You wouldn’t assume that Filipino-American actor Kristian Flores is a newcomer while watching him take on the role of Simon in the new Paramount+ series School Spirits.
The way he is able to make you feel like you are in the room with him and endure the pain he is experiencing through the loss of his best friend Maddie (played by Peyton List) is unfathomable. Flores, alongside his co-star List, are able portray an on camera chemistry that most young actors struggle with – a relationship that leaves the audience questioning whether or not the love that they have for one another stretches beyond friendship, or if they could be twin flames. Flores has us hanging to his every move throughout the eight episodes as he takes on solving the mystery of what happened to Maddie as she’s stuck in the afterlife.
It makes sense that Flores gives credit to the film Cloud Atlas for his inspiration behind pursuing a career in acting. It’s the type of film that really makes you reflect and think about what you’ve just watched. Based on his performance in School Spirits and the intuitive nature of his character, Flores has demonstrated that he deserves a spot in Hollywood amongst the same actors he looks up to.
After his transformational role as Richard III as part of his BFA acting program at the University of Southern California, Flores sparked a signing war with some of the biggest agencies in Hollywood battling to represent him, and he’s booked back to back roles ever since. He was a part of Hulu’s comedy series Reboot alongside Keegan-Michael Key and Johnny Knoxville, and most recently appeared in Hulu’s horror picture, “Grimcutty” and an untitled HBO Max sci-fi thriller. At just 23 years old, Kristian Flores has already started to build up an awe-inspiring resume, yet has only scratched the surface of what is sure to be a long and successful career. Flores chats with 1883 Magazine about School Spirits and more.
Congratulations on the success of School Spirits so far! How does it feel to be a part of this series?
It’s sunshine. The cast are sweet friends and the people who enjoy the show make me smile. The release of School Spirits is a great feeling. Though I can’t help but crave set. The celebration for me is on the battlefield, working with directors and our writers. The release period is fun, but it has little to do with me. My heart dances in scene work and figuring things out in rehearsals. There is no other reward.
What originally drew you to the role of Simon?
The final page of the pilot. There is a scene where Simon confesses to his teacher how much he misses his best friend, who watches as an invisible ghost his whole admittance. The spirit world allowed for poetry. I loved the relationship between life and death—using that fictional scenario as a tool to reveal a variety of messages. The writers build these beautiful situations that I wanted to be a part of. And that’s the key with writing—it’s not always about brilliant lines, but brilliant situations.
What is your favourite characteristic about Simon? Do you find that the two of you are similar at all?
He protects what is delicate. If people like Simon gave up a search for their best friend, there would be so many Maddies in the world who were never found. It must be so painful and humiliating for him to go on an adventure with no relief or solace. On top of that, intuition is never a compelling argument. The whole town of Split River says she disappeared and starts to light candles, but his instincts say, “Wait. No! No, guys, there is more to it.” And thank God he follows through. If ghosts could fight for their lives, they would scream at the living for help. Simon first fights for Maddie without ever hearing her. That’s what I love about him. He does things anyway. I hope people do things anyway and protect what is delicate.
At the end of episode 1, you have quite the emotional scene confiding in your teacher about Maddie’s disappearance. Did you face any challenges preparing for a scene like this?
You know how I live? Jesus, I can’t believe I’m saying this. If I’m not working—I wake up, brush my teeth, have a cup of tea, read for hours (either a script or a book), warm up my body and voice, more tea, more reading, thinking, take a shower, and I go to sleep. I maintain this world of quietness and discipline and fiction. Sure, I know some strange people and have my stories, but for the most part, I try to build an inner life in a way that fuels my skills as an actor. And it has less to do with racking up life experiences, but more so: with our psychology, listening to old writers, people-watching, and so on. With the emotional scenes on the show, it’s homework. No more. You create his thoughts, think his thoughts, and when they ask me to show up in Vancouver, I give them what I imagined. I wish there was something more romantic, but that’s it. And Simon lost his soulmate. His situation is emotional enough, no feeling needed to be forced. I think if I gave you the lines, you might start to speak and cry too, haha!
