Geeking Out

Ghosts’ Asher Grodman Wrote His College Thesis On Sidney Lumet

The Ghosts star tells Inverse about his lifelong interest in one director's astounding 50-year career.

Geeking Out

In March 2020, the cast of CBS' Ghosts was getting ready to shoot the show's pilot. "Everyone knows what happened next," jokes Asher Grodman, who stars in the series as Trevor Lefkowitz, the ghost of a once-womanizing East Coast stockbroker. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back production on Ghosts' first episode by nine months. The wait was agonizing, but Grodman says it may have actually helped the show in the long run.

"We all had to wait so long to get to work. In the interim, the whole cast would just get together over Zoom once a week to connect," the actor tells Inverse. "When we finally got to shoot the pilot [in December 2020], there was this dynamic that we had already built with each other."

One of the ways that Grodman has bonded with his Ghosts castmates has been by sharing his lifelong obsession with the films of legendary American director Sidney Lumet with them. "At one point, I sat down Brandon [Scott Jones], who plays Isaac on Ghosts, and made him watch Dog Day Afternoon with me," he admits with a laugh. "And just recently, I had a movie night with a friend of mine who's a writer and wonderful music composer, and we rewatched Network, which is his favorite film, and Dog Day, which is my favorite. To see those movies again through each other's eyes was really special."

For Grodman, admiring and analyzing Lumet's work is something he's done with an academic kind of intensity. "I wrote my college thesis on Lumet," he reveals.

Trevor Lefkowitz, Asher Grodman’s perpetually pants-less former stockbroker, is one of Ghosts’ most colorful characters.


Ghosts just recently wrapped up its third season, which was delayed and shortened like many other network comedies by last year's WGA and SAG-AFTRA labor strikes. Despite the season's lower episode count, Ghosts received a Season 4 renewal less than a month after its February return. It’s a small success in a time when it seems like no show is guaranteed a renewal anymore, Grodman acknowledges.

"It'd be nice if this kind of thing could happen more for everyone," he says. "It's lovely to come back to something that you have a history with every year and get to continue developing it." Among other things, Ghosts' fourth season will give Grodman even more time to introduce and discuss his favorite filmmaker's work with his fellow stars.

The actor speaks with Inverse about his undying love for Sidney Lumet’s films, the importance of watching the director’s lesser-known movies, and his experience interviewing the celebrated filmmaker shortly before his death in 2011.

Geeking Out is an Inverse series in which celebrities tell us about their nerdy and niche interests, hobbies, or collections.

“It's this ecosystem we've created that is constantly changing and developing episode to episode. It takes a lot of listening, trusting your instincts, and a lot of trying and failing,” says Asher Grodman of the ensemble dynamic between him and his Ghosts co-stars.


This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Do you remember what the first Sidney Lumet film you saw was?

It might have been Dog Day Afternoon, which is my favorite movie. I don't know for sure if that was my first Lumet film, but it might have been. Either way, there's just something about that film, the aesthetic of it, and its story, that I love. If anyone else even tried to make something close to it, they'd just end up copying Dog Day Afternoon. It's such a unique film, and it was my gateway drug to a lot of other movies. My dad is also a huge fan of The Verdict, which I love, too, so I'm sure that played a role in me finding my way to Lumet.

Actors, in particular, seem to have a real love for Lumet's work.

That makes a lot of sense to me. I don't know this for certain, but I would imagine knowing what I know about how Lumet worked, that making his movies was probably some of the best experiences that a lot of the actors who worked with him ever had.

Al Pacino plays a desperate man whose bank heist goes horribly awry in Sidney Lumet’s nerve-wracking 1975 thriller, Dog Day Afternoon.

Warner Bros.

Lumet’s the rare director who was capable of making very big, sweeping movies that also felt really grounded in their performances. As an actor, is that something you find particularly rewarding to watch?

Yes. There's an aspect of his movies where the intimacy of the performances in them matches the size and scope of the films themselves. He knew that he could do these big epic things if he wanted to, but he also knew that a particular actor's performance could have the same effect as even the biggest set piece or shot. The phone call in Dog Day Afternoon is a perfect example of that. That scene is seared into my mind, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Like I said before, I wrote my college thesis on him, and I was actually lucky enough to interview him for that not long before he passed. I kept trying to find an angle when I was talking to him because I had to find my thesis statement. So, for a while, I kept trying to talk about his aesthetic, filmmaking philosophy, and process. But every time I asked him a question about those things, he would just say, "Nah, it just goes back to story. What's the story you're telling?" As an actor, that was so helpful because it reminded me that the story is the North Star. No matter what you're doing or whatever your opinion is about your character or a certain plot element, the thing that grounds and guides you is the story you're helping tell.

In that sense, I think Lumet is a great director for actors to watch because there's a real dedication to story in his films, and that's the only thing that really unifies a movie’s actors, crew, director, and writers. Everyone is there to do a different job and craft a different thing, but they're connected by the story they're telling together.

Treat Williams plays a cop guided by a guilty conscience in Sidney Lumet’s underrated 1981 drama, Prince of the City.

Warner Bros.

He made so many movies throughout his career. Is there a lesser-known gem in his filmography that you're particularly fond of and would recommend to people?

One that springs to mind is Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which was his last film and is great. It features one of the best Philip Seymour Hoffman performances ever. I think The Pawnbroker was a big deal when it came out, but it's been a bit lost to time and, just as a piece of visual storytelling, it's amazing. One other movie Lumet made that I really love that I feel never gets the attention it deserves is Prince of the City.

