Q&A media session with Troian Bellisario: ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)
June 20, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Troian Bellisaro plays Spencer Hastings on ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars.” (ABC FAMILY)
Troian Bellisario is known for her role as Spencer Hastings in the hit ABC Family series “Pretty Little Liars”.
The series revolves around five friends Alison “Ali” DiLaurentis (played by Sasha Pieterse ), Aria Montgomery (played by Lucy Hale), Hanna Marin (played by Ashley Benson), Spencer Hastings (played by Troian Bellisario) and Emily Fields (played by Shay Mitchell). All are popular girls at Rosewood High school.
But during a sleepover, their friend Alison, the leader of the group and is known at the school as a “Queen B”, has gone missing and her disappearance has gone unsolved. The girls begin to receive threatening messages from a person known as “A” who will reveal their deepest secrets that Alison knew about them. When Alison’s body was found, the girls try to find out who “A” is.
Troian’s character Spencer lives with a family with high expectations. Last season, Spencer found herself falling for her sister’s fiance, Wren and “A” warns Spencer not to kiss or “A” will tell. Meanwhile, she has been trying to cope with her mother who is suffering from breast cancer and is hiding it from the other members of the family.
Meanwhile, Spencer’s parents have a hard time trying to find out why Spencer is considered a “person of interest” in the murder of Alison. It is later revealed that the night when Alison went missing, Spencer had an argument with her.
As for Troian, she is born from an entertainment family. Her father is TV producer Donald Bellisario (known for creating and writing for TV series such as “Magnum, P.I.”, “Airwolf”, “Quantum Leap”, “JAG” and NCIS”) and her mother Deborah Pratt was an actress on the TV series “Quantum Leap”). She is also the half sister of actor Michael Bellisario and her step brothers include producer Chad W. Murry and actor Sean Murray (“NCIS”).
Troian began her career ate the age of thee in the 1988 film “Last Rites” and appeared on several of her father’s TV shows and appeared with the Olsen twins in the film “Billboard Dad” in 1998. But her biggest role thus far is playing Spencer Hastings in “Pretty Little Liars”.
As the second season of “Pretty Little Liars” has made its premiere on ABC Family on June 14th, a Q&A media session was recently held with actress Troian Bellisario.
Here is a transcript from the media Q&A:
Moderator I hope you all are getting a lot of good use out of that pink golf cart.
T. Bellisario Yes, I actually had no idea about it. It was just a very funny occurrence when they told me that we had got the Twitter followers and we’d all done it. I really had no idea what they were talking about so I just kind of showed up to set one day and this beautiful pink golf cart and everybody was really, really excited so I got really excited. It was like a nice little surprise.
Moderator We’ve certainly seen a really great evolution for Spencer’s character since Season One. Not even just with her family, but of course through relationships with her friends, the Liars, and of course with Toby as well. I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about the evolution of Spencer through those three aspects?
T. Bellisario It’s funny, it’s actually kind of difficult for me to speak about her evolution just because I’m steeped in it and I just feel like there is so much more that she can do. I think Spencer’s biggest evolution has been being able to let go in terms of she’s learned through getting her friends back how to keep friends and how to be supportive. I think Spencer because of the family that she grew up with has a very strong and black and white sense of what is right and what is wrong and she sometimes thinks that she can control other people.
She’s learned to kind of just be supportive of her friends and not let that get in the way of their friendship. I still think she has a long way to go with that in terms of being judgmental of other people and I think her biggest lesson in that was her relationship with Toby. She really ran the gamut as far as thinking that he was the one who killed Alison; he was the one who might be involved with A, and he was their mortal enemy and now there is nobody she holds closer than her friends and Toby.
Moderator Last episode we found out that Ian might still be alive. How does that change the dynamic between Spencer and Melissa?
T. Bellisario Well, it’s funny because I totally understand where Melissa is coming from. This is the father of her child. This is the man that she saw herself being connected to for the rest of her life. To hear the possibility that he could have killed somebody in the past and attempted to kill her sister—there is almost a safety and finality in his being dead.
If he is alive—if she does, and he comes back and she now has the opportunity to choose between believing me and absolving him and choosing to go with him or believing me and getting away from him or you know destroy her relationship with her sister and leaving with a murderer. Her allegiance is to this man. It just makes things a lot more complicated than if he were to be dead and then we would just be dealing with Melissa mourning him. It only makes things more twisted, as all things in Rosewood end up being.
Moderator Do you think that Spencer tries to put herself away from the girls or tries to hide who she is a little?
