alive, but he hasn’t shown too much of it since he’s been dead because he just hasn’t had the opportunity.

But then, when he falls in love with Jessica, the car ghost, we see this new side of him, and that’s very much me. I am this hopeless romantic kind of guy. And so yeah, I definitely was able to bring myself this season.

It must’ve been really fun to play.

Yeah, definitely. And with Nicole Sakura, she is just freaking incredible. So it was so fun to play off of her.

Going back to season one, Ghostwriter is one of my favorite episodes of the series. And watching Sas get to tell his stories almost choked me up. It’s such a cute moment. Can you talk to us about filming that episode opposite your dad and what that storyline meant to you?

Oh, yeah. That storyline, that episode, means so much to me. That was the first episode of television that I was ever the A plot for. I have guest starred on shows, and then, of course, being a series regular on Ghosts, I’ve never been the A plot of a storyline.

So that was the first time I’ve ever been part of something like that, which was really exciting. And then I remember getting the script and being so excited and nervous. And yeah, I was so ready for it.

And Rose McIver was just so amazingly supportive and helped me through so much of it because I was like, “Oh my God, I’m nervous.” But then, having my father was just amazing. I remember poor Joe Wiseman, our showrunner was like, “Hey, do you think your dad would be interested in being part of the show?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m sure he would. That’d be awesome.” So when they brought him in, we shot for a day in Montreal. It was just so special, and they built this whole specific set for our scenes with my dad and me. It was just surreal.

It was such a beautiful experience, and I appreciated the thoughts and respect that went into the episode—the production design, to the costumes, to the writing, to the directing. Everything was just so beautifully thought out. And I just really appreciated how we saw this deeper side of Sas as the storyteller because we’ve hinted at it before.

But for him to be like, “Hey, I am a storyteller. I want to talk more about who I am.” I was just really honored. And I got to work closely with our Lenape consultant, Joe Baker, and one of our writers, John Timothy, who’s Muscogee Creek, about the last part where I’m storytelling.

And it was cool because they picked two different stories, and I learned the stories and made them my own. Then I performed them in front of the whole cast and crew when we were shooting. And it felt like theater again, which was so cool for me, because I’m from theater.

And I actually spoke to one of my dear mentors, who is an incredible storyteller. His name is Brent Florendo, he’s Warm Springs, and he lives in Oregon, and he has this very specific storytelling technique. So I asked him if I could borrow it for the show and he said yes.

So I kind of was integrating aspects of my experience and people who I really admire and storytellers I really admire. And so that was fun. I was able to just bring my life and my experience to the show.

Yeah, it’s a beautiful episode, really. As I said, it’s one of my favorites that I’ve seen, of course.

Oh, thank you.

You’re welcome.

A successful ensemble series relies on the cast chemistry, which you guys have in spades. So what’s it like working with the cast, and do you have any fun stories from filming?

Oh, I love this cast so much. We’re constantly just pinching ourselves that we actually love each other. Because if it were not the case and we didn’t, it would be really difficult, but everyone is so incredible, and no one has an ego. We all mutually respect and love each other. We have become such a family, which I’m so grateful for.

There are so many fun things from set. We got a ping pong table in season two, and we’ve been playing so much while on set, and the temperatures have been getting very cold. We’re very cold in Montreal in January, so we were able to stay indoors and stay warm, which was always fun and stuff like that.

And just constantly laughing on set. Richie Moriarty just always knows how to push my buttons and make me laugh. So it’s just been a really, really exciting experience, and I’m just grateful to be on this journey with people that I love.

And going along with that theme of the cast, there are so many different dynamics with such a large cast, so different characters have different dynamics than others. Do you have a favorite Sas dynamic?

A favorite Sas dynamic? And in regards to other characters?

Yes, I love Sas and Peter. That’s my favorite pair. Do you have one that you like?

Oh gosh, that’s such a good question. I will say working with Richie and any of the Sas and Pete stuff because we share a room, Sas and Pete share their room together.

And there are just little things that are so funny because there are actually, interestingly, some similarities between Sas and Pete, but then Sas feels like he can control Pete, which is so fun. And yeah, there are definitely aspects of that that I love. Oh, there are so many.

I know!

Sas and Alberta is super fun. Sas and Alberta, because we can be this little chorus on the side because we’re like, “Oh man, I love watching these kids go crazy.” I love being able to comment on a scene and look over at Alberta. I think we’re always kind of on the same page about stuff. But everyone, I just want to say, everyone.

