Fiona Rene Dishes On Amazon's I Know What You Did Last Summer - Exclusive Interview

Raise your hand if you consider yourself to be a fan of true crime, murder horror, and slasher thriller genres all rolled into one. We certainly shot our hand up in the air, and when we got the opportunity to talk to Fiona Rene, one of the stars of the new Amazon Original series "I Know What You Did Last Summer," we absolutely jumped at it. The show drops today, October 15, 2021, and is based on the Young Adult novel by Lois Duncan of the same name. It follows the twisted story of teenage friends on the island of Hawaii who, as told in a variety of flashbacks, face the consequences, twists, and turns that are results of their past behavior. Following the breadcrumbs throughout their venture is Lyla, the local police chief who is hell bent on finding the person responsible for — you guessed it — murders in the area. Lyla is sharp, quick with a comeback, and just so happens to have secrets herself. Her dynamic persona and complicated role is brought to life by Rene, who sat down with The List for an exclusive interview about the show.

Rene is much like Lyla in a way — very sure of themself, bold, and unapologetic — but Rene sat down with The List with an effortless humor that is hard to come by. Answering our questions about the show's thrilling plot, fast pace, and dynamic cast, Rene revealed what it was like to portray a powerful woman in a position of power, how COVID-19 impacted filming, and what they hope will come next for the show. So if you're just as excited for "I Know What You Did Last Summer" as we are, buckle in because Fiona Rene dished all about Amazon's newest show.

What initially drew Fiona Rene to the Amazon Original series?

First and foremost, I want to talk to you about the show. What initially attracted you to the project? Like I said, it's such a dynamic story. It's such a dynamic cast. What about it kind of grabbed your attention from the onset?

I mean, come on, "I Know What You Did Last Summer"! Iconic, right? I'm a horror buff through and through. I used to direct and work in a haunted houses for like 15 years. I'm all about it. So yeah, I'm super blessed and excited to be a part of such an iconic franchise. Give me blood and gore and murder all day long.

Well, I kind of love that though because you play this very powerful, no-frills police officer who is facing a number of deaths within a pretty small community. What was that like to prepare for that role or take on such a dynamic character?

You know, to be honest, yeah, it's a heavy one. I've played detectives before, but this was something a little bit different. One, being set in Hawaii, the way that they have structure of their departments in regards to police officers works a little bit different than they do on the mainland. So I found myself, a month prior to really becoming acquainted with not only the structure of their departments, but also the culture of their departments and the culture of Hawaii in general. I am Hapa, but I am not from Hawaii. So to really do justice, not only a small town culture, but the culture of the people there. I spent a lot of my first month there really just getting amalgamated in that. And then I found myself at a couple of Honolulu police departments kind of knocking on doors.

Fiona Rene relied on a real-life police chief as an expert source for character development

I was going to ask if you observed any real police officers at work.

Yes. Oh, I was so lucky I had my own. I won't name names, but I had my own police liaison. She's a retired police chief. So she really gave me the down low on like the ins and outs of how the department works, how I would climb the ladder as someone my age, becoming a police chief, it's very rare. So you'll notice on my badge, I've only got two stars because I've only been in for 14 years. Fifteen, I would have more stars, right.

So it was a really interesting kind of learning process to not only get to know real police officers and police chiefs on the island, but being female, I worked with a female police chief, and, you know, you hear the scary stories of sexism and things that happened in such a male-dominated industry. I feel like I did hella amounts of research about the month up into us shooting to really make sure I dug my toes into that as much as I could and I did justice to the realism on the island, even though we're living in such kind of like this fantasy murder world. I still tried to do my part. Yeah.

One of the aspects of your character that hit me pretty much off the bat was, oh, this is a woman in power. I'm curious as to how some male characters might try to undermine her authority or what's going to happen since she's got a male officer who clearly has to answer to her. What's that dynamic going to be like? And your character kind of exists in this interesting crossroad as well cause like you're hunting down what happened in your small town, but you're in a kind of twisted relationship with a man who's actively covering up what happened to his daughter.

He's what? How dare he (laughing). 

This is how Fiona Rene used their own experiences to shape their character

Was it like for you to play a role that was so multifaceted? I mean, it just seems like source material from so many different directions.

