Something evil this way comes to Netflix this month: The School for Good and Evil, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Soman Chainani, which launched a bestselling book series. Released on October 19, the film stars Sofia Wylie (High School Musical: The Musical–The Series) as Agatha and Sophia Anne Caruso (The Sound of Music Live!) as Sophie, the iconic best friend duo; and Jamie Flatters (So Awkward) as Tedros, the son of King Arthur and school heartthrob.
The movie is directed by Paul Feig, who also wrote the screenplay along with David Magee. It is executive produced by Stephen Jones, Zack Roth, Chris Castaldi, Soman Chainani, and Patricia Riggen; and produced by Joe Roth, Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, Laura Fischer, Paul Feig, and Jane Startz. The School for Good and Evil features a recognizable cast that consists of Kit Young as Rafal, who also starred in another book-to-screen adaptation, Shadow and Bone; Kerry Washington (Scandal) as Professor Dovey; Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) as Lady Lesso; Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) as the School Master; Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians) as Professor Anemone; Cate Blanchett (Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio) as the narrator and voice of the Storian; and Ally Cubb as Gregor (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK).
Two unlikely best friends, Sophie (Caruso) and Agatha (Wylie) have been misfits all their lives in the village of Gavaldon. Golden-haired Sophie dreams of being whisked away to become a princess. Agatha, deemed by the villagers to be ugly and sulky, has the makings of a real witch. One night, a powerful force kidnaps them, taking them to the School for Good and Evil—the place where every great fairy tale begins. But to the girls’ horror, they are dropped off at the “wrong” schools; Sophie is placed in the School for Evil run by the stern and foreboding Lady Lesso (Theron), and Agatha at the School for Good run by sunny and upbeat Professor Dovey (Washington), making Sophie a “Never” and Agatha an “Ever.” Determined to be together and right the glaring wrong, the friends appeal to the School Master (Fishburne), but are informed that only a true love’s kiss can change the rules—a requirement Sophie has set on fulfilling by kissing the Ever’s school prince, Tedros (Flatters). But something dark is lurking just beyond the shadows, with unknown ties to Sophie, which is determined to destroy the school and spread chaos to the world beyond.
Kirschenbaum and Joe Roth had acquired the rights to the film, which was 10 years in the making, when the book was still in its manuscript phase. Universal Pictures was initially set to release the film, but Netflix attained it later on in 2020 with production beginning in early 2021. It was a wait that Chainani took in stride. “I actually thought it was perfect that it took that long, because it took me 10 years to write six books and [it was great] to have the freedom to write those books without the movie competing or influencing it.” But the beginning did have its rough moments. “At the time [the movie] was at Universal and they were very bullish on the movie,” Chainani remembered. “I had been around the block in Hollywood to some extent and I knew the process was going to be filled with potholes, so I was cautiously optimistic.” But the film’s move to Netflix introduced a more amicable partnership.
With a degree from Columbia University’s MFA film program, Chainani was determined to be as involved as possible in the adaptation of his book. “Authors are usually cut out of the process and my background was in film, so I was not going to let that happen,” Chainani said. “The books matter too much to the readers and fans, and for me to have to sit through [a not so great adaptation] would have broken my heart.” Meeting with scriptwriters and giving notes where he could, Chainani was involved in looking at early drafts of the script, bringing a long book down to its essentials without the screenplay “going off the rails,” even if it wasn’t the most faithful adaptation.
“I think most of the time authors go in with the wrong mindset of trying to make sure it’s faithful, but you end up fighting for the wrong things,” Chainani explained. “I didn’t fight for a character’s eyes to be a certain color but instead what you need to be concerned about is ‘does it reflect the spirit of the book?,’and ‘does it have the key moments that the fans remember?’ I was fighting for themes, characters, and structure and I think it’s pretty close to the book.”
But something Chainani was absolutely adamant about? No dragons. “I always said there are no dragons in the scope of the medieval world because I think they’re overdone and I always wanted that little thing for myself,” Chainani said with a laugh. “It’s an Easter egg for my fans. If you see a dragon, you know we’re in trouble.” Other Easter eggs fans will be excited to spot are a callback to a character named Grimm in the books, Hort’s frog pajamas, and a cameo appearance by the author himself as a teacher in the School for Evil.
Chainani’s acting stint was made even better by the cast, he said. “We’ve become like family. [Caruso] is absolutely phenomenal, [Wiley] is such a superstar, and Kit [Young] and I are like brothers at this point. The running joke is that anytime there’s an event, I find a way to get Kit involved and Kit’s like ‘how do you get away with this?’ because it’s the author and the villain of the movie at an event together,” Chainani told PW. “[Young] is like, ‘It makes no sense, it’s just an excuse for us to hang out!’ ”
Chainani recalled a moment with the cast when they were mistaken for a Christian prayer group. “We were all on the lawn [outside our hotel] and hanging out together and this woman comes up and she’s like ‘are you guys a Christian prayer group? You guys look like missionaries, are you a ministry?’ and we’re like ‘what’ and then I realized that it was Patti LuPone.”
With the movie out, Chainani feels a different pressure from a book release. “With a book, I always put so much into it that by the time it’s done I know what I want because I accomplished my vision. But with a movie, there’s such a vast audience you feel a bit more like ‘what are they going to make of this?.’ ‘what is the reaction going to be?’ he said. “There’s a million things that can happen, vs. a book when I put it out, I feel almost complete zen. With this it feels like, ‘What happens now?’ ”
In terms of what happens next, fans can look forward to the prequel to the series, Fall of the School for Good and Evil, due out in May, a graphic novel in the School for Good and Evil world coming out in 2024, and a TV adaptation of his book, Beasts and Beauty. Chainani hopes to take a break after the graphic novel release and “hopefully invent a new series.” But in the meantime, he will be getting glammed up for the movie’s events atop a souvenir from the set: “The producer chair I had on set is a lovely reminder of the power of storytelling and how anything can happen.”
Chainani hopes the film’s message of deep friendship resonates with audiences. “It blows up the idea of true love in a fairy tale being between a conventional couple, and [says] that friendship is deeper than any happily ever after.”