A new mystery series is coming to Freeform, and while Cruel Summer will definitely give you some Pretty Little Liars vibes, the young-adult drama may be even more twisted. Chiara Aurelia stars as Jeanette Turner, an innocent young girl just turning 15 when we first meet her, but somehow becomes "the most hated girl in America" over the span of two years thanks to her connection with the disappearance of another girl in town, Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt). The show checks in with Jeanette and her inner circle over the course of three summers in 1993, 1994, and 1995, and as the show progresses we'll discover how and why Jeanette changed so much and exactly what happened to Kate that first summer.
"I think that it is really complex and has some strong female characters that leave such incredible opportunities for a young actress," Aurelia told TV Guide ahead of the show's April 20 premiere. "There's so much strong female representation behind the scenes as well. I think seeing this and hearing about the passion that everyone has for this project was honestly incredible. I could not have been more excited to dive into Jeanette and get to know her better every year."
Her co-star, Olivia Holt, agreed that the female representation in front of and behind the screen was a big part of the draw. The show is helmed by former Shondaland writer Tia Napolitano and also includes Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple on the producing team.
"Like Chiara said, something that really drew me in was the female representation of the two female leads to the female creatives behind this project," Holt added."I definitely think that we need more of that. I know that when I was a kid I didn't really see a lot of that on screen. I'm very grateful to be a part of this."
One obvious way that having a female team behind the camera manifests in the show is that neither Jeanette nor Kate fill stereotypical high school stereotypes. Even though they are at opposite ends of the popularity spectrum when the series begins, Holt's Kate is not the Regina George of their high school. In fact, she's a really sweet girl, which makes her disappearance genuinely heartbreaking for those that knew her.
"Ultimately Kate, in the beginning, is what everyone expects her to be. There are a lot more layers there and a lot more pieces to the puzzle that we are trying to figure out. Kate is not your stereotypical mean girl," Holt described. "She is actually very kind and compassionate and has a lot of observation over her family and her friends. She's really just trying to figure out what her identity is and where she fits in."
As for Aurelia, she's playing Jeanette over three different time periods, and while they are only a year apart, they are teenage years, and Jeanette changes drastically before we meet her each summer. The actress said that she doesn't consider the three different Jeanettes to be different characters though, they just lead with different emotions at any given time and that's what she focused on while preparing for the role.
"Part of the beauty of it is that it doesn't have to be defined and separate. I think every day she might be feeling a stronger element of the more youthful part of herself or the more advanced or the more depressed. There's a lot of layers to being human to all of us and I think something that's really interesting to tap into is that as a young woman I'm not just one thing," she explained. "I think that especially with such a drastic transformation that Jeanette is going through in these three years, I think that it is easy to tap into because they are different parts of myself and different parts of being a young woman today that we are all experiencing and feeling. I feel lucky that it was written so eloquently that I was capable of tapping into that and expressing every feeling and crevice of Jeanette in the best way that I knew how."
Of course, the motive for all of those drastic changes in Jeanette is yet to be revealed, but Aurelia is hopeful that fans will dig into the mystery of the series and enjoy trying to pick apart the different narratives that converge.
"I hope that people are going to enjoy watching it as we did filming it. I think that it is exciting and I think you can be truly captivated by the storyline and these characters, and potentially feel like you're going to be lost in a different world, which can be really nice right now," she said. "It's a bumpy, exciting, twisty, crazy ride."
Cruel Summer premieres Tuesday, April 20 at 9/8c on Freeform. Episodes will be available to stream the next day on Hulu.