That film stars the late, great Treat Williams, and it's all about the police in the 1980s and the development of the internal investigations unit of the NYPD. It does an amazing job of establishing this underground world of drugs, cops, and informants. It's set in this whole other universe, and then pressure just slowly builds on this one detective who's stuck between everything. It's an incredible example of cinematic world-building, and if I remember correctly, you rarely see the sky in the film. Most of what you see is just concrete. It perfectly captures the claustrophobic intensity of a city.

It's a very well-made film that doesn't get a ton of attention nowadays. It's not an easy watch, but it's definitely worth seeking out.

Paul Newman gives a performance for the ages as an alcoholic lawyer who is given an unexpected chance at salvation in The Verdict.

20th Century-Fox

If someone who is reading this hasn't seen any of Lumet's films, is there one you'd recommend as the perfect entry point into his work?

I'm gonna sound like a broken record, but I think I'd say Dog Day Afternoon. At the end of the day, I think part of what draws us to stories and keeps us hooked is we want to know what's going to happen next, right? That's the reason why the wait between episodes of a TV show can be agonizing. On streaming shows, there's always a question raised at the end of an episode that makes you say, "Well, I have to hit play on the next episode because I need the answer to this question." The thing that's so great about Dog Day Afternoon is that Al Pacino completely drives the story. He's so electric and you never know what he's going to do moment to moment. It's not an action movie, but it has the intensity of one. I think that film is an excellent entry point into Lumet's filmography.

The Verdict is also a fantastic movie. It doesn't grab you the same way that Dog Day does, but there are scenes in it that you just have to watch. If I see that it's playing on TV or something, I'll always stop and watch it because I feel like I have to. There are incredible scenes all throughout that movie. For instance, I won't give anything away, but there's this scene where the secret that Paul Newman's quasi-love interest has been keeping has been revealed to his friend, and he tells Newman's character. Lumet stages the entire scene in one wide shot. The camera's across the street, so you don't get to actually hear their conversation. You don't get to hear the news hit Newman. You just see them walking and then Paul stops and his friend keeps going before he turns around and realizes that Paul's not walking with him anymore. It's all done visually.

It's an amazing film, and Lumet made so many movies that are just as brilliant, including Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Serpico. But Dog Day and The Verdict are probably the two Lumet movies that I would start with.

I've always been fascinated by how he worked with actors. Paul Newman gives a very different performance in The Verdict than he was known for giving, and the same goes for Al Pacino when he made Dog Day Afternoon.

Yeah, it's a special kind of subversion. Hollywood used to do it a lot more. We'd get these movies starring these very recognizable movie stars that would present them in a light that we weren't used to. In The Verdict, Newman's an ambulance chaser. He's an alcoholic. He's an absolute mess. The thing about that film, too, is that the script is amazing, but it also tells a story that you could easily imagine being used to make a very Hollywood movie that ends with a big triumphant speech in a courtroom. In the hands of a different director, it could have been made into a very safe big-budget movie. It's so not that, though. It's very gritty and textured, and the speech at the end is handled so quietly. It's incredible.

I feel like movies like Dog Day Afternoon and The Verdict aren't quite as universally well-known as they should be. They don't get mentioned by casual moviegoers as often as, say, The Godfather or Cool Hand Luke.

I agree. They don't get mentioned enough. They kind of fly under the radar a bit, and I don't really know why. I guess they're not the splashiest films that those actors made, but that's what I like about them actually. I mean, I haven't even really talked about Network, either. Network is amazing! I was rewatching it recently and that film basically predicted the past 50 years of political division and discourse. It's insane that it was made in the late '70s and yet predicted so much. For anyone to make Dog Day Afternoon and then Network one year later is just a jaw-dropping feat.

Faye Dunaway gives a chilling turn as an ambitious TV programming chief in the unnervingly prescient Network.

United Artists

One of the great things about Lumet is the size of his filmography. As a lifelong fan of his work, do you find a certain level of comfort or joy in knowing that there are still films he made that you haven't seen?

It's pretty great. His films can also challenge you, so it's a little daunting, too. [Laughs] It's like, "Oh my God, I still have all these journeys to go on with him." It's a funny thing really. There are some movies that you'll see and you'll say, "Alright, great. I saw that, now I'm done with it." You won't ever go back and rewatch it. Then there are these movies you'll watch and you will stop everything to watch them again and again. I think that's really thrilling, and I feel that way about a lot of Lumet's movies.

What is it about his films that you think you are drawn to?

There's just something about his filmmaking that I love. If you're a New York guy like me, I think his work and Dog Day, in particular, will really connect with you. There's a very gritty, '70s aesthetic to that film, but it's not overly stylized. Lumet's never imposing his style on you, which is something that I think a lot of directors tend to do. With him, it's really only about the story, and so many of the movies he made are just electric, chief among them being Dog Day, in my opinion. I also think there's this direct aesthetic line between a lot of Lumet's movies and one of my favorite shows, which is The West Wing. Generally speaking, a lot of my artistic sensibilities seem to line up with the films he made.

I always think about this scene in The Verdict where Paul Newman does everything he can to try to get out of doing the heroic thing. He tries to take the deal that’s offered to him, and it's such an un-Hollywood thing to do — to have your protagonist try to undo everything so deep into the third act of your film. His desperation is so palpable, though, and I think one of the things that Lumet was really good at was applying pressure. He really knew how to make his protagonists feel incredible pressure. Dog Day is, perhaps, the prime example of that, but he does it in The Verdict, Prince of the City, The Pawnbroker, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and Long Day's Journey Into Night, too. And in 12 Angry Men! My God, that's film as a crucible. Maybe that means I have a certain level of natural anxiety because I just think I'm naturally drawn to Lumet's movies. [Laughs]

Ghosts Seasons 1-3 are streaming now on Paramount+.

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