‘Cruel Summer’ in Season for Olivia Holt, Jessica Biel

- By Elizabeth Wagmeister

When Olivia Holt rose to prominence on Disney XD’S “Kickin’ It” in , she was barely years old — the same age as Jessica Biel when she began working on the family drama “ th Heaven” years earlier.

Now, the two women are teaming up for “Cruel Summer,” Freeform’s psychologi­cal thriller in which Holt stars as Kate Wallis, a high schooler who goes missing. Her classmate, Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia), is accused of being connected to her disappeara­nce, which becomes the central mystery of the series, told in a nonlinear fashion over the course of three years in the mid-’ s.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to be part of this project is because of the incredible team of women behind [it],” says Holt, referring to Biel, who serves as executive producer, along with showrunner Tia Napolitano and Michelle Purple, Biel’s producing partner at their Iron Ocean production banner. Iron Ocean is also behind USA’S “The Sinner” and Facebook Watch’s “Limetown.”

In “Cruel Summer,” the whodunit plot is escapist and twisty, akin to the network’s smash hit “Pretty Little Liars,” but the subject matter digs deep. “There are some heavy issues we talk about, from gaslightin­g to manipulati­on and trauma,” says Holt, who began her relationsh­ip with Freeform as the female lead of Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger.”

Starting off as a kid actor herself, Biel isn’t inspired just by her Gen Z cast but also by today’s evolving teen television genre.

“‘ th Heaven’ was a really particular show. It was one side of being a teen and being a kid,” Biel says. “It was much more protected and not really pushing boundaries; it was dealing with issues, but being really sensitive about them for families.”

“But now, we can tell everybody’s story and tap into really challengin­g experience­s that teenagers are going through,” Biel continues, noting shows like “Euphoria” and “Sex Education.” “When I was working and looking and trying to be stimulated creatively and be challenged, I definitely did not have those opportunit­ies.”

Biel says she would have jumped at “Cruel Summer” when she was starting out, which is why her production company signed on to the series.

“I’m clearly too old for this project,” she says. “But it is really intriguing to talk to Olivia and all these young women to hear their experience­s and perspectiv­es and letting them tell their story.”

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Olivia Holt

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