ABC Family’s Q&A Session with Ashley Benson – Pretty Little Liars
Moderator How important are social networking sites to the promotion of shows like Pretty Little Liars, that's still kind of new?
S. Mitchell They are getting increasingly more important and more important. I mean with Twitter and with Facebook and MySpace, it plays a very big part of the whole marketing strategy. And I think the reason is because you can reach so many more people from across the world. Twitter, I don’t even know how many fan pages and everything we have, and it’s in Brazil and Australia and everywhere. I don’t know, it's bringing the world a little bit closer. So, yes, it's extremely important for the marketing team to be on top of everything and on those pages and have their own pages just so you keep up with everything else that's moving so fast.
Moderator With the show becoming such a bit hit, how do you deal with all of the attention and popularity you're getting now?
S. Mitchell I still have my friends that I had in Toronto before the show, before everything. I still talk to my friends just as much as I do. I still talk to my parents every single day and catch up with them and see what they did. So I'm just - I don’t know - I haven’t really noticed it as much just because - and I don’t think, I think it's the same with all of the girls just because we're working so much, and we're on set. We wake up. We go to work, and we go home and we hang for a little bit and then go to sleep. So we're not really realizing what's going on outside of like the studio unless we travel outward, which is - like last weekend when we went to New York, it was amazing and intense in a way, some of the girls that were coming up to us, looking for us all over New York. So it's changed, yes, by more people coming up and recognizing you, but as far as everything else, I still go home for the holidays. I keep my …and I think you kind of have to when something happens real quick.
Moderator What draws people to keep tuning in to watch Pretty Little Liars?
S. Mitchell I think the fact that each character is so relatable, and if you don’t feel that you connect completely or totally understand one character, you kind of find yourself in each of them. And I think because a lot of the issues that we deal with quite possibly happen on a day-to-day basis, but you either have it happen to you or you know someone that it has happened to, it makes the show not so dreamy and farfetched. It brings it to a very realistic kind of world and situations that happen in it. So I think each of the characters are very relatable and yes.
Moderator You seem like so much fun and just like a ball of energy. So you tweeted recently that you watched Black Swan and then you couldn’t sleep, … So I'm wondering, are there are scary episodes or particularly scary moments for Emily coming up that you can talk or tease about a little bit?
S. Mitchell Yes. So I think with the second half of season one, obviously everybody was left off with Emily's storyline that her mom saw that strip of her… And I think it was, to say scary as in like the scary Black Swan … there are scary and eerie kind of things for Emily coming up, I think more of that happened in the first half of season one for Emily's character, not for the other girls. And I would say that there's a lot of intense moments. Not so much scary but more intense moments for Emily and the stakes are raised a lot higher with her different relationships with her family members and such friends because of everything that happened in the first half. And I think it just gets more intensified as opposed to being scarier, if that makes sense.
Moderator No, it does.
S. Mitchell Yes, but there are some very intense moments that Emily has that's different, like I said, members in her family and people in her life. I'm very proud and I'm very excited for everyone to see these episodes in the second half. Yes, I'm very happy.
Moderator And do you have any fears that you might have to be overcoming in the future if they say we're going to work with spiders or we're going to have you jump off - I don't think they'll have you jump off a cliff but … anything scary that they might say we need you to do and you'd be like, "Oh, it's a fear?"
S. Mitchell I think I'm pretty claustrophobic, so if they had us crawling through some kind of tunnel to get towards A - I don’t know if I'd be able to do it. Or be stuck in an elevator, like a small one with everybody. I don’t know. That would be a little bit tricky. So I'd say any kind of claustrophobic situation or dealing with any sort of rodent. Not a fan.
Moderator Oh yes, it's scary.
S. Mitchell Yes. I will sky dive. I will jump out of a plane. I will bungee jump. I will do everything, but rodents and being in a small, tight space, not so good.
Moderator I noticed that you and Ashley have a boutique.com page.
S. Mitchell Yes.
Moderator Can you talk a little bit about that real quick?
S. Mitchell Yes, it's really cool. I mean you can link up and I know that I'm following a bunch of people like Nicole Richie. I love her style. And it's really neat because you can just log onto boutiques.com and I see her page and then you kind of see her style and different things that are on her wish list and her favorite items. And then it just makes kind of shopping online a lot easier because I really love the way that she dresses. And I see the things that she picks and you can get them from a variety of different places. And then I can just click off that and get it too. It's just really cool. You get to see exactly things that they want, their favorite items, and their style, and it's almost like shopping with them in a way.
