Stella Baker, the daughter of Mentalist alum Simon Baker, plays Sarah Cooper in The CW’s new drama, The Republic of Sarah

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stella baker
Stella Baker
| Credit: Nino Muñoz/The CW

Stella Baker is opening up about taking on her first lead acting role.

Three years after graduating from the Yale School of Drama, the daughter of Mentalist alum Simon Baker and actress Rebecca Rigg stars in The CW's new drama The Republic of Sarah, which premiered on June 14

Baker, 27, plays Sarah Cooper, a passionate high school history teacher who sets out to save her small New Hampshire town from becoming a mining site for a big tech company. To achieve this, Sarah finds a loophole that allows her to designate the town as its own sovereign nation, only to be unexpectedly thrust into the role of running it. 

"The premise is really great and really exciting and it's a new concept — there's an opportunity there to create our own tone and our own little world for the show," Baker tells PEOPLE of the series. 

the republic of sarah
The Republic of Sarah
| Credit: Panagiotis Pantazidis/The CW

"Sarah is just so complex and written with so many layers and so many interesting qualities. She is so steadfast in her beliefs and so strong willed," she adds. "There's a lot to do as an actor with that role."  

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As for playing a lead character for the first time, Baker says there were definitely some nerves going into it. 

"I thought, 'Am I doing this right?'" she says with a laugh. "But you don't really know if you're able to do a thing until you just sort of are doing it." 

"I learned a lot from the people that I was working with. I learned a lot about myself as an actor and my process and what I need to do to make sure I'm doing my job well," she continues. "Being the lead on the show, it's a huge responsibility but you also can lead by example. It was really, really exciting."

The Australian-born actress says she hopes fans will be inspired by The Republic of Sarah to make change in their own communities. 

"I think it's a pretty inspiring story about a group of people standing up for something that they care about," she says. "And that's the most powerful thing in the world, is when a group of people just fight for something. It's the only way change happens." 

The Republic of Sarah airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on The CW.