Freeform’s newest series “Dead Of Summer” follows the story of a group of camp counselors in the 1980s at Camp Stillwater. The Counselors are Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), Jessie (Paulina Singer), Cricket (Amber Coney), Joel (Eli Goree), Blair (Mark Indelicato), Blotter (Zachary Gordon), and Amy (Elizabeth Lail). When Stillwater’s dark, ancient mythology awakens, what was supposed to be a summer of fun soon turns into one of unforgettable scares and evil at every turn. The series premieres tonight at 9/8 c pm. While at ATX this June, we spoke to talented newcomer Elizabeth Lail and Mark Indelicato (best known for his pivotal role as Justin Suarez in the hit ABC series “Ugly Betty”) about their roles at Camp Stillwater.
Elizabeth, in the pilot we find out your friend died. Will she be dealing with that loss the entire season? How does it affect her at Camp Stillwater?
Elizabeth: It’s fairly recent because Amy had planned to go to camp with her friend from school. They had just graduated high school. That was a very recent tragic event and I think that Amy is dealing with it day to day inside of herself but the camp has this mysterious way of manifesting it physically and supernaturally. It starts to affect her relationships with people and her time. It’s like her first couple days at the camp she’s haunted by this memory of her friend’s death. That’s a tough thing to deal with and I think she’s dealing with it the entire season, that kinds of loss.
When you signed onto the show did you have an idea of the overall arc of the season? Or were you kept in the dark about the actions that would happen to the characters?
Mark: I was aware of what it was, I mean of what they wanted it to be. However, I was quite unaware of the direction that they wanted to take it in. I mean the show itself, even while were shooting it and we know what’s going on, we have to be so secretive about it. I don’t think that they wanted to tell us anything before we were actually kind of on set and shooting it.
Elizabeth: Each episode is a really pleasant surprise, though. We’ll be reading it and we’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this happens.” That’s a really lovely journey as an actor to be discovering in a way, like an audience would.
Mark: It’s quite an organic way to work as an actor as well. To not have this linear story line already planned out for you and kind of knowing because at least for, and I’m sure the same for you El, what they said my character was going to be in the beginning it’s changed quite a bit since the initial auditioning process.
Mark, is that because the writers are bringing you into the character? What’s changed?
Mark: I think for me it was bringing a lot of myself into the character. I guess the closest example would be I’m obsessed with David Bowie, David Bowie is like my idol, and my character ends up having this whole arch very explicitly talking about how David Bowie changed his life. A lot of the words that I’m saying as Blair kind of jumped off the page at me as words I’ve said myself and words that I’ve said to the guys. I think that a lot of these characters have a lot of elements of ourselves in them. At their core we’re different, but there are quite a lot of similarities between all of us and our characters.
Going back to the pilot, quite a few of the characters have secrets and are suspicious/sketchy. So are there good guys and bad guy in the series? Is no one really good or is there a villain?
Elizabeth: Absolutely there’s a villain.
Mark: There is, I mean obviously they don’t let on to who that is. You kind of get a good idea of the kind of stereotypical villain in the first episode of who you think it is. That turns out to… It gets complicated.
Elizabeth: It’s unclear but there definitely is.
Mark: It’s unclear to us in a lot of ways as well. (laughs).
Elizabeth: Because there’s so many forces at work.
Elizabeth: There’s the camp itself, which has its own life.
Mark: It’s its own character.
Elizabeth: Then there’s the satanist.
Mark: Then there are the counselors themselves with these secrets.
Elizabeth: Right, yeah. You could be your own worst enemy.
Mark: Absolutely. I think the writers are well versed. Adam, Eddie and Ian are quite well versed in writing things that have many, many twists and turns quite unexpectedly.
When you think of teens, summer camp, and villains you tend to think of “Friday the 13th”. So can you tell us if the villain is a murderer and the slasher kind?
Mark: It’s not a slasher. They’ve been quite adamant about that as well.
Elizabeth: People do die. But that happens.
Mark: Yeah, everyone dies. (laughs).
Speaking of death, was the man that Joel saw in his camera behind Amy, the same man that viewers saw at the end of the pilot? Standing across the lake?
Mark: It is the same. You don’t find out anything about that character until quite later on in the season.
Elizabeth: Much later.
Mark: We still really don’t know that much about him, actually. (laughs).
Elizabeth: Yeah. He’s a mystery.
Mark: There’s kind of been rumors floating around as to what his function is but we don’t have a clear-cut idea, yet. We’re kind of like left in the dark a lot of the time. I really don’t know what’s going on with my character ever.
Elizabeth: Well we think we know, and then we don’t. (laughs).
Mark: Yeah. We sit in a circle and come up with all of these theories and then we’re proved completely wrong.
Elizabeth: It’s like playing “Clue”.
Mark: Yeah, it’s like in the dining room with the candlestick and the tall man.
Freeform went from ABC Family to Freeform, and they’re growing up. I mean, they’ve had “Pretty Little Liars” for seven years but they’re looking for their new “Pretty Little Liars”. I know they’re trying to engage a slightly older audience. How do you think that kind of presents itself in “Dead of Summer”? Are you able to kind of push envelopes in any way? Explore some darker themes?
