When we talked to Sadie Stanley, star of Freeform | Hulu's Cruel Summer, executive-produced by Jessica Biel, we begged her to tell us how the season ends. We'd watched nine of ten episodes, and still couldn't untangle all the plot twists and turns. Season two of Cruel Summer takes place on and around Y2K, in an idyllic town on the Pacific Northwest coastline, in a close-knit community filled with tradition and a fragile web of community connections---disrupted when a student from overseas arrives. Stanley agrees that the series does an excellent job of teasing out its stories to perfection. The actor Hollywood Reporter calls the ‘Next Big Thing’, Sadie commands the screen, wildly watchable and leaving her audience wondering what she might act in next. Listed on Variety’s 2022 Power of Young Hollywood list of next generation talents in 2023, she also recently starred in Ray Romano’s critically acclaimed directorial debut, Somewhere in Queens, alongside he and Laurie Metcalf. Since starring as the title character in Disney Channel’s, Kim Possible, she's also appeared in n Netflix's Dead to Me and The Sleepover alongside Malin Akerman and Joe Manganiello, The Goldbergs, and more. We sank into conversation with Sadie about late 90s and early 2000s culture, female friendships, what it's like to play a character across three timelines, and morphing for her role as Megan.
What was it like for you, shooting a season of a series that takes place between three different timeframes? Do you shoot each timeline consecutively? How does it affect your acting? I wish we would've filmed it consecutively! That would've been really, really cool, and helpful. We didn't, because we had such an ambitious shoot schedule. There are three timelines in every single episode. We were shooting all three timelines in the same day, mostly, and then also switching back and forth between different episodes, too. We were doing a lot of shoots, so there was a lot to keep track of. As an actor, I would have to tap into where my character was emotionally, and it would be like emotional whiplash. Also, physically, there was a huge transformation, too, that was happening to Megan. I'd have to take off my eyeliner, put on a a new face, put on my eyebrow piercing [Laughs]. I definitely feel like I came out of this a better actor. Getting to play someone at that time in the century, three different characters in one, was such a fun challenge and it's what drew me to the project in the first place. I was looking for something that I could really sink my teeth into, that would really stretch me as an actor, and this was definitely it. It was challenging at times. I had a lot of help from our executive producers. They helped me keep everything straight. I discovered that, as long as I knew Megan like the back of my hand, really knew her at her core, I could easily switch back and forth. I was able to hone my emotions, tap into certain emotions quickly, and come out of them quickly.
Why does Megan's look change? What does it say about her? What was the discussion around her look changing so dramatically within a short period of time in her life? It's a very quick transition. The three timelines are over the course of about a year and a half. That's a short amount of time to see such drastic changes, but we're talking about a teenage girl here. Teenage girls change so rapidly. What I love about Megan, is that she's trying things on to see how they feel. She's not afraid to switch up her look and switch up her personality. Her newer look is also indicative of the times...the early 2000s. That grunge emo look was starting become a really big look. At the end of the day, her hard exterior, the kind of dark exterior that Megan puts on---is just a mask. She's got a lot of people looking at her, and not a good way. She thinks that if she can look tough on the outside, then maybe, on the inside, she can handle what's really going on. She's trying to trying to protect herself.
Megan has close relationship with her mother, tons of friends, a boyfriend, good grades, and an important and enviable skill at the center of what's new in the advancement of computers, coding, and the internet. She's a well-rounded person, and her future is bright. How do you describe Megan's personality? When we first meet Megan, she does look like she kind of has it all together, right? She's your typical teenager, but with incredible ambition. She's very driven. She has all of these big plans for her life, and a very set idea of how she wants her life to go. She wants to get out of Chatham. She wants to be the first Landry woman to go to college. She'd been helping out around the house, and with her little sister, and helping to pay the bills---since she was a kid. She's a mini adult when we first meet her. When Isabella comes into town, she's so different from her, and she reflects back to her everything she's been afraid of and afraid of letting herself be. We get to see this other side of Megan come out in the second timeline, this aspect of her personality that she already had inside of her, but wasn't 'allowed' to show. She's fun-loving and carefree, and at the end of the day, she does just want to be a kid. Megan is very caring and loyal, but she's also very flawed. She's not a perfect person. She's not a perfect friend. She's not a perfect daughter. I wanted to make sure she really felt like a real teenager.