Moderator I was wondering, how did your fashion sense differ from your character's?
S. Mitchell Okay, how much time do we have for this answer? It differed quite a bit. They always say it's kind of cool to come to work and be in someone else's shoes and really live in someone else's shoes, as the saying goes. I honestly feel like when I come to work and when I'm in Emily's wardrobe, I turn into her and it's great because it helps me so much. But my style is completely different from hers and not for any bad reason or anything, just because I'm so girly and I love playing dress-up. I love sequins and I love bright dresses and high-heeled shoes. I don’t know, I just like having fun with fashion.
So yes, my closet's a little bit brighter, whereas Emily would go for a more comfortable. She's pretty athletic, so she always has running shoes galore. She would choose comfort over a trendy outfit that was not so comfortable for her, whereas I would probably get the outfit. I'm just the opposite. But yes, I have just as many heels as Emily does runners and dresses as she does jeans, so it's kind of different. But I do love coming to work and getting to try on and be comfortable in her clothes.
Moderator So what else helps you get into character as Emily besides wearing her type of clothes?
S. Mitchell Hanging out with the girls and every scene that we have with the four of us is really cool because now it's actually, I've really gotten to know each of the other characters as well. And it's interesting because even now I'll be shopping or I'll be with one of the girls from the show, I'll be like this is a piece that Aria would wear. And I say that to Lucy and she's like "Yes, I know. Oh my gosh, this is what Emily would wear." So it's like weird. We're really getting to know each of the characters so much better obviously than when we first shot. So it's really cool that our relationships are getting closer as cast members as they are characters, so it's really neat.
Moderator I wanted to know what is it like for you to play a character in the closet when television has quite a few openly gay characters now?
S. Mitchell I was very excited to play, and I think it was important to play a character who was still discovering herself just because yes, like you said, there are a lot of characters now in television who are out. But I think there weren't so many that were in my age group and even in other age brackets that were still trying to figure themselves out. And I think because I've gotten such great response from the fans and people around the world that have said, "Finally like somebody I can relate to because I'm confused. I don’t know what to label myself. Am I gay? Am I straight? Am I bi?" And I think with Emily's character, she wasn’t trying to define herself. She didn’t feel like she had to put a label on herself. And I think that's what makes it unique, and I think that's what makes it so great is that she didn’t have to explain herself to anybody. Yes, she didn’t come out and say, "I'm gay or I'm bi." I think it's just kind of cool to have a character on TV who has discovered herself and doesn’t want to quite put herself in one category.
Moderator And also, how will the show change now that A has moved from threats to attempted murder?
S. Mitchell It's definitely raised the stakes. It's made the girls a lot more aware of everything that goes on around them. Now they knew that he/she wasn’t really messing around before, but when he/she hits your friend with a car meaning to probably kill you, you definitely are a lot more careful with everything and just you realize that now A is not messing around whatsoever. So I think, again like I said, it kind of brings each of the girls closer to one another because this traumatic event happened. And it just makes them want to find out even just get closer and figure out who A is now. So all of the girls are on more of an intense mission to try and figure out who A is.
Moderator Can you tell us in what ways, if any, do you relate to Emily?
S. Mitchell Yes, definitely the swimming aspect. Emily feels this huge competitive swimming and doing the best on her team. Not that I was one of the best on my team, but I definitely was in the pool at a very young age. As soon as I could walk, I was thrown into the pool. So I share that love for the water like my character does, and also her competitive drive that sort of comes from that too. I would definitely say that I'm competitive, so I can understand Emily wanting to be the best on her team. I also relate to the character’s amazing respectable qualities about her, like one of the things that I respect about her the most is her loyalty to each of the girls. And I would love to say that's the characteristic that I share with my friends, and I think it's hugely important and a good one to have. So yes, I think those are some of the qualities that I have with her.
Moderator On-screen or off-screen, what's been the coolest experience for you personally since Pretty Little Liars started?
S. Mitchell I think on-screen, the next couple of episodes that will air January 3rd, those are some of my favorite scenes up to date. So those were … characters and were scenes that I was really, really happy with everything, and that was kind of the best moments for me on screen. And then off-screen I would say everything was just driving up to Warner Brothers Films and getting to go to work with just amazing girls and amazing crew. It's just become such a great big family, so it's just lovely. There's too many things to list, but those are just some of them. Just getting to go to work every day.
