Dan Aykroyd is ‘skeptic-busting’ and ghost-busting with film and T+E series


TORONTO — There’s been something strange in Dan Aykroyd’s neighbourhood ever since he was born.

“My mother said she saw ancestors at the foot of the bed when I was an infant,” the Oscar-nominated comedy star, who was born and raised in Ottawa, said of his family’s old farmhouse in a recent interview.

“There’s residual energy of living beings that used to live there, I think.”

As many “Ghostbusters” fans know, Aykroyd’s penchant for parapsychology and the paranormal was passed down to him through generations of his family.

It’s what drew him to narrate the new T+E documentary series “Hotel Paranormal,” which debuts Friday, and inspired him to write and star in the hit “Ghostbusters” comedy franchise.

The release of the next instalment, Canadian-born director Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” has been postponed to 2021 due to the novel coronavirus.

“We’re very anxious for the people to see it, because it’s really, really good,” said Aykroyd, who co-wrote and co-executive produced the new film. He also appears in it, alongside original “Ghostbusters” stars including Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver.

“But it gives Jason some more time to tweak it, get everything better. A movie is never finished, so this is a good lead-in time. And when it does come out, the audiences will be ready for really high-quality, triple-A entertainment — and a big bowl of fun, like the first two movies. And Paul Feig’s (2016) movie also was great.”

Produced by Toronto-based Saloon Media, a Blue Ant Media company, “Hotel Paranormal” profiles hotel/motel guests who believe they’ve had otherworldly encounters during their stays.

Some of the experiences are described as terrifying and were documented on camera by the series subjects.

“It’s done sympathetically, not for exploitation,” Aykroyd said. “The producers and directors come at it with a view of, ‘Boy, these people really went through something,’ and it helps people to … come out and not be thought of as crazy.

“There are some of us out here — many of us, just as we did with ‘Ghostbusters’ — who’ve said: ‘We’re ready to believe you. So get it off your chest. We don’t think you’re crazy.'”

Aykroyd calls it a “skeptic-busting” show that may change people’s minds and stimulate interest in the scientific aspects of “what’s going on in the invisible world.”

“What’s convincing is the pure trauma that these people went through,” the Emmy Award-winning “Saturday Night Live” alum said from his home in Frontenac County, Ont.

“It’s not pleasant to see everything that you believe defied and also have it materially touch you from beyond the veil. What is physically, chemically, molecularly going on there? This is what type of scientific inquiry needs to be done.”

Aykroyd approaches the topic from a methodical perspective because of his lineage.

His great-grandfather was a dentist and “spiritualist explorer of the invisible world” who passed along that interest to Aykroyd’s grandfather, a Bell Telephone Company engineer.

That passion was then sparked in the comedy star’s dad, Peter H. Aykroyd, a road engineer who wrote the book “A History of Ghosts.”

“They were empirical. They thought in math and numbers. And they wanted to know the math and numbers behind: ‘What’s a ghost? What’s going on there?” Aykroyd said.

“That was passed on to me and that’s how I came to write ‘Ghostbusters.'”

While other kids were reading Life magazine or National Geographic at their cottages, Aykroyd was boning up on paranormal phenomena in journals from the American Society for Psychical Research.

Then there was the weird occurrences at his family’s Ontario farmhouse, where they held seances and would spend summers. His father is now living there.

“He’s 98 and he’s in the room where his dad passed and his great-grandfather passed, in the old farmhouse right now, and he loves spending his days there,” Aykroyd said.

Aykroyd is now reading Thomas Hodd’s book on Ontario psychic Mary Melville but doesn’t play with Ouija boards to try to talk to spirits or anything of that sort.

“I don’t explore, I don’t open the veil myself,” said Aykroyd, who got his supporting-actor Oscar nomination in 1990 for “Driving Miss Daisy.”

“The veil is opened enough day to day around the planet to people. And I don’t need to simulate that for myself. But happy to watch on TV.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press