T. Bellisario I don’t know, I guess I feel like their relationship is a myriad of different things. Of course, when you consider it from a bunch of different aspects, I think when you consider Spencer’s coolness factor in the group she’s probably a bit of a pariah. As I’m coming to realize throughout the script, Spencer is really the sort of Nancy Drew of the group.
She’s the one who’s always got a dedication to and she kind of plays that by default especially because of the things that are going on in her family with Melissa and Ian, but there is a lot of—with Aria and her relationship with her family, the family’s problems that are going on, but also her relationship with Ezra. Hanna is struggling with relationship issues and finding herself within the relationship with Caleb, and also the relationships with her mother and father. It’s the same thing with Emily.
Spencer definitely, I think, has these familial issues that there is something that she’s not willing to let go of in regard to Alison’s death. I think Spencer, because she’s a control freak, she’s the one who takes A the most harshly. She cannot stand having someone play her like a puppet. I think in that sense that’s where Spencer kind of fits in with the group, is that she’s always the one who’s willing to run out into the woods in the middle of the night if it means finding another clue. Where I think some of the other girls might just want to forget about it, leave it alone, let’s not play this game anymore and that she just can’t let that go.
Moderator How are you personally different than or similar to your character?
T. Bellisario Well, Spencer and I are very similar in that when I was Spencer’s age I was very studious. I was the valedictorian of my class; my academics meant everything to me and my family put a lot of pressure on me to do well, but it was also mostly coming from myself. I felt that I had to be the best and the brightest at everything otherwise I wasn’t worth anything.
I think Spencer definitely feels that and that’s something that I have grown out of. I’ve only grown out of it with age and by having life experiences and that’s more important to me. Spencer hasn’t had those life experiences yet. She’s truly steeped in the middle of trying to be perfect in every way. I would say that that’s the biggest similarity and difference between Spencer and I. I hope one day Spencer will get to go through the sort of life-rocking experiences that I have that make you re-evaluate what’s really important and get off your own back a little bit.
Moderator A is almost kind of like a super villain on the show, so I was wondering, what would you say are Spencer’s super powers and her vital super hero accessory?
T. Bellisario That’s great. Well, the interesting thing about Spencer, Spencer has a whip-smart intellect. It’s both her super power and it’s both her kryptonite because she is able to, I think, almost be ahead of A at certain points and come up with plans to try to trap A or to try to trick A. So she has this incredible mind that’s able to get the girls as close as they possibly can to discovering who A is, or discovering how to protect themselves at the last minute.
That also is, like I said, her greatest weakness because her mind works so fast sometimes she doesn’t take a moment to think and determine the difference between A’s red herrings and A’s actual moves. Just as often as Spencer is right about something she also grabs something that A gives her and runs with it and it’s hugely wrong. It’s what she did with Toby when she just adamantly went this is the guy; this is who killed Alison with finding proof and she was very headstrong about it and it got them into nothing but trouble and it was something that she had to come around and accept that she was completely wrong on.
Moderator Is there is story behind how your parents came up with your name?
T. Bellisario Yes, it’s actually an old family name, a family surname. My great grandmother was Maria Giuseppe Troian Bellisario—it means woman of Troy. So I’m fortunate enough that in a family full of Michaels and Nicks and Davids, I got a pretty epic, historical name.
Moderator Does your family have a nickname for you?
T. Bellisario Everything. Usually people call me T or one of my friends call me T-Rizzle—anything with T, T-bone, T-bird, T-Rex, whatever.
Moderator I have a question submitted on Facebook by a fan. They wanted to know if you knew who A is or is that being kept secret from the cast by the producers?
T. Bellisario Oh, my gosh, I feel like I could answer this question a million times and nobody would ever believe me. They will not tell us who it is. To be honest I don’t even think they know who it is. I don’t mean that they don’t have a few different choices, but every time I speak to them they are keeping their options as open as possible. I think that—maybe Marlene, our executive producer and our creator of the show has a hard fast choice and she’s now working towards that, but I remember there was a time in the writer’s room where they told me she has six different options for people that could be A.
Moderator Spencer has been in so many life-threatening experiences – how do you, as an actress, mentally prepare for these kinds of scarier scenes?
T. Bellisario It’s quite hard, because to be honest we’re always having our lives threatened. There is always something that if it were actually happening to you, if the things that were happening to the girls were happening to me I feel like I would just need a break and I would ask my parents to commit me to a mental institution and just leave me there for my own safety.
