Los Angeles native Troian Bellisario made her small screen debut at age five on her father’s popular time travel series, Quantum Leap. Twenty-two years later, she can currently be seen portraying A+ student Spencer Hastings on ABC Family’s insanely addictive Pretty Little Liars and stars in the critically acclaimed WIGS web TV miniseries Lauren. Bellisario plays the title role of soldier and sexual assault victim Lauren with an understated ease that is sure to catapult her from computer to movie screens in no time. We caught up with the charming Bellisario earlier this week to talk last-minute preparations, on-set antics, short films, and the return of drunk Spencer.
You work with [director] Lesli Linka Glatter regularly on Pretty Little Liars and now on Lauren. Did she approach you about the project or was it a coincidence?
I was on hiatus and I wasn’t doing much and Lesli called me one Monday and said – ‘Hey, I’m going to do this web series and I thought of you, I’ll send you the material and let me know if you respond.’ So I hung up with her, immediately read it and called her straight back to say yes and she said, ‘Great! The thing is that we start shooting on Wednesday.’ The next day was Valentine’s Day so my poor boyfriend was on his own while I was away all day doing readings and costume fittings and getting trained as much as I could with a military technician so that I knew how to do a salute when we started shooting on the Wednesday. It was crazy.
Did your history with Lesli make it any easier?
It was definitely a bonus. I’ve actually known Lesli since high school—she was my next door neighbor! When I got Pretty Little Liars I hadn’t spoken to her in a really long time but she was the one who called me and basically convinced me to do it. I was a theatre student and I was just out of school and planning to move to New York and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I’d be doing a TV show, this is crazy,’ and Lesli said ‘I’m doing this, you’re in safe hands.’ We have a very good shorthand with each other so it’s always a pleasure to work with her.
How did you prepare for the role of Lauren?
Well, I was very fortunate because earlier that year my boyfriend had played a soldier and his Netflix queue was full of documentaries on Iraq and Afghanistan! It was odd because they were all about male soldiers. I didn’t see [documentary] Lioness until after I shot Lauren, but I just put them on in the background when I was working so I could hear their voices and listen to how they were speaking and how they talked about their experiences. So basically, I just inundated myself with as much as I could and hoped for osmosis in a day!
Did you have any reservations when reading the script? The rape scene must have been challenging to film.
It wasn’t really an issue for me. There was nothing fantastic or over-exaggerated about the script. There was nothing glorifying it. The thing I loved about Lauren is that it wasn’t just a kicking of the military. It’s actually really complimentary but it did speak truthfully about a certain issue and as devoted as these soldiers are, they’ll never speak ill of their institution, even when it’s not serving them right. Since Lauren aired I’ve been able to have contact with this really fantastic woman over at the Service Women’s Action Network, which helps veterans and in particular veterans that have been assaulted. She contacted me after seeing Lauren and said that there had been a great reaction amongst the women she’s been working with and that it was more truthful than a lot of other things they’d seen and that they felt fairly represented by it. That was always my hope when I went into it and it really validated it when she said that to me.
Are there any plans for further episodes?
We’re still working out what’s going to happen and when but yeah, that’s my hope.
You wrote, produced and acted in your first short film, Exiles, last year. When will we see it?
Right now it’s out to all of the different festivals and so we’re just waiting to hear back and then depending on where it gets in that will be our first screening.
You must be really excited.
I am really excited but I’m trying not to be! You never know what can happen, what themes they’re going to respond to or anything like that, but it’s very exciting to have a movie that I made with my friends and I feel very proud of.
Can you tell us about it?
Sure! It’s about a young murderer who is exiled from his community and his much younger lover who runs away to meet him to begin their life in exile. Previously, because of who they were in their hometown, they couldn’t be together but now that they’re alone in the wilderness they discover that they don’t really have that much in common. Slowly, they begin to find out who they really are and I’ll tell you right now, they’re pretty recognizable characters! But mostly it’s about first loves, disappointment, and finding out what it means to grow up.
Was it fun to write your own character? Did you use it as a vehicle to cast yourself against type?Oh yeah, that was exactly why I did it. You know, my parents are both writers and they told me ‘you do not wait for your perfect job, you create the perfect job.’ I get really into making suggestions on [the Pretty Little Liars] set, like ‘oh, what if I did this, or what if I did that,’ and one day someone said – “you know what Troian, just do it as it is.” Which is very, very common and you have to do it to make time. I know they weren’t doing it out of harshness or anything but I felt so out of control in that moment that I was like, ‘you know what, I have really good ideas and I can write really good things and I’m not going to wait around for people to tell me what I can and can’t do!’ [Laughs] So I took some of my favorite characters that I’ve wanted to play for years and all of a sudden I found myself on set writing this world that came very easily, and then it just became about finding the time to do it.
You’re also in another short film, The Come Up, with your boyfriend Patrick J. Adams. What was shooting that like?
The Come Up was really fun, it was with my friends from USC and I told them that I would do it but then Pretty Little Liars actually needed another shoot day so the film was a very hilarious experience for me because I shot eighteen hours of Pretty Little Liars, went straight from set to shoot this promo for the show and then went to a 9am call back on the Warner Bros lot to do The Come Up! I figured out that I worked for close to 36 hours with no sleep but it was fun because it was a bunch of friends and it was a silly kind of movie where we were all running around.
Pretty Little Liars has just been picked up for a fourth season and I’m dying to know, is drunk Spencer going to be making a comeback?
[Laughs] I am so with you on this one. I LOVE drunk Spencer! Any time they write her I am just all over it with excitement and I think, actually, I think something’s coming up…I don’t know if it’s going to end up being drunk but it’s a very loose, crazy Spencer. You can definitely expect to see her return…she’s got a wild side when it comes to putting those drinks back!
Photography by Zack DeZon