Loosely based on Sara Shepard’s teen novels, Pretty Little Liars premiered on ABC Family on June 8, 2010 and became an instant ratings success. Set in the fictional town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania, the series follows the lives of four high school students and best friends, Aria (Lucy Hale), Emily (Shay Mitchell), Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and Hanna (Ashley Benson). But their relationships begin to crumble when their friend, and the most popular girl in school, Alison (Sasha Pieterse), disappears and is ultimately found dead, leading to mysterious messages from someone going under the moniker of ‘A’, suggesting that he/she knows their secrets.
Now in its third season, Troian Bellisario and Shay Mitchell dropped by the TV Critics tour to give us the lowdown on this season.
What has been the most surprising thing so far that’s happened this season? I’m not asking for spoilers, but the plot twists that you’ve just gone, ‘I didn’t see that coming.’
Troian: There are so many mysteries and so many unknowns in Rosewood. We still don’t know fully what happened to Alison the night of her murder. We don’t know who took her life. So all of these things were brought to a new level.
Is Toby(Keegan Allen) part of the ‘A’ Team? Is that because he’s good or because he’s bad? So this whole season really has been a lot of shocking moments for all of the actors, even for our own characters.
Is it better not to know?
Shay: Personally for me I don’t really like to know. I know that Ashley is always knocking on (Creator/producer) Marlene King’s door asking, ‘What happens to my character?’ I don’t want to know. I think, for me, that works better.
But I think there is a different layer to Emily now that’s been added. I think you go into this season knowing that this big shift has happened, and you’re going to handle the situations slightly differently than how she would have before.
There’s a press release that talks about Pretty Little Liars being the most social show on television. It said that the show’s premiere accounted for over 52 percent of all of Tuesday’s TV Twitter activity.
Troian: I made one tweet. So many fans that I talk to have these gatherings around the show. I recently heard this one girl say, ‘I tape it and watch it early before all my friends come, and then I watch it with them but I spoil everything for them.’
It’s this great new experience where you’re not just watching it by yourself and then calling and saying, ‘Can you believe that happened?’ It is the communal knee grabbing that happens at that moment.
How does the wardrobe inform your characters?
Shay: For me it really helps getting into wardrobe because I’m so not Emily. I think out of all the girls, I’m probably girliest.
Troian: I’d say.
Shay: So when I get into my Converse sneakers, I transform because then I am Emily. But Ithink with all the characters, in high school you are evolving and you’re changing your style, and I feel like the girls are doing that too in the show.
All of us are completely different from how we started in the pilot. We’re taking bits and pieces of each other’s style. It’s interesting to see that kind of arc from the beginning to now.
Now that they’re willing to put somebody like Toby on the ‘A’ Team, do you look at past things about your character and start thinking, ‘Well, maybe I could be a member?’
Troian: I have this conversation with Janel Parrish, who plays Mona, all the time. It’s so much fun to be the villain. And especially on our show, because there’s just so many crazy directions that they can think up.
Do we get a turn, are we going to go bad? Because you never know in Rosewood. There are so many different things that could happen.
Shay: We’re coming up with excuses for why our character should be [part of the ‘A’ Team]. I’m like, ‘Well, Emily’s the most innocent one. Don’t you think she should be one? It would be perfect.’