‘Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell on Instant Stardom and Lesbian Love

by | July 20, 2010 at 3:32 PM | Interviews, Pretty Little Liars

Shay Mitchell (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Shay Mitchell (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Four months ago, ‘Pretty Little Liars‘ Shay Mitchell was one of thousands of pretty, young actresses waiting for her big break.  Today, the twenty two year-old Canadian had only a few bit parts on her resume when she landed the lead role of Emily on the summer’s hottest teen show.  Emily has her hands full juggling a lesbian relationship, a series of mysterious texts threatening to reveal her secrets, and an infatuated bad boy who happens to be having an affair with his step-sister.  Mitchell revealed what it’s like to be an overnight sensation, why she is proud to play a gay character and how she is going to reward herself for all her success.

‘Pretty Little Liars’ is a huge hit.  More episodes have already been ordered.  How does it feel to be the part of the most popular show on ABC Family Channel?
I get chills every time I think about it.  For all of us, this project has been our little baby from December when we started shooting the pilot.  It’s good to know that the fan feedback has been so good.  It’s an incredible feeling.

A couple of the other girls on the show had starred in series before, but this truly is your big break.  What’s it like going from one of the numerous unknown actresses going on audition after audition to suddenly being famous?
It’s crazy. Everything from being on a set full-time and working every single day, I’ve never had that before.  This is my first experience of being a lead part. It’s really, really nice.  It’s also a very comfortable.  I’ve been so blessed to be a part of such an amazing cast and crew.

Who do you think is sending the texts from A?
I have no idea.  I’ve read the books but I know they’re going to be switching it up a little bit. As far as the show’s concerned, I honestly don’t know. I’m like, Is it a ghost? I’m just as lost as the fans are.  I’m going to find out with everybody else when I get the script.

Do you know anything about who killed Allison?  Do you have a betting pool?
We love the writers, but they’re always like,’Don’t even try.’ I don’t think they’re going to be telling anybody just because they know we might slip up.

What have you heard from the fans about your show and the character?
It’s really interesting.  When they first announced that I was going to be playing Emily, I got a lot of feedback like, ‘She doesn’t look anything like her. These actresses don’t look anything like the characters in the book. It’s going to be horrible.’  It wasn’t the most pleasant feedback when they found out we were cast.  But, you know what, [since we premiered] I have not gotten one mean comment.  Everyone says, ‘You really capture the spirit of the character.  You embody who we read about in the books.’

Do people get the humor and the camp?
Yeah.  The humor is hilarious.  The writing is phenomenal.  There’s jokes with everybody’s characters, especially Spencer (Troian Bellesario) and Hannah (Ashley Benson). We’re always cracking up onset or reading the new scripts. You have to have a little bit of humor with some of the topics that we discuss.

Has the show gotten any flack from parents groups for being so shameless in its portrayal of teen sex, drinking, and cheating?
We might have. I haven’t even looked into it.  I really do feel like it’s dealing with issues that are going on every single day, especially my topic [Emily's lesbian relationship].  I don’t feel like that should be so hidden anymore.  Maybe ten years ago it would have been a big deal but now I feel like our generation is more open to all the stuff that we’re talking about.  I’m really proud of the way ABC is handling it because they’re not handling these topics in the usual cheesy way.

It’s cool that Emily and Maya are the rootable, wholesome couple on the show.  Was that a conscious choice to show a positive portrayal of a gay teen relationship?
I haven’t thought about what message the show is sending out, but I want people to be authentic to who they are.  If you have feelings for another girl, then go for it.  You have one life to live so you have to be true to who you are, and, whoever that is, than you have to do it.  With my character, she’s not looking at Maya as another girl.  She’s just seeing her as a human.  I like that there’s this relationship on this show and that’s it’s not they’re trying to make it sexy in any way.  It’s two people who genuinely like each other.  We do play it more like your typical heterosexual relationship.  There is some awkwardness with it because of Emily’s conservative parents.

How does Toby fit in to the picture? Last episode we learned that he was interested in her, but he is also sleeping with his stepsister.
Toby’s (Keegan Allen) in the mix.  His relationship with Emily was sort of something before and could be or might not be [in the future], I can’t say. But it’s just saying that Emily’s not quite sure of her sexuality.  She’s not sure if she’s one way or the other.

Now that you know the show will be back, have you splurged on anything you always wanted?
Mostly just decorating my apartment.  I’ve spent a fair amount on the basic necessities because I’m starting a new life here.  So I’m always in the furniture stores. I did tell myself if we got picked up I really wanted to buy myself an original Chanel purse, the quilted one with the gold chain.  But I still haven’t got it.  It’s on the backburner.

You also guest starred on the only network summer show that’s been picked up for a second season, ‘Rookie Blue.’  Do you have the power to make a show a hit?
I shot that way before I found out about ‘Pretty Little Liars.’  It was August when I audition for the part of “Cute Girl.”  But I loved the cast.  It was such a great concept.  I read the whole script.  It was neat to be a tiny, tiny, part of it.  Gregory Smith, one of the lead actors, actually went to my high school for a little bit in Vancouver.It’s such a small world. I remember being on set and being like,”Hey, Greg.I’m so proud of you.  You have this show. That’s amazing.”  Now we were at the same junket for ABC.  It was so weird.