Moderator You talked a little bit about Emily struggling with her sexuality, and we were wondering with all the kids in schools today being bullied and worse for their sexuality, do you have any advice for teens that are struggling with the issue?
S. Mitchell Yes, and I would definitely say talk to somebody. I mean we are so - I just worked with the Trevor Project, and I think it's an amazing organization where they have a hotline 24 hours every single day where you can call in and talk to somebody. And I think at times like that when you're getting bullied and you feel like you are alone and you're the only one, that is key. I feel like there are so many people out there that would help you and are willing to listen and talk you through it. And I think that you need a friend. Everybody needs a friend. And I feel like with these hotlines out, they're so crucial and that you should definitely call them.
With everything else, I think with the bullying - in all bullies, you have to realize it’s because they're insecure with themselves and really at the end of the day it has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them and what's going on in their life and their need to make you feel bad. I think it's important, so crucial, and everything to life an authentic life, so I would say never change yourself or never fake being somebody or never want to be somebody or something different than who you are. So with all of those things, it's horrible and that's why playing this character, I've been very proud to do it.
Moderator And we also saw on Twitter that you saw Black Swan, and we were wondering since you started as a dancer and now you're an actress, what do you think of the film as a dancer and as an actress?
S. Mitchell I think it was absolutely amazing. I think for Natalie Portman who is an actress before a dancer, for her to go through such a huge training process and everything that she had to do, not just the dieting but literally doing her own dancing for the most part is absolutely amazing, so I can appreciate it as a dancer and I can appreciate it as an actor. It was an amazing movie. I just was not prepared for it to be as much of a thriller as it was. I don’t watch previews or anything like that, so when I go to a movie I'm blind and I don’t listen to what other people have said about it. So I went into it not knowing anything and was just a little bit more frightened than I thought I was going to be.
Moderator Your character Emily along with Aria, Hanna, Spencer, …the drama and the danger surrounding them. Do you have someone in your life that you can always count on to be there for you?
S. Mitchell Definitely. Yes, I'm pretty blessed to have a tight knit relationship with all of my family members: my mom, my dad, my brother, my grams. So I have all of them to talk to in addition to some of my best friends that I've grown up with. So to count, I would say that I definitely have about five good friends, and I think that's amazing and I’m blessed with family members if I have somebody to call on and yes, I feel very lucky because playing Emily's character, you realize just how important it is to have the support from your family members. When you don’t have it, it's a whole different world.
Moderator As far as the four girls on set, do you have any time to just be normal friends, to just have girl time?
S. Mitchell Yes, we do. On weekends, they all have their own groups obviously from growing up here and living here. So that's why I've gone to kind of figure out the city a little bit more, walking around on my own, but definitely Troy and I get together and we do like a movie night on Sundays. We've done that a couple of times. And we’ll do a dinner, so that's kind of nice. And yes, we do. When we have time, if we're not busy doing other things, then we do try and get together. Otherwise, we see each other at events too, and that's kind of fund because we're not on the lot and we're just out together, so that's kind of cool too. But we do try and make time.
Moderator Are there any books that you're reading right now that you think that someone should definitely put on their Christmas list or should go pick up in the store ASAP?
S. Mitchell Yes, The Four Agreements. I bet I've read this book a bunch of times, but this is definitely an amazing Christmas gift and I already have several copies that I'm going to give out this year. So I would say The Four Agreements.
Moderator I was wondering if you watched Christmas Cupid last night, since your costar Ashley Benson starred in it?
S. Mitchell I am watching it, and she has given me the actual film to go and watch it this weekend when I come home and go home to my family because - it's a big tradition in my family household is to watch Christmas movies on Christmas Eve. And because most of the time you're always watching the same movies, your favorite movies that you watch all the time - the classic ones - this time when I go back, we're actually watching Ashley's movie. So I want to be just as surprised as everybody else and I'm going to bring it home and we're all going to watch it together. So that's how I'm going to watch her movie on Christmas Eve, but I heard it's absolutely amazing.
Moderator What do you want fans to take away from your character Emily when they watch the show?
S. Mitchell Yes. My character, I would want for them to see themselves and like I said, I don’t think there's anything more important than just being true to who you are and living an authentic life. And if they get anything from that, it's just be you, live your life and don’t be afraid about what anybody else says. At the end of the day, it's only what you think, so that's what you're happy with.
