The series premiere of Dead of Summer is upon us, and we’re all wondering “what’s up with Camp Stillwater?” No, really. What on Earth is going on at this camp! From Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, aka the creative minds of Once Upon a Time and Lost comes this electrifying new tale full of mystery, thrills and dare I say romance? Set in 1989, Dead of Summer dives into the murky waters of summertime, full of carefree teens, nostalgic places and tragedy that ultimately manifests itself in the creepiest of ways.
Amber Coney, who plays Carolina “Cricket” Diaz in Freeform’s new thriller, isn’t just making a splash at the previously closed summer camp, but in Hollywood as well. In addition to starring in Freeform’s highly anticipated series, she also penned the script for James Franco’s reimagining of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, and has ambitious plans to master both writing and acting in the coming years.
In Dead of Summer, Coney’s character Cricket can be described as a warm, snarky camp counselor who finally gets to work with her longtime crush Alex, but harbors some dark secrets of her own hidden beneath that breezy facade. Cricket might be ready for the summer of her life, but Camp Stillwater might be taking these teens on a completely different adventure… I got the chance to chat with Coney, who is not only well-spoken, but an overall class act. From collaborating with James Franco, to starring in an edgy new series, this talented actor does it all, at the same time, with absolutely no help from refined sugar! Say what?
From creepy counselors to writing about lesbian vampires, Coney talks about it all!
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Dead of Summer premieres tonight. Can you tell us a little about the series?
AMBER CONEY: Totally! It takes place at a Midwestern summer camp. The year is 1989, which is super fun for us to dive into, and we’re all coming to the camp as camp counselors having been former campers a few years ago before the camp closed for unknown reasons. We all know each other from the past. There’s one counselor there, Amy, who didn’t go to the camp prior. Otherwise, we all knew each other as kids, so we’re coming in with these past relationships, but also, meeting each other for the first time as young adults. We’ve obviously changed a lot, and while some of the past lingers, we’re different people, so we’re feeling each other out and seeing how our dynamic might manifest. But in general, we’re all super excited for this summer of fun and making plans to have a great time and do what young people do [laughs] as camp counselors at a summer camp. Then, we get there and these very strange and frightening things start to happen, and we have no idea why. It’s also starting to shatter our perception of this idyllic and nostalgic place that we all love. As things get more and more ominous and serious, it just becomes essential that we find out what’s going on. So, it takes an unexpected turn for us counselors and definitely is not the summer of fun that we were all imagining. [laughs]
MM: No, it doesn’t sound like it. [laughs] The network has started to push the boundaries in terms of the programming that it carries. Do you think this new series is one of those shows that’s going to be darker than the network has seen in its previous life as ABC Family?
AC: Definitely. I think that this is part of the rebrand, this show. I don’t think there’s been something like this on ABC Family or Freeform ever, even in this genre. It’s definitely pushing the envelope in that regard. I believe that the network actually approached the creators and basically said: ‘Look, we’re rebranding our network. Would you like to create something that’s going to be a part of that?’ So that was totally intentional, having it [the show] be a part of the new image for Freeform, which is cool because they’re really trying just to expand their demographic and appeal to wider audiences, which I think this show does. It’s for many different kinds of people, and I hope that many different ages and kinds of people do enjoy the show. I would watch it!
MM: Oh, definitely! Do you think that since it’s set where an older audience would be watching it, do you think that’s done on purpose? How is it for you playing a character not in current times?
AC: I love it! I’m always open to explore different eras and learn about what that might be like. And it definitely appeals to older generations in that regard—the fact that it’s the ’80s and it really calls, not only to the time period, but also to a lot of the 80s media and movies. Horror films and John Hughes films were monumental in inspiring the creators as they manifested this show, so I think a lot of people will see how the homages are present. People who experienced that generation of film and television, I think, will really get a kick out of seeing how the creators were influenced. Also in the music. We have a lot of amazing music from the ’80s. As an actor, it was cool to explore the era and the music and the aesthetic of it. But also, figuring out that human struggles and human desire are pretty timeless. It’s going to be connective tissue because I think that young people are going to be like, ‘Wow. The older generation was feeling kind of the same things I’m feeling today.’ Vice versa, older generations will be like, ‘Wow. Actors of today can really connect with things that I struggled with.’ I think people will soon realize that it doesn’t really matter what era it is; human needs and wants and difficulties are beyond time.
MM: Right. It’s definitely something that multiple people of different age groups are going to be able to connect with.
MM: Now, if you had to pick a genre to perfectly sum of your personality in real life, which would it be and why would you choose that?
