“Pretty Little Liars” star Shay Mitchell discusses the upcoming mid-season finale, playing a bi-sexual character and so much more in this exclusive TVSource Magazine interview.
Newcomer Canadian actress, Shay Mitchell is taking Hollywood by storm, thanks to her new role on the ABCFamily drama, “Pretty Little Liars.” “Pretty Little Liars,” which airs on Tuesday nights, is a drama centered around four friends with a deep dark secret. Their friendship is put to the test, when their friend Allison winds up dead, and a year later, they start to receive texts from the mysterious “A,” who threatens to expose all their secrets. The girls are now on a quest to figure out “A’s” identity and and how this person found out their secrets.
The show has received critical praise and has become an instant success for ABCFamily. It ranked number one in key 12-34 demos and teens, becoming the number one scripted show in Women 18-34, and Women 18-49. The premiere was number two in the hour for total viewers, which generated 2.5 million unique viewers, and was ABC Family’s best delivery in the timeslot since the premiere of “The Secret Life Of The American Teenager”. The second episode retained 100% of its premiere audience, despite the usual downward trend following a premiere of a show, and built on its premiere audience.
One character in particular, who people are talking about is Emily Fields, a popular teenaged sports star struggling with her sexuality. Mitchell realistically portrays Emily as someone who’s walking that delicate line between who she wants to be, and what others expect her to be. It’s easy to identify with the character of Emily because she’s going through situations that many can relate to.
TVSource editors Thomas Hart & Tara Blake spoke with the talented young actress regarding her role on the show, why she is proud of portraying Emily and life in general.
THOMAS: Why do think the show has become a huge success?
SHAY MITCHELL: I think that it has become a huge success because of the different characters in it and you know the relatability to it all. It’s in a small town and it kind of has that homegrown feel to it. If you don’t relate to one character, then you relate to a little bit of the other ones, you know? Like when people ask what character do I relate to the most, I say a little bit of all of them. I can see myself in a little bit of all of them and I think, you know, looking at the girls it’s not so out of your world when you watch other shows and you’re like “that’s a nice life, but I could never live it.” The clothes that we wear you could buy at your store; the storylines that we’re going through have happened and are happening right now. I just feel like it being such a relatable show affects a lot of people that watch Fit. They can see themselves in it.
THOMAS: Especially with your character, who is a bisexual, were you kind of apprehensive about playing a bisexual character?
SM: No, not at all. I was actually really interested when I [heard] the character’s storyline. I read the breakdowns of the other characters and I was very, very happy to play Emily. I just felt like the writers knew what they were doing with it and they weren’t trying to make it your typical “hot girl kissing another hot girl” kind of thing. It was a genuine really sweet relationship that they put out with her and Maya and I really liked it. And I also like the fact that my character wasn’t labeled as “gay” or “bisexual.” She just simply has relationships with boys and girls and she is figuring herself out. And I really liked that about this character so I fell in love with Emily and I was very happy with getting the chance to play her.
THOMAS: Emily is just starting to come out to her friends. Do you think it’s easier for teens to come out nowadays? Back when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have even thought about coming out, you know? It was just something that I would keep way deep inside of me, hoping that no one would find out.
SM: Exactly. And that’s what a lot of people have been saying to me is just that they were like, “I wish this show was out 10 years ago, 15 years ago. It would have helped me to see someone on tv.” So much of the time back then, TV was depicted as the “perfect world” and everybody had white picket fences and everything and there were no problems! Now it’s really just showing what’s going on. And I think that the writers for Pretty Little Liars have such a great pulse on society today. Now there are a lot of people who are confused or they are figuring themselves out and I don’t think it’s as much of a problem anymore — it never should have been! But I feel that it is a little bit easier for people to come out now. Emily’s even feeling that in the show, that her friends may have been a little bit more supportive than she would have thought in the beginning.
TARA: You and Bianca Lawson (Maya) have really nice chemistry. What’s it like for you working with her since she’s been working on these types of teen shows for years?
