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[This story contains spoilers to the ending of Ghostbusters: Afterlife.]
Violet Ramis Stiel knew watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife would be an emotional experience — but perhaps also cathartic.
The eldest daughter of the late, legendary Harold Ramis — a quadruple threat as a comedian, actor, writer and director — sat in a New York City screening room months before the highly anticipated Sony sequel was released to the public on Nov. 19, ready for a powerful ride.
Director Jason Reitman — whom she has known since childhood — did not disappoint.
“He was so careful to get it right, to really honor the early films and everyone who was in them, but also to make something for now and the future,” Stiel told The Hollywood Reporter over a series of interviews. “Maybe he is the only person who could do that. He is the physical bridge.”
Jason Reitman took over the Sony franchise from his father, Ivan, who helped craft what became some of the most beloved, recognizable characters in the world when he directed the first two films in the 1980s. (The elder Reitman produced Afterlife.) And Stiel was well aware it was vital to Jason Reitman to get his chapter right — for the fans, but also for his father, and, of course, her father.
The beloved Harold Ramis died in February 2014 at the age of 69. To most, he is best known for playing the brilliant but awkward scientist and Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. The late actor’s film legacy left an indelible impression on pop culture. Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd, was a crown jewel in the actor’s storied career.
So, how to do a Ghostbusters film featuring Peter Venkman, Winston Zeddemore and Ray Stantz, but no Egon? You don’t.
THR won’t spoil the specifics of the impactful moment — which is all but guaranteed to bring a tear to fans’ eyes — but all four of the original Ghostbusters, including Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray make an appearance, a moment foreshadowed from the very start of the film (and trailer teases).
“One thing that is timely about the movie is yes, it is a comedy, but it is also about loss and grief. And we are all dealing with that,” Stiel tells THR of a world in disarray due to the pandemic. “It was surreal. There are so many parallels to real life, but it is just a movie. And it is not actually him. It is a character. Jason, smartly, focused on capturing the Egon character and not necessarily my dad. I feel like it really worked in that way. Ultimately, it leaves us with that feeling: The people we love are always with us. They don’t go away.”
In her 2018 book, Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life With My Dad, Harold Ramis, Stiel offered an open, unflinching look into her father’s life. The book was recently translated and released in Italy, where the Ghostbusters are just as beloved as they are in the U.S.
Actresses Carrie Coon and Mckenna Grace, who play Egon’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively, in Afterlife, read Ghostbuster’s Daughter in preparation for the film, they each told THR.
“I was really touched by Violent’s memoir. She writes very candidly about him and her relationship with him. And to read that very private father-daughter dynamic, it is a real gift to the world that she wrote it,” Coon says. “To work on the film without him, you really felt his absence palpably. He is one of those people who I wish I had met. I believe we would have a nice dynamic. And I feel like I got to touch his spirit a little bit.”
Saying she was fascinated by Ramis’ life and legacy as detailed in his daughter’s memoir, Grace notes she watched several of Ramis’ movies and studied his performance as Egon to better understand her character, the brilliant but misunderstood Phoebe Spengler. “I wanted to stay true to the original character but in a completely different story,” says the 15-year-old star. “I tried, with Jason, to mold and craft Phoebe into someone very reminiscent of Egon, but who stands on her own.”
Afterlife co-star Paul Rudd first met Harold Ramis on Knocked Up (2007) and they developed a rapport while Ramis was directing the comedy Year One (2009). “I was so taken with him, as I think everyone was,” says Rudd, who plays Mr. Grooberson in Afterlife. “He was such a kind person. There was something enlightened about him.”
For Stiel, there were no surprises plot-wise; she was actually among the first to read the script penned by Reitman and Gil Kenan. Having the Ramis family’s blessing was important to the writer-director. And he got it — not only from Stiel but also from her sister and brothers. And yet, for Stiel, watching the completed picture come to life on the big screen created a whirlwind of emotion for several reasons.
Using CGI for a posthumous character appearance has been somewhat controversial over the years, such as in 2016 when Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, had his digital likeness used to reprise Stars Wars villain Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. And Stiel admits the concept seemed “weird” to her when presented with the idea. But that feeling faded fast thanks to director Jason Reitman making sure she had a voice in the creative conversation.
“It was so generous of him to let me feel as though I was a part of the making of the movie, even though I wasn’t. I saw some drafts [of Egon] along the way,” Stiel says of the CGI representation. “It was so satisfying. They could have done him as this jolly Santa-type, but that wouldn’t have been true to the character.” The daughter adds, with a laugh, “He was in great shape, nice and trim. My dad would have loved that.”
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