Now in its third season of dark intrigue, murder and a certain “A” stalker run amuck, life in Rosewood has become downright deadly. Co-star Troian Bellisario candidly talked with press at the WB Mondo International Press Tour about her life on screen and how it may or may not mirror her own life.
How are you most like your character and how are you least like your character?
TROIAN: I definitely struggle with a bit of being a perfectionist that Spencer definitely struggles with, and her anxiety, I would say. And how am I least like her? I don’t know. There are so many ways in which I am like her. The way that I’m least like her is that I feel that I’ve grown up away from Spencer. I felt very, very close to her. That’s why when I read the role, I knew that I didn’t look like what they wanted. The character in the book is actually blonde haired and green eyed and looks like Ashley Benson, really. And I walked in and I was just like, “Look, I know that I don’t look like this, but I know this girl. I was her at 16 and I can give you this.” And fortunately they agreed. But since it has been a couple years since then, I’ve learned to chill out. So that’s good.
How good of a liar are you?
TROIAN: I’m a fantastic liar. (Laughs) I don’t know. Actually, I think I’m a terrible liar. Right? I mean, I don’t know. It’s that endless question of: what are you doing as an actor? Are you lying or are you being the most honest you can probably be? So I think that actually I’m probably the worst liar ever, because every time I lie about my feelings, the people closest to me are like, okay, let’s talk about this. And I’m like, no, I’m fine, fine, and then I just burst into tears.
Then we’re to understand this character is you when you were 16?
TROIAN: Definitely not all of me, but a huge aspect. I was very, very anal in return with my academia. And I was just very controlling and I felt like I had to prove to everybody that I knew what I was doing in life at all moments and that I had it all figured out. And it took a very big change in my life for me to realize that I could be a kid and not know and kind of get lost.
And what was the change? What happened?
TROIAN: Just something very personal in my life that I kind go through. You know? My own journey and kind of realize that with the slate wiped clean and kind of come to realize that I was putting this pressure on myself to succeed. My family just loved me no matter what. I’d say actually that’s the biggest difference between Spencer and I, is that I come from an incredibly supportive, if not challenging, family. But Spencer comes from a very, very sort of broken home in the sense that her family loves her; they just have no idea how, how to. So that was a really big difference, and I think that that could change a person’s life. If I didn’t have my family throughout that journey, I don’t know if I would have made it.
What have you learned so far portraying Spencer this long? Is there something you’ve learned from this character being so obsessive and so controlling that you thought, okay, that’s got to let go?
TROIAN: I didn’t learn it because I guess I was already kind of, like, past that in my life. But to me it was very important to play her because I knew that young woman like her would be watching it, young women like me, and I was hoping that she could be kind of a shining example for exactly what she says in one of those episodes in the first season, which is like you don’t have to be perfect. And that’s something that I think especially with the media and with like, I’m an actress and I’m portraying somebody who’s completely done up in make up and hair, even right now, and I’m just talking to you. And so that gives off an air of, like, you must be presentable and perfect at all times. And so hopefully, when people watch Spencer, they’re like, yeah, well, she’s kind of crazy and she’s not perfect at all times and she’s kind of emotionally messed up. And maybe that’s normal. Maybe that’s what it’s okay to be.
What kinds of mail or email have you gotten from the people responding to your character?
TROIAN: The fans are incredible, and I get so many wonderful emails of so many people saying that the best is when I’ve inspired them to become an actress, to follow their dreams to become an actress because they will really like watching me work. That feels so wonderful because that was what I went through growing up, was like so many people being like, oh, yeah, you want to be an actress. I’m from L.A. I come from the business. You know, “Oh, you’re going to be an actress, great,” you know, or all of the different remarks that come from that. And so if I could, through my work, help some girl or boy or man or woman, you know, realize, like, no, you know, I really do want to do this, that’s awesome. And so I’ve got really wonderfully supportive fans and they’ve let me know loud and clear.
A lot of people are now watching television by buying the season box sets of shows and also getting the behind the the scenes stuff and everything else. Are you a fan of watching TV that way? Are there shows that you watch that way?
