Sophia Anne Caruso is one of those multi-hyphenates who embodies the meaning of “creative” in every sense of the word. She started performing theater at the age of nine, in her hometown of Spokane, Washington. By her midteens, she’d already added performances in the sci-fi drama The Nether and the David Bowie musical, Lazarus, to her resume and made her Broadway debut in the critically acclaimed 2016 production of Blackbird, alongside Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels. Aside from having the time management skills of a Virgo (because navigating that coming-of-age period is hard enough without a burgeoning career), Caruso has an old soul maturity which extends to the roles and productions she chooses for work. What her IMBD profile won’t tell you is that off-stage she paints, writes poetry, plays guitar, and creates her own music under the same name (her Spotify already has three original songs).
The common thread among all these mediums is vulnerability. “I’m tapping into the same storage space of emotions and personal experiences in my brain. You really need vulnerability to create good art,” Caruso says over Zoom from her home in New York. Where some people shy away from emotion or sensitivity, Caruso dives head first into the ability to deeply feel and draw from the past to give life to a character in the present or a song in the works. Her next big project is the upcoming Netflix movie, The School for Good and Evil, which is an adaptation of the book series by Soman Chainani and is set to release on October 19th. Caruso plays Sophie, one of two best friends who find themselves on opposing sides of good and evil at an enchanted school. As a self-proclaimed vessel for different forms of creative expression, she takes the parental approach of not picking favorites and appreciating the uniqueness of each. Although, her very real fur baby dog did make a cameo a few times throughout our call to say hi and vie for her attention. Her on-screen (and off-character) demeanor has a calmness to it that brings a sense of ease to our conversation as we chat about the relatable evilness of Sophie, the difference between theater and film, the story behind her latest single, and how she chooses meaningful work.
What can you tell me about ‘The School for Good and Evil’? What did you love most about being on set?
The plot is out there because [of] the books. [The film] is a little bit different but, for the most part, pretty similar. It’s a story about female companionship and friendship, the power of love between two girls, and what that can do. I loved being on set to film. It was really one of my favorite things I’ve done, ever, [and] was the most fun I’ve had, ever. We were all cooped up in the same hotel in Ireland for four months, and this hotel was less of a hotel and more of a weird castle on a hill where we lived. We all got so close, and it was a very special process.
Did the setting of the hotel help you get into character?
It was definitely a different vibe than the [castle] in our film. Our sets are so immersive and specific—they are all purpose-built—so as soon as I stepped onto the set, I was completely in it. I turned up, threw that costume on, got my wig [on], got on the set, and I was kind of in it. But I suppose, yes, living in the castle created a vibe.
Are there traits of your character, Sophie, that you relate to?
We all have a lot in common with Sophie. At the end of the day, we all want to be good [but] we are all a little bad. Agatha, Sofia Wylie’s character, is sort of the heart of the story, and she’s our moral compass. I’m the one where we’re all like I relate to that. I’m evil, I’m a little demon, and I’m not so good but you still love me. I’m like the loveable demon. We all want to be good, and sometimes we’re not—we get caught up in desires and shallow things. Then we come out the other side and realize that we were wrong and try to be better. That’s her thing but at the end of the day, she very much has a heart. She’s quite a sass. There are a lot of things I can relate to her: certainly vanity, the desire for beauty, her overcoming all these things, and realizing that it’s about being a good person and a good friend that really matters.
The book’s author, Soman Chainani, said “I wanted a magical school that felt like a Madonna concert, I wanted this high female energy that’s powering the school,” about his vision. Do you think that sentiment was reflected in the cast and on set?
Oh yeah, it’s epic. It’s so female-centered, and everything is high-femme. The costumes, the hair, the makeup, the sets, the story—everything. [Chain] was spot on with that comment and the quality of what we’re doing reflects that. They’re some pretty epic costumes. Definitely, the most costumes [I’ve] had to wear, even more than broadway. I have this montage with all these crazy fashion looks, corsets, and glitter. I obviously have my princess look at the beginning, but as my character changes, I get a very punk-princess thing going on. A lot of black and glitter, it’s very Madonna. I even got some crazy heels, it’s epic.
You’ve previously said that you love telling stories young girls can relate to, knowing that you inspire them is one of the most meaningful parts of your job. Is it more meaningful for you to be working on a project that is so female-focused?
I realize it doesn’t really depend on what it is. I mean, meaningful in what sense, you know? Having the voice to tell a story about young girls – that in itself is very powerful. I was a young girl who wanted to hear these stories and see these things. [I] always looked up to these people, so it feels like an honor, a responsibility, and a very wonderful thing to be able to do that. In terms of the work and what is more meaningful, it certainly holds a lot of significance with projects I’ve done where maybe the focus wasn’t set on teenage girls but [still] had beautiful messages. It’s also about telling interesting stories. I’m working with people who I find to be artistically stimulating and interesting. I try to be choosy about the work I do, and [I ask myself] how to be meaningful in one way or another. Whether that’s towards the public, meaning something for them and for young girls, or like Lazarus, which is its own meaningful thing to myself and to [David Bowie’s] fans too. So yeah, meaningful is a good thing for me to fixate on when I’m choosing work, that’s something that drew me to this.
You’ve not only done broadway but broadway musicals, what is the difference between working on a project like that and filming a Netflix series? Do you have a preference for theater or film?
