Kayla Cromer, who stars in Freeform’s sitcom “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” is the first actor with autism to play a character with that same background.
“It’s amazing, it’s such an honor representing so many who are looking for inclusion onscreen,” Cromer, 23, told The Post. “I take being a role model very seriously.”
Now entering its second season (April 8 at 10 p.m.), the series was created by (and stars) Australian comedian Josh Thomas (“Please Like Me). It follows neurotic gay thirtysomething entomologist Nicholas (Thomas) who unexpectedly finds himself assuming guardianship over his teen half-sisters: the musically gifted Matilda (Cromer) who is autistic, and her spunky younger sister Genevieve (Maeve Press), an aspiring stand-up comedian.
“Working with Josh’s huge personality and being around him has definitely helped me understand sarcasm better,” said Cromer. “He lets me bring my own improv into scenes — he’s really open to actors’ ideas. He’s just so funny.”
At the end of Season 1, Matilda, who got into Julliard, tried to do a practice run to prepare to live independently in New York. Unfortunately it didn’t go well, as she became overwhelmed by the subways and crowds. Season 2 sees Matilda attempt to pivot to a new life plan, including weighing going to a local college instead of Juilliard or taking a gap year. It’s an adjustment for her whole family as they try to decide how to help her and how to move forward.
She’s also having relationship troubles since she stopped talking to her girlfriend, Drea (Lillian Carrier) during her college struggles.
“Season 2 will see hookups, Matilda rethinking her life goals, and lots more bugs,” Cromer said, referring to the bugs that come with Nicholas’ profession.
Season 2’s guest stars include Maria Bamford and Richard Kind — and the latter was particularly exciting to Cromer.
“My dream has always been to be on ‘Law & Order: SVU’ and his character portrayals on guest roles on that show have been amazing. It was almost a starstruck moment for me, seeing him,” she said.
“Definitely my favorite part of playing Matilda is that there are so many ways to play her. And having fans see themselves in those scenes — my [messages on social media] are constantly blowing up with fans saying positive things about her.”
Cromer said that she thinks the most misunderstood aspect of being autistic is being labeled as “intellectually disabled.”
“All humans are wired differently. We all think and learn differently,” she said.
The prospect of whether an actor needs to share a background with their character — such as both being autistic — is a hot topic in the entertainment industry. “I think it all starts before casting starts,” said Cromer. “If there’s a character with autism written in, I think the casting call should reflect authentic diversity. But people who are different also shouldn’t be boxed into the same stereotypical roles. Like, a person who is in a wheelchair can play a prosecutor, too.”
Cromer, who grew up in California, originally wanted to work in criminal profiling for the FBI.
“My character analysis method is creative, I took the FBI profile analysis process and converted it into the character I play,” she said. “Criminal profiling was my original career path I wanted to pursue, so I put the two together.”