Thor. I think Sas and Thor have some interesting history that we got to dive into a little bit more.

Yeah, it’s a hard question. I know because there are so many, and they’re all so good.

Yeah, no, I love it.

We have gotten to dig a bit deeper into Sas in season two, and I was wondering what you’ve enjoyed learning about him this season?

Yeah, well, I think the biggest thing that I really loved learning about him was his softer side and learning more about who he was when he was alive.

Because the interesting thing about Sas that we’ve been discovering is that in my head, there’s a duality in him where he is this old soul that is so jaded, he’s so fed up, he’s angry, and he’s sarcastic, and he kind of lashes out in a sarcastic way.

But then he also was a young man when he died, and he was romantic, and he was a storyteller, and he was artistic.

So it’s so fun to play the duality of the two because he’s constantly switching from both. There are moments where you’ll see this immature side of him, and then there’s this other side where he’s sometimes the wise character, the smartest person in the room, because he is like, “I’ve been alive for so long.”

And he’s very perceptive and knows how to handle some of the situations in the house. But I think definitely the biggest thing for season two was seeing this vulnerable romantic side of him. And even with Jessica, he opened up and was like, “I’m not good at this, but I like you, and I want to continue doing whatever we’re doing.”

If you could craft the perfect role for yourself, your dream type of role, what do you think that would be?

Yeah, I have been thinking a lot about this a little bit. So I grew up watching Bruce Lee, and then I’m also a huge Heath Ledger fan.

And in my head, the perfect role would be to do something that mixes those two, something where it’s like a 10 Things I Hate About You, but we have action sequences, and we got Bruce Lee involved. That would be really cool. And something to be able to show my dramatic chops.

I’m from theater, I’ve done Shakespeare, and I would love to be able to dive into some more dramatic work. But I love Heath Ledger’s work in A Knight’s Tale. The way that he’s so suave but vulnerable, and I want to be able to play stuff like that because, honestly, we don’t see that a lot with people that look like me.

We don’t see that. And I want to be able to be that representation for my communities, whether that’s the indigenous community, the Asian community, the Latino community. I want to be able to be the representation that I didn’t see when I was a kid. And a big thing for that is being the leading man.

Yeah, for sure. And I like that idea, like a drama, action, rom-com, something like that.

Yeah. Exactly. Let’s just mix it all. Let’s do it.

A little bit of everything. I like it.

I was reading through your bio and saw that you are a writer. You like to write essays and poetry, and I was curious if you are interested in other aspects of filmmaking, like writing or directing one day?

I am, yeah, I really am. I went to school, I went to film school at Cal State Northridge, and I’m currently a producer on a short film on our senior thesis film that we’re doing a festival run right now. It’s called, This Is Their Land. And it’s about the Modoc War of 1872 to 1873.

And I’m very, very proud of this project because we were able to connect with and work with direct descendants of the people who fought in this war. And half the film is in the traditional mukluk language of the Modoc people. And so I’ve just been very proud of making projects like that.

I’m starting to write more, and I have some off time right now, which is exciting so I can dive into my own creative projects. And I want to get back into directing and be able to tell my own stories and tell my family stories because my family has some really crazy ones, so I want to be able to shed light on some of that.

That’s wonderful.

What shows are you currently enjoying, and what are some of your all-time comfort shows?

So currently enjoying The Mandalorian. Oh, my goodness. The show is just everything. John Favreau, I was just listening to a podcast that he was on for Smart List, and he’s just amazing. I’m just such a huge fan of his. I love White Lotus.

Actually, the show I’m watching right now is How I Met Your Father. That will segue me into a show, one of my favorite shows, which is How I Met Your Mother. It’s a show that I’ve watched it all the way through maybe four times, which is nine seasons and like twenty-two episodes a season. So it’s a lot. But I love that show so, so much.

My sister and I are constantly quoting it to each other. And the show has maybe a little bit of problems, and it’s a little dated, but there’s something about it that it’s just so, it taught me about relationships, and they talk about life in such a beautiful way. I think that’s why I love sitcoms.

I love comedy because we can use this platform to deliver messages and talk about life in a very different way.

So I grew up with Friends, Parks and Rec, The Office, Superstore, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and so I’m very much a sitcom guy. I love to laugh. I love to do that. So that’s why being on Ghosts has been and continues to be an incredible dream.

***This interview has been edited for length: and clarity.***

You can watch Ghosts Thursdays on CBS at 8:30/7:30c. Make sure you watch Ghosts online right now so you’re not missing out!

Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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