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Mark Indelicato, Zelda Williams Explore Trans Teenage Love in Campy Thriller ‘Dead of Summer’

Dead of Summer lead
Freeform/Katie Yu

The pair play cisgender gay and transgender male teens, respectively, and navigate a blossoming relationship in Freeform’s latest summer suspenseful horror series.

If you're having friends over to binge all the Friday the 13th movies, think twice before inviting Mark Indelicato.

"I'm not really a big fan of slasher," he says. "I love supernatural, possessions. Like The Conjuring or The Exorcist. I don't do well with blood and gore."

The 21-year-old actor finds himself this summer in a mystery slasher. Indelicato plays Blair Ramos on Freeform's Dead of Summer. The show brings together counselors and campers alike at Camp Stillwater in 1989 for a summer of fun--with the occasional demonic summoning or dismemberment.

For Indelicato, Blair is a role he's played before--the camper-turned-counselor is openly gay, much like Justin from Ugly Betty. However, Indelicato sees big differences between the two teens.

"Unlike my character in Ugly Betty, Blair's sexuality isn't at the forefront," he says. "He's comfortable in his sexuality. He's comfortable in his identity. Setting the show in 1989, I'm sure there is a little bit of television magic to show how Blair is accepted by his peers."

The show is less a literal callback to the late '80s and more a crafty homage to the B-list horror genre that sprouted up around sleepaway camps. Dead of Summer has resurrected the literal and figurative camp of those films and translated the horror for a younger audience hungry for more inclusive casts.

Take Drew, a counselor who is revealed in the premiere episode to be a transgender male. Zelda Williams plays Drew, and she acknowledges the immense care in casting her--a cisgender female--in that role.

"I spent a lot of time seeking out trans men--talking to them, learning how hard it was for them growing up," she says. "Some fans have said they really like me as a person and what I've done before for the community, but they think trans characters should be played by trans actors--and you can't argue with that."

The show pushes boundaries even further by setting up a flirtation between Blair and Drew--a cisgender gay male and a transgender male--a relationship that feels so new and exciting for both actors. The pair even shared a kiss deep in the woods during this week's episode.

"I was gearing up for some sort of backlash," Indelicato said. "I waited for people to say it wasn't believable. I personally have never seen my cis gay friends be attracted to trans man or vice versa. But fans are totally rooting for them."

Williams worried if the audience would not only buy into her character, but also the relationship. But younger fans have really attached to the difficulties Drew faces--outside of the horrors of the seemingly peaceful Camp Stillwater.

"I can't even imagine an 18-year-old on his own trying to deal with gender identity at that time," she says. "Drew is pulling something off that can only happen in television. This is a show about that time period for kids of this time period."

Each episode delves into the back stories of each counselor--and Drew is next on July 19.

Williams said she felt "emotionally wrecked" after filming the episode. "It's incredibly emotional," she says. "It's meant to resonate with people that have gone through this--especially young people who try to rally support and find out how hard that is."

Dead of Summer airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central. Watch a teaser of Drew's episode below.

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