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Freeform’s ‘Cruel Summer’ Gives Jessica Biel a Chance to Control the Narrative

Biel's experience as a young actor on "7th Heaven" played a part in her interest to executive produce the upcoming series.

Blake Lee, Allius Barnes, Olivia Holt, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith, Chiara Aurelia, Michael Landes, and Brooklyn Sudano

“Cruel Summer”

Freeform

Freeform’s upcoming murder mystery series, “Cruel Summer,” takes audiences back to the summer of 1993 to examine the lives of two young women — and what happens when one of them disappears. The series comes from executive producer Jessica Biel, herself no stranger to teen dramas.

“This project was such an exciting creative thing,” Biel said during the series’ Television Critics Association Winter 2021 Press Tour presentation. The history Biel had as an actor on “7th Heaven” and growing up on television certainly played a part in her interest in this series. “All of these experiences I had have culminated in this experience behind the camera,” she said. “What was extremely cool…is this was a project I would have wanted to do if I was their age. To be able to create something for young women…is really exciting.” She hopes the show give young people, especially young women, a platform to talk about hard things.

Biel said television was far more traditional when she started in it, as very few people crossed over from actor to working behind the camera. “Changing the creative narrative…I didn’t have that power at all,” she said. “I’m so grateful that I’m at a place in my career where I get to have those conversations.”

For Biel, she loves working with the writers and developing the characters from the ground-up. “How do I find my way through? Where do I love her? Where do I not understand her?” those kind of questions, Biel said, are the best elements of producing.

“I have such great people that I’m working with who make it so easy to hop around,” said series lead Chiara Aurelia. “It’s sad the evolution that Jeanette goes through. It becomes harder for her to be the pure person she was,”  She said there were constant conversations about the mind of her character and the scenes they were working on each day.

The entire cast goes through a large journey over the three years of the story. “It really shines a light on the complex part of being a teenager and trying to figure out who you are,” said actress Olivia Holt, who plays missing girl Kate Wallis. “I think you’ll see a lot of different layers [to] her over the years.”

Being a throwback series leant itself to some fun opportunities to show how times have changed. As Biel revealed, Holt didn’t know what a Walkman was. “There are a couple of scenes where I carry a Walkman around…but I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know how to work it,” Holt said. “It seemed to be mostly prop-related,” Biel added, though executive producer Michelle Purple said there was also a tendency for the actresses to point out how retro the clothing choices were.

“Cruel Summer” premieres on Freeform April 20.

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