Spoilers ahead.

Gossip Girl is no stranger to the irresistible love triangle. It’s been part of the series since the very beginning (hello, Blair, Nate, and Serena). In HBO Max’s iteration of the show, a new romantically troubled trio arises: Max Wolfe (Thomas Doherty), Audrey Hope (Emily Alyn Lind), and Aki Menzies (Evan Mock). But their woes are deeper and more complex than the base conflict of “You stole my boyfriend”; they also explore identity, sexuality, and family.

Now, where to begin? Audrey and Aki are dating, but they’re a bit distant lately, and she has an obvious crush on Max. When Aki unsuccessfully supports Audrey while she’s looking after her distressed mother, Audrey gets frustrated and sleeps with Max. At the same time, Aki is self-questioning after kissing Max during a scheme to get Max’s teacher jealous. As for Max, he’s a pleasure seeker and partier who’s also enduring trouble at home as his dads’ marriage is on the rocks. In this week’s episode, he notices that his Pops is on the dating app Scruff and enlists Aki to make a fake account (posing as his teacher Rafa Caparros) and flirt with him to see if he plans to cheat on his husband. Max’s father bites, but curious Aki goes beyond his assignment and messages other guys on the app too. Still with us?

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By the end of the episode, the whole entanglement blows up in the trio’s faces. In a drunken outburst, Max reveals that Audrey slept with him and that Aki “wanted to.” Plus, he uncovers Aki’s additional Scruff messages.

Though sticking true to the show’s signature melodrama, the Max-Audrey-Aki relationship is also new territory for Gossip Girl, whose original lead characters upheld a heteronormative status quo. The show’s creator, Joshua Safran, even admitted, “There was not a lot of representation the first time around on the show,” and promised of the spin-off, “There’s a lot of queer content on this show.” (For starters, Max is pansexual; mean girl Monet de Haan, played by Savannah Smith, is also gay; and fashionista Luna La is portrayed by trans actress Zión Moreno.)

Here, Doherty, Lind, and Mock talk us through their characters’ intertwined journeys, the importance of portraying sexual fluidity, and how the new Gossip Girl embraces consent.

I wanted to backtrack a little bit first. Do you remember the first time you all met each other?

Emily Alyn Lind: We met a little bit differently. I met Thomas, Savannah, Eli, Whitney, and, well, I knew Jordan actually. No one even talks about this, but I did my first show with her. It was called Sacred Lies for Facebook Watch two years ago. It was our first show ever and we were in the show together and then we’re doing this, this is our second show together. But that’s kind of crazy.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

So I met Jordan before, but then I met all of them, except Evan and Zión. We all went to my house, I had everyone over, had dinner. It was just like an instant family. It was so weird. Do you remember that, Thomas? That first night, when we had dinner around my table and it was just the weirdest clique, it was crazy. I think it was just comfortability, honestly.

Thomas Doherty: I remember I came to your apartment. I was early, I think I was with Whitney.

EAL: And I was showering!

TD: You had a towel around your head. You were like, “Sorry, guys, just a minute.” I was like, “I already love this person.”

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Gossip Girl Emily Alyn Lind Evan Mock
Evan Mock as Aki and Emily Alyn Lind as Audrey.
Photo: HBO

That’s awesome. Evan, this is your first major TV role. What was it like starting out with these two as your costars, as well as the rest of the cast?

TD: He was in shell shock.

Evan Mock: I was a really huge fan of Thomas’s and Emily’s work before.

TD: I just knew you as a person. [Laughs.]

EM: I mean, I said it a million times, but you know—

EAL: I love gossip and drama.

[All laugh.]

EM: It’s been an amazing experience with them. They make me feel really comfortable and instill the confidence to complete the scene and get your work done, and make it the best you can make it. I’m learning new things every day. The cast and crew is awesome.

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So, we have a love triangle going on with Aki, Audrey, and Max. And it’s really interesting, because the first Gossip Girl was kind of missing sexually fluid relationships. I’d love to hear what your first reaction was to the script. And Evan and Emily, how are your characters handling this entanglement?

