Maia Reficco’s character, Noa, gets the first “A” text on “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.”
“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” taunts an anonymous text on her iPhone, to which she simply replies: “Who the [expletive] is this?”
The setup should be familiar to fans of the original “Pretty Little Liars” Freeform series, which followed a group of high school girls haunted by an anonymous figure from 2010 to 2017. For those who missed the pop culture phenomenon, the girls’ stalker was best known for sending cryptic, threatening text messages signed with the letter “A.” “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin,” which premieres Thursday on HBO Max, takes several cues from its predecessor, but it’s also very much its own thing. For one, the girls are able to swear freely, giving them slightly more realistic reactions to being stalked by a shadowy individual in the dark.
“I do love the fact that we can swear,” Reficco, who was born in Boston and later relocated to Argentina with her family, told the Globe in a video interview. “It’s an R-rated show at the end of the day, so it’s a different reality, the one that we’re portraying.”
The 22-year-old actress stars as Noa Olivar, one of the five new characters caught in A‘s crosshairs. Noa is a track star fresh out of juvie, loyal to her mother and boyfriend but willing to do whatever it takes to get off probation. Brought together by a series of strange events and increasingly threatening messages, Noa and four other girls quickly form a close friend group. The season, set in the present, is interspersed with flashbacks to 1999 (when the girls’ mothers were friends in high school).
Reficco — whose main background is in music, theater, and Nickelodeon telenovelas — said that the role was unlike anything she had previously read for and that it has set the bar for future projects.
“I speak in Spanish in my day-to-day life, so getting to tell stories about being Latina is really important to me,” Reficco shared. “And even though it’s not at the forefront of who [Noa] is, I think just coexisting as a Latina woman in itself is my lived experience, and getting to tell that story is so moving and so exciting.”
Reficco was a huge fan of the original series, having watched it at the height of its fame while she was in high school, but she was thrilled to see that “Original Sin” was taking strides in certain areas — particularly when it came to diversity. While the original series’ stories resonated with Reficco, she always noticed that nobody in the cast looked like her.
“There was no Latina, there was nobody that came from where I come from,” Reficco said. “So I think that was really meaningful, when it came to reading the script and seeing what was happening.”
She was immediately hooked upon reading the pilot, she said, because of how “real” it felt. The harsh internal horror aspects (beyond just the jumpscares) of the show, like Noa’s interactions with the conniving local sheriff while on probation, were particularly alluring to Reficco. The fact that the new series had its own DNA was simply a bonus.
“It’s not a continuation of a story that was already established in the original show,” Reficco explained. “It’s more so a reimagination of a new story that shares the A plotline, but in a completely different world.”
This installment in the “Liars”-verse is darker on many levels, beyond the use of mature language. In addition to Noa’s probation arc, one girl is six months pregnant, and another is living out a “Black Swan”-like scenario. Much of the show grapples with generational trauma and how the same demons can haunt mothers and daughters.
The series itself plays like a horror movie, taking the creepiest elements of the original (e.g. the Radley Sanitarium episodes, the dollhouse arc) and making them the central theme of the new show. The show pays homage to its horror ancestors, with not-so-subtle shoutouts to “Carrie” and “Get Out.” The theme sequence — set to a creepy, slowed-down rendition of the original theme song, “Secret” by the Pierces — gives more of a “Saw” vibe. “Original Sin” employed Joseph Bishara — the horror maestro behind the score of “The Conjuring,” “Insidious,” and “Malignant” — to create the haunting original music for the show.
A, too, has become more frightening. Rather than a peripheral figure wearing a black hoodie, A is front-and-center: a menacing force with long stringy hair, a Michael Myers-esque jumpsuit, and a mask that’s a direct sendup of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
While the horror elements help give “Original Sin” a unique edge, the new series shares a fundamental similarity with the original: the friendships. The relationships between the five girls are the story’s focal point and it’s their bond that threads the first season together. Like the original, the girls grow closer as A continues to torment them.
“I think for one reason or another, we all found a lot of unity and a lot of sense of friendship within those girls,” Reficco said. “In my high school experience, I didn’t have many friends, and watching the show, I felt like I did.”
“That is one of the most important things in my life right now, to be honest,” she added, “to make somebody feel a little less alone.”