The Jessica Biel-produced drama premiered Tuesday on Freeform

By Dory Jackson
April 21, 2021 02:00 PM
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CRUEL SUMMER - Freeform's Cruel Summer stars Olivia Holt as Kate Wallis.
Credit: Frank Ockenfels/Freeform via Getty

There's a lot to unpack after Cruel Summer's two-hour series premiere on Tuesday — starting with which of its two main characters, Jeanette Turner and Kate Wallis, is telling the truth. And star Olivia Holt says this particular debate will be a big part of the drama's intrigue.

"I think what's so interesting about this show is the viewers are going to bounce back and forth. I don't think they're going to have one singular opinion the whole show, and I think that's what makes the show so intriguing," Holt, 23, tells PEOPLE. "Each episode, I feel like they're going to come up with new theories and new opinions on every character and how it ends or who's right or who's wrong, who's the villain, who's the victim."

"I think that's what makes the show so fun," she adds. "Especially when you're watching with other people."

In fact, Holt herself had theories throughout filming, but says she "ended up being wrong multiple times."

Created by Bert V. Royal, the Jessica Biel-produced series follows the events that transpire over the course of 1993, 1994 and 1995 after popular teen Kate (Holt) is abducted and her classmate Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) assumes her role.

Leaning into the trauma of childhood abduction was no easy feat for Holt. "I really struggled trying to get into that headspace, obviously, because I had never been through anything that traumatic," she says, noting that heavy research helped her prepare for the part.

Freeform's Cruel Summer stars Olivia Holt as Kate Wallis and Chiara Aurelia as Jeanette Turner.
Credit: Frank Ockenfels/Freeform via Getty

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"[I was] doing a lot of research and educating myself in gaslighting and manipulation and the tools needed in order to move on from traumatic experiences. … Just really soaking up as much knowledge as possible," she says. "I remember, when having to shoot those heavier emotional scenes, just having a really difficult time getting into that space because it was really intense."

"It's very new territory for me but a challenge that I was definitely down to accept, because I know that we didn't want to glamorize anything," she continues. "We wanted to make it as authentic and as real as possible."

Olivia Holt is seen arriving to the Michael Kors FW20 Runway Show on February 12, 2020
Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

As the season unfolds, fans should expect even more mysterious twist and turns. And Holt says she thinks Cruel Summer "definitely" has similarities to Freeform hit drama Pretty Little Liars, which ended in 2017.

"I watched Pretty Little Liars, so I was a fan. I think that's actually one of the reasons why I loved the genre so much — because I was invested in that show," she says. "I think that there's a lot of comparisons there. I also think that the camaraderie and frenemy [dynamic], that aspect of it bouncing back and forth, that theme is very much in our show as well."  

Cruel Summer airs Tuesdays (10 p.m. ET) on Freeform.