How ‘The School for Good and Evil’ Author Soman Chainani Ensured Adaptation’s Focus on Empathy

“The School for Good and Evil” author Soman Chainani had the chance to step into the world (and castle) he constructed in a creative cameo appearance similar to that of Jenny Han in the adaptations of two of her beloved trilogies “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “The Summer I Turned Pretty.”

“The cool thing about Netflix, especially with a big fandom, they encourage author cameos. Jenny Han’s a really good friend, but she’d done it and Leigh Bardugo had done it in ‘Shadow and Bone.’ Paul [Feig] was gracious enough to ask me to do it, and that was really my first day on set,” Chainani told TheWrap of his appearance in the Netflix adaptation of his book series.

“Being thrown at that table with Charlize and Carrie and Laurence and Michelle. I was at that table for basically eight hours that day, and I was getting to spend time with them getting to be around them, but also in the context of a universe I built in my head. I felt more comfortable there because I almost saw them as characters instead of the superstar icons and I think it just made for a nice kind of icebreaker.”

Chainani’s cameo occurs in a pivotal scene in which the faculty and staff of the school gather to discuss the institution’s fate. The Storian (voiced by Cate Blanchett) has tipped them off by framing the story between the two female best friends.

Also Read:
Paul Feig On Why He Insisted on Making ‘The School for Good and Evil’ as Practically as Possible: ‘I’ve Got Such CG Fatigue’

The film adaptation of the first book in Chainani’s best-selling series released on Netflix in October, telling the story of Sophie, who dreams of finding her own happily ever after, and Agatha, who couldn’t care less about fairytales. When bookstore owner Madam Deauville (Patti Lupone) tells the girls that the legendary School for Good and Evil isn’t just legendary after all, Sophie homes in on the idea of getting accepted to The School for Good. A mysterious creature comes to kidnap her in response to her application letter, and Agatha — being the good friend that she is — tries to rescue Sophie from her kidnapping. This results in both girls getting snatched up by a bony bird stymph, only for Sophie to be placed in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good.

“The founding principle for the book and the movie is that we’re not just following the heroes,” Chainani said. “We’re so used to the Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Disney architecture. A version of this in Potterland or Disneyland is you follow the Gryffindor kids or you follow the heroes, the villains show up every once in a while, but you don’t have that equal placement.”

Chainani points to “Game of Thrones” as an example of toeing the line of the good and evil binary.

Also Read:
‘School for Good and Evil’ Debuts at No. 1 on Netflix Top 10 as Ryan Murphy Reigns Supreme in TV (Again)

“I think that’s why ‘Game of Thrones’ is so successful. You’re not identifying any characters good or evil. You’re not given those handy tips, and ultimately, it’s just a richer story,” he said. “I think that’s what people want, I think it’s also what teenagers and kids are ready for. I’m not going to tell you who the good guy is. I’m not gonna tell you who the evil guy is. You figure it out.”

As the two girls struggle to adapt to their unexpected placements, taking classes in Beautification, Uglification and Surviving Fairytales, Agatha begins to notice the large gray area in between the ‘fixed’ black and white sides of good and bad. Chainani felt that two scenes that involve Agatha’s observations were central to his book’s message. One — involving her using her wish to free the soul of a group of wish fish, transforming them into the girl who ‘failed’ her classes in the school long ago — made a seamless transition into the film, but another mirror scene in which Agatha rediscovers her innate beauty did not.

“There’s a famous mirror scene in the book that’s kind of the iconic mirror scene that really is what made the series popular to begin with, and I think they tried to do it for the film, and it just didn’t flow ultimately in the post-production process, and they had to take it out,” Chainani said. “There were times where I was like, ‘I think this scene is super important. I think it’s the backbone or I think it’s a key moment.’ And Paul [Feig] always made sure that that was in the script and a priority filming,” he said. “The wish fish scene, which I also said was a key emotional moment in the books and would be in the movie ultimately, is in and really sort of an emotional centerpiece for the film.”

Also Read:
‘The School for Good and Evil’ Cast and Character Guide: Who Plays Who? (Photos)

Kerry Washington, who portrays Dean of the School for Good Professor Dovey, delivers a line following the transformation that strikes at the heart of being good.

“It’s based on this speech that Professor Dovey gives in the book where she’s basically like, ‘If good always wins, and it’s just about the good guy winning over and over again, then it becomes about how good-looking Good is and it becomes about their waistlines and their hair and how cute and cuddly they are,” Chainani said. “Because they win every time so they slowly get shallower and shallower and shallower, and what they’ve lost is that sort of depth of character that actually makes them good. We wanted to have that key moment in the movie where what Kerry’s saying is this school has kind of lost its bearings because they’re so used to winning all the time. And for once, there’s a character who comes in who represents what Good used to be.”

Dovey’s line about embracing empathy as the most important aspect of ‘being good’ touches on another way Chainani deconstructs the binary.

“If you’re going to teach empathy, if you’re going to teach understanding people, we have to see everyone on both sides — and your brain might be a little confused at first, because you’re not used to dual following the hero and villain at the same time, but in that is the fun,” he added.

Also Read:
‘The School For Good and Evil’ Ending Explained by Director Paul Feig