I Can Explain
Chiara Aurelia from Freeform's 'Cruel Summer'

Cruel Summer’s Chiara Aurelia On Playing “The Most Hated Person In America”

Don't worry, she's much happier than Jeanette IRL.

Freeform/Sami Drasin

Freeform's retro YA series Cruel Summer has had fans utterly captivated since its April 20 premiere. A big reason for that is one of Cruel Summer’s stars, Chiara Aurelia, whose character Jeanette goes through a lot throughout the three summers fans see unfold in the first season. Basically, after a popular girl named Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) goes missing in the early ‘90s, outsider Jeanette Turner (Aurelia) mysteriously manages to fill her shoes and become the town’s new it-girl. It isn’t until Kate returns to their small Texas town that Jeanette’s life really falls apart as she becomes the show’s (apparent) villain.

Warning: Light spoilers for Cruel Summer Season 1 follow. It turns out, Kate disappears because she’s held hostage by their school’s vice principal, Martin Harris (Blake Lee). Even more horrific, she claims Jeanette knew where she was being kept but did nothing to help her. While Jeanette denies Kate’s accusations, she quickly goes from newly popular to "the most hated person in America.” Jeanette’s headspace is one Aurelia admits was "difficult" to dive into. "There's so much development and change that's going on over the course of those summers for [Jeanette],” Aurelia tells Elite Daily. “As a young woman growing up in that time, I think it was really challenging for her."

Luckily, Aurelia has plenty of experience in the thriller genre. The 18-year-old played young Jesse in the 2017 horror film Gerald's Game and Rose Lord in Amazon’s 2021 series Tell Me Your Secrets. "I personally love psychological thriller[s] — anything that keeps you on the edge of your seat," Aurelia says.

But while Aurelia's characters tend to be on the enigmatic side, IRL, she’s more than happy to spill details about her life, including a few of her favorite social media moments below.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

High School Graduation

@chiaraaurelia/Instagram

Elite Daily: There seems to be some major party vibes going on here. What were you celebrating?

Chiara Aurelia: We were celebrating my high school graduation in a pandemic, which was quite interesting. I was so excited to go to graduation, but that wasn't really an option, which was awful.

ED: What was it like to graduate during the coronavirus pandemic?

CA: It was hard. I mean, there's so many opportunities that I think were missed. You hear so much about senior year and all of that. But I was really lucky because I was able to celebrate with some people that I really care about and create our own happy graduation moment, even if it wasn't quite what we expected.

ED: There's a cake with candles, which feels more like a birthday celebration than a graduation celebration. What was going on with that?

CA: My mom was going on with that. It was a big celebration, and mom wanted to do everything possible to make it feel as special as possible. She had been running around all day, picking up all these things. I think she felt bad that I couldn't be in person for graduation. I actually didn't know any of this was happening. I was downstairs doing my own thing, then I was brought upstairs and the whole room was filled with balloons and a cake. It was the best graduation I could have hoped for.

ED: Did you make a wish?

CA: I definitely made a wish because that's what has to happen when there's candles on a cake, but I don't remember what it was. Probably just to be where I am now and feel as lucky as I was to have made it through this last year.

ED: What were you feeling when you took this photo?

CA: I was so happy. I was overjoyed. I was surrounded by some really amazing people, and I felt really lucky to have been treated so well on this day. We danced and listened to great music all night. It was wonderful.

On- & Offscreen BFFs

@harleyquinnsmith/Instagram

ED: I recognize these faces! What's going on here?

CA: This photo was taken while filming this season of Cruel Summer. We — me, Harley [Quinn Smith], and Allius [Barnes] — are like, the best of friends. We’re very close. I actually just got off the phone with Harley like, 10 minutes ago.

ED: How is your dynamic as a trio different from your onscreen counterparts?

CA: I mean, there's elements of us that are obviously reflected in our characters, but we have very different personalities. Harley has a heart of gold. She is so sweet. But she's also edgy and cool. Sometimes I'm talking to her and I'm like, ‘You’re way too cool to be my friend,’ which is so similar to the way Mallory is.

Allius is also a very close friend of mine. He and I have probably been spending the most time together since we got back to Los Angeles. He and Vincent are completely different. We have a similar dynamic as friends, kind of like a back and forth — a closeness, a comfortability with one another. He's also a very, very, very sweet person.

ED: What's your favorite memory from filming Cruel Summer?

CA: There are so many good ones. There's a good chunk of time in Episode 5 when we had most of the cast members on set together. The other kids in the cast and I are really, really close, so anything that involved us all goofing off and hanging out and being surrounded by one another was definitely a great time.

ED: What do you love about this photo?

CA: Everything. This was taken on a disposable camera, and I think we were all just trying to capture the moment. I think it perfectly depicts all of us. I'm, like, laughing. Allius is just there. Harley is smiling. I think you can see a little layer of all of our personalities.

The Cruel Summer Letters

@chiaraaurelia/Instagram

ED: What's the story here?

CA: This photo was taken on the table of my apartment in Dallas right before I left. I developed a very close friendship with the crew of our show. I can't begin to explain how close we all got. Every single crew member had written a personalized note to me on the last day of filming. I have never cried so hard in my life.

ED: What was the purpose of the letters?

CA: We all were buying each other little presents and little knickknacks. We also made some yearbooks as a gift because we were in high school in the ‘90s [in Cruel Summer]. We wanted to put as much time and energy and thoughtfulness into this gift as [the crew] had put into the whole season. Putting that together was such a pleasure and a joy. I was in charge. I took Polaroids of the whole crew and then every page was decorated by department. We got 250 copies made and every single crew and cast member got that as their wrap gift. We all went around signing one another's, and then on top of that, some of us passed out cards and other kinds of little gifts and sweet things to one another.

ED: How else did you all bond behind the scenes?

CA: We had a bit of a prank war going on. We’d all prank back and forth. We had a very good time with that, especially when the crew would get in on it. At one point there were like, 500 stickers of my face going around the set.

ED: Can you tell me about your best prank?

CA: Oh, 100%. Olivia [Holt] and Froy [Gutierrez] were filming a scene outside of a mall, and we hadn't quite seen each other yet for the day. I went and I laid on the ground just behind one of the trees, and in the middle of a take, I jumped out and started screaming. And when I tell you, the fear! Olivia and Troy jumped right out of their skin. The best part is that it was all caught on camera, so you guys will get to see that in the blooper reel.

ED: Looking at this photo, how does it make you feel?

CA: It makes me sad because I miss everyone a lot. I remember the moment I took it, and how much I care for this journey as a whole. I feel like it perfectly depicts the love we all shared.

In Elite Daily’s I Can Explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really went down behind the scenes. Read more here.