It’s just different. I knew I was doing this project around the top of the pandemic, so from then until this is released in the Fall, [it’s] a long wait. It’s definitely exciting and also frustrating to put so much into making this, [have it] be in a year of post-production, and be waiting for it to come out. To not be able to have that instant gratification, [is] different from doing theater. I step on stage, and I do the performance, it’s done. It’s out there. So, one is instant [and] one is delayed. [Another] difference is that a film is going to stay there forever. On set, you get many takes to get it right, but whatever they choose, is what it’s going to be. Versus, on stage, I get one try, but it disappears the second I say it. I love doing plays particularly. I’m an actor at heart, but I make music as well. They are two different things and I love them both, equally. But I do come from theater, that’s where my roots are, that’s where I learned everything about how to do my job, so I suppose that’s my original love.
A lot of your projects and characters have a dark and edgy theme, is that a conscious intention when taking on new projects?
It’s not my conscious effort to try to find a dark role as much, they happen to fall into my lap. I don’t particularly seek after roles, I seek out work that could be a challenge for me or it means something. Often, those things just so happen to be darker roles. I’m not limiting myself, but I’m not particularly interested in playing the girl next door, and even when those opportunities have come up, it’s like, I’m not like that. I guess I fall into a different category. This movie is dark and edgy, but also super funny and light and has a great message, so we get the best of both worlds.
You recently released a single called “Snow & Ice” and there’s an empowering message in the lyrics, what was your intention when working on this? Is it written from the perspective of you talking to yourself?
The lyrics and music are Nick [Littlemore] and Henry [Hey’s] baby, they’re my co-writers. We write all our music together. This was a piece they had created before I even knew Nick—[it’s] been sitting in Google Drive since 2018 and so the song [has] evolved over time. The reason why my music trickles out is [that] I’m such a perfectionist, and I really want to wait until something feels like it’s the right moment to share it. I’ve done so many mixes of it and so many vocals with it until I got it to the point where I wanted to put it out in the world. With this song, I’m really the vessel for Nick and Henry’s writing. As a vessel, I want to tell the story from the perspective of an angel, singing to you, the listener. And also to myself: the angel in me, singing to myself.
I can see a painting behind you that looks like the cover art for “Snow & Ice”, what’s the origin story of that?
Usually, when you do your cover art, it’s a picture of your face, but I decided not to do that. I wanted to do something that I felt was inspiring and artistic to me. My friend, who paints, and I were both going through a difficult time and I said I think it’s time to work on a song, and so, I pulled [the song] up. She was staying with me at the time, and I said, “will you do this?” Months and months later, she’s finally painting this thing, and she painted it to be as if I’m submerged under water and frozen in ice. This sort of darkness and underwater [aspect] is actually [the] preservation of oneself. We both have a lot of love for our dogs, we actually watch each other’s dogs. She took her dog’s paw, dipped it in paint, and used [it] to paint different parts of the painting. So, it was a story for our friendship, too. How we lifted each other up and the things we said to each other, inspired me to bring this song out. And I thought, what better artist to be making the [cover art] than the person that made me bring this song up again and finish it. My music is something that is mine. I’m an actor, right, so I work for directors and other people. Music is the one thing that I have artistic control over. I do it when I want to, when I’m inspired, and I put it out exactly when I want to put it out.
Your songs “Toys” and “Goodbye” have this theme of being alone and overcoming loss with a sense of melancholy, is this consistent with what you’re working on for your debut album?
Each of them is a time capsule. They are all different points in time. I haven’t taken all my songs and put them out on record yet because each of them is so different. They all have very different sounds [but] the one thing that is in common with them is my voice. “Toys” is a story about a child and the desire to want to be alone and not want to be alone. “Goodbye” is about the loss of a person. A lot of it is themed on loss. We’ve all lost a lot of people, they are things we have to learn to accept [and] that is a major theme of my music. Some of the songs that I’m coming out with later this summer are not on the theme of loss so much but again, it’s a different vibe to each song.
In a Teen Vogue interview from 2019, you mentioned you were working on a collection of poetry, short stories, and journal entries and you pointed out a gap of female teenage poets writing about being a teenager at that moment. Is this still something you’re working on?
I’ve actually spent a lot more time on this project this summer. I wrote so much as a teenager and as a kid. I have a lot of those things compiled, but it’s an unfinished piece of work. Even though I’m not a teenager anymore, and I’m still writing from the perspective of a young woman, I’m not going to limit myself as to my age on that. It’s just like how I said I have demos that go back to 2017, and they sit there until it feels like it’s the right moment to put them out. It’s interesting how I’ve written all these things and as time goes by I can look back on it and see the right way to compile them and put them out. At the time, it was more about writing things as they were happening, and now, it is more about piecing them together and seeing what I really want to do with them. My writing and my music [is] based on poetry. When I write my lyrics, they start with a poem, so a lot of the stuff I talk about in my writing (in the little book I’m working on) is laced in with my music. So yes, It’s still there but it’s one of those things that takes time, and when I feel like it’s ready, it will make its way into the world.
What does vulnerability as an artist mean to you? Does it differ from vulnerability as an actress?
They are different mediums, and I get just as vulnerable. With music, I’m sitting in a session with my journal open or I’m standing in the studio humming. It’s hours of me taking myself to places which is really the same thing as being on set and being in a play where I have to spend anywhere from 75 minutes to 2 hours completely tapped into a feeling or many. It’s a different form of expression and I happen to be a vessel for many different forms of expression. Having access to that and hypersensitivity is probably what makes the best artists and performers, in my opinion. It’s a gift in terms of being an artist and a curse in terms of being a human moving through the world because I’m constantly tapped into that and am usually in an emotional space.
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