Brianne Tju knows the secret to a great on-camera scream. “You just have to commit and fully lean into it,” she explains. “You might look crazy. You might sound weird. Snot might come out of your nose. Anything can happen, but you have to embrace it.”
One could argue Tju was destined to be a scream queen. In fact, she spent most of her youth unexpectedly mastering her perfect shriek. The California native grew up with three sisters, so fighting for toys, clothes, or attention was a regular occurrence in the Tju household. That healthy sibling rivalry, she tells me, really prepared her in terms of screaming. And it’s a good thing, too, because Tju would go on to do a lot of it in her acting career. There was her recurring role in Scream: The TV Series, her genuinely frightening experience playing Alexa in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, and her two-time Emmy-nominated turn in the hit Hulu series Light as a Feather. But perhaps her most scream-tastic performance yet is in this month’s scary-good show I Know What You Did Last Summer.
The Amazon Prime series is the reboot we didn’t know we needed, but as a personal fan of the horror genre, Tju had some early reservations about bringing back such a beloved film franchise. “I find out from a new person all the time that it was the first time they saw a horror movie in theaters or the first time they snuck into a PG-13 movie,” she says. “It was so many people’s first, and I realize that it’s so special for people.” Any nerves Tju had initially about whether a series version of the hit ’90s slasher film would land with audiences today quickly dissipated after she read the script and met showrunner Sara Goodman. A mostly female writer’s room attracted Tju from the jump, but the nuanced characters really sold her on the project.
The story of a group of teens who hide an accidental murder only to be stalked by a mysterious killer a year later is timeless in its own right. It has spanned multiple generations and mediums, from fiction (1972) to film (late ’90s) to now TV (2021). But the beauty of television is you have, in this case specifically, eight hour-long episodes to really dive deep into a character and peel back their layers. Take Tju’s Margot, for example. At first glance, the character seems to have it all—beauty, wealth, a legion of devoted social media followers—but brewing below the surface is a slew of relatable insecurities. “It’s not often in horror movies that you see such fleshed-out characters,” Tju says of the series. “A lot of times, they rely on tropes. And as an Asian woman, I didn’t feel like I was a token or a trope, and I thought that was invaluable.”
Tju likens Margot to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in the 1997 film, but instead of partaking in local beauty pageants, she is recording TikTok dances and sharing her beauty routine (and every move) with fans. Much like its predecessors, the I Know What You Did Last Summer series is of its time. Tju turned to many of today’s social media influencers and YouTube stars for research, but for Margot, she and the showrunner wanted to get at what’s really going on behind the phone. “To some degree, we’re all putting out a façade of ourselves on social media,” she says. “We’re not going to post the bad stuff… Most of the time when Margot is documenting her life and pulls out that phone, that safety blanket, it’s at a very inappropriate time. It’s her defense mechanism. When she’s feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or unappreciated, she knows she can go on her phone, turn it on, and there are going to be comments and likes and people fawning over her, and it gives her this instantaneous high that we all get from social media.”
While Margot’s choices may, at times, be questionable, there is a real genuineness to the character. That sincerity is one of the big reasons why she is so special to Tju. The actress could easily relate to Margot’s insecurities and strong desire for approval, as she has faced her own challenges in Hollywood, often feeling alienated in her body and in her heritage as a woman of color. “I think deep down everyone is Margot, or deep down in Margot, she is everyone, in that we all feel insecure and all compare ourselves,” Tju says.
Shielding Margot’s insecurities from the outside world is her wardrobe, or “armor” as Tju describes it. As the first person cast in the show, Tju got to work right away talking to the costume, hair, and makeup teams about Margot’s look. Margot is considerably more glam than her casual-clad friends, and that’s on purpose. “She exudes confidence in her outfits that maybe she doesn’t have on the inside, and it’s overcompensating in that way,” Tju says. Ever the influencer, Margot is one who takes sartorial cues from TikTok and can be found wearing the Instagram brands the It girls are all wearing.
When I ask Tju if she’s ever had her own “TikTok made me do it” style moment, she laughs and admits she’s enjoying all the Y2K throwback trends right now. With her sister Haley by her side as her stylist, Tju has started to step outside of her comfort zone with fashion and beauty. Together, the two have prioritized showcasing Asian talent and other underrepresented groups through the brands she wears, which has opened her up to an exciting new world of indie, Asian, Black, and queer designers. “It’s actually so incredible how, by exploring those brands and wearing their clothes, I feel empowered, and I hope that I’m empowering others by doing so.”
Furthering representation and opening doors for the next generation is a common thread in many aspects of Tju’s life, especially acting. When I ask what she’s looking forward to in the near future, the answer is simple: telling more diverse stories. “Representation is really big, so if I can use my face, my image, whatever to help further that message and help any young Asian boy or girl or anyone of color feel like ‘Oh yeah, that is the world I live in. That makes sense to me. That translates with me,’ that’s what really matters,” she says. “I’m hoping I get the chance to perpetuate that message as much as possible.” As Tju already has three projects lined up for the next year and will be joining the Blumhouse horror project Unhuman, it looks like that won’t be an issue.
Catch new episodes of I Know What You Did Last Summer on Prime Video.
Photographer: Ben Cope
Stylist: Haley Tju
Hairstylist: Dimitris Giannetos
Makeup Artist: Robert Bryan