Lucy Hale Promises 'Katy Keene' Won't Be as Dark as 'Riverdale' or 'Sabrina' : 'It Stands Alone'

"To my surprise, it was so completely different," the Pretty Little Liars alumna says of how her new CW series differs from its fellow Archie universe shows

Lucy Hale‘s got a secret that she doesn’t want to keep it any longer: Her new CW show Katy Keene, which premieres Thursday night.

“It’s a passion project because I’ve been part of it since almost the beginning,” Hale, 30, tells PEOPLE. “We’ve been putting our heart and soul into it. It’s been like a little secret we’ve been sitting on for a while so I’m very excited to share it with everyone.”

The series, a spinoff of Riverdale, follows aspiring fashion designer Katy (Hale) as she navigates her career and her relationship with her longtime wrestler boyfriend, supporting her friends and roommates along the way. One of those roommates is Riverdale‘s Josie (Ashleigh Murray), who comes to New York City to pursue a career in music.

Katy Keene -- "Pilot" -- Image Number: KK101f_2253re.jpg -- Pictured: Lucy Hale as Katy Keene
Barbara Nitke/The CW

Aside from one familiar face and the occasional Riverdale callback, Hale says Katy Keene doesn’t rely much on its CW counterpart — or Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which hails from the same Archie universe and creator.

“People are calling it a spinoff but it’s a completely different show,” the actress says. “It stands alone on its own. I was really curious when Katy Keene got brought up to me because I assumed Katy Keene would be a lot like those two shows and to my surprise, it was so completely different and tonally was on the opposite side of the spectrum. People could watch Katy Keene and never have seen an episode of Riverdale.”

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Katy Keene viewers can expect more New York City glitz and glam than Riverdale murder and secrets. “It’s about friendships and about finding yourself in your mid-20s,” Hale says. “It reminded me a lot of my story in L.A.”

Coming from Pretty Little Liars, — whose fans floated theories about the identity of killer A for seven seasons and screengrabbed every frame of the show for clues — she feels prepared to join another massive fandom.

“I think I’m ready [to be part of a show like that],” says the Kyleena spokeswoman, who partnered with the brand for its #whyIUD campaign to help women make informed decisions when it comes to their health and their birth control.

While Katy Keene represents a departure from dusting for prints and getting locked in a coffin on the beloved Freeform series, Hale returns to her creepy roots for thriller Fantasy Island, opening Feb. 14. The scary take on the ’70s series follows Hale’s character arriving for a dream vacation where her wildest dream comes true — until it turns into a nightmare.

Lucy Hale stars in Columbia Pictures' BLUMHOUSE'S FANTASY ISLAND.
Lucy Hale in Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island. Christopher Moss/Sony Pictures

Off-screen, Hale loves all things eerie, too. “I’ve seen every episode of Forensic Files,” she says. “I’ve seen every crime documentary and I’m really just fascinated by it all.”

And she still fields theories from Pretty Little Liars fans who have opinions about how the show ended in 2017.

“I hear it all day every day,” Hale says. “It will probably always be like that, but it’s a good problem to have. If people want to call me Aria, that’s fine. I would just say, please watch Katy Keene as well.”

Katy Keene premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

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