In “School Spirits,” protagonist Maddie (Peyton List) wakes up one day to discover she’s a ghost — and, possibly even more disconcertingly, she’s trapped in her high school forever. In the show, which premieres on Paramount+ on March 9, ghosts are everywhere, they can see everything, and unfortunately, they also can’t leave the place where they died.
Despite playing a ghost on screen, List herself actually doesn’t like to entertain the idea that ghosts might be walking among us. “I feel like the mind is so powerful. I prefer to say no,” the 24-year-old star tells POPSUGAR. “I don’t let any of that in, because I think the mind can just run and create a reality. I’m going to try to keep telling myself no . . . even though weird things keep happening to me and to people around me.”
Her costar Sarah Yarkin — who plays fellow ghost Rhonda — also says she’s a “nonbeliever” — even though Nick Pugliese, who introduces Maddie to the spirit world as friendly ghost Charley, claims Yarkin has “the most insane stories” about the supernatural, despite her skepticism. For his part, Pugliese accepts the ambiguity of it all. “I lean more towards no, but I’m not set on that,” he says. “I’m OK with that, too. I don’t need a ghost to show itself.”
Unlike List and Yarkin, who seem to be actively trying to avoid the supernatural even as it taps on their windows, their costar Kristian Flores — who plays one of Maddie’s closest living friends, Simon — is a bit more open to the belief, even though he hasn’t seen a spirit with his own eyes. “I’ve never met a ghost. I’ve never seen one,” he says. “I wish I had. Because there are so many books and conversations about it — I kind of just [think] it’s real.”
Meanwhile, Kiara Pichardo, who plays Maddie’s friend Nicole, says she does think ghosts exist. “I lived in a haunted apartment in Queens, NY, when I was a kid,” she says. “Thankfully, I don’t remember too much.” Spencer MacPherson — Maddie’s boyfriend, Xavier, on the show — also believes he may have encountered a spirit from the great beyond. “I’ve had some interesting experiences that I feel like it’s tough to explain away,” he says, laughing. “Just little bumps in the night. Or it’s colder than it should be — you know, seeing breath, and all the tropes that you see in the movies. Come the witching hour, when you’re seeing your breath and and you’re in a tropical climate — it’s strange.” Rainbow Wedell, who plays the popular Claire, is inclined to agree. “I definitely believe in ghosts,” she says.
It seems the cast of “School Spirits” are divided down the middle in terms of whether or not they believe the dead walk among us. The ones who believe certainly aren’t the first stars to do so — celebrities like Demi Lovato and Octavia Spencer have relayed encounters with the undead, sometimes in vivid detail.
In “School Spirits,” ghosts aren’t really eerie monsters making things go bump in the night; they’re just humans, trying to make sense of their lives. Similarly, for the show’s writers, ghosts are more interesting as metaphors and storytelling devices than as hypotheticals. In “School Spirits,” Maddie’s mom struggles with alcoholism, and writers Nate and Megan Trinrud drew from their own experiences with a father with alchoholism to craft the story. The siblings “ended up having to move back to our small town in Illinois” to take care of their father, Nate says. “We were stuck there for years.” While in their childhood bedrooms, he says, both he and his sister began talking about how they felt “really dead inside. That was sort of the best way we could describe it.”
The idea for “School Spirits” arose from that feeling. “We took that idea and ran with it and actualized it — this idea of a girl who finds herself dead in her life and has to work . . . to try and recover,” he says. Ultimately, “School Spirits” isn’t about ghosts — it’s about “what it means to take the steps to try and find your way back to feeling alive.”