Exclusive: Dan Aykroyd Talks Ghostbusters’ Origins and Reboot

From Left: Ernie Hudson, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in 1984's "Ghostbusters" (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The legendary Canadian comedian on how Ghostbusters came to be, why it worked and the new all-female reboot — the first trailer for which was released this week.

Nestled against the lake and surrounded by acres of trees and fields in Sydenham, Ont., just north of Kingston, sits an an unassuming white farmhouse, built around 1860, by the Aykroyd family on land they settled near the turn of the century. Inside, just off the kitchen, you’ll find a quiet room with forest green walls adorned with faded, sepia family photos more than a century old. Against one wall there’s a couch and, directly before the fireplace, a small wooden table with two chairs.

This is the space the family calls “the séance room” – a place where Samuel Aykroyd and a local medium helped people contact the spirits of their loved ones in the 1920s and 30s. In pop culture lore it’s also the room where, in the early 1980s, Samuel’s great-grandson Dan Aykroyd – at the time a Saturday Night Live alumnus riding high off the success of the 1980 Blues Brothers film – conceived an idea for a comedy based on a team of paranormal scientists hunting down ghouls that eventually became Ghostbusters.

Last summer I visited the homestead and, in an exclusive from the spot where Ghostbusters was born, I sat with the legendary Canadian comedian to discuss its history, how Ghostbusters came to be, why it worked and the new all-female reboot — the first trailer for which was released today.

MIKE CRISOLAGO: I have to ask you first about the room we’re sitting in – the séance room. It has a fascinating personal history that lead to its pop culture significance.

DAN AYKROYD: My great-grandfather Sam was a dentist in Kingston, Ontario, and he was the reviewer, basically, for the local newspaper, the analyzer for whatever psychic acts were coming through town. Millions of men died [in total in the First World War]. So you’ve got families that were desperate to try to reach them. And mediumship and spiritualism became very popular then. But you had to have someone to sort out the hoax from the real thing. So my great-grandfather was considered basically an observer of this phenomenon. This room was where they had the séances.

My dad was a little kid watching the séances here in the ‘20s and ‘30s. On Sunday, three or four big black cars would roll up and the women would come dressed for Sunday church and the men in suits. And my great-grandfather Sam would hold the table here. And [medium] Walter Ashurst would sit and [they’d] hold hands and then within minutes Ashurst would go into a full-on, open mouth agog trance, and they would ask him questions. So this is kind of my family business.

MC: And these stories and this family history eventually informed your idea for Ghostbusters.

DA: I’m sitting one afternoon [and] I’m reading about quantum physics and parapsychology. And I go, “Would it be great to do an old-style ghost comedy but use the knowledge that people have been researching for years?” So that was where Ghostbusters came from – one afternoon sitting in this room because this is where, reportedly, spirits came through Walter Ashurst. And he was a local motor mechanic at the local factory here. And he did have a gift. He moved to Los Angeles eventually and was in the psychic community there for many years.

MC: How did the original Ghostbusters film come about once you had the concept?

DA: I would say the perfect components came together in that project. I’ll start with the original script and then plugging into Harold’s knowledge. And Harold was not a believer at all. He was a complete skeptic, but he knew all about the work of … all the people I was reading about, the research that was being done in the paranormal. And of course also mythology having to do with spirits and ghosts and otherworldly, other dimensional things. So we had a conversation immediately from the start. The perfect component was the origination of the script. Then you had Michael Ovitz, the super-agent. Then you had Ivan Reitman. There was another perfect component.

So Ovitz brings in Reitman; Reitman brings in Ramis. We sit, the three of us, we write the script, partially in LA, partially here, particularly in Martha’s Vineyard. And then we finish it, and we go, “Look, there’s only one guy we’ve got to give it to.” We all agree at Art’s Deli. We all say, “We’ve got to give it to [Bill] Murray,” and I said, “I’m in.” So then we bring in the perfect component of Murray. Then Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver … these actors and artists and creators at the peak of their gifts and really genuinely wanting to be part of a team.

MC: And now, decades later, there’s the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot featuring an all-female cast.

DA: What we found is that there are creators out there, of the next generation and the one beyond it, who have watched Ghostbusters and were influenced by it and kind of want to make it their own. And Paul Feig had this great idea to do it all female. And Ivan [Reitman] and myself and Billy [Murray] just looked at the idea and said, “Please take a crack at this.” And he is going to deliver a really … he’ll be delivering a really fine, fine movie and a big hit. He’s making a hit movie. Leslie Jones is going to steal the show. And from what I saw [filming] in Boston and just the new hardware, the way they’re handling it, they’re badass. And they’re all just the most accomplished comic actresses of our time.

MC: You have a cameo in the Ghostbusters reboot but, as far as your character from the original films, will we see you as Ghostbuster Ray Stantz again?

DA: No, that was a totally mutual decision across the board. It’s hard. The sequel can’t happen because we don’t have Harold [Ramis, his co-star, who passed away in 2014]. Billy doesn’t want to play the part anymore. So [we’re] talking maybe prequel, talking other exploitations.

MC: How does it make you feel to know that people still care about this franchise decades later?

DA: We have one that will never die with Ghostbusters because it just worked because everybody was working together and with a view towards giving a totality of the entertainment and not worrying about one’s individual contribution or who got credit for what. We were all there to make the best film that we could.

Click here for the full cover story encompassing our visit with Dan Aykroyd, from the March 2016 issue of Zoomer Magazine.