The series closely follows the love and friendship between Simon and Maddie. Did you or do you have a similar friendship in your personal life to help prepare you for this role?
One night, I was late for something. Too late. It had cost them a lot. And they suffered the consequences and I lived with regret. Meanwhile, there’s an urgency to Simon’s investigation. To save, to help, to run and run and run. Sometimes on set, I couldn’t help but feel, in some obscure way, that I was getting to be on time the one day I wasn’t. Someone close to me called me once the show came out, recognizing a parallel, and said, “It was her, wasn’t it?” And I said, “It was her.”
School Spirits feels like it has more depth than other series in a similar category. How do you think the show stands apart from other ‘teen dramas’?
Uniqueness is interesting. I think I hate it. Sometimes, especially today, you can never tell what’s a good idea or not because it’s decorated with so many qualities that make it different/stand apart. I think School Spirits has something to say. That’s it. And that over time, because the human eye is too smart, too desperate for anything else, it’s all we will see. The plot will melt, and the jokes will melt, and the beautiful colouring will melt, and all that will remain, like a golden acorn, is the heart of the writer. And we got lucky with the writer. There were two!
What was your experience like working with Peyton List and the rest of the cast?
Since our chemistry read, we knew from the fire in the other person’s eyes that we wanted to make this show as strong as we could. I’m severe. I think about death every day, a lot of us do, and so anything I touch, I want to give the greatest I could offer. Trying all the way is all there is, you know? Peyton and I rehearsed non-stop while filming. Night shoots, weekends, days off—it didn’t matter. We’d be rearranging the furniture in our hotel rooms to match the auto shop, classroom, etc. Usually, actors prepare alone to respect the other’s process, but we found we had a similar process and wanted to fine-tune every moment between Maddie and Simon. Nothing left to question on the day of the shoot.
You’ve already got quite the acting resume, from drama to comedy, to sci-fi thriller. Is there an area of film/or TV that you haven’t explored yet, but would like to?
I’d love to work on a film that’s focused on people. Well, what does that mean? It means the camera sits and the scenes can feature all the tiny things that shift in a conversation. It’s a sensitive orchestra. Frequently, these are romantic stories. But not necessarily. I’m interested to explore chemistry in a long-form way—to give power to dialogue and mold the scene into a nice, dynamic shape. No earthquake. The earthquake is a passive-aggressive comment at a café. No string of jokes. The punchline is in the sad look she gives you as she sips her drink. No nuclear threat. The nuclear threat is the way she gets up from the table. This is what I’m craving—delicacy, characters, and texture. Those are my favourite movies.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor? Was there a specific film/tv show, or actor you admired that pushed you to follow this path?
Cloud Atlas is a beautiful movie. It was the first time I realized you can go to the movie theatre to think about life afterward. It used to be all escapism for me. Suddenly, it was a mirror.
What series do you enjoy?
Altered Carbon was wonderful.
What is your dream role or genre?
I study French and as I improve, I would like to work with French directors and play to their style. As for genre, I love science fiction because the stakes are always high. As for character, I always dream of training for something physical.
You recently played Connor in the Hulu series Reboot. How was your experience working with Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Rachel Bloom, and the rest of the cast?
Extremely welcoming. Reboot was very dreamy. Part of it had to do with the fact that the show shot in the Fox lot—in the driveways, trailers, soundstages, etc. So you show up to work on essentially this enormous playground with hilarious people and creators. A great experience.
Outside of acting, you are also an acclaimed writer! Can you see yourself writing your own series or film script sometime in the future?
Not yet. Not for the sake of it at least. To me, foreseeing the future is analogous to love—how can we say we want love if we haven’t yet met the one we love? I can’t see myself as a screenwriter without having something to say first. Once I find that, I’d love to pursue it.
Now that School Spirits is out, what’s next for you this year?
I’m smiling up at the sky—opening my heart up to the human race—and saying, “Life is a miracle. I cannot wait to meet the people who want to create the same movies as I do.” And so I’ll search for them, and hold them, create with them, and voila. We finish life.
School Spirits is now streaming on Paramount+.
Interview Rachel Martin
Photography Kevin Scanlon