Across Cruel Summer season two, we see a Luke [played by Griffin Gluck] who's conflicted in his life, in all sorts of ways. What do you think it is about Megan that grounds him? Is it simply because she's known him for so long, and sees and accepts him in ways that other people don't? We also begin to learn that Luke may feel worried about Megan's bright future in this new and exciting world of tech she's about to step into, and that's not grounding for him at all, is it? You're so right. Megan and Luke do that for one another; they ground one another. They know one another like no one else. Obviously Isabella and Megan become very, very close, but there's something different about a friend you've known since you were in diapers. There's a level of comfort with Luke that she doesn't have with anyone else, and the way that their friendship turned into something more was very organic and very sweet. They just want to be there for each other, and explore all these first times and first moments together. It's very innocent and juvenile, but at the same time, it becomes something more serious. Megan does have big plans, and Luke's family has huge plans for him that he's not even sure he wants. It's interesting to see how their relationship develops.
Cruel Summer does a really great job of illustrating human nature in terms of the shifts and changes, large and small, that can occur when someone new enters the picture, enters the friend group, enters a preexisting neighborhood dynamic. Have you ever experienced that in your own life? Absolutely. I don't know if I've experienced something exactly like it, but what I have experienced, is the way that Isabella's charming magnetic energy influences Megan, and how Isabella convinces Megan to relax a little bit, and let loose. It's okay to be a little messy, and it's okay to make mistakes, and to break a few rules here and there. I had people who did that for me when I was a kid. I was a lot like Megan in the first [Cruel Summer] timeline. I was a goody two shoes, straight A student, who never broke a rule in my life. [Laughs]. I had people enter my life, and make me have some fun. In that same way, Isabella comes in from the outside and does that for Megan. And she shakes things up all over Chatham because it's a small town. We really wanted [the audience] to feel like it's like a small town where everyone knows one another, and everyone knows each other's business. We wanted to establish that from the very beginning, and that heightens the state of things.
Cruel Summer season two portrays culture at the time of the turn of the millennium. It reminds us that while we live in this world in which anyone can pull out a phone and record anything they see, VCR's and making tapes were hugely popular with people and in culture back then. Just when we are thinking things have changed so much, we're reminded that they've also kind of stayed the same. Absolutely, that was a theme we had going, and not just in terms of the tapes. It's a period piece, technically. It's based in the early 2000s and the late 90s---and times were very different from now, yet aspects of the story could also play out today. We still want you to feel like these are regular teenagers, and so while the stuff that's happening is crazy, it's also timeless. VCR thing really does help to mirror what goes on today. People are still recording things, still blackmailing. You get a sense that you can't run away from anything. Nothing you do is actually a secret, because it can be documented at all times. The stakes are heightened in that way.
There's this potency to friendships, an intensity that exists during the high school years in one's life. This season of Cruel Summer obviously depicts a very dramatic version of intense friendship. What do you think drives the intense relationships between the kids of Chatham? In some ways it is because they've known each other so long...but then Isabella arrives, and she and Megan have a very intense friendship that happens very quickly. They're young and they're forced to be in such close quarters; you're forced to be with your high school friends for eight hours a day at school or more, counting things like after school sports. Your high school friends stick with you for so long. They're such a huge part of your life. When you're physically close to people all the time, you can't help but get close to them emotionally. I think that's what makes the friendships so intense, and I also think female friendships, in general, can be very intense. We see an abnormal intensity in Megan and Isabella's friendship. Isabella can a little bit overbearing when it comes to their friendship. It's up to the audience to decide where that comes from and why, and how that affects the story.
hair david von cannon | makeup lisa aharon