Spencer MacPherson on ghosts and growing pains in Paramount+’s new teen drama, School Spirits
by Angelyn Kwek
Landing the bad boy character in a high school drama might be the breakout role for many a young actor, but Spencer MacPherson isn’t your run-of-the-mill rookie. The 25-year-old has been in front of the camera from a tender age, starring in shows that run the gamut from young adult dramas and comedies such as Reign and Degrassi Next Generation to emotionally heavier and grittier titles including American Gothic, Northern Rescue and American Gods.
Indeed, that would be why his steely blue eyes look so familiar — odds are you’ve caught the young lad on your TV screen at one point or another, seeing as MacPherson has been on the scene since he was 14.
No stranger to the entertainment industry, it’s only natural the Toronto native is now conquering the streaming platforms for his next big project, starring as ‘Xavier Baxter’ on Paramount+’s latest mystery drama School Spirits.
Acting alongside an ensemble cast comprised of Peyton List, Kristian Flores, Milo Manheim, Kiara Pichardo, Sarah Yarkin, Nick Pugliese, and Rainbow Wedell, the show follows ‘Maddie’ (portrayed by List) who is stuck in the afterlife with a group of other students and decides to investigate how she disappeared.
Despite the familiar trappings of high school as the backdrop of the series, the show is more nuanced and layered than your typical teen drama. With creators Megan Trinrud and Nate Trinrud at the helm, elements across drama, comedy, mystery, and the supernatural are woven into an intriguing narrative that casts a new light on high school life and being a teenager.
In a similar vein, ‘Xavier’ isn’t just the bad boy but also boyfriend to ‘Maddie’, who has to confront his own demons—as well as being a suspect in her disappearance—as the series progresses to reveal that there’s more than meets the eye to his character.
Without spoiling the plot (much), we got talking with MacPherson on playing a ghostly ‘bad boy’, his personal experiences at high school, and what it means to tackle stereotypes and be your most authentic self.
School Spirits is described as a young adult drama-mystery series with a supernatural twist. What are some of the themes the show explores when it comes to being a teenager and navigating high school?
The feeling of being unseen and unheard is something I know I felt as a highschooler and a common feeling at that age. In our show, it is taken to a heightened degree with the ghosts, however, it is also a strong theme with the living. We all feel misunderstood in our own right.
Tell us more about your role as Xavier Baxter. He’s known as an outsider and a ‘bad boy.’ How much of that do you personally relate to?
I’ve never really felt like an outsider or a bad boy, but I relate to the idea of people having misconceptions about me. High school is a tough time in your life; I think people want to put you in a box. Everyone makes their mind up about ‘Xavier’ at a glance, but as the season progresses, I think there is more there.
Drawing on your own high school experience, what kind of student were you? Is School Spirits a case of art imitating life?
I was a bit of a slacker, so I relate in that sense. ‘Xavier’ is a bit beyond his years and has an indifference to what the student body thinks of him that I admire.
What has been your favourite scene to film from the show?
I love so many scenes in the show, it’s hard to choose. I really like a scene in episode two where ‘Maddie’ remembers a moment with her and ‘Xavier’ in a car. The dialogue is snappy, it was shot beautifully, and it surmises ‘Xavier’ perfectly. It shows how guarded he is, masking his true feelings with humor. It also shows his unhinged side at the end.
As the show progresses, the audience will see that there’s a lot more depth to Xavier than his initial bad-boy persona. Can you share with us how you went about portraying his character development?
It’s funny because I always saw him as a victim of his troubled family life. While he is flawed in many ways, I see someone who just needs somebody to believe in him. As the show progresses, he comes to terms with the fact that he doesn’t have to be the bad guy and the characters around him slowly accept that too.
Incidentally, what are your thoughts on being typecast? Particularly from your viewpoint as a child actor who grew up under the lens of social media when outsider opinions are louder than ever. Do you feel strongly about this? Why or why not?
I’m honestly just so grateful for every job and the fact I get to do what I love. I think I’ve had the opportunity of playing some complicated characters. I also think people are entitled to project their opinions about that; that’s the nature of making things, I think.
You’ve been working in Hollywood from a very young age but were raised in Toronto. What has that experience been like? Was there a lot of homesickness and missing your family?
I’ve been lucky to work mostly in Toronto which has a bustling film and television industry. That being said, I have also had to travel for months at a time across Canada for work but I’ve always viewed it as an adventure. Facetime helps.
As a Toronto native, what’s your favourite haunt in the city whenever you come back?
I like the Distillery District; it’s just a good vibe, good restaurants. I also like the older aesthetic of it and around the holidays it’s lovely.
What advice do you have for fellow Canadians aspiring to become actors? How did you get your own career off the ground?
I started doing musical theatre from a young age and that led me to taking classes and eventually finding my agent. I’d say, if you have a passion for it, look into getting involved in local productions.
Speaking of advice, what wise words do you have for youths today who may be struggling to reconcile who they really are versus who they think they have to be in order to ‘fit the mould’, so to speak?
I think with social media, young people feel the need to constantly be this perfect version of themselves. It’s completely okay to try things and make mistakes.
What’s next in the pipeline for you? Are we looking at a second season of School Spirits? Give us some deets!
Yes, hopefully, people watch School Spirits! Everyone who was a part of making it is super proud and we would love to make a season two.