‘Cruel Summer’ Star Chiara Aurelia Is This Year’s Scream Queen

‘Cruel Summer’ Star Chiara Aurelia Is This Year’s Scream Queen

For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

Chiara Aurelia is having something of a thriller-girl-summer, which is no surprise as the actress has already proven her dedication to the hair-raising genre. The 18-year-old says she generally gravitates to work that plumbs the dark side, having appeared in such films as Netflix’s Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game and the 2018 indie flick Back Roads. In July, it was announced that she’d joined the cast of Luckiest Girl Alive, the forthcoming suspense film starring Mila Kunis and produced by Reese Witherspoon. This year, though, everybody met Aurelia as Cruel Summer’s Jeanette Turner, the complex small-town teenager who gets accused of keeping a classmate’s kidnapping a secret. The Freeform show steadily took the Internet by storm, as viewers across age groups circulated theories on Twitter, Reddit, and even Facebook groups up until the very last moments of the season finale, in which Jeanette’s shocking truth is revealed (no spoilers!). For W’s annual TV Portfolio the actress, who also stars in Amazon’s Tell Me Your Secrets and Netflix’s horror trilogy Fear Street, opens up about Juliette Lewis’s influence and maintaining a distance from social media.

You decided to portray Miriam from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. What about her character made you choose her?

There’s so much that’s fascinating about her and the portrayal by Rachel Brosnahan. I’m a huge fan of the show. It’s fun and stylistically super exciting seeing such an incredible female actress take on that character and portray it with such tact and detail and have it be so informative and interesting. I am generally drawn [to] and work on really dark projects and I think that there was a great opportunity for me here to show how much I like comedy as well.

Would you be interested in pivoting to comedic roles?

Yeah, I’d love to. I’ve been having so much fun in this thriller-drama genre. It’s been incredible and I want to continue that and hopefully move into some other genres as well.

You’re in three thrillers this year—You have Cruel Summer, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 on Netflix, and Tell Me Your Secrets. What about the genre pulls you in?

I personally watch a lot of mystery thrillers, on-the-edge-of-your-seat shows. There are really incredible stories to be told about young women who are extremely complex and have some difficult and sordid paths. It’s really exciting for me to dive into those roles, to try to understand them better and hopefully do them justice.

Speaking of complex women, we have to talk about Jeanette [from Cruel Summer]. At the last minute of the show, she flips the script on us. Did you know about the ending before filming, or was it just as much of a shock to you?

It was definitely a shock. I was kind of the sleuth of the cast, always trying to put all the pieces together, see what information I could gather. It was a really interesting experience because the creators kind of gave us the opportunity to be an audience member and a viewer. We were excited to figure out what was going to happen, just like everyone who was watching it.

It took us quite a long time to discover it, but they approached me around episode 8 and wanted to talk about how I felt about it and how I saw this twist going, how it would inform my character for the season. It was incredible, it was a great twist.

Twitter was ablaze with theories and commentary throughout the season. How was it being part of this Internet phenomenon?

I’ve said this before, but I do really try to distance myself from social media a little bit. I think that the theories were fascinating and it was definitely my favorite part. But, I was so happy that we put our blood, sweat, and tears into the show and created something we were so proud of. It was really nice to be able to kind of step away from it after it was released and give everyone the opportunity to become a fan and explore it in their own minds. I didn’t necessarily spend a lot of time on social media reading theories. I had a couple of friends that would talk to me about what was happening. Other than that, I was like, I just want to see what they think of the end.

Aurelia at the Young Entertainer Awards. Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

The ʼ90s are very much in right now. What was it like going back in time and playing in that era?

I love the ʼ90s! It was a great era for us to jump back into. We were a little bit pre-technology, there’s really great fashion trends, good music, and good TV shows. There was a lot to explore there and it wasn’t too long ago. I have a lot of friends who lived through the ʼ90s, and family, so I was able to use them as a bouncing board to figure out where I was, what was happening, what I didn’t know, and what I couldn’t discover just by watching and reading. I kind of heard about it based off of human experience, which was awesome.

The thing about Jeanette is that there’s innocence and then there’s this other side, and you’re basically acting three different roles in one.

Yeah, it was a great challenge. It was like nothing I’d ever seen or done before. We had so many incredible creative people involved in this project, you know, behind the scenes of the production side of things. We had an opportunity to put our heads down and figure out how much can really change in a year. We wanted to portray that in the character as well as in hair and makeup and wardrobe and color and set design. There was a lot of space for us to explore within that.

There is a really interesting part of this show that is based on friendship and relationships in general. They can transform so much in such a short amount of time and you watch Jeanette’s relationships with virtually everyone in her life transformed throughout the years. Some good, some bad, some different, moving between friend groups, developing close relationships with her parents and then distant relationships with her parents. I think it’s really interesting. It was definitely mind-boggling sometimes, remembering where we were: what was happening, what year we were in, how I felt about all these people, but that made it so much fun.

You love mysteries and thrillers. Are there any favorite movies or shows that are on the top of your list?

[Laughs] There are so many. In terms of thrillers or horrors, the first movie that ever made me super fascinated by thrillers was probably Cape Fear, the one with Robert De Niro, the remake. I was on the edge of my seat the whole movie. I really wanted to be able to do a character like Juliette Lewis’s in that project. I thought she was phenomenal and brought such a depth and vulnerability to her character. I mean, there’s so many incredible actors in that movie. I’m a huge Jodie Foster fan, I love The Silence of the Lambs. But, I have favorites in other genres as well.

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