AC: Oh my gosh. I honestly feel like it would almost be fantasy. [laughs] Or, like dream genre because I feel like my life is such a dream [laughs] sometimes. While it has its dragons and its difficulties, the possibilities are really endless, and I experience so many wonderful and strange and amazing things. I think that that could only take place in a fantastical realm.
MM: That’s a pretty cool genre to emulate in real life, I would think. Mine would be more like one of those tragic romantic comedies. [laughs]
AC: A RomCom?
MM: Probably! [laughs]
AC: That’s amazing. I love that! [laughs] That’s awesome.
MM: Now, for your character, will we get the backstory of how Carolina Diaz got the nickname Cricket?
AC: Actually, no. [laughs]
MM: Aw, man! [laughs]
AC: Yeah, I know! Someone I met told me [Cricket] is a nickname for Caroline or Carolina. So I guess that’s actually a nickname. But I made up a story [laughs] to try and tie it in of how the guy that I had a crush on as a kid called me that because the crickets were chirping, and he was making fun of me because I talk a lot. [laughs] I’m chirpy—that was kind of the description that the creators gave.
MM: At least you have a story in your mind! You just spoke a little bit about your character’s longtime crush, Alex. Will that stir up some interesting dynamics once we get into the series and see what’s going on?
AC: Yeah, definitely interesting dynamics! I mean, there’s so many! [laughs] It’s so crazy. So many permutations of relationships progress throughout the series. It’s going to keep people on their toes, for sure. I’m excited to see! [laughs] I haven’t seen past the first episode. Obviously, I shot it and I know what happens, but I’m excited to see how it all comes to fruition. It’s different being in it than being on the outside. It’ll be fun to see how that manifested.
MM: Right, seeing it executed and everything come together. Now, since we’re talking about camps, what would be your favorite camp food or snack that you would eat while you were at camp?
AC: Oh, gosh! [laughs] As a kid, I’d just eat anything sweet. I have a sweet tooth. I watched the documentary Fed Up and I was like, ‘I’m giving up sugar!’ [laughs] And I have. I haven’t had refined sugars in a while. I would love when they would make cookies or brownies.
MM: Sweets are definitely a weakness, I think. For me, anyway!
AC: What would yours be?
MM: I don’t know. I mean, s’more are always the go to. But I think maybe something salty and crunchy, like maybe Fritos or something. [laughs]
AC: Yeah! Maybe some popcorn. We’ve been roasting s’mores, so I totally didn’t even put that together. But I had to eat a bunch of marshmallows in a scene the other day, so I’m kind of over that. [laughs]
MM: You’re like, ‘Yeah. We’re done with this.’ [laughs]
AC: I am marshmallowed out! But yeah, I think maybe kettle corn or popcorn would be good.
MM: That would be delicious! With some chocolate drizzled on it. There you go. You got it.
AC: It’s not even lunch time and I’m getting hungry.
MM: I know, right? Now, what’s one item you can’t live without while you’re shooting?
AC: Probably my journal just for me, and then my laptop because I’m also simultaneously working on writing projects, so got to have that.
MM: Can’t go wrong with that! Now, you’re obviously a woman of many talents, and you also penned the script for Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? in less than a week, which is pretty impressive! When you were approached by James Franco with this re-imagining, did you have any idea how quickly you’d have to turn something around?
AC: Well, that’s why he asked me— he knew I could write really fast. He told me that I’d have to do it in less than a week. And that was obviously just the first draft, and it was almost like a concept pitch in the form of a script. But yeah, I knew full well that it had to be turned around really quick. That’s why it came out so fast.
MM: What attracted you to that project? Was there an element that really stuck out in your mind?
AC: I was just curious to see how this could possibly work out. Once James said lesbian vampires, I was like, ‘Yeah, definitely! [laughs] I’m definitely in.’ When else would I have the chance to do this? We really tried to speak to his original vision. It was based on a story created and an outline with the plot and characters. It was fun for me to try and fill that world and really put into concrete terms what James saw as his imagining of this story. And that was really fun. Honestly, the challenge of it and just seeing what we could do and how far we could go and what we wanted to say—there were just so many aspects to it that were appealing. I knew it was so bizarre that it would have to be wonderful either way to be a part of. But really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That was the most appealing thing to me, just taking that leap and surrendering to the strange nature of that whole ordeal.
MM: Just running with it and seeing where you land! Did you ever have any worries that people would compare your version to the previous one?
