LOS ANGELES, April 20 (UPI) — Jessica Biel’s first major role was as the teenage daughter of a minister on the show 7th Heaven, which premiered in 1996. Now 39, Biel produced the Freeform drama, Cruel Summer, and said she was a bit envious of her leads, Chiara Aurelia and Olivia Holt.
“This is a project that I would have wanted to do if I was their age,” Biel said in a recent Television Critics Association Zoom session. “I would have loved to play one of these characters.”
Cruel Summer takes place in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The abduction of Kate (Holt) drastically changes both Kate and Jeanette (Aurelia) from year to year.
Biel said she was excited to provide roles like Jeanette and Kate for the next generation of actors. Writer Bert V. Royal created Cruel Summer, and Tia Napolitano and Michelle Purple joined Biel as executive producers.
“To really talk about some intense, hard things, hard things that these young people are going through, is really exciting for me,” Biel said.
In the drama, Jeanette celebrates her 15th birthday in 1993. The 18-year-old Aurelia said that the mysteries of Cruel Summer, which the show will reveal, make Jeanette more closed off by 1995.
“You see it becoming harder for her to be the pure person that I feel like she was,” Aurelia said. “She’s going through so much that I think it almost taints her sparkle.”
Aurelia said the three time periods of Cruel Summer illustrate how drastically young people can change in a short period of time. In 1993, Jeanette stayed home and celebrated her birthday with her family. By 1995, Jeanette is a defendant in a court case.
At 15, Jeanette worries she’ll never become pretty enough. By 17, Jeanette sneaks out with her boyfriend Jamie (Froy Gutierrez) and has grown distant from her two closest friends (Harley Quinn Smith and Allius Barnes).
“I think that each year represents a different element of all of our lives: the darkness, the sadness, the youthfulness,” Aurelia said. “I think it’s honestly kind of sad.”
The 23-year-old Holt said Kate’s kidnapping is not the only factor that transforms her character. Holt said Cruel Summer will explore Kate’s family issues and more.
“It really shines a light on the complex part of being a teenager, trying to figure out who you are in the midst of a million things that are going on,” Holt said.
Aurelia said the wardrobe, hair and makeup departments helped her transform into a ’90s teen. Holt said she struggled with props that were obsolete by the time she was a teenager.
“There’s a couple of scenes where I carry a Walkman,” Holt said. “I didn’t really know what it was and I didn’t really know how to work it.”
Although she does not appear in Cruel Summer, Biel said producing allowed her to help shape the characters in a way she’s rarely allowed as an actor for hire. Biel called it “a gift to be able to do that with actors from a ground level.”
Biel said she hopes she can be a resource for Holt and Aurelia. She said she was eager to share her experiences being a teenaged actor in the ’90s, as well as crafting a mystery show like The Sinner, produced and in which she starred.
“All of those experiences that I’ve had have culminated in this moment to step behind the cameras and really be a support system,” Biel said.
Cruel Summer premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Freeform and is available Wednesday on Hulu.