SM: It’s really, really amazing. And I remember this one movie, Save the Last Dance, I think it was, she was in it! And I didn’t realize that until a couple of weeks ago and I was watching the movie again and I was like “Oh my goodness! That’s Bianca who plays that girl who that’s in Save the Last Dance.'” I was so shocked. But it’s amazing to get to play with somebody who has a lot more experience than I have and she’s in so many great shows. She looks amazing! She’s a little bit older, but she looks fantastic! And with her knowledge in the field, and actually bonding with her on and off set, it’s really, really nice to have her play that character opposite Emily.
THOMAS: Now do you get nervous when you have a kissing scene? That kissing scene last week…I was shocked! I mean this is on ABC Family! It still blows my mind that this show is on ABC Family because it’s so scandalous!
SM: No, I don’t. I really honestly don’t get nervous. When I’m playing Emily, or when I play any character for that matter, I’m them. I’m in there in that moment. And in that moment Emily does have an attraction to Maya and she feels something for her, so I’m not thinking, “Oh, this is a girl.” Not at all, and I’m telling you, I’ve had more awkward kisses with other guys in the past doing different scenes than I have with her. It was the easiest thing ever and when you are playing a character you might, in person, not be attracted to that person, but you’re not playing yourself. You’re playing a character and this character is really feeling something towards Maya, another girl. It wasn’t awkward at all.
THOMAS: Is it true that you auditioned for Hanna originally?
SM: No, I auditioned for Spencer originally. I put myself on tape in Toronto as Spencer.
THOMAS: And then they gave you the role of Emily?
SM: And then they were looking for Emily, so I put myself on tape for that. I thought that was way more suited for me.
THOMAS: The show is based on a series of novels from Sara Shepard. Did you read the books before you auditioned for the role? How true is the series to the books?
SM: I didn’t read the books before I auditioned because it’s such a quick process. So I basically had gotten the breakdown, read for them, and then they flew me out here to test for everybody. So I only got a chance to read the books on my way back from LA once I had found out that I booked it. And then I read through them very quickly. The only one I haven’t read is the last one – and it’s sitting on my shelf and I have it, but I almost don’t want it to be over, so I’m not reading it yet! The TV show is very, very similar to the books.
As far as Rosewood and the characters are concerned, it definitely has the spirit of those two things. It does change a little bit with the events and we have added some new characters. But I mean I think that’s only expected when you take a tv show from a book series because you don’t want the fans of the books to know everything that’s going on. You need to switch it up a little bit, add a couple new characters. But I feel the spirit of Pretty Little Liars that Sara Shepard wrote about is definitely still in the tv show.
THOMAS: It seems that they are going to go forward with the Maya/Emily relationship. Will we see psycho Toby return in the near future?
SM: There is definitely a possibility. I think anything could happen in Rosewood. At this point, we still don’t even know what’s going on with Mr. Toby, so that’s one of those things I guess everyone will be expecting to see – or not see! We’ll see…
TARA: What’s it like working with Nia Peeples as your mother on your show?
SM: Oh, so great! And you know it’s such a tricky thing too, when you have someone like me who’s a little bit mixed in ethnicity to find someone who looks similar because even my mom doesn’t look like exactly like me and you have my dad, who is the polar opposite of everything that I look like. So casting Nia was such a shock. I was like “No way! You mean Nia Peeples from Fame.” When they told me I couldn’t believe it and they were like, “Yes, Shay. Nia Peeples from Fame.” I’m like “OH MY GOSH!” I couldn’t have thought of somebody who could have played a better mother for me. I mean they just casted perfectly. On set Nia is so great, she’s really given me a lot of good advice and it’s been really, really nice to work with her. And I talk to her offset too and I’m still holding her up to taking me for surfing lessons! She’s really fun.
THOMAS: The show has some popular vets playing the parents – Chad Lowe, Holly Marie Combs and Laura Leighton. Have they given you any advice regarding life, Hollywood or the business?
SM: I haven’t gotten the luxury to talk to them that much only because I don’t really have a lot of scenes with any of them. But the general kind of advice that a lot of them have given us has been take in every moment. Don’t think ahead, don’t think in the past. Just literally feel everything right now. Just take it all in and enjoy it and have fun. I think that’s the main thing, which all of us are trying to do.