Moderator Do you have any traditions with the character, the crew that you guys have kind of started now that you're getting into the … of the second half of the first season like anything that you tend to do?
S. Mitchell Okay, it's not really like a tradition or anything, but we do have a lot of inside jokes that I can tell you. We have one inside joke that the cast and the crew and everybody makes fun of me, and it's still sometimes when I say my lines or even some of the other girls are doing it too on purpose now, but because of my accent and being Canadian, I still say sorry a lot and I haven’t switched it over completely to sorry. So on set, like the cast members and crew, whenever anything happens now no one says sorry on set, and they all say sorry. I mean it's a small inside joke but it's kind of funny now because even after at one point I'll be like, "Oh, I'm sorry." And like it's kind of a little jab to me but it's just kind of funny because everybody's switching it up now, so you’re hearing a lot more sorry’s on set than you are sorry, which really isn't helping me out.
Moderator And in terms of pranksters, do you have anyone who is playing pranks on the set or does anything silly like goes and musses up your trailers or?
S. Mitchell No one’s messed up our trailers, but we all talk about in the first half of the season that Ashley was the biggest prankster on set, because she would go around putting clothespins on different crew members … and they couldn’t do anything about it. And she did a bunch of stuff like and she'd just joke around. She's a jokester. But she actually hasn’t done really any pranks in the second half since we’ve been shooting, so, I haven’t thought about that. But I’ll have to bring that to her attention … Yes, she is the prankster. She just hasn’t been pranking anybody recently.
Moderator I was just curious if there's any hint about Toby you can give us for the second half of the season or at least Emily's feelings about Toby?
S. Mitchell Yes, Toby … Everybody loves Toby. Everybody on set loves Keegan and everybody really loves Toby because she would have such a soft spot for him. And his relationship with Emily is definitely very unique, very special. And they have their moments that were really sweet before everything. And I think with Toby, she won’t be leaving …just yet. So he will be hanging around. As far as his relationship with Emily or anybody else, that I would have to say you need to tune in because if I say one thing, it would not be good. But yes, Toby does stick around … He will be seen again.
Moderator Even though we love you playing Emily in Pretty Little Liars, do you have any other projects that you are currently working on or see you working on in the future?
S. Mitchell Yes. I do have a different kind of project that I do have at the end of the year, which I would love to tell everybody right now but I have to keep my own secrets, too. So there are some goals that are happening next year. So it will be good. It’s hard to do these interviews because I want to tell everybody what happens, and I would love to share with everyone …oh my gosh, in this scene, but we have to be very tight lipped around here, so I'm trying my best.
Moderator Have you had a chance to actually meet the author Sara Shepard yet? And if so, what was your favorite moment?
S. Mitchell Oh my gosh, yes, we did meet Sara Shepard. We met her actually in New York last March, end of March of this year, and she was so great. We met her twice because she came out to L.A. again and did the book signing with us that we had right before the show premiered. Sara is amazing. She is so much fun. We had a great dinner with her and then when we saw her in L.A. last time and even when she came on set for that episode that she did. So, yes, she is so great and we want to have her back to do another cameo.
Shay Mitchell stars as Emily Fields, an athletic girl who is struggling with her sexuality and the loss of her best friend.
Mitchell, born Shannon to a Filipino mother and Irish/Scottish father, is a native of Toronto, Canada. Even as a young child, she was interested in the performing arts, declaring to her parents that she would pursue such a career. Mitchell began dance lessons at the age of 5, and she and several of her classmates toured the city to compete with a variety of other dance schools.
At the age of 10, Mitchell's family moved west to Vancouver, British Columbia. Within a year of their arrival, an international modeling agency had an open casting call for teen and pre-teen girls who were vying for representation. Mitchell was one of the girls selected.
By her late teens, Mitchell had successfully modeled for a variety of companies in cities as varied as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Barcelona. Wanting to focus on her true passion, Mitchell returned to Toronto and began to study acting with great focus and determination. Her hard work paid off and, after signing with her first theatrical agency, she appeared in the hit series "DeGrassi: The Next Generation" and booked several national commercials. She also landed a recurring role in the Disney series "Aaron Stone," is featured in the music video for international recording artist Sean Paul's hit song "Hold My Hand" and will appear in the upcoming ABC series "Rookie Blue."