TROIAN: I think it’s fantastic. Because it’s only recently that I started watching a show or shows as they’ve been coming out. I did not, even though my family is from television, watch a lot of it growing up. I didn’t really want I was much more into films and, later, theater. And so I kind of had this negative view of TV. I don’t know. It might have been a rebellion against my parents or something. But when I was in college, I got so I started watching SIX FEET UNDER on Netflix. And it was the most addictive thing to be able to get his DVD and watch, like, four episodes in a row and not have to wait. And it just became this obsession. And so I was like, oh, my God. And I was alive while SIX FEET UNDER was on, and I didn’t know why I didn’t watch it. You know, like what was I missing? And so to think there will be hopefully many, many more girls and boys and men and women in the future that can be like, “oh, yeah, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, I’ve heard of that but I never watched it when it was on so I might as well watch it,” and then they can call their friends and be like, “I just watched all of season one and I’m, like, zonked out of my mind, this is so cool.” So I think it’s awesome.
What was it like growing up with the family in the TV business?
TROIAN: It was home. It was the business, you know. It still is the business. It’s funny. People always ask me like, “What’s it be like being on a hit television show?” And I’m like, well, it’s kind of funny because it’s in my family, at least three people are on or working in television at any time. So it’s like you’re talking about like I had “This script isn’t going through.” And I’m like, “Well, on my show I’ve been doing this.” And they’re like, “Well, on my show it had this many million viewers.” And I’m like, “Well, I only have this many million viewers.”
Sunday dinners must be interesting.
TROIAN: They’re very interesting. It’s just talking shop in the family business, which feels very good and it feels I don’t know — it feels like a legacy, which is really wonderful. And I honestly think that because I was raised on sets, it’s prepared me to be the most comfortable on them that I possibly could be in the sense they’re not very comfortable places. So it really gave me a wonderful advantage starting out.
Any advice that they gave you that stayed in your mind?
TROIAN: My parents always instilled in me two things. One was that it doesn’t matter how talented you are. There’s a certain element of luck involved and what really matters is hard work. That’s the only thing that you can control. So you can be really talented, you can hopefully be lucky, but the one thing that you can control is how hard you work. And it’s a job, you know. Fortunately, I never saw the business as glamorous. That never rang true for me. It was a place where everybody showed up. Everybody got their oatmeal and met on set with, like, bleary eyes and figured out a scene and then did it and then went home to their families and got up in the morning and did it all over again. It’s hard work, and it’s been good to know that going into it. And then the other great thing that my parents instilled in me, because they were writers, was never wait for somebody to give you a role in this business — create the work that you want to be working in. So that’s what I do as well.
How does everybody get along, all the girls on the set?
TROIAN: Yeah. It’s the best situation. I don’t know how it happened. But it’s like we’re so, so different from each other and everybody occupies their own space and has their own sort of place on set. And we care for each other so much that, you know, when we first met, it was American Thanksgiving and I say that because we were in Canada, which has a different Thanksgiving before the pilot. And we met, really, for, like, the first time just the four of us. And we sat down at the table and it was, all of us, our first Thanksgiving away from our families. And we sat down, and I don’t know what happened, but it was like we’d known each other for years. And we kind of called our section of the table the kids table, and we were, like, talking about boys and we were eating great food. And all of a sudden it felt like we weren’t missing our families at Thanksgiving; we’d found a new family. And it’s felt like that for the past three, almost four years. It’s just, I look at those girls and we’re like sisters. Some days I absolutely hate them and I want to kill them and I’m fine letting them know that. But it’s always done with a sense of, like, stop being such an idiot; please, can we move past this. And they’ve really, really saved me in some rough patches, so I’m so grateful for them.
To see what’s next in the increasingly thorny relationship of Spencer and Toby and all the “A” games they are intertwined in, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS on Tuesday, January 8th at 8:00 p.m. on ABC Family. “A” may have stacked the game, but Spencer is certainly going to toss in a wrinkle or two of her own.
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