EM: Aki definitely is pretty understanding. [Audrey has] given me the chance to branch out and for me to go through that experience on my own and really try to figure out what I like. She’s really understanding in that way. So it’s nice and supportive for her. But I think we kind of get it; I feel like in a lot of relationships that wouldn’t be a thing.

EAL: It takes a bit though. I think that it’s an interesting progression in the show, because I wanted to make sure that I was coming from an honest place. And I actually had a boyfriend in the past who was bi, and I didn’t know. And I just remember when he confessed those feelings, he was scared I wouldn’t be attracted to him anymore. And it wasn’t about that. It was never about that for me. It might be for some people; it just wasn’t in me. I felt a vulnerability about him in a loving way, where now I know something that no one else really knows, except some of the people that you want to be with.

Being in a fluid relationship, I have no problem with it, but it would be bad if there was lying and cheating and whatever—however you identify. You really see Audrey trying to figure out all of this stuff. Like, “What does it mean? Do I not like this or that?” Knee-jerk reactions, like when you’re a baby and you’re crying because you want milk, or you’re hungry, but you don’t know why you’re crying and you don’t know where to put those feelings. I believe that watching Audrey’s natural progress and what she ends up feeling toward the situation is never about how he identifies or his sexuality. It’s always about the love interest that they have. They build something really great, I think. And you’ll have to wait and see that.

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Gossip Girl Thomas Doherty Evan Mock
Evan Mock as Aki and Thomas Doherty as Max.
Photo: HBO

Thomas, how is Max floating through all of this? At the same time, he’s also dealing with things at home with his parents. What’s going through his mind?

TD: He’s pansexual, and I think he does enjoy the experience and the complexities and the nuances of emotion and human connections. And so, I do think he enjoys exploring that. And then obviously, what’s going on at home is completely separate and isn’t really as related to this situation. But I think he’s just having a good time, honestly. I think he’s enjoying himself, exploring himself more, going deeper, which I love, and it’s been incredibly liberating for me to play a character like that and to kind of question my own preconceived notions and constructs.

Absolutely. As much as the show is more sex positive and sexually free than its predecessor, we also see more talk about consent, which I think all three of your characters explore, as well as people outside [of your relationship]. Tell me about exploring that in the show. And did you ever look back at the original series and notice certain scenes that were kind of like, “Oh, that’s a little creepy”?

TD: What I think is important to definitely note is that it is TV, that it is drama. So prior scenes highlight what happened and what does unfortunately still happen. It is a reflection of the world, of society, of the culture, but the beautiful thing about the continuation that we’re doing is that it really, really highlights that, and it definitely does put a light on it, and really addresses how crucial it is for consent and how inexcusable it is without. For a younger audience, that is definitely a really important message to be putting out there.

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Gossip Girl Thomas Doherty Emily Alyn Lind Evan Mock
Max, Audrey, and Aki in Gossip Girl Episode 1. Photo: HBO

EAL: I agree. I have a huge thing about the fact that if you’re going to highlight something, a lot of the time it’s really important to highlight the bad. I find that I’m more effective sometimes watching something and seeing the effect of it actually happening and highlighting how bad it was. And even then, it probably was glorified in some sense, if you’re even talking about the ’50s and the things that were very prevalent [then]. I feel like there’s more change happening when you fucking show that stuff and say, “Watch this. This is what it was.” In the original Gossip Girl, some of the scenes with Chuck, I think they were sexualized in a way that they weren’t earned.

But I think they know that, 100 percent. And everyone will agree, because we live in a society where everyone’s in love with Jared Leto as the Joker, and does that mean that we won’t fall in love with serial killers when we watch all these fucking things? If we’re going to do something like that, I think we do have a responsibility to not sexualize it. We’re talking about sexual abuse and stuff like that, you can show that, but not dramatize it or romanticize it, like a lot of people do, I guess you could say. There’s nothing sexy about it.

TD: You look at the series You. There’s, like, a drained sociopath, and everyone’s like, “Oh, my God, he’s so hot!” Like, what the fuck?

EAL: It’s weird. I felt the opposite of that.

TD: I mean, not everyone was, of course, but there [were some], and I remember being shocked. I was like, “What?”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.