Interview: Shay Mitchell of 'Pretty Little Liars'

3.1.2012

By Geoffrey Brown

The star of the ABC Family series chats with 'Out.'

Every Monday on ABC Family, Pretty Little Liars follows the singularly vexing circumstances of four adolecent lasses. As if navigating the world of high school wasn't hard enough as is, the quartet at the center of the series have to deal with murder, a mysterious blackmailer (named "A"), and the intracacies of their own budding sexualities. We caught up with Shay Mitchell—who plays the role of bisexual Emily Fields on the show—to talk about life as one of our favorite Liars.   

OUT: What's it like to play a character who's attracted to the same sex?
Shay Mitchell: My character, Emily, grew up in a suburban, conservative home. She had a boyfriend and was an all-star athlete. She had it all—her family had a plan for her. She still has a plan; it’s just now she's more comfortable with herself. She's growing up.
Where is Emily's relationship with Maya going?
Well, as of right now, Maya is out of the picture for a while, thanks to the stunt she pulled with Emily’s mom, and she's been sneaky behind Emily's back. I can say that someone is coming back that will... kind of mess some things up.
What about your relationship with the other characters?
Well, our relationships are normally great, but lately we've been lying to each other and sneaking around behind each other’s backs. The characters don’t normally lie to each other—at the beginning of this season, my character and Troian Bellisario (played by Spencer Hastings) only fought so that we could get closer to finding out who “A” is.
You were at New York Fashion Week this past week. What shows did you attend?
I went to Lela Rose, Rachel Roy, and Badgley Mischka. I loved each and every one. At Lela Rose, the dresses were cute, flirty, and feminine, but not overly girly. Rachel Roy's presentation was amazing—beautiful colors and it was eco-friendly, which I fully support. I wore one of Badgley Mischka's dresses at the Teen Choice Awards. You never forget wearing one of their dresses—it was an amazing experience. I also had a chance to go backstage at Fashion Week, and that was an experience in itself. Personally, I don't really have a set style or look. It’s pretty much what I feel like wearing that day, from a floral-print dress and high heels to ripped jeans and army boots.
Who is behind your awesome looks?
Brad Goreski. We clicked, he's well respected in the fashion world, and he knows what he's doing. We basically have fun with everything. I come in and he shows me his favorites and then I go through and pick out what I like. We play music and have a little mini fashion show. He always makes me feel comfortable and fun in what I'm wearing. We even sat together at Lela Rose, and whenever someone was taking our picture, I'm pretty sure we were laughing the entire time. That's what you want—someone that is relatable and fun and makes you feel comfortable.

What inspires you?
I've been working with the organization Somaly Mam, which helps prevent sex trafficking—I did a P.S.A. for them. I've also worked with The Trevor Project—the whole cast did when we based an episode around it during the first season. Also, the NOH8 campaign. One of the best parts about social media is that I'm able to let people hear my voice and tell them about what I'm passionate about, and interact with fans. I love that our show is shown all over the world and you feel like you can identify with a character—or if you can’t, your friends can. There might be an “Emily” in the world and she's having a hard time coping with coming out, and I hope in some way I can inspire that girl—or boy—to be strong and brave enough to be proud of who they are.
Describe yourself in five words?
Loyal, spontaneous, genuine, funny, and girly.
What are your most cherished memories to date?
It would have to be one day—I was in the hair and makeup trailer flipping through Glamour—a magazine that I grew up reading. A girl was featured in it, and she was talking about the cause she was dedicated to, and I thought to myself that I wanted to be involved with this and help spread the word about it—it was Somaly Mam. It’s just weird that when you put your mind to something, it does happen. I participate in this to help raise awareness, not just to say that I'm involved in something. Actually donating my time and efforts makes it so much more special.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing instead?
I would travel and be an international food blogger.
What do you think draws people to the show and to your character?
Reliability. Fans recognize that the girls are maturing and can see themselves in the characters. Things that happen in life can be seen in our show, and I hope that fans realize that they aren't the only people dealing with certain things.
How are you and your character similar?
We both may seem shy until you get to know us. We're both loyal—people trust Emily most to keep a secret—and we're both always there to listen.
“A” has started hurting loved ones and friends now. What else is “A” capable of?
We find out that our characters aren't alone in receiving texts and messages—another friend is, as well.
How have you changed personally since the show started?
I've changed a lot, and not just because of the show. Everyone changes. I've built amazing relationships. I've come to appreciate my friends and family more, especially the friends from before I started the show, because they've been there through thick and thin. I've moved out of my comfort zone more—I'm blessed and I truly appreciate that.

Tags: Television
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