In rare moments, a master actor gets to play a double or triple role.
That includes comedy guys – Eddie Murphy, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers – and various Englishmen who become Jekyll and Hyde. And now, sort of, there’s Chiara Aurelia.
No, you probably haven’t heard of her. She’s 18 and has had some roles … five of them playing the younger version of a main character. But when “Cruel Summer” debuts (9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, on Freeform), she has virtually a triple role – the same teen-ager (Jeanette, shown here, center, at the start), over three summers that transform her completely.
“Each year kind of represents a different element of all of our lives,” Aurelia told the Television Critics Association. “You know – the darkness, the sadness, the youthfulness.”
Many teens may have multiple characters bouncing around inside them. As co-star Olivia Holt sees it, the show “shines a light on the complex part of being a teenager and trying to figure out who you are, in the midst of a million things that are going on.”
Holt plays Kate, who – at first – doesn’t have complexities. She’s beautiful and popular, with fun friends and a loving boyfriend. Then something happens – we won’t spoil it – that changes everything.
Jeanette becomes three archetypes – gawky and giggly in 1993, cool in ‘94, a dark loner in ‘95. Aurelia had to leap between personas, sometimes in the same day. “Wardrobe and hair and make-up play a big part in it, (but) it’s a lot in the mindset,” she said.
This isn’t your typical teen role … as Jessica Biel, one of the producers, realizes. Back when she was 14, Biel played a minister’s daughter in “7th Heaven.” She did the show for six full seasons (and parts of two others), at a time when “television was way more traditional.”
It was only later that she got to see complex characters – starring in “The Sinner” and producing this show. “I would have loved to play one of these characters,” she said.
The trick was finding the right actress. Aurelia, it turns out, was preparing for this for years. “I was like that annoying 4- and 5-year-old girl who was like, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do with my life.’”
At 4, she convinced her mother to move from New Mexico to Los Angeles. There, she studied at the Lee Strasberg school; it was a sputtering start.
“We moved back and forth between New Mexico and California for most of my childhood,” she said. “We kind of moved away from the industry and it didn’t seem like this was what I was going to do.”
And then it was. At 12, Aurelia started to get small guest roles. Then came two series, airing almost simultaneously. In “Tell Me Your Secrets” (which arrived on Amazon Prime in February), she’s a rich kid who’s a high school bully; in “Cruel Summer,” she is (at first) the opposite.
We meet Jeanette as a light-hearted kid with a warm family and two good friends. It’s a role Aurelia says she can relate to: “I can be really silly and goofy and fun …. Jeanette 1993 is clearly my favorite.”
Then come the changes. We see it “becoming harder for her to be the pure person that I feel like she was. She’s going through so much.”
Many teens do. It’s just that they don’t have gifted actors to portray them.