THOMAS: The midseason finale will air this Tuesday. What can we expect from the finale? Any dirt? Any gossip?
SM: You can expect to fall out of your seat! No word of a lie. I think the whole season you’ve been edging a little bit closer to the edge of your seat. Well, with the midseason finale, you will actually fall out!
THOMAS: Do you know who “A” is?
SM: I actually am putting my hand up in the air; I do not know who “A” is. No, I’m not lying to you. You will be introduced to some new characters in this last one. One of us, one of the girls, might find out who “A” is. So I will leave you with that…
THOMAS: Who do you think “A” is?
SM: I have no idea and I’ve heard some interesting things. Everybody has said everybody in the cast. So, I’m like really? It could be anybody. You never know. They put little clues in, I’m sure. Maybe at the end of it, I’ll go back and re-watch all of the episodes to try and see how the writers led up to it. As far as right now is concerned, I have no clue. The writers are pretty smart. They wouldn’t tell any of us girls. It’s a good thing. You could just ask me point blank and I would be like “Well A is …” and not even thinking about it. Sometimes that happens. You have to be careful. So that’s why I think it’s good they don’t tell us.
THOMAS: So basically we just have to watch Tuesday nights?
SM: Basically you just have to watch Tuesday nights. I’m telling you, you’ll be very entertained. I’m not [no idea around 13:01] other episodes but this one is very, very amazing.
THOMAS: Before you got into acting you were a model. What was that like?
SM: Modeling taught me so much. Yeah, I started when I was about 15 and I really took it very serious. When I graduated high school, I went to East Asia and I modeled in Thailand and Hong Kong. It was such an amazing and growing experience for me. To be thrown in a third world country, trying to find your way in a city that you’ve never been to before, that is so different from where you grew up. It was amazing and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I just learned so much from it and I learned a lot about rejection too you know, in that industry as well.
You’re not based on the lines that you say or your personality at all, it really is when you walk right in the door. You have to get used to a harsh type of rejection very early and I think that really helped me. It made me a lot stronger than I thought I was. So yeah, it was a really neat experience just to work with so many great people and travel to different spots to do shoot locations. It was really good. I’m glad that I had that experience.
THOMAS: What made you decide to become an actress?
SM: To be quite honest, I’m a ham. I’ve always been a ham, that’s what people call me (laughing). I just love trying on other people’s shoes and see what it feels like playing this other person and you know, to really sink your teeth into the script and feeling everything that your character feels, it’s so amazing because you’re always switching it up.
I loved watching movies when I was a young age and now, anybody can say this; it takes you away from your reality at that moment. Also, being able to do that for a mass amount of people and have an effect on people, it’s just a great feeling and that’s why I feel with this character, I’m so blessed to do this, because you get comments from girls around the world, saying “Thank You, your character is really helping me,” and that is just…. It doesn’t get any better than that.
THOMAS: I wish your character was around when I was growing up because we didn’t have anything like that on TV. It was before Will and Grace and Ellen hadn’t come out yet. It’s really nice to see a character who is comfortable with herself and starting to come out. She has conservative parents just like I did. I can relate to her even though she’s a female (laughing). She’s one of my favorite characters on the show. I love all the characters, but Emily was the one I was drawn to the most.
TARA: I really relate a lot to Hanna, because she’s always trying to stick up for Emily in certain situations. I had a best friend in high school that was in a situation similar to Emily. People were not nice and it was just horrible for me to watch my friend go through that. I always found myself in the situation like Hannah and fight back with words. Why are you saying these things? So, I definitely relate to the characters on the show and I think they present them in such a great way.
SM: Yeah, it was very surprising with Hannah. I got a lot of comments from viewers saying oh my gosh, you’d never expect it from a character like her, but it’s really sweet to see that a very popular girl really does have a heart and that she can stick up for Emily and for Lucas’s character. It was a very sweet conversation that she and Emily shared.
TARA: Shay, I don’t know if you heard about this, but ABCFamily is now rebranding to ABCF and going by that name. What do you think about that change?
