Share this:

Lexi Underwood captivates as Isabella LaRue in the second season of the hit Freeform show Cruel Summer. The actress sat down for a roundtable interview with us at ATX TV Festival in Austin to discuss the show, her friendships with the cast, and what drew her to the role. Underwood’s enthusiasm for the show and her character is clear, and it was a pleasure to chat with the rising star.

About Lexi Underwood

Lexi Underwood has already impressed audiences with her career. In 2022, she starred as Malia Obama in the Showtime series The First Lady, opposite Viola Davis and O-T Fagbenle. In the same year, she also appeared in the Disney+ film Sneakerella, a modern take on the Cinderella fairy tale. (Read The Cosmic Circus’ review of Sneakerella here.) If that wasn’t impressive enough, in 2021, Underwood was nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Performance by a Youth for her portrayal of Pearl Warren in Little Fires Everywhere.

About Cruel Summer

Cruel Summer is a stylish and suspenseful mystery anthology series that deftly blends nostalgia (hello, millennials!) with dark and twisty storytelling. It has been a hit since the first season premiered on Freeform in 2021. The second season, which just premiered this June, follows a new cast and a new mystery, but the same level of suspense and intrigue.

Season 2 of Cruel Summer unfolds over three summers and timelines surrounding Y2K. The show centers around three teenagers, Megan (Sadie Stanley), Isabella (Lexi Underwood), and Luke (Griffin Gluck), as they navigate a love triangle, teenage angst, and a dark mystery that impacts their lives and their small Washington state town.

Change comes to Chatham when Isabella LaRue arrives. The daughter of foreign diplomats, she is spending a year as an exchange student with Megan Landry and her family in the small town. Isabella is alluring and enigmatic, but she also seems to have a dark past. It is clear that Isabella is a lot more worldly than Megan or even Luke, a benefit of having lived, well, everywhere.

 Cruel Summer
Lexi Underwood and Sadie Stanley in Cruel Summer (Freeform/Ricardo Hubbs)

The interview with Lexi Underwood of Cruel Summer

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

On cast friendships

Ayla Ruby: So, you have a close relationship with the folks on the other show. Can you talk about whether you knew the other actors on this show before came into it? What’s your relationship like?”

Lexi Underwood: Yeah. Sadie [Stanley] and I, we met, years back. We were actually at the same agency, and because we were with the same agency, we had known each other from that. But I hadn’t known Griffin [Gluck]. I knew Lisa [Yamada] because we had done Little Fires Everywhere together. So, it was really nice to get to reunite and also just even grow those relationships further because there’s no better bonding experience than to film a show together. But, yeah, I’m just so grateful I met all of these people because they truly are like my best friends in real life, and we hang out all the time.”

Lexi Underwood on playing Isabella LaRue

Interviewer: Now, your character obviously has a lot of world knowledge that most people didn’t have access to in ’99, 2000.”

Lexi Underwood: “Yeah.”

Interviewer: How much research did you have to do to put together the dialogue you’re saying with the concepts you’re talking about?”

Lexi Underwood: Yeah. I definitely did a lot of… I think for me as an actor specifically; because the backstory isn’t necessarily fully there, you make kind of like your connection. And I think we started to have to know your character like the back of your hand in order to do that. For me, of course, I did a little bit of research of those different places in which she traveled to. I actually did try Shakshouka for the first time when I was in Vancouver. And I was like, “I’ve never had arugula. I want to try it.” But doing stuff like that. And then, for me specifically, just getting to process some of Isabella, a bit of Venn diagramming between Isabella and myself. They kind of helped me find all these similarities and differences between the two of us.”

“But one of the biggest similarities that I did find was the mere fact that I can relate to it because I’ve been acting since I was nine, so I’ve also been traveling, and I’ve experienced many different cultures. So, I also relate in that aspect where she’s more mature because she’s had to grow up a little bit faster. Yeah.”

Lexi Underwood Cruel Summer
Lexi Underwood as Isabella LaRue in Cruel Summer. (Freeform/Ricardo Hubbs) 

On prepping for the new millenium

Ayla Ruby: Now, kind of piggybacking off that a little it, so, the show is Y2K, it’s in ’99 and 2000. Can you talk about how you prepared for that era?”

Lexi Underwood: Music was a big tool for me. I created a playlist for summer ’99, winter ’99, and summer 2000s. And with that, I included all the top 10, top 20 songs during that time, were all what teens were listening to. I was going to say; I guess she just calls it the mixed tapes of what I guess Isabella, she would make in summer ’99 to start off her day and end her day. Those things like that were helpful to get into character, as well as wardrobe. Hair and makeup are some part of who you are, and the whole look to not feel immersed in that world. Yeah.”

On what drew Lexi to her character Isabella

Ayla Ruby:So, this is a little bit different than your other roles. You played Malia Obama; you were in Sneakerella. Can you talk about what drew you to this role? What made you want to do it?”

Lexi Underwood: I was a fan of season one, honestly. I was really excited to hear what they were doing in season two. And as an actor, I was really intrigued by the challenge in wanting to play the character throughout three different timelines in a year, and I was just excited. So, when I first watched Cruel Summer that, I hadn’t necessarily seen on TV before, like shooting that way with the three different timelines, so I was just really excited, too, to join and get to help bring it to life.”

On Cruel Summer’s lasting takeaways

Ayla Ruby:Is there anything you want people to take away from watching this show? What is the lasting impression of it?”

Lexi Underwood: I feel like one thing that these characters are doing in the show is taking control of their destiny, and I think that that is a big piece of advice that we all found, too, from our characters, is to… especially with Isabella, if you want something, if you have a dream, go out and do it.”

You can check out Cruel Summer on Freeform and Hulu

New episodes of Cruel Summer are available every Monday on Freeform and Hulu the next day. The eighth episode, “Confess Your Sins,” airs on Monday, July 17th. You’re going to want to check it out, especially after that tease for the episode from Griffin Gluck when we last sat down to chat. 

What do you think of Cruel Summer S2? Do you have any theories about the mystery? Join the conversation with us on Twitter @MyCosmicCircus or our Discord.

Want to read more from ATX TV Festival in Austin? Check out our coverage of the event here.

Interview with Griffin Gluck of Cruel Summer

Griffin Gluck Interview Banner Cruel Summer

Share this:

Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews:

Ayla Ruby has 170 posts and counting. See all posts by Ayla Ruby