AC: I wasn’t worried. People are obviously just very different. Some people are super stoked and love our re-imagining. Other people, they have no idea why [laughs] it was made. And some people have preferences either way. But honestly, I’m really not concerned because, ultimately, we were able to make this lesbian vampire movie and pull in this prior story in ways that we saw fit, and that’s the ultimate creative control and creative prowess. That was very fulfilling to all of us as creators. Obviously, we want everyone to enjoy it. But regardless, we made what we wanted to make and hope that people find it amusing and interesting, because we did.
MM: It’s definitely its own entity, I think. You’ll have people comparing it, but you’ll also get those new viewers who might not have seen the original, or people who like them both in different ways, so I think that’s the beauty of it.
MM: Now, between writing and acting, which one do you prefer? I’m sure both satisfy different parts of your creative appetite.
AC: I’ve always wanted to be an actor first and foremost, and writing is just something I’ve always done. I think I’ve always done both, but I knew that acting was the realm in which I wanted to prioritize. It’s a very challenging thing to want to do, just logistically and as a craft, so I’m going to spend my whole life trying to master and trying to get better at what I do as an actor, and that’s really exciting to me. It’s a very symbiotic relationship— writing is just something that I have to do and that I don’t have to wait for someone to give me permission to do, and acting is a very communal thing. I love both equally, and acting is my focus in terms of career. But I need both because they satisfy the dual nature of myself. As an actor, you’re working collaboratively and with people, and it’s all about people and connection and relationship. And also, doing the imagination work as a solitary person and solitary artist. And then writing is the opposite where, at the forefront, it’s alone work and spending time in your own mind and being isolated. Then, you bring it to the whole creative realm and put it in a big cauldron with all the people who made it possible and then turn it into an actual film or TV series. Both sides of me, my introvert and my extrovert, need both aspects and both creative outlets.
MM: Right. They definitely go hand-in-hand and you want to continue doing both to fulfill that need.
AC: Right. They feed into each other 100 percent. The better I get at writing, the better I get at acting, and vice versa. It’s fun. At this early stage in my career, it’s just figuring out how to do that in the best possible way. With Mother, for instance, it was a strange challenge and that was not a traditional way to learn those things, but I did learn in that realm. I’m excited to see what other stories can teach me and what other creative opportunities and collaborations can shed light on as I continue.
MM: You have some other awesome projects coming up. Can you tell us about those?
AC: I’m continuing to write with James. I’ve written nine scripts for him in a year. [laughs]
MM: Oh, wow!
AC: Yeah! It’s been nuts. I think three are set to go into production soon, so I’m working on re-writes and collaborating with the directors to figure out what exactly we’re going to do, and getting these scripts locked down and finalized for shooting. Right now, I’m shooting Dead of Summer and simultaneously working on all these writing projects for Rabbit Bandini, which is James’ production company. Acting wise, I really want to do film projects on my hiatus between Season 1 and Season 2 and see what other kinds of worlds and shows I can explore. That’s my focus after I wrap in August, to see what else is out there.
MM: Wow. You are super busy! I don’t know how you get it all done. [laughs]
AC: Yeah! It happens. [laughs] Whether I like it or not.
MM: It’s one of those things where you have to just bang it all out. That’s the only way.
AC: Right! And I just have to remind myself that I am so lucky! [laughs] I love doing this. Any time I get physically drained and a mental block happens where I don’t really want to engage, regardless of whether it’s work or not, I just have to remind myself this is what I love to do, and I’m one of the few people who are fortunate enough to be able to be an artist full time. That’s so humbling; it gives me perspective and inspires me to continue on.
MM: That’s so amazing. I think that’s a great message overall. To wrap things up, obviously the premiere of Dead of Summer is upon us. Why should we tune in?
AC: I think that the most compelling aspect to Dead of Summer is the fact that it’s not just one thing. The show wears many hats. You get that suspense and that mystery that will appeal to fans of that genre. Simultaneously, you get the characters and the really well-developed storylines of these humans with their struggles and their fears interacting with each other in a group dynamic. Just that dual nature of the show makes it really interesting and it keeps you wanting to watch because you’re immersed in the horror plot but also what’s happening in the lives of the individual characters.
MM: It sounds awesome. It will definitely satiate everyone’s appetite, no matter what you’re watching it for!
AC: Right! I think so.
MM: That’s amazing. We cannot wait for it. We’re excited to see you in the show and also all the projects that you have coming up. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
AC: Thank you! This was an awesome interview.
Dead of Summer premieres 6/28 at 9/8c on Freeform