In “The School for Good and Evil,” two best friends are whisked away from their stifling small town and dropped into a magical school where all fairy tales begin. One trains princes and princesses, while the other trains villains.
There’s one problem. Two, actually. One girl has only ever wanted to be a fairy tale princess, and she gets dropped in the School for Evil. Her best friend just wants to go home.
This is the premise of the best-selling book series from author Soman Chainani, aimed at readers ages 8 to 12. This week, Netflix is releasing a film adaptation from director Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Bridesmaids”) and starring Spokane-born actor Sophia Anne Caruso in a leading role.
Caruso plays Sophie, the girl who has spent her childhood dreaming of a fairy tale life. Her best friend Agatha (Sofia Wylie, of “Andi Mack” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” fame), meanwhile, harbors no such illusions. Already ostracized in their hometown of Gavaldon and accused of being a witch, Aggie sees herself as a realist, and the idea of learning about life in fairy tales is not for her.
We’re meant to believe that Sophie gets dropped – literally, from the talons of a giant birdlike creature – into the “good” school while Aggie gets dropped in the “evil” school. Except it doesn’t happen that way, and Aggie ends up in princess dresses under the tutelage of Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington) and Professor Anemone (Michelle Yeoh), while Sophie ends up dressed in black and studying with Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron) and under the malevolent influence of the mysterious Rafal Mistral (Kit Young).
For Caruso, 21, an otherworldly story is not out of the ordinary. She spent nearly a year on Broadway originating the role of Lydia, the girl who can see ghosts, in the musical “Beetlejuice,” after all.
“She’s obviously a really dynamic character, really multifaceted, and it’s a very exciting role,” Caruso said by phone from Los Angeles, where she spent Monday doing press for the film. “There are a lot of changes that she goes through physically, and emotionally, so I had a lot to play with. And I was really excited to wear prosthetics, and do a few things that I haven’t done before, which was its own challenge and something I really enjoyed doing. There’s a lot to her.”
But this marks her first starring role in a feature film, which was a wholly different experience than doing eight shows a week on Broadway. On Broadway, it’s a nighttime life, doing the same show day after day. With movies, it’s being on set at 5 a.m., but doing that day’s scenes then never having to look at them again.
“Each thing has its own challenges. Being a Broadway star has its challenges and so does spearheading a massive film like this with such a big budget. It feels like there’s a lot riding on my shoulders,” Caruso said. “But I had some really big players in there with me like Charlize and Kerry and Laurence (Fishburne). In a lot of ways it is an ensemble cast. With them by my side, I was like, ‘Well, this will be good.’ ”
A big part of that ensemble is her co-star, Wylie. The two had never met before this project, Caruso said.
“We got along pretty immediately from the start,” Caruso said. “Sofia and I met in the chemistry read, and obviously there was chemistry. We got along well. We spent four, 4½ months together making this film, and so we became closer just by spending time together on set.”
While Caruso has done film and television before, she primarily comes from the theater world, dating back to her time with Spokane Children’s Theater, or starring in “Annie” for Spokane Civic Theater and “The Miracle Worker” at Interplayers. The set design for “Beetlejuice” was eye-popping, and won awards from the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk.
“The School for Good and Evil” marked her first time doing green screen acting and work with CGI effects.
“There are all sorts of different challenges with that,” she said. “I think it’s mostly about having an imagination. Yeah, I come from the theater where I’m used to it being very really real and very right in front of me, so yes, I had to use my imagination, but that was not an issue for me.”
She did her own stunts, and she loved it.
“I would love to do an action movie,” she said. “It sounds like so much fun.”
One stunt in particular was a blast.
“I really loved shooting the scene where I’m being dragged out of Gaveldon,” Caruso said. “I did that stunt. It was super, super fun.”
Sophie undergoes quite a transformation over the course of the film, from good girl to … not so good. Aggie, meanwhile, comes to learn a princess is more than a pretty face. The movie, and the book it’s based celebrates the power of friendship. It’s a lesson that Caruso hopes resonate with the young girls and teenagers who watch the film.
“I hope that teenage girls are able to walk away from the film with a sense of confidence, and what being confident means, what being beautiful really means,” she said. “And that girls even younger than that are given an example of a fairy tale where princes are not the main focus, and that friendships are really the key, and that’s what will always be there waiting for you at the end of the day.”
The end of the film clearly leaves the door open for more adventure. The book series, after all, sports six titles. While no sequel has been announced, Caruso will be there if she gets the call.
“I’ve heard talk of it, but I can’t confirm or deny anything, as I actually don’t even know if it’s happening yet,” she said. “We have to get those viewers. If people really like it and respond well to the film and are watching it on Netflix, then Netflix will of course want to make another one. And I absolutely would (do it again).
“I had the time of my life filming it, and I loved every second it, so I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
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