March-April 2022

Wootton graduates share the screen on hit TV show

Rockville-area natives Richie Moriarty and Utkarsh Ambudkar reconnect as stars on the CBS comedy Ghosts

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Utkarsh Ambudkar (right) stars as Jay, a young husband living in a mansion haunted by the likes of
Pete, a ghost played by fellow Thomas S. Wootton High School alumnus Richie Moriarty, in the CBS comedy series Ghosts. Photo courtesy of Bertrand Calmeau/2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Last Halloween, Richie Moriarty answered the door at his home in Maplewood, New Jersey, to find a young girl dressed in a scouting uniform with a fake arrow through the neck like the outfit worn by Pete, his character on the CBS comedy Ghosts.

“I thought immediately that someone put her up to it,” recalls Moriarty, who grew up in Rockville and graduated from Thomas S. Wootton High School in 1998. But the girl was just as surprised to see him. She didn’t know that Moriarty, who plays the ghost of a scout troop leader, lives in her neighborhood.

“She and her mom are just standing there, dumbfounded. We all just laughed for two solid minutes,” says Moriarty, 41. “It was a real indication early after our show started airing that was like, oh my God, this is finding an audience.”

Based on a BBC show of the same name, Ghosts features Pete and several other spirits who haunt a mansion where their corporeal selves died over hundreds of years. Hijinks ensue when Samantha and Jay, a young couple who inherit the estate, decide to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. Filmed in Montreal, the show premiered in October. A breakout hit for the network, Ghosts will return for a second season this fall.

In an unusual twist, Moriarty is sharing the Ghosts limelight with another Wootton alum: Utkarsh Ambudkar, 38, who plays Jay. Though Moriarty and Ambudkar have become friends while filming the show, they didn’t know each other in high school. Ambudkar, who graduated in 2001, was heavily involved in school theater productions, while Moriarty, after an initial foray into acting during his freshman year, became captain of the swim team and president of his senior class. “Richie was way too cool for school,” Ambudkar says with a laugh. “He was not talking to me.”

Moriarty knew of Ambudkar from his appearance in the 2019 film Brittany Runs a Marathon but only learned of the Wootton connection after Googling his name. “I was like, you’re kidding me. He went to Wootton? This is so weird,” Moriarty says.

The two often reminisce about mutual friends and growing up in the Rockville area. “We have all of these hyperlocal references that we share on set,” Moriarty says, like hanging out at the Silver Diner on Rockville Pike and the Travilah Square Shopping Center on Darnestown Road. “Every day we talk about some weird Rockville or Bethesda things.”

Moriarty and Ambudkar in a selfie on set. Photo courtesy of Richie Moriarty

Ambudkar, who now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young kids, returns to the Rockville area often to visit old friends and his biochemist parents, who continue to work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He often takes his family to rio, a shopping and entertainment center in Gaithersburg, and other local hangouts. Moriarty, who also has two young children, says he doesn’t visit the area because his family now lives in Massachusetts.

Before landing the role of Pete, Moriarty graduated from Boston College and initially worked as an architectural photographer. In Boston, he did improv, sketch comedy and commercials before moving to New York City, where he landed small movie and TV roles, including appearances on Orange Is the New Black and The Tick, as well as two CBS promos for the NFL: a 2018 AFC championship teaser in which he starred with actor John Malkovich and a 2019 Super Bowl opener also starring Malkovich and retired quarterback Peyton Manning. Now he has his “dream job.”

“The role of Pete, I just felt like this is me,” Moriarty says. “I can totally do this.”

Joe Wiseman, a Ghosts executive producer, says Moriarty was the perfect fit for Pete. “When we saw Richie, we just immediately were like, ‘Oh, this is our Pete.’ He just had everything that we were looking for.”

Ambudkar got involved in Wootton stage productions starting in his sophomore year. “I was part of the theater crew. It was a great community full of very different people,” he says. “We were kind of misfits, but we built a really loving, strong theater community at Wootton, and I loved it.”

After graduating from New York University in 2005, Ambudkar pursued a career as an actor, rapper and singer, appearing in 2012’s Pitch Perfect, among other movies and TV shows, before landing the role in Ghosts. “We’ve been fans of his, and so he was always on our wish list,” Wiseman says.

Through optimism and persistence, Ambudkar overcame his parents’ initial skepticism that he could succeed as an actor. Along the way, a friend once asked if he’d rather be acting in a popular sitcom or in a serious stage production.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, watching Friends and watching Seinfeld and watching 3rd Rock from the Sun and, yes, I want to be on the sitcom. I want to be on the show that my friends want to watch. My friends aren’t watching Mare of Easttown,’ ” he says, noting that starring TV roles didn’t exist for South Asian actors when he was starting out. “For me to be the lead on a show on CBS is wild.”