Spencer MacPherson talks playing the angsty bad boy on School Spirits, your new goth teen show obsession
If Spencer MacPherson could use one word to describe his School Spirits character Xavier Baxter, it would be “misunderstood.” Paramount+’s new teen supernatural series centers on Maddie (Peyton List), a teen girl who’s stuck in a twisted high school purgatory and tasked with the daunting challenge of solving her own murder. But the more she investigates her mysterious death, the more secrets and lies she uncovers. If you’re in the mood for a mystery with heart, ghosts, and a smidge of dark humor, then School Spirits will be up your alley.
Read more: 11 must-watch goth teen TV shows
MacPherson plays Maddie’s troubled boyfriend Xavier, an angsty teen who struggles to grapple with her murder and the mounting suspicion falling on him. MacPherson’s performance is definitely a standout — think Christian Slater in Heathers vibes. The 25-year-old Canadian actor has played lots of different characters over the years, from his early days as Hunter Hollingsworth on Degrassi to Charles on Reign to Sparrow on Astrid & Lilly Save the World. But his favorite role so far might just be Xavier.
“Sometimes you read and audition and the words just feel right in your mouth,” MacPherson says. He immediately resonated with the “polarizing” character, drawn to Xavier’s dry sense of humor and complicated personality. “When I first got the audition and the write up for the role, it said Xavier is the kind of guy who based his whole personality off of James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause, but he fell asleep five minutes into the movie,” he explains while laughing.
AltPress sat down for a chat with MacPherson to talk about playing Xavier, his Degrassi roots, and more.
[Courtesy of Ed Araquel/Paramount +]
You’ve been involved in so many different projects over the years. Maybe this is like asking you to pick a favorite child, but do you have a favorite character that you’ve played?
I'm tempted to say Xavier in School Spirits. I really, really loved this character. It felt like such an honest type of acting. I really, really loved working on Reign, because that was such a stretch. I got to learn how to ride a horse and sword fight and learn a new dialect, and that felt like such a challenge. But I mean, that contrasted with Xavier, I felt a lot more like I was searching internally. [His character] felt more like a mirror version or an alternate version of myself in a lot of ways.
What drew you to School Spirits and the role of Xavier specifically?
I first got the audition at the beginning of 2022, and I didn't really hear anything. Then I auditioned for it again. I guess they couldn't find their Xavier. They sent [the audition] out again, [around] May , and I really initially connected with the way he's written. Sometimes you read an audition and the words just feel right in your mouth. I feel like his sense of humor, I’m pretty simpatico with that. He's very dry. I was really excited about the idea of playing the flashback version of him and contrasting that with the present day version. The characters in the show don't really know what to make of them and the audience doesn't really either. I think that’s really cool. [He’s] a very polarizing character.
Was it challenging to go back and forth between those two mindsets for the character?
It’s something that I discussed with Megan and Nate Trinrud, the creators, and Max Wrinkler, the director of the first two episodes, quite a bit. It’s exciting to look at the schedule and be like, “Sweet, Wednesday's a day where I get to be a little bit more light [and] funny!” and then Thursday I'm gonna have to be intense. I found that to be an exciting aspect of [the role].
Do you have a specific process you use when getting into character, especially if you’re doing really intense roles like this?
It varies from project to project. I love to borrow from different people I work with. [With] this one, I liked to listen to a lot of music. I really wanted to build a rapport and chemistry with all the cast members. I think that's really important, regardless of whether you're playing enemies or friends, whatever the case may be. It's cool to have that shorthand in real life. And that way, I feel comfortable doing whatever the scene or the relationship demands.
Was there a specific song or playlist you used to get into that mindset for Xavier?
There’s this one song. It plays in 500 Days of Summer. I love that movie. I watched it while I was in Vancouver when we started shooting this, and this one song really felt like Xavier. It’s called "Vagabond" by Wolfmother. It’s that scene when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is throwing the ball and he’s picking up the pieces. Something about it felt like the idea of redemption, and moving [and] picking up the pieces.
I can definitely see that. Especially that scene when Xavier is watching SpongeBob in his room alone.
One big thing about Xavier is that he's very hard to read. Maybe [it’s] something that he inherited from his dad. But I liked that scene, because you're not really sure if he's losing his mind, super high, or why [he’s acting that way]. You don't really know.
[Courtesy of Ed Araquel/Paramount +]
Xavier has a super interesting dynamic with his dad. Is that something we’re going to see play out more throughout the season?
Yeah. Me and Ian Tracey, who plays my dad, really worked on this relationship they have. It’s super complicated. I don’t think [Xavier’s] mom is really in the picture and I think his dad’s very emotionally unavailable. I think Xavier looks for people to be vulnerable with. As the season progresses, you’re definitely gonna see more of that relationship. It goes [to] really, really cool places. The actor who plays [my dad] is absolutely a legend. Sometimes I’d be watching [him] and forget my lines because he’s so mesmerizing.
The reveal that Xavier was cheating on Maddie with Claire [Rainbow Wedell] was pretty shocking. What are your thoughts on that whole love triangle and the complicated relationships?
Yeah, it's a complicated thing. I don't know how much I want to say, because it does develop a lot. But, tying it back to what I was saying before, he's got a lot of walls. One of the only people he really let them down for was Maddie, and then she was a bit unavailable for very, very justifiable reasons. I think that that's what led him to Claire. It's kind of this search to be fully seen and really loved. That's obviously no excuse for his actions, but I think that he really, really wants someone to see him.
Would you say Xavier has genuine feelings with both relationships?
Yeah, I would say so. Absolutely. [It’s] very complicated.
You’ve played high school characters for a while. Is there a different type of character you’d like to play that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
I’m a big fan of comedy. I’m really into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I'd love to do something that's outrageous in that [genre]. Actually, Nick [Pugliese, who plays Charley,] and Sarah [Yarkin, who plays Rhonda,] wrote this short film that we’re making in conjunction with the release of the show, and the character [I play] is pretty absurd. I’m really excited about shooting that.
[Courtesy of Paramount +]
What do you think is going to surprise viewers the most about School Spirits?
Every single week or couple of weeks when we would get new scripts, we would all lock ourselves in our rooms and bury ourselves in these scripts. Like, none of them disappoint. Every [episode] ends on this awesome [note]. You’ve got to read the next one. Without saying too much, I think every episode continually ramps up. We're in for quite a ride!
Before School Spirits, you got your start on Degrassi. I’m curious — what do you think Hunter would be up to now in 2023?
Oh, that's such a good question. I hope he's okay [and] he's getting the help he needs. I think where it ended, he was on a path of redemption. He was a pretty broken dude. So, I just hope he's okay.
And are you still in touch with the Degrassi cast? I saw that reunion on Instagram a while back.
Yeah for [Degrassi creator] Linda Schuyler’s book [release], we all got together. It was so cool reuniting with all of them, because it has been a while. It's so cool to see how everyone's grown up. That whole show is such a phenomenon. It's such a family and a second high school. We're all like high school, childhood friends, and that never goes away.