By RACHEL REEVES
In the new I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER series from Amazon, the story finds a new location, a new decade, and a new spin on the familiar IP. However, despite these changes, the dark heart that beats inside it remains true to the spirit of the original source material.
Just like the 1997 feature film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Ryan Phillippe, the creative team behind this new remorse-filled adventure knew that a strong, fresh cast would be crucial to its ultimate success. While teens and horror go together like popcorn and peanut M&M’s, assembling a dynamic, authentic cast of young talent can sometimes be a tricky business. Get it wrong, and the end product will inevitably feel manufactured and false. But, if a film or TV series manages to get it right, the authenticity and energy will shine through like lightning in a proverbial bottle.
Part of what helps Amazon’s IKWYDLS series get this all-important factor right is Brianne Tju. Not only an experienced comedic and dramatic acting force to be reckoned with, but Tju also has a resume filled with horror credentials. In the last couple of years alone, Tju’s credits include 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Hulu’s Light as a Feather series, iZombie, and Scream: The TV Series. With a natural flair for timing and an electric on-screen presence, Tju injects her sassy, beauty-obsessed, social media queen character, Margot with an incredible amount of depth and humor.
To kick off the release of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER on Prime Video, RUE MORGUE recently sat down with Tju to discuss the importance of on-screen representation, bonding with her castmates, and being a supportive ally on set.
How did you first get involved with the series and what initially attracted you to the role of Margot?
Well, the story is really not all that glamorous, but I got an audition as most actors do, and in the email, I saw the title was I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER which immediately caught my attention. Surprisingly, it kind of made me wary of it because there have been so many reboots and even though I love it, I’ve done a lot of horror in the past. But when I read the first two [episode] scripts, I was hooked. The take on it was so fresh and modern and complex, and, these characters are complex. Margot has so many sides to her and we really delve into that in the show. Then, I got to talk to Sara Goodman the showrunner and she really sold me. So, yeah! I auditioned, I got the part and I’m very grateful.
As a young teen in 1997, I vividly remember when the first movie came out and how cool, dangerous and sexy it looked. This series does really seem to capture and play with that vibe as well. Were you at all familiar with the original book or films before you decided to sign on the project?
So, I’d never read the book, but I watched the movie for the first time years ago and I loved it as well. I watched it again before starting the show, but, I was very cautious not to fill my head with too many previously done ideas. I knew that Sara wanted to do something new and fresh and modern here, so I wanted to give myself the freedom to really create something new with Margot and her character.
But, that’s a good point. I think at that time the movie was, and still is to a certain extent, so sexy, so dangerous, so edgy. I think, as the world’s changed and with social media, there’s more exposure to scary shows, sexy shows. Because of that, the stakes have gone up. But I think we do a good job of balancing the sexy and scary with grounded characters and relationships. So that way you’re getting a little bit of everything.
Although your character may appear one way on the surface, she has a lot of layers. What aspect of Margot’s personality did you enjoy exploring and embodying the most?
I mean, like you said, she has a lot of layers, right? So there are a lot of different aspects of her that I had the opportunity to explore. She’s so sassy and quippy and funny. I grew up doing comedy. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been a lot more drama, which I’m grateful for, but I do love to do both. So, it was nice to be able to tap back into my roots and kind of have these comedic moments, but also work that into something that’s dramatic. Also, it wasn’t necessarily always enjoyable really delving into the darkness and the mental health issues that she has. But at the end of the day, it was very cathartic for me and it gave me a certain level of understanding for those who deal with those issues—and of myself. It was truly a great experience.
One of the things that’s so interesting about Margot is her relationship with social media. While in some ways it’s a facade, in others it’s a kind of therapeutic outlet and community for her. Why do you think it’s important to have these conversations in film and television about social media usage?
I think it’s important because social media is so highly perpetuated in our lives now, our everyday lives, and I feel that it’s only going to become more and more that way. You know, in a lot of ways, social media has proven to be very beneficial in terms of bringing awareness to certain subjects, to certain people and, you know, closing the gaps in the world so that people can communicate.
But at the same time, the selves that we put online are very much our idealized selves. And then everyone’s doing that so then there’s comparison. Just, getting into these spirals, stalking your exes, and these self-destructive behaviors and things that, I don’t think we’ve talked about too much because social media is still somewhat very new. I think it’s really important in the show that we tackle that struggle she’s having, but, at the same time, the sense of community that she also has. It’s a balancing act. Moderation even in moderation.
While making a few nods to the original films, this new series feels very fresh and modern. Some of the things that really contribute to that feeling are how diverse the cast is and how earnestly it depicts queer youth culture and developing sexual identities. As an actor, how important are issues of representation in deciding what characters you want to portray? Is that a conscious factor for you?
Yeah, it’s huge and I want to say thank you for mentioning that. It’s a development of sexuality, right? Like, it’s a spectrum and people are just trying to discover that for themselves. Margot too is very much trying to discover that for herself and to just slap a label on her I think would be doing her an injustice. And, it wouldn’t be doing a lot of people in the world justice in terms of trying to understand themselves and their sexuality.
For me, representation is huge. As a person of color, as a woman, fighting for parity is huge onscreen and offscreen. And, I’m so proud of this show and the effort of representation that they’ve made. Our writer’s room was predominantly female. There were also people of color and our cast and crew, it looks like the real world.
It’s so nice to not walk in a room and be the only person of color, you know? And then having to ask yourself, “Am I worthy of being here? Am I a token? Am I here just so they can check off the box?” I knew that wasn’t the case here. Because of that, I could lead with confidence and feel safe and supported. And, I felt that way in my job. So, I’m hoping people will watch this and projects that have more leads of color and feel that way in their lives—feel represented, feel powerful, and feel celebrated.
The dynamic that you cultivated with your castmates also feels very sincere and authentic. Tell us a little bit about working with them and developing that onscreen chemistry.
I mean, oddly enough, I think the pandemic really benefited our bonding because there weren’t a lot of places to escape to. So we just ended up being together, usually in someone’s apartment or on the beach or hiking. And, we just talked. We talked a lot and we got to know each other stripped away from any sort of glamour.
At the end of the day, we all wanted to do the best work we could do and do the show, this legacy, justice. And, I think we do that. We leaned on each other, we supported one another and from the beginning, everyone was game in terms of prep in creating backstories. I think that was very beneficial. We’re all very close now and I definitely think that translates onscreen.
Both you and Madison Iseman have a lot of acting experience under your belts and are pretty seasoned pros. However, there are some new faces in this cast with Ashley Moore, Sebastian Amoruso, and Ezekiel Goodman being relatively new to the profession. What was that experience like for you? Did you feel a responsibility to offer guidance and show them the ropes?
Yeah! It was kind of my first experience being one of the most experienced people on set. Normally I’m like, looking up to other people, following their lead and, it was the first time that I realized I was leading other people. I wanted to be available for them if they had any questions. And there were no stupid questions, you know?
Especially with Sebastian and Ashley, seeing these beautiful young people of color starring in this YA show that’s on a huge platform like Amazon, I wanted to be an ally and let them know I supported them. And, they’re all so lovely. But like, even before we got to Hawaii, we started this group text chat and I was making sure everyone had found their apartment and, you know, were filling out their paperwork. I immediately took the job of mom. [Laughs] Both before we started shooting and while we were shooting, which I was happy to do. I’ve had people in the past do that for me so, you know, I just wanted to return the favor.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is now streaming on Amazon Prime.