Harley Quinn Smith Says Cruel Summer Was the "Greatest Challenge and Gift" of Her Career

Part of what makes Freeform's new thriller series Cruel Summer so compelling is that, rather than unfolding in a linear fashion, each episode jumps between events unfolding in 1993, 1994, and 1995, and while this does come with inherent challenges, it also comes with a number of opportunities, with star Harley Quinn Smith reflecting on just how much she loves her character and her involvement in the series. While it might only be a year between each iteration of her character Mallory, any teen could tell you that one year can feel like a lifetime, requiring Smith to convey specific quirks and personality traits as they evolve over the series. New episodes of Cruel Summer air on Freeform on Tuesday nights.

"I like to describe it as the greatest challenge and gift I've ever received as an actor. It definitely took more focus, preparation, and organization than anything I've ever done," Smith shared with ComicBook.com. "And that was so cool. Like, I loved how hard I had to work for this. I think that's kinda the greatest thing you can ask for as an actor, is a challenge, and this was certainly one. A lot of it, for me, was preparation. Like, I'd come in with pages of notes and be like, 'Okay, here's what I'm thinking, I don't know if I'm completely off, but this is what I want to try,' or, 'I want to try a couple of things.' So a lot of discussions, a lot of preparation, organization, it was something that I definitely had to work, that we all had to work on the show, very hard to do it right."

From executive producer Jessica Biel (The Sinner), Cruel Summer is a psychological thriller that follows two young women: Kate Wallis, the popular girl with a charmed life who one day goes missing, and Jeanette Turner, the nerdy wannabe who is accused of being connected to Kate’s disappearance. All signs point to Jeanette’s guilt, but is Kate really who she seems to be? Set over three summers and told through shifting points of view, the series challenges perception and follows how one girl can go from being a sweet outlier to the most despised person in America.

Unlike complex thrillers that premiere on streaming services, which often all debut at once, Cruel Summer leaves fans waiting an entire week to discuss and theorize about what could happen next. Smith recalled that it was a similar experience for the cast while filming the show.

"The show is so complicated, I don't even know if I had a theory. We read the scripts like a week before we would film each episode so we were doing the same thing that the audience is doing right now, being like, 'Who is Annabelle? What does this mean? What is that?'" the actor recalled. "We were doing that a few months ago, but we were also shooting the show at the same time. Honestly, the show is so unpredictable that I think some theories I have were right, but then in other ways, I was just completely wrong."

Given that she's almost playing three entirely new characters, Smith noted that, of all the versions of Mallory, she did have a favorite, admitting, "I loved '95 Mallory. Her look is my favorite, I want her hair, and I want her clothes, I want her attitude. I think she's just a cool chick, I like her."

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Check out new episodes of Cruel Summer every Tuesday on Freeform.

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