“Pretty Little Liars” Alison (Sasha Pieterse) was the most diabolical teenage girl of all time. She used her best friends weaknesses against them. She had affairs with much older boys. In this week’s season premiere we learned that the girl was even blackmailing a college professor about his affair. How did someone who died before she was old enough to get her driver’s license become such a terrifying villainess?
In this exclusive interview, PLL executive producer Oliver Goldstick reveals that before Alison was a Mean Girl, she was a victim. Goldstick shared why he thinks the show has a primal appeal, the connection between the Liars and “The Wizard of Oz” and what the show’s legions of Tweeting fans have in common with Shakespeare.
Alison blackmailing Bryce was a big shock. Why did you decide to involve her with the parent of one of the main characters?
Bryce (Chad Lowe) was introduced in the beginning as many shades of orange. But the idea of his having a past is the first time we’d gone to a parent. We did hint with Peter Hastings and Veronica. But this is about as dark as it gets because of the idea that he’s being blackmailed by a teenager. We just loved that idea. The actual audacity of Alison in the first part of the season, it just shows how far this girl was willing to go., how desperate she had been to get away from whatever she had to get away from because she needed money, she was willing to blackmail an adult.
Are we ever going to learn how Alison became the world’s most omnipotent teenager?
Can I just say something? One of the writers’ assistants this year just blurts things and she goes, “Oh my God. She’s so abused. For someone to be this dark, someone had to be this dark to her.” But the truth is, what did happen to that girl that she could be this disturbed to take on this many people and be this vicious in her behavior? But she’s so much fun to write because she’s our id. It’s the part of us we go in and deal with because we wish we could say that to this person. If we could get away with whatever we wanted to, what would we do? High school is a time of lack of power. I think the wish fulfillment for our audience and for our actors and for these characters is being empowered. They’re not empowered as individuals. They’re empowered as a tribe. They’re four together. We’ve learned that from “The Wizard of Oz.” Individually, they all had some real problems. They were deeply flawed. But together, there’s a chemistry that made them invincible.
You compared the girls to the characters in “The Wizard of Oz.” Who do you think is who?
When we started out, we thought Aria (Lucy Hale) was the Dorothy because visually Aria had a Dorothy quality. I don’t know anymore. It’s probably mix-and-match a little more but Emily (Shay Mitchell) was the coward the first season with her sexuality. She wouldn’t even tell her closest friends along with Alison. So she was sort of cowardly. Clearly Spencer (Troiann Bellasario) was the one who needed a heart because she was ruled by her brain. Hanna had a lot of insecurity about her physical appearance and her lack of brain power and school smarts, so she would be the Scarecrow. I think its probably changed as they’ve grown over the years. I just used that as an example because these girls have been in peril so many times. The force was unseen. They didn’t know who the nemesis was. Our girls do now, to some degree. They were pummeled with apples. They’ve had things melted. We’ve had girls attacked by snakes in dressing rooms. It’s been a little more intense. The audience is more sophisticated to some degree, so we have to be.
But I think at the end of the day what I feel about the show is it’s tribal. There’s a great book called Odd Girl Out that came out years ago . Teenage girls greatest fear, which is empirical, is being snubbed. A boy can get by twelve years in school with one friend. Girls’ greatest fear is being ostracized by the group. They need more than one friend. They need to belong to a group. This show taps into it. I thought that when I saw the pilot. It taps into something very primal because lying is what high school’s all about because you’re inventing yourself daily. When you look in the mirror, when you get a haircut. Can I get away with this? Can I wear this? Will I be made fun of? Can I pull this off? So this show taps into something that’s universal.
Up until now, most of the adults have turned out to be fairly good and loving parents. Was that a deliberate choice?
There’s also plenty of lies. They were all telling some kind of lies. That was important to Marlene, that we really did make the adults pretty little liars otherwise they would be cyphers. I think you’re going to find out some juice stuff this year. We’ve already presented the Hastings as not being on the level. There was the protection of Melissa (Torrey DeVitto) that summer and I think we presented, obviously, Ashley Benson’s mother as hardly an angel.
But she’s a great mother to Hanna.
That’s the conundrum. You can be a great mother without being a great person.
This show is a social media sensation. How involved are you with the show’s fandom?
Marlene [King's] very tweet friendly, I backed off. The first year I was so nervous I would say the wrong thing. Marlene does it well and the actors do it. The show has benefited. The network has benefited. The idea that people are watching the show when it’s on. They’re watching the show at 8 o’clock instead of when they have time. This is turning into an event, and I’m going to respond. I find it strangely retro because all these folks are communicating while they’re watching… I ‘ve gone this strange trajectory from working on shows where it took six weeks to get a letter from a prison cellmate reacting to an episode of “Coach” that I wrote. “Ugly Betty” was the first show that I wrote on that the next morning the writers’ assistant would print out all this website stuff and we’d go “Oh my. This person’s really angry.” Now it’s so immediate. There’s a collective response: “You can’t do this to this character. It’s a complete betrayal of my viewership and my loyalty to the show to make this person evil.” But it’s like live theater. Shakespeare had it with the Groundlings who would say things from the floor.