Doesn't that sound kind of like a regular woman's life, to be honest with you? You ask the question and I want to say, oh yes, I'm so multi-faceted and I worked so hard, but you know, it really comes down to the fact that I think every professional woman that I know that is working, that has a family, that tries to have a love life, that's trying to better herself, that's trying to do well in her every day is juggling so many things. And they're on the ends of the spectrum that, to be honest, I really tapped into my own personal life when I was loving on Lyla Calais. The showrunner, Sarah Goodman and I, we had a couple of chats in regards to Lyla's history and her upbringing and her past. And it was kind of scary how similar Lyla's small-town upbringing and having to fight for respect, but living in the shadow of her father, all of these things that really a lot of people, I think a lot of women, would resonate with.

So I just really tapped into my own personal history. And then that combined with the work that I did to study the island of Hawaii and the culture and the police departments and how it's different there. I don't know if anyone knows this, but originally I was written as a sheriff and then we got to know how state and county sheriff versus police chief works in Hawaii, which is a little bit different from the mainland. And so they had to change it to police chief. So I also had to kind of learn those differences. So yeah, to answer your question, I think we are women. Hear us roar.

Seriously. When I'm thinking back to the first four episodes of the show, your characters authority is pretty established right off the bat, which I appreciated because as I was watching it and I was seeing her relationship kind of develop over time, both professionally and personally, I was curious to see what avenue is she going to go down? Now that I've only seen the first four episodes, I have to know what happens. I have to know about this relationship. I have to know about the murders and who's behind it all. Who's sending the anonymous, very ominous text messages. There's just so much to uncover.

There was so many questions onset in regards to who the killer was. And for my character, it was perfect because I'm supposed to be looking and finding out. But simultaneously, the relationship with Lyla and her job versus Lyla and her family versus Lyla and her lover, I feel like the power dynamics really shift and she's a character that is constantly trying to stay in control. Which I think all people out there would resonate that the tighter you hold something, sometimes the less control you have over it.


So I think she fights and battles with that a lot. For sure. But she was fun.

Is Fiona Rene satisfied with Lyla's character arc in I Know What You Did Last Summer?

I know that there's spoilers and stuff that you can't share, but are you happy, or maybe satisfied is a better word, with Lyla's character development and her arc over the season, would you say?

Totally. I think I'm just hungry for more, to be honest. I want to share with the audiences some of her past, what got her to where she is today, more of her struggles at home. You're going to see a lot of unveiling of more of her personal inside life as the series progresses. I think that there's just so much more to explore that I'm really hungry for a Season 2. Come on, give it to us. I want it. Give it to me. Who wouldn't want to shoot another season in Hawaii? So I can't give anything away on who lives or dies, but man, I would love to see her live and I would love to see her be explored more for sure.

From the pace of the show and the plot, it's so easy to sink your teeth into what happens next. I watched the first episode and then I immediately watched the second and then I watched the third, and I was like, I got to stop at some point but I don't want to. I want to know what happens.

Yeah. Yeah, I think that too. I felt the same way.

How COVID-19 disrupted normal on-set activity

You mentioned a little bit on set how people were talking about who's the killer and stuff like that. So in that similar vein, what did a day on set look like for you? Are there any behind-the-scenes stories you can share?

COVID made it hard.

Yeah, I can imagine.

You know, just like COVID made life hard for anybody anywhere, right? We were lucky that we were in such a beautiful location and we had such a beautiful cast and crew to spend our time with. But we had to stay far apart. We were masked the whole time unless we were actually on set, ready to act. Even during rehearsals, we were, most of the time, masked. A lot of the behind-the-scenes and off-camera stuff. I would want to have a party in my trailer and say, everyone come over to hang out lunch. And COVID officers are like, "What do you mean? You can't all be in there." It definitely didn't get to the place where I think I wanted to, when it comes to like tight-knit, everyone together all the time. And there was definitely kind of this separation. I love all the cast members by the way. I text every single one of them every week but because we're on set in such delegated hours.

So I would have my scenes [with] Bruce or Courtney or Clara. They would all have their scenes separately unless we were scheduled that day together. And the kids were always together. So it really kind of created this dynamic like it would in real life where the teenagers hang out by themselves. The adults hang out by themselves. The loaner characters hang out by themselves. We definitely had a lot, especially at the end on wrap night, and [we] couldn't have a wrap party because of COVID. So there are a couple of us standing in a Hawaiian parking lot and hanging out until two in the morning, shooting the s**t. But everyone's super fun. And I'll tell you one thing that's going on in Hollywood right now. I don't know if you know about the IATSE strike authorizations, but there's a lot of changes happening for crew members. So we did a lot of local hire in Hawaii while we were shooting and a lot of night shoots.

I did notice that from the show.

