Peyton List’s character on the Paramount+ series “School Spirits” is a ghost, so she spent a lot of times in scenes watching and listening to those around her and also being ignored.
This is far from your typical ghost story. List plays Maddie, a teen who recently died but can’t recall how and remains stuck at her high school.
She’s surrounded by classmates going about their day, but they can’t see or hear her. Also strange, she’s with a bunch of other dead teens, with varying death dates, some even decades prior.
All episodes of “School Spirits” are streaming.
Although List was playing invisible on camera, she was front and center on this job. The “Cobra Kai” actor also served as a producer, and for the first time, List was No. 1 on the call sheet.
“I found that I’m actually the kind of personality that loves to be like No. 10 on the call sheet in real life. I think it’s fun to just kind of come in, be like a protagonist and then leave, you know? In the middle of filming someone said, ‘You’re a good No. 1.’ And I was like, ‘What does that mean?’”
Ultimately, List says she learned by doing. “I needed to take on that role, and I just loved the cast so much. I feel like that helped.”
She also loved being a producer.
“I’m more excited than ever to take on new projects because as a producer on the show, I could make sure that my opinion was heard,” she said.
It wasn’t just List who was heard. She said the show’s creators Megan and Nate Trinrud, along with showrunner Oliver Goldstick, were open discussions with the whole cast including Milo Manheim and Nick Pugliese, who play fellow ghosts in limbo.
“It’s the most beautiful feeling when a show actually listens to the young people on the show,” said List. “We’re like, ‘Hey, we’re a little closer to this age and like, this is cringey or whatever.’ And they’re like, ‘OK, let’s cut it immediately.’ They were just super open,” she said. “I feel like a lot of my career I’ve been told what to do and seeing that it can be so collaborative was a really nice experience.”
List, who first made a name for herself as a child actor with roles in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films and Disney Channel’s “Jesse” and “Bunk’d,” says the “School Spirits” role came after a rejection for a job that she had her heart set on.
“It got down to the final two, and I didn’t get it. I got an email that said, ‘We have something else in mind (for you.)…”I was so heartbroken from the last job I didn’t care as much.”
Her twin brother Spencer, also an actor, read the script first and said, “This is a YA script that I think is actually worth everyone’s time, and I think you should read it.”
She met with the the Trinruds, who are siblings, and was moved by their story.
“This generated from a pretty personal place for us. Megan and I were just a few years older than Maddie’s character and had a pretty hard experience with our family relating to one of our parent’s alcoholism,” Nate Trinrud told journalists in January at the Television Press Association’s biannual gathering of journalists.
“We sort of lost everything as a family,” he said then. “We left home and ended up coming back and turned to YA programming to kind of cheer us up. It led to a conversation where we realized we wanted to do this and make our own version of a story that wasn’t just a coming-of-age story, but a coming-back-to-life story, that when you feel dead inside, when you feel like you are at the bottom of the well, how do you find the spirit and the will to get yourself out of it? ”
List said she instantly related to their choice in television and films for comfort, citing John Hughes movies, “Easy A” and the TV shows “Freaks & Geeks” and “My So-Called Life” as favorites.
“That’s always been my escape too, is this genre… I feel like this was more aligned with and right for me, as much as I didn’t want to believe it in the moment.”
Next, List is awaiting word on a second season for “School Spirits.” (The Trinuds have written a graphic novel based on the series that’s due out in the fall.) List also is looking to the sixth and final season of Netflix’s “Cobra Kai,” where she plays Tory Nichols. List says she’s “so sad” it’s ending.
“I’m just so nostalgic and loyal to things. Like, when I first start (projects), I don’t want to start anything new. But then, now that I’d been on that show for five years, and I just feel like I’ve grown up so much with all of them, like, I just feel so much love for everyone. Billy (Zabka) and Ralph (Macchio) have been like uncles to us.”