Elizabeth: Yes, it’s very dark. Every time I read an episode it just gets darker and darker and darker. The wonderful thing is I think what they’re doing with “Dead of Summer” is it’s still very truthful. It’s not just dark for dark’s sake. Or scary for scary sake. They’re creating something really complex and smart but still relatable I think to the Freeform audience with the young camp counselors.
Mark: Right and it still has that element, that surreal element that is intriguing to the Freeform audience as well. I think that it is like Elizabeth said, it is kind of a smarter version of what already exists on the network. I mean these are fantastically talented writers and show runners. Look at their track record, they’ve created amazing, amazing things. I don’t think that this show is the exception to that. It looks so amazing. I think it looks visually and aesthetically the best that I’ve ever seen a Freeform show look and then add in that layer of complex narratives and character development and you kind of having something really great.
How does the 80’s setting influence the show? Why do you think it was necessary to set it in that time?
Mark: It’s an ode to those 80’s camp teen movies. They wanted to do this combination of the campy teen movie at camp but also the cheesy 80’s horror film.
Elizabeth: It was also when Adam and Eddie went to camp. It was that summer for them so they’re writing specifically from their…
Mark: In the summer of ’89. It’s quite personal for them as well.
Elizabeth: We really like it because it forces actual conversations, opposed to text messaging and that sort of a thing.
Mark: Totally. There’s no, I mean you can’t write anything about that because they didn’t exist.
Elizabeth: Yeah. There’s some fantastic music.
Mark: Yeah, it’s nice to have face to face confrontations with people and not have a text war, i.e. like “Gossip Girl” or something.
Elizabeth: Right, and it’s also 1989, there was this satanist craze. It’s also set in that time period to have that part of the story as well.
Mark: I also think having it be set in the 80’s and be on a network like Freeform could be a really interesting education for a younger audience with a lot of the music. Music is a really big part of this show, whether it’s an individual character’s being obsessed with a certain artist or just the music that is being played as the soundtrack. I think in this culture in which we are living now it’s all about, “What’s the newest trend? What’s the newest craze?” We’re not actually looking back and appreciating what’s come before. I think that it could be a nice education or re-education for a younger group of people.
Elizabeth: It feels like the right time as well, with the passing of Prince and David Bowie.
Speaking of the music I spoke with Amber Coney, shortly before coming here and she mentioned that the guys sort of gave everybody a mix tape for their character? I was curious what were on your character’s mix tapes?
Mark: Well, like I said certain characters are more invested in music. Whereas Joel, they kind of gave him a list of like films. They gave Eli films that Joel would like but for me, music being such a huge part of my character, it’s a lot of Bowie, mostly Bowie, a lot of The Cure, The Clash, The Ramones. I’m wearing all of those t-shirts in the show, too. I exclusively wear band t-shirts in the show. Getting a mix tape was definitely informative just in developing Blair and getting a little bit of insight into who he is.
We don’t know much about Blair from the pilot. What can you tell us about Blair’s secret?
Mark: It’s actually really funny, I don’t know what Blair’s secret is yet. The boys kind of say that Blair’s the most well-adjusted character. You don’t see a lot of him in the pilot but his story does start to evolve and manifest itself in the episodes directly after. He’s quite confident in himself and his sexuality and his sense of self is very strong. I think to contextualize that in 1989, being an openly gay teenager, that takes a lot of courage. More so than it does now.
Myself being a gay man, once a gay teenager not every long ago, it’s so easy at this point in a lot of ways to start to find yourself and to be accepted by the group of people that you’re around. I think that we’re really making a strong message by saying, “He’s friends with all of these people who couldn’t be more different from one another, who accept him wholeheartedly.” That’s something that’s really nice that I don’t know necessarily if viewers will pick up on the historical context of that right away, and how difficult it was to just even be gay in 1989 but that’s the truth. I think that that’s my favorite part about him is his sense of self and his confidence.
ATX had a”Bury Your Tropes” panel about representation on-screen and a big thing they were saying is that it’s important to have more than one LGBT character because then you can develop the relationships and see a gay person in the context of a gay relationship. Is that something that we might see in the future for him?
Mark: No, not for Blair. When I say that he’s very confident in his sense of self he is a cis-gendered gay man and it becomes very clear that that’s who he is. Like we said, the relationships that develop on this show are quite complex and quite interesting, whether that’s romantic relationships or friendships.
For me, working on “Ugly Betty” it was playing a gay character with Rebecca Romijn playing a trans character. We were kind of at the tipping point of LGBT representation in mainstream television culture. It’s extremely important to me to push the boundaries but to also not be unrealistic about a certain character. You know, not every character needs to be trans because it’s important to proliferate that narrative. Certain characters need to be what they are for what they and I think Blair being just a cis gay male is…
But does he get a boyfriend?
Mark: He could get a boyfriend. Look, we’ll see. I’m always open to those possibilities. (laughs).