SM: I think that you just told me some new news (laughing). I have been going around running for 3 days getting ready for this teen choice awards, so I have not, embarrassing as it sounds, not even looked at the news, turned on the TV, turned on the computer even. So I didn’t even know about that, but that is great. I even love the new slogan, “it’s a new kind of family,” so now this is a new NEW kind of family. So yeah, I think that’s pretty cool.
THOMAS: Do you get recognized more, now that the show has become an instant hit?
SM: Umm, I do and it’s such a surreal feeling. It’s really weird. Especially recently, I thought I had something in my teeth or something on my face or my friends were not telling me something. Because you have these little girls that don’t say anything and they just look at you and they’re laughing or whispering in their friends ear and I’m like oh my goodness, what’s wrong? Are you sure I don’t have anything on my teeth? My friends are like yes Shay; they recognize you from the show (laughing). And then a couple of times they’ll come up to me and say, “Hey we love the show”. It was a little weird in the beginning, but it’s really sweet. I love it when it happens.
THOMAS: Do you hang out with the girls off set?
SM: You know, we try to. But even now, Troian (Spencer) just came back from Canada, I’m going to Canada right after the awards to visit my family for a couple of weeks and Lucy (Aria) is coming back, so up until now we’ve been doing a lot of publicity for the show. We’ve all been here and there, so we’ve haven’t really gotten together . So I’m hoping before we start shooting again, we’ll all go out for a big dinner. That’s a guarantee. I’m going to make it happen. We’re all going to go out for dinner.
THOMAS: Do you watch the show?
SM: I do. I do watch the show. If not Tuesday, then on Wednesday.
THOMAS:< Is it weird seeing yourself on TV?/p>
SM: I find that I like to watch it without anyone else. My friends and family will call me afterwards and we’ll talk about it, but yeah, I like to watch it by myself. It really is crazy seeing yourself on TV.
THOMAS: Now you’ve done something that I’ve always wanted to do which is skydiving. I want to do it so bad. How was that?
SM: Oh, you have too. Ok, have you been to Vancouver before?
THOMAS: No, but I’ve always wanted to visit.
SM: I did it at a place called, “Cumberton,” which is outside of Vancouver. You have to go to this place which is called “Whistler Skydiving. Before I went, I asked if they have had any accidents, and they didn’t. They have to tell you that. You’re very safe and in good hands. When I went there, it was the best experience. The reason why I tell you to go to Vancouver to do it, is they take you up in the plane ride and before you jump out, you’re seeing beautiful mountains, waterfalls, snow; it was the most amazing scenery you’ll ever see before you jump. It’s such a great feeling. I think everyone should do it at least once in their life. When you go, you should let me know (laughing).
TARA:The show is based on these girls that have a terrible secret. Do you have a secret that no one knows, that you’d like to share?
SM: hmmmm.. Secret..
THOMAS: I bet she know’s who “A” is and she’s just not telling us (laughing)
SM:(laughing) no.. I really wish I knew that, but that wouldn’t be a little secret. Ok, I’ve eaten a grasshopper before.
THOMAS: No you didn’t.
SM: Yeah, I did (laughing). When I was in Thailand, I actually did eat a grasshopper. It was very crunchy and I swallowed it very quick, so I didn’t hold it in my mouth too long. But I did eat a grasshopper and I actually haven’t told anybody that.
TARA and THOMAS: GROSS!!
TARA and THOMAS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We really do love the show and can’t wait to see the finale on Tuesday. Any idea when they start shooting Season 2?
SM: Actually, everybody’s getting a little bit confused. It’s still season 1. We shot the first ten which is the new mid-season finale that will air Tuesday, August 10th and then we go back and shoot 12 more episodes, which are still considered season 1. I think from what I’ve heard and I don’t even really know , is that the back 12 will be airing sometime in early 2011, but I’m not sure.
Be sure to check out the mid-season finale of “Pretty Little Liars”, airing Tuesday August 10th on the ABCFamily Network. Thanks again to Shay Mitchell for speaking with us!
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