As Tyler Blackburn illustrated last week, Pretty Little Liars fans are no joke. But for Ian Harding, who plays Ezra Fitz on the hit show, things are starting to get weird. “There’s a whole Tumblr called ‘Ian’s Tongue,’ or something like that, and it shows all the times that you see my tongue while me and Lucy [Hale, who plays love interest Aria] are going at it.” It doesn’t help that Harding plays a sexy English teacher who falls for his teenage student—a storyline that PLL fangirls, being mostly teens themselves, can’t get enough of. The 26-year-old actor chatted with us over a bowl of chickpeas, opening up about the perils of being a professional heartthrob, Ezra’s sweater vests (“Fucking love ‘em”), and getting Punk’d by Lucy Hale.
So, are you A?
Totally. Yes, I’m going to kill everybody by the end of season 3. And that’s the end of my career! No, I don’t know, I could be, everybody’s up for grabs. Who knows!
How did you get into acting?
Well, I was always really good at fibbing, like telling little white lies to my mom. But then in high school, I went to this all boys’ Catholic prep school. And my school had a drama program, which the surrounding Catholic girls’ schools would participate in. So I was like, oh yeah, I’m gonna be a part of that. And eventually I stopped caring so much about what the girls thought of me, and more about the work.
So I watched a few interviews with you on YouTube…
What was the worst question you’ve ever been asked?
I mean, I think fans really want to get to know you personally, and that’s kind of not a good idea, if you’re an actor. Maybe I’m a little bit pretentious in thinking this, but I think if people feel like they know you, then you’re not as believable playing different kinds of characters. More and more, people want to get in on your love life, you know? I tell them the same answer every time, because I just won’t indulge that. I say things like, “I’m living life,” and people read into that as much as they will. I’m trying to think. There was one really obnoxious question that I got; it was like: “So how is it to play a pedophile?”
Yeah, and the show has gone to such lengths to portray Ezra as this perfect, morally upright guy.
Right, he pretty much has no penis! He’s not sexually aggressive at all. The few times he is, people are like, oh my God, what a disgrace! And I’m like, I’m sorry, he still has a pulse. And look at his girlfriend, she’s smokin’ hot! Of course he’s going to have desires, you know what I mean?
I read somewhere that you get recognized on the street a lot. Have you had any strange encounters with fans?
Yeah, teenage girls have like zero shame when it comes to accosting you. Which I think would be different if I were on, like, Boardwalk Empire. Nine times out of ten, they’re just really excited. It’s flattering, while being kind of ridiculous, because I know that nothing has changed about me; I’m just on a television screen and somehow that gives me importance in their eyes. But it’s always kind of adorable when I come up and they’re getting really overwhelmed, and I’ll just be like listen, chill out, you’re not talking to Gandhi. But there have been a few that have been really touchy feely…I mean like, really touchy, and that’s never cool. I don’t know what it is, because I’m dating a high schooler on television, you automatically assume I’m into high schoolers in real life? Absolutely not!
What are your thoughts on all of the sweater vests that Ezra has to wear?
I think they’re awesome, I fucking love ‘em. You know, you never think of somebody as being dangerous or predatory that’s in a sweater vest. Unless they’re actually 50 years old with a handlebar mustache.
Yeah, I mean, they’re definitely not going to put you in a v-neck.
Yeah, never! And that’s the other thing, sometimes they’ll put me in a shirt that’s slightly fitted around my chest, and they’re like, no, no, no! Too sexual, too sexual. It’s like, he isn’t a eunuch!
So, I saw a video of you getting Punk’d by Lucy Hale. Did you get really mad?
Oh, God. No, actually, that was the thing, it came off really well, and I actually thought it was really cool. Not to mention, it was Punk’d! I remember watching that when I was a kid.
I know, I didn’t even know that was still on air.
Neither did I, until it happened to me. When they first revealed that it was Lucy, she takes off her mask and she’s like, “you’re on Punk’d!” and there was a moment where I went, “What?” And she was like, “You’re on Punk’d, you idiot!” And I’m like, “The low-budget version?” So obviously they edited that out.
Are you two really close?
Yeah, yeah, it’s weird—excuse me, sorry, I’m, like, choking on chickpeas over here. She’s an amazing friend of mine, because we’re uber professional, and yet we’re very intimate and open with each other. But then at the same time, I won’t see her for like, weeks on end. And then we’ll get back to work and and check in. It’s almost like we’re an old married couple, things are really just like a well-oiled machine.
Okay, this is what I don’t get about actors. How can you be close, platonic friends with somebody that you have to shoot love scenes with on a regular basis?
Well, you kind of just do it! There’s a whole Tumblr—I can’t remember what it’s called, my sister sent it to me and she was like, this is gross. It’s called “Ian’s Tongue” or something like that, and it’s all the times that you see my tongue while we’re going at it. So people are like, wow, you really do that. I went up to Lucy one time and was like, hey, listen, if you’re uncomfortable with anything, let me know and I’ll stop doing it. And she was like, no, no, you have to make it believable. I mean, I love Lucy, but I’m not in love with her in real life, you know? It’s just part of the job, I think that’s how you rationalize it. There are people that can’t distance themselves, but you have to be able to do that. Especially for a television show! I mean, good God.
Have you ever had a crush on someone who was off limits?
Oh, yeah, totally. Okay, I’ll be nice and vague about this one, because I never want him to see it. But there was a friend whose sister and I…uh…got to know each other, a little.
In high school?
Um, sure? We’ll say within the last decade, how about that. I really don’t want this guy to start asking questions, I’m going to get like a severed horse head in my bed. So, have I ever experienced that sort of off-limits love? Yeah, totally. But that’s the thing, once you actually taste it, as it were, it’s not what you thought. The whole intrigue is gone.
If you had to play one of the Pretty Little Liars, which one would it be?
Hmmm! Oh, man! It would either have to be Emily or Spencer. And I’m so torn, because Spencer is always so uptight, and I would love to play someone who’s that anal-retentive. And Emily, I mean, especially on a network like ABC Family, the idea that one of the main characters is a lesbian, and it’s treated as normal—which it obviously is—I think it’s pretty exciting. I mean, there have been things here and there; we lost funding from this one company because they said they didn’t approve of a relationship on the show. And I went, oh, of course, I’m going to bed with a high school student, I totally get it. And then I was told that, no, it was the fact that Emily is in a lesbian relationship, and they were afraid that it would send the wrong message to teenage girls. Which is just about the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.
You know what, scratch everything I said, I’m gonna pick Emily. I’m not going to give Troian [Bellisario, who plays Spencer] the satisfaction.
Plus, if you played Emily, you wouldn’t have to make out with guys.
Oh! Wow, didn’t even think of that. Yeah, if I played Spencer…Keegan [Allen, who plays Toby] and I would have to have a real heart to heart about that.
Season 3 of Pretty Little Liars resumes on Tuesday, January 8th at 8 P.M. ET.