Blake Lee can currently be seen starring as Martin Harris on the hit breakout drama series Cruel Summer. The psychological thriller from Freeform follows the story of Kate Wallis and Jeanette Turner and the web of secrets and lies that follows them both.
We spoke with Blake Lee about the challenges of playing a character as dark and intense as Martin Harris, the importance of being authentic when it comes to material involving abuse, working alongside Olivia Holt, and the jaw-dropping twists and turns ahead for viewers that left the cast guessing until the last possible moment.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Blake Lee below:
Thank you so much for chatting with us today. We are loving Cruel Summer so far.
I’m so glad.
You recently starred in a Christmas movie for Lifetime where you appeared alongside your husband Ben and Fran Drescher. Cruel Summer and your character Martin Harris are completely different. What attracted you to this project because at face value, it’s not the cheeriest of roles?
He’s not a good guy. I think that a lot of my career has been in comedy and I’ve been really lucky to live on these sets that are light and fun. I haven’t really gotten the opportunity to go into these dark places. When the script came along I was really blown away when I read it. I never read a pilot like it. I was terrified to take on a role like this but, I think that’s exactly why I wanted to do it. I truly thought “I don’t even know if I can do it.” I haven’t had to go to those places as an actor. I was really scared to do it.
For a character that is so dark and intense, how do you manage to get into that kind of headspace?
It was an incredible experience to be able to collaborate with Olivia Holt. She’s the most incredible scene partner. We went to some very dark places over the season. We really talked about every part of it every step of the way. There was an open dialogue that we had with each other.
On the weekends we would go to the park and we would sit and kind of dissect the scenes and really talk about them for as long as we could. We felt that we needed to give these characters layers. It was really refreshing to us to tell this story because… we weren’t glamorizing this relationship at all. I think it was one of the reasons I wanted to play this specific character.
Was that difficult to find that balance between Martin’s behavior and what could be appropriate behavior in a different context but isn’t actually in this situation?
On this show you’re not rooting for these characters. You don’t want them to end up together, which I think is the case in Hollywood a lot. We’re shown an age difference or a person in a place of power taking advantage of someone who isn’t as powerful and we are told that that’s acceptable.
It was really refreshing that the writers and the creative team wanted to really show the grooming and manipulation and the gaslighting and all of these things that add so much to these characters in this relationship. I hadn’t seen it done as authentically before and that was really exciting for me.
I spoke with Tia Napolitano last week about how with Martin’s character, I wasn’t sure what his motivation was and I kept waiting for them to make him a sympathetic or romantic character because that’s what media always seem to do with villains. Tia was very adamant about making him very clearly a bad guy. Can you talk a little about why that’s important with material like this?
I think its extremely important that we show an honest real depiction of this type of relationship. Martin… he grooms Kate in a way that she really starts to trust him and open up to him. He speaks to her like they are equals or peers, rather than him being a Vice Principal and she’s a student. He comes at a time in her life when not a lot of people are listening to her. She has a boyfriend who she doesn’t really trust, her home life isn’t great. He comes at this time when she’s a bit lost. He sees that and he preys on that.
I think its extremely important for the entertainment industry to start showing these types of stories. This is what really happens. We shouldn’t be glamorizing a student-teacher relationship. Its sad that that’s what’s been shown to us for so many years.
Throughout the show, Kates character is seeing a therapist and I think they did a great job 1. of talking about therapy because I think therapy is great and everyone should be in therapy…
Yay! Agreed.[laughs] Also that the therapist is constantly reminding Kate… because Kate is kind of having these moments or relapses where she will go back into “No, Martin was my friend.” No, he wasn’t your friend. He is an adult man who was taking advantage of a child. You weren’t on the same level or the same playing field. He knew what he was doing and it was all very calculated. Tia and I were on the same page about being as realistic as possible.
Martin is new to town but seems very secretive. He didn’t seem to like that Jeanette knew he was from Widow Falls. Will we be seeing more of that connection and what he may be hiding?
Yes, you definitely will see more into his past. You’ll hear more about it. You will be surprised by a lot of what’s to come with Martin. I think the audience will be shocked. We will touch on more about what happened in Widow Falls. I think at the same time we still leave questions.
What can you tease about what viewers can expect from the final few episodes? What are you most excited for them to see?
I think I’m most excited for the audience… I’m an audience member too, it’s so fun to watch these episodes.
The fan theories are so crazy.
They’re so wild. People are so brilliant and creative. I’m most excited that people will be surprised and questioning which characters to trust, truly until the last moments of the episode. I think it’s so rare for a tv show these days to genuinely not know who…because I’m the bad guy but everyone on this show has some sort of secret. To see how they all unfold, I think the audience is gonna be so blown away. It does not disappoint.
I keep telling everyone I know that I have it all figured out and I know exactly what’s happening here but then something happens and my jaw is on the floor.
Really? That’s so awesome. I love that. That’s how we were reading them. We would get the scripts and we would call each other like “Oh my gosh, I had no idea it was going in that direction. They had us going until the very end.”
Thank you so much for chatting with me and thank you for bringing the 90s back. I am loving reliving all of that.
Of course. I’ve been listening to the Cruel Summer Spotify playlist for the last 3 weeks, it’s so good. [laughs]
Thank you so much to Blake Lee for taking the time to speak with us!
Be sure to keep up to date with Blake by following him on social media on Instagram.
Tune in to Cruel Summer airing Tuesdays on Freeform or streaming on Hulu.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.