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Pretty Little Layers

Pretty Little Layers

Keegan Allen

Keegan Allen: actor, shutterbug, mystery man

Photography by Nicholas Maggio | Styling by Kyle Blackmon | T-shirt by Kelly Cole Vintage

Keegan Allen carries a camera everywhere -- more specifically, his late father's Leica, passed down to Allen when he was 10. The 25-year-old actor brings it on set during his day job playing Toby Cavanaugh, queen bee Spencer Hastings's dreamy love interest on the ABC Family hit Pretty Little Liars. He has it while acting in films like Gia Coppola's adolescent drama Palo Alto and the upcoming Bukowski, a biopic about the transgressive American writer, directed by his good friend and mentor, James Franco. He uses it to take countless photos of his life: a flock of seagulls against a pale sky; his Liars co-star Ashley Benson, all leggy and beautiful against a diamond-bright L.A. backdrop at night.

He also has it when we meet at a plush hotel lobby in West Hollywood, not far from where Allen grew up. It's sitting there on the table next to his black coffee, like an extension of his being. "It's an obsession," Allen admits, grinning sheepishly. "I was photographing long before I began studying acting."
nicholas maggio

Suit and shirt by John Varvatos

As a child, he was surrounded by art (his mother was a painter), and he's been encouraged to express himself for as long as he can remember. "It was a creative household -- with books, music, and movies everywhere -- and we traveled a lot," Allen says. "And I'm still building on that."

His father, Phillip Richard Allen (who died in 2012), was a successful character actor in TV and movies. "I loved seeing him perform, and that's part of what drew me to acting myself," Allen explains.

At 13, Allen started going on auditions, later snagging small parts on television, then eventually earning his big break on Liars. His role in the teen sudser was meant to be short-lived (his character is killed off in one of the books on which the series is based), but fans loved Toby, and so he stayed (the show's currently in its fifth season).

"Toby started out as the black sheep of the show," says Allen. "Everyone was wary of him. Then we find out he's a very thoughtful character, sort of a Boo Radley. He always seems to know the right thing to do." But Allen's intense looks -- particularly the way his chiseled face can convey both sensitivity and fierceness -- have had something to do with his sticking around, too. They lend Toby a charismatic sweetness, but one wrapped in mystery.

The series has offered Allen not only a multifaceted character to explore, but also a rich world to document. Behind-the-scenes shots from Pretty Little Liars constitute a large part of his new project,, a compendium of writing, poetry, and photographs of family, co-stars, and friends (including Franco, whom Allen calls "a genius"). It reads like a memoir for the Instagram generation. "We stitch together our memories with images," says Allen. "It's one of our most powerful means of communication. These are photo journals I've been keeping since I was 10, but my hope is that anyone can pick up this book and see their own journey in mine."

That may sound a bit presumptuous or naive, but captures Allen and his subjects in moments of surprising, relatable intimacy. You can feel his optimism, his wide-eyed curiosity, the way he's so eager to freeze what he loves in time. In the end, the book
expresses a lot, while saying very little -- a bit like Allen himself. Asked if he's currently in a relationship, he takes a breath before giving a swoony, impenetrable, very Toby Cavanaugh response.

"Everyone has a special someone," he says. "Throughout the book, love is a huge element, a driving force. I'm sure after it comes out there will be a ton of questions: 'Why?' 'What?' 'How?' 'Who?' My answer is that we all have someone or something that drives us to do what we do in matters of the heart. Love can almost be like your own religion."

Allen stops and smiles. "So in answer to your question, it would be foolish for me to say 'no comment'... and crazy for me to say anything else." is available now
nicholas maggio

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