Babe. There were nights where I got called in at 9 p.m. I didn't shoot until 1 a.m. Didn't wrap until 5 a.m. And that's just one, a couple of nights for me. Imagine these crew members that are there five, six, seven days a week. So I got to say major props, by the way, to those crew members cause they made this dang show. We wouldn't be nowhere without them. They're fun. Hawaii culture is fun, bruh.

This is what Fiona Rene hopes viewers will take away from their new show

So moving a little further onto like the backend of the show. Obviously it's coming out in a couple of days. What are you really hoping people will take away from the show — strictly entertainment, maybe some stories of values, morals?

Couple of things. I think, first and foremost, the show is fun. There's an element to nostalgia for people of my age. There's an element to fun and newness for people that are Gen Z or younger. I think that the show is fun. I think it's thrilling. It's a mystery thriller, but on a more serious note, like any form of entertainment, there's got to be some kind of moral. We've got to be speaking on something larger. What's the point of using this kind of platform, right? Although I didn't write it. Being a part of it, I [was] first really taken away [by] this concept of what is horror, right? Horror plays in fear, and fear is literally what runs the world. It's either fear or love, right? A lot of the time, anybody, when they're running off of fear, they've got shame and guilt and secrets that they don't want to share, but they're scared of people finding out for whatever reason.

And I think that's what this show is about. The show is about ... the murderer and the murders that happen. Every single character in this whole dang show has got secrets. Has got something that they're hiding, has got shame or guilt in some area or another, and how they deal with it is all very different. But I think that's where the real human element and the storytelling element comes out here because if anyone's going to take away anything from this other than having a good few hours of jumps and laughs and fun, [it's] to look at yourself and to really go what am I hiding?


What am I hiding? What am I scared of? What am I guilty of? And is that something is there something I can do here before someone comes to get me, right? I think that's a big moral takeaway. Yeah.

Redefining a law enforcement character as a proud Chinese-American was a meaningful opportunity

I would imagine as well, or at least this was something that hit me specifically with your character, that you are a proud Chinese American. I think that there's something really cool about you redefining like the police officer trope. What was that like, or did that kind of sit in the back of your mind while you were working on show?

Well for me, Chinese American women have in some way been comedic relief or a subtle submission. I could be a little comedic relief. I think at times I'll take a little bit of that. I think my energy is very much like I come in the room and you're going to hear me say something. You're going to hear me, whether you agree with me or not, you're going to hear me. And I think that I would be honored to be able to shift the dynamic of a Chinese woman to be seen as a powerhouse or as maybe a little bit messier because Chinese culture is very much about appearances.

A lot of women come very poised and classic and sometimes submissive and subtle, and I don't think those words really apply to me. So she's, she's home-grown and she puts herself out there and she makes mistakes, but she owns up and she's abrasive. And I think I would love to change some stereotype or some dynamic of what is going on just to add to the pot. Not to say that Chinese women shouldn't be poised and submissive and classy as always, but to just add something new and fresh to the pot. I would absolutely be honored if people can take that away.

More layers of depth as well that people can really come to say, oh, I'm like that, or I am a woman and I am unapologetically myself in the professional world, or whatever the ties are.

And I can be messy and powerful and masculine. I think that's the key too. As someone who identifies as both female and they/them, I really am in touch with my own masculinity and that doesn't take away from my femininity. I think that's the key here. And I think there are a lot of women out there that feel as if, when they become and they feel more masculine, that somehow that takes away from their femininity. And I just hope that I can show that's just certainly not the case.

Here's what is coming up next for Fiona Rene

Do you have like any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about or anything? I know that we're knocking on wood for Season 2 of this show, but is there anything else that's kind of on the horizon for you?

You know, I'll spit out a couple of things. I just did a guest star on "NCIS: Hawaii," which was kind of fun. I will be in the new season of "Lincoln Lawyer" coming out. I don't know when they're coming out; we'll find out, but Netflix is dropping "Lincoln Lawyer" the series. Let's see, I'm shopping a show of my own around right now, and it's about haunted houses. So some of the viewers of this might like that, to keep an eye out for that. I came out with a podcast with my best friend, Samar Poorlakani. Yeah, she's a sex therapist, and we've known each other for like 18 years. So if you guys want to talk about really deep stuff, like mental health and sex, you can check out that podcast.

"I Know What You Did Last Summer" will be rolling out weekly, with the first four episodes premiering at once on Friday, October 15th, and the remaining four coming out week by week (with the finale episode Friday, November 12th).