Exclusive: "Cruel Summer" Star Olivia Holt Says It's Liberating Seeing Kate Wallis Find Her Voice

·8 min read
Photo credit: Sami Drasin/Freeform
Photo credit: Sami Drasin/Freeform

Olivia Holt has been in the acting game longer than most. Already a household name thanks to roles in Kickin' It and Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, she has reached a new high with her role as Kate Wallis in Freeform's latest hit Cruel Summer. The show is a weekly trending topic on Twitter due to its wild twists and never-ending theories over who really is telling the truth in the series.

Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels/Freeform
Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels/Freeform

One of the key pieces of the series is Olivia's powerhouse performance. Playing one character is hard enough, but playing one in three different moments of their life is another game.

Seventeen talked with Olivia Holt on bringing Kate to life, how she handles the show's more emotional moments, and hearing from fans week after week.

17: How has it been seeing the explosive reaction to Cruel Summer every week?

Olivia Holt: I'm so happy that people are investing themselves in the show, because I did the same thing. Before I was even a part of the show, I read the first two scripts and just was so captivated by every character, every scene, and just the thriller behind all of it. So the way that people are reacting to this show is just beyond what I could have ever wanted.

17: We've seen you do comedy and dramas in the past. But this has to be your darkest role yet. How has it been for you as an actor having to be a part of some of these heavier scenes?

OH: Challenging. Really, really challenging. I have a hard time compartmentalizing heavy scenes that I'm in versus real life. And so when I have to go to that emotional space, I have a really difficult time getting out of it. But I really had to educate myself on a lot of the topics that we've discussed in the show from gaslighting, manipulation, to dealing with trauma, and then moving forward with the trauma. I really had to up my knowledge in a real way.

17: A lot of actors keep journals or talk with the writers while navigating their characters. What did you do with Kate?

OH: It was a lot of communication with the creatives. I was also watching videos or reading about people's stories who have dealt with severe trauma. I had to ask what that kind of place was it like during that era? Nowadays, the way that it was dealt with or the way that it's shown on television is so different. Something that was very important to the creative team was that we didn't want to glamorize the situation. And obviously, there's only so much that we can do or say or show it on television. But I think that we did a really good job at executing this in a real way.

17: Living in a small town has a huge effect on Kate's experiences, especially with how quickly people were able to trust Mr. Harris. How would you say it affects her the most?

OH: I think the small-town gossip and bias really gets to Kate. I think it really gets under her skin. Ultimately, she has a lot of misplaced guilt and that's not her fault. She really starts to understand that people need to own up to what happened and how they played a part in it. She just wants honesty and realness and that's why she's developing such an incredible friendship with Mallory, because she gives it to her straight and she's never had anybody in her life do that. So I think that friendship is really special and unique and the only honest relationship that we're seeing so far in the show.

17: How do you think Mallory's honesty is changing Kate?

OH: I think she's starting to really create a vision for herself. I don't think she ever had that. Kate saw her mom, the way she grew up, and wanted to be exactly like her. At one point, her and her mom were inseparable. After she goes and experiences this, she starts to unfold in a really complex way, but really beautiful way. She is starting to stand her ground and for her own opinions and there's something really liberating about that.

17: One of the biggest fights for Kate is just getting people to believe her. This is not just an important thing for survivors, but for women in general whose feelings are constantly brushed aside. How was it seeing Kate get a win in that with Jamie?

OH: I think that's where the misplaced guilt comes from. She does go through something really scary and nobody can relate to it. And I think that that's like why she is so genuinely happy with the transparency that Jamie gives her because she hasn't gotten that. We really do want to see Kate have a win and I think this is just the beginning for her. She's really making an impact just by her actions in '95. She's making an impact on people. Whether the audience believes her or not, it's clear that there's something wrong happening and that's the dishonesty and the manipulation that every single character is writing on her.

17: Kate is finally regaining her own agency in 1995. She's lived under her mother's shadow for so long and then she got almost a whole year of her life taken away from her. What was your reaction to that side of her in the scripts?

OH: This version of Kate is my favorite because of that exact reason. I think she is so resilient and so strong. She really wants to live a good life, even with her traumatic past. She is desperately wanting a solid friendship and foundation in her family. And I think that's why '95 Kate is my favorite to play because she is finding her freedom and it's liberating to watch that.

17: The series has built up quite a vocal fandom who are also trying to figure out what is happening with every passing episode. Have you been enjoying the reaction?

OH: Absolutely! It's so fun too because we're also watching it week to week. I'm seeing the fan theories and the opinions of who they believe and it's so fun, because that's what this genre should do. It should keep people on the edge of their seat and they should constantly be changing their opinion on what they believe and what they don't. The way that people have invested themselves in this show just means everything to me and I think it also means a lot that they can find something that they love and can relate to you know.

Photo credit: Bill Matlock/Freeform
Photo credit: Bill Matlock/Freeform

17: Have you received any messages from survivors who have watched the series?

OH: I've definitely seen an impact from people that have reached out to me just even through social media. I think that they're starting to find a voice. I don't know whether they've been through something like Kate, but they know that they've been through something. But, just the way that they see Kate not let this thing control her life is something that I think is really impacting people and they are able to move forward without letting control their life which is massive.

17: What is something that you have personally taken away from playing Kate?

OH: Honestly, I think it's the never judge a book by its cover. I know that we've heard that our entire lives, but if you look at Kate, on the exterior, she looks like she has it all together. She comes from a wealthy family, has a boyfriend, and looks like she's good. But she really is struggling trying to figure out who she is in her own skin and find her own light, especially because she is living in that shadow of her mother.

Same with Jeanette. She's this quirky, fun, innocent girl who just wants to be loved, but she doesn't know that she already has that. She has that in her dad and her friends. We see those elements and layers because we're the audience watching it. That's a big theme of the show is to just let people show them who you are before you make an opinion or judgment because we do that in the first 15 seconds of somebody walking in a room.

17: Going into the final epsiodes, what can you share with us about what's next?

OH: I think the last couple of episodes are our strongest. We're going to see Kate go through a really intense journey. People are going to be very satisfied with the ending and a lot of their questions are going to be answered.

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