Photo by Kevin Scanlon.
Kristian Flores is a thinker.
More than an actor or artist or storyteller, the Bay Area native attended the School of Dramatic Arts at University of Southern California where he says the professors “just share their minds with you.”
There was also plenty of technique assessment and performance for hours each day. “They really nurture all of your creativity and imagination and turn you into a really disciplined classical artist and performer,” Flores tells Los Angeles Confidential over Zoom ahead of the premiere of School Spirits.
Arriving on Paramount Plus on March 9, School Spirits follows teen Maddie (Peyton List) as she investigates her death from the afterlife. In the real world, Maddie’s BFF Simon (Flores) becomes just as obsessed with her disappearance.
The shoot took place in Vancouver, Canada, spanning three months for the eight-episode season. Flores recalls weekends where the cast would go eat out together. Other days they would make spaghetti and explore the city.
But before all that, Flores had to nail the audition. He received three scenes to perform for his audition tape and ended up adding in a fourth scene he had read in the full-length version of the pilot. For Flores, it showed better who Simon was.
“Something we noticed about Kristian, both during the audition process and as we were working on set, is that he really doesn’t take any moment of a character’s experience for granted,” School Spirit creators Megan and Nate Trinud share in a statement. “There are no throwaway scenes or lines. He really brings a whole person with a lived experience to every single moment he is on camera. He helped create a depth to Simon that I think really stands out on screen.”
As an actor relatively new to the industry, Flores also stands out for his commitment to service. Already, he’s received awards for his volunteer work from former President Barack Obama, U.S. senators, the City of Los Angeles and mayors around California. He’s worked with the Los Angeles UNICEF Congressional Action Team, UNICEF Symposium and plans to attend his church’s annual summer pilgrimage to Lourdes, France every summer for the rest of his life, which includes volunteering at train stations, hospitals and baths.
“He has this incredible ability to see more than what someone projects in the world,” says co-volunteer and USC campus minister Tricia Tembreull over email. “I still remember Kristian sharing with me his thoughts from his journal after a day of serving in the baths of Lourdes where he lowered men double his size into the healing waters. Men who couldn’t walk, and were weak and ill with unknown diseases seeing miraculous healing. He always took time to recall every feeling, emotion and prayer. I believe his ability to look at discomfort, pain and suffering and feel it deeply to the point of intense compassion makes him the incredible man and actor he is today. He is not afraid to face pain and emotion.”
Flores’ prioritizing of service connects to his belief that “an artist has to live in a way that holds their work.” As our conversation comes to an end, he brings up a quote from The Plague by Albert Camus: “To fight the plague, there was nothing admirable about this attitude. It was merely logical.”
“I see service as that,” Flores explains. “There is a practical nature to serving. It's logical. The world is lacking, people need help and we're alive.”
Read more from Flores about School Spirits below.
So far, we know Simon is Maddie’s best friend. Can you tell us more about him?
Simon is a bullet. He's relentless. He doesn't really rest. I think the most important thing about Simon is I consider him to be a symbol of intuition. He’s very intuitive. Anytime I first read a script, I try to look at the events that propel the story. And for School Spirits, what it was for me is the whole town of Split River thinks that Maddie is just dead. She disappeared and she's gone. And so they're grieving and they're mourning and they're lighting their candles, but Simon has this little hunch. And he walks into his teacher's classroom and says, “Wait a second, something's up. Something's wrong. I don't know why or what is going on, but I feel something.” And so that little hunch is what I think sets all the events later on. And I think we need people like Simon because if everyone just accepted the information around them, society would just crumble. So we need friends like Simon. That's who he is. He doesn't really breathe. He's going to spend the next eight episodes of the first season just going ham and investigating things, but that's what I respect about him most is he is very defiant and intuitive. We need people like that.
School Spirits is based on the upcoming graphic novel of the same name by Megan and Nate Trinud, who are also executive producers on the show. Did you have any conversations with them to prepare?
They did something really smart. They did not give us any material from the graphic novel. What they also did was— at least not to me, I think they snuck it into other cast members, if I'm getting it right— but they would not let me read the next episode until after we filmed the most recent one. So we'd film one and then I get two and then I'd film two and then I'd get three and I never knew who killed or what happened to Maddie, how she disappeared. So that was my preparation for the role. Ironically, I was just obsessed about who killed Maddie as Simon is in the show. They never sent us the material, but I think it was very smart because it always got me thinking. There was never a dull day in Vancouver. I was really desperate.
[I did get] a little bit of insight on why Simon cares about Maddie so much. The nugget that they gave me was Simon and Maddie met in third grade. It's a sandbox story. And ever since then, they just became the perfect friendship. And I think about who wrote the show. It's a brother and a sister. So in a way, I modeled that relationship on the writers because if it's a boy and a girl and they met young, I get a brother-sister vibe. The thing though is Maddie and Simon are very different. They don't dress the same. They don't talk the same. They don't like the same things, but it's one of those, again, perfect friendships because when you meet so young, you don't need to be like your friend. When you see people in high school and their friends, they wear the same shoes and they like to imitate each other's style, but they're actually different and I think that's perfect: two different identities, but as close as two plants wrapped around each other.
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Looking at recent popular teen shows, a number are pretty dark: Wednesday, Cruel Summer, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin to name a few. We also have the revival of the Scream franchise. And now we have School Spirits. Why do you think younger audiences are gravitating to these types of stories?
We have a lot of shows that shy away from grit. It's not satisfying when we know how our life actually is. We can make plots about illness or death or sickness, but what School Spirits really is about is an alcoholic mother and a friend that has no idea where his soulmate is. And I think young people are not exempt from feeling these things. They feel so emotional. I remember the first time I was in love, I'm like 15 years old and people are always like, “Oh, you're 15. You're definitely not in love.” I think about that person every week, and there's something real about these feelings during youth. I think we just get older, but the feelings are not less than if we felt them as adults. So I think young people just want to be represented.
What do you hope audiences take away from Simon's journey?
I want people to trust their instincts more. I think as people, but also as artists, when we feel something and we feel an emotion, we might feel alienated. Everyone in Split River thinks Maddie's gone. He's just the only guy to stand up in a classroom and be brave enough to say, “You are all wrong.” Then they go, “What do you know?” And he goes, “Nothing, but I feel it.” Many situations, at least in my life personally, but I know everyone around the world [too] where they know something, but the room disagrees with them. I would love people to take away the need to be courageous and stand for what you believe in regardless of your atmosphere.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Kevin Scanlon