‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Star Annie Potts on How to Act With Ghosts

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Photo Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! (Obviously.)

In Gil Kenan’s “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” which hits theaters March 22, Annie Potts (“Designing Women,” “Young Sheldon”) reprises her role from Ivan Reitman’s classic 1984 comedy and his 1989 and 2021 sequels. She plays Janine Melnitz, the put-upon receptionist at the Ghostbusters’ downtown Manhattan HQ. 

In those films, she never got the call to share the screen with any of the film’s ghouls. “I didn’t mind one bit,” Potts says. “I had a very good role, and I went to theater school, so I was fine just playing the straight stuff.” 

But 35 years later, the actor thrilled at the chance to don the iconic jumpsuit for the first time in “Frozen Empire,” helping to defend New York from supernatural threats alongside her longtime costars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson. (The movie also features Paul Rudd, Mckenna Grace, and Finn Wolfhard.)

To quote Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic theme song, bustin’ made Potts feel good. “The producers came to me with the idea [for me to perform opposite the ghosts] in the middle of shooting,” she says. “And I was like, ‘Ooh, bonus!’ So I really got a taste of it this time, and I can tell you that they do not teach that in theater school.”

Here, the veteran actor discusses how she channeled Janine’s heroic side amid the film’s high-tech special effects.

Were you on set to see how Reitman shot those big ghost-fighting scenes in the original? 

There was really nothing to see! It was the guys running down a hall between the books in a library. But I know it was complicated, so my feeling was that they didn’t need another body in the way. 

How did you react when you saw the finished product? 

Oh, it was awesome—and I think the world agreed. The ghosts were crude but effective. I still think the “terror dog” is one of the most satisfying and hilarious things ever. 

Flashing forward to the present, what was the process like shooting the ghost scenes in “Frozen Empire”? Was it all done with green screen? 

We were in a big, new soundstage in London the whole time. Sometimes it was a green screen, and nothing was there. And sometimes there was a funny little stand-in for the ghosts; we’d see a big stick with some horns on it. And the director, Gil, would say to us, “Oh, now he’s coming closer! Now there’s fire coming out of his mouth!” It was kind of hilarious. 

How do you get serious when you act in those scenes so it looks authentic onscreen?

You just pretend the best you can. I mean, actors are still children; we like to dress up and pretend. So we try our best to imagine that terrible, horrible things are about to eat us. Then we let everyone else worry about making it look real in editing. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Is it challenging to act opposite a scene partner who’s not really there? 

Well, I’ve worked with some bad actors who weren’t really there! But the imaginary ghost thing is in a league of its own. It’s a funny little task to try to have to do that. It’s what makes our job interesting as actors. And in this day and age, you have to learn how to do that. That’s the way it rolls. 

What was it like to work with special effects for the first time after so many years in the business? 

I mean, I learned trapeze for [the 2013 Broadway production of] “Pippin,” and acting with the [VFX] was like that. “Oh, that’s we’re doing today? OK!” 

Was this the first time you had to act as though you were scared? 

With “Pippin,” I was hanging from a trapeze 30 feet in the air with no net and no harness. That was pretty fucking scary. “Ghostbusters” was just a game of pretend. 

Who was the biggest joker on the set? 

Oh, I think the funny thing these days is just trying to do it. The boys out there had their hands full just trying to carry around those [proton] packs. But I was surprised that the newer and younger cast were comfortable with that kind of acting, too. This is the second movie with the youngsters [after 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,”] and I think they were really pleased with the success of the first one. That gave them confidence. 

Are there a lot of outtakes? 

There’s usually one take where nobody is able to take it seriously. But if you want to go home, you have to get down to it. 

What did you think the first time you watched “Frozen Empire”? 

It’s fabulous and funny and scary! I promise you will be scared of those ghosts.