Growing up in Anacortes, Devan Chandler Long dreamed of a career in the NFL and never imagined his current job: co-starring in CBS’ broad comedy “Ghosts” (9 p.m. Thursday beginning with a two-episode premiere Oct. 7), an American adaptation of the Britcom of the same name that streams in the U.S. on HBO Max.
CBS’ series follows a young couple, Sam (Rose McIver, “iZombie”) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who inherit an upstate New York mansion haunted by ghosts from different points in history. Long plays Thorfinn, a Viking from 1009, and one of the older ghostly inhabitants, which also include the wife of an 1800s robber baron (Rebecca Wisocky) and a ’90s finance bro (Asher Grodman). Thorfinn is the American analogue to the British show’s caveman.
“I speak a little bit more English but there’s definitely similarities there,” Long says of Thorfinn, who’s often confused by modern technology that the younger ghosts take for granted. “Thorfinn is your standard Viking. He’s primal, meaning that he likes food, he likes laughter, he wants to have a good time.”
Joe Port, who with Joe Wiseman adapted CBS’ “Ghosts” from the original BBC show, says Long was the ideal candidate to play Thorfinn. A mutual actor friend, Brian Thomas Smith, suggested Long for the part.
“[Devan is] very interested in Viking culture. He was born to play this role and he’s so good,” Port says, noting that while the first two episodes mirror the British “Ghosts” in establishing the premise, episode three, airing Oct. 14, is a departure that’s all about Thorfinn. “His bones are discovered on the property and he wants Sam and Jay to give him the Viking funeral he never had. Devan’s got great emotional chops, too.”
Long, a 2001 Anacortes High School grad, said he was mostly into sports in high school. After watching older brother Rien Long get a football scholarship to Washington State University, Long followed in his footsteps.
“I just put all my cards in one box and went for it and got a scholarship to [the University of] Oregon,” says Long, who studied political science. “I was like, OK guys, what has the least amount of math.”
But the football program — he was a defensive end — was all-consuming through his 2005 graduation. After Oregon, Long got into training camp with the Carolina Panthers until an injury ended his NFL career before it really began.
“It was like getting divorced and having to watch all your friends hang out with your wife and take her to dinner every weekend,” he says. “It was a tough time for a couple of years after football.”
A talent agent friend in Nashville, where Long’s brother played for the Tennessee Titans, encouraged Devan to audition for a commercial, which he ultimately booked. After a move to Venice Beach, California, a friend from the University of Oregon introduced Long to an agent and he started booking more commercials and making “really decent money,” but he was terrified of taking on serious acting roles, even bailing on one audition due to nerves. He ultimately returned, bombed the audition and realized even a lackluster audition “wasn’t so bad,” which inspired him to take acting classes and do some improv, building his confidence.
Early roles included “henchman” in a 2011 “NCIS: Los Angeles” episode and “shady guy” in 2013’s “How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).” Eventually his characters grew from their occupations (“gym worker” on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in 2017) to actual names, including recurring roles on Amazon’s “Bosch” in 2019 and HBO Max’s “Doom Patrol” last year. “Ghosts” marks Long’s first series regular role and his biggest comedic part to date.
“Up until now, Hollywood has said my face does not look funny,” says Long, who earned “class clown” and “most likely never to grow up” superlatives in high school. “Or if it does look funny, you don’t say funny things. So I’ve been an ex-Navy SEAL, a bouncer, big daddies, which is cool. I’ve always had fun with that. But I love making people laugh. When I played football, my best memories in football came out of the locker room and cracking jokes. So comedies were always where I wanted to end up but when you’re a big guy with a big, Cro-Magnon forehead and a beard, Hollywood’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got other ideas for you.’ ”
Just as Devan took a page from his brother on his journey through college football to the NFL, Rien followed Devan into acting. They filmed a pilot together for an Animal Planet travel show, “Going Native,” that aired in 2015 but didn’t get picked up to series. Devan says Rien, who also goes by the mononym Vartan, has a recurring role as the henchman of a bad guy in Peacock’s upcoming “MacGruber” series starring Will Forte.
“Rien, welcome to Hollywood: You’re big and hairy, you are gonna be a bad guy,” Devan says, chuckling. “Do it for a couple of years and then maybe you can do a comedy later on.”
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