You can’t play that all the time. There are moments when A threatens the girls and it’s just a nuisance and there are moments when A threatens the girls and it throws Spencer into a rage. It’s like as human beings we don’t ever have one reaction so I think it’s determining where we are in the story, what was the last time A tried to get under our skin, what are the stakes at this present moment and really connecting to all of those things to determine is this truly a scary moment. Or is this a moment where I completely lose my self-composure or is this a moment where all four of us are in the jungle and we’re all being scared and if I go to pieces everybody else goes to pieces so Spencer has to be stronger.
That’s what gets you out of the moment of oh, my God, I just have to feel scared again because I might jump off a cliff if I thought that that was the only way that I was going to be doing this acting for however many seasons this show is going to be running. It’s not just about that, it’s about what are the circumstances? Am I completely alone? How much fear do you show when you’re alone? Is it more, is it less? It’s those things.
Moderator What do you do when you are not filming? I know that you spend a lot of time with the other girls and I was wondering if there was anything that you guys like to do when you have free time on the set?
T. Bellisario Oh free time on the set. For me personally, I try to sleep if there is any free time because we’re all really tired all the time pretty much so sleeping is a big thing. I also try to write and to just to work on other projects that I am trying to keep afloat while I’m doing this.
Moderator When you’re reading the script do you find yourself getting surprised by what’s happening? Do you have oh my gosh moments about realizations and events that come up in the show?
T. Bellisario Absolutely. Now I’ve spent over two years as Spencer and so when something happens to her it’s very close to my heart. Even when something happens to the other girls that I really love, I love being surprised and the great thing about the show is that I’m guaranteed one of those oh my gosh moments when I’m alone reading the script all the time. That’s why we’re always so excited and so antsy to get the script.
Moderator You’ve done some movies and some live theater and some smaller television roles in the past – how are you enjoying this larger role on a regular basis in comparison?
T. Bellisario Yes, it’s very, very different. I was actually just speaking to this really wonderful guy on our crew last night about this because even though I grew up in TV, I studied theater. One of the things that I love about theater is that you have a huge rehearsal process to explore one section of a narrative of a play.
One of the hardest things for me is—not hard as in difficult, but hard as in I feel like something can be left behind in the speed of television, but then again it’s also the excitement of what you’re doing. You really only have a couple of takes to get it. You’ve got to bring what you have to the table and your opinion and everybody is there to play fast and hard and you just try to do the best you can under the circumstances.
The other thing that I’ve learned that I feel is the most important thing about this job for me is that I’ve learned truly how to carry on. When you’re working ten months out of the year on something there are going to be times when you have bad days. There are going to be times when you aren’t tough enough. There are going to be times when you’re sick and I think a lot of people have a lot of ideas about how glamorous it all is and how fun it all is.
Sometimes it’s just making sure that you are giving everybody what they need and you’re doing your best job for the show, and you’re trying not to want to die from 104-degree fever and to keep up good morale for the crew. I’m not saying it’s a terrible experience, I’m just saying I think that’s what this show has taught me is how to be a professional.
Moderator I’m an avid guitarist myself and I notice that you do play guitar. What type of music do you like to play?
T. Bellisario Oh my God, that’s so sweet of you to say that I play guitar. What an exaggeration! I’m only saying that because I literally started teaching myself guitar what was a while ago, but I really have not gotten to – really taken to it as much as I would like to. As far as guitar goes, I mean I originally started playing guitar so that I could just play myself—one of my favorite bands, Bright Eyes, song.
Then that morphed into trying to play an Elliott Smith song, and so I could play myself Arcade Fire songs; it really was just sort of I wanted to be able to do that because whenever anybody sits down in front of me and picks up a guitar and music comes out it’s like one of the most magical things.
If I could one day be capable of doing that it would be really, really exciting, but as far as music goes, yes, I really—my favorites are probably Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Arcade Fire, and the White Stripes. I think Jack white, especially on the guitar is a god. He’s crazy.
Moderator The show has become so known for its fashion and style – have you been able to keep any of the things you’ve worn on the show or like what’s your favorite piece you’ve worn on the show?
T. Bellisario No, everybody always asks me that question and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh! You must have such great clothes.” I’m like no I go home in pajamas every day. We unfortunately are not allowed to keep anything and that’s because they want to keep it in case they have to revisit the item or we want to pull it up later. It’s like these girls really don’t go shopping all the time and yet they never wear the same outfit so they have to repeat certain pants and certain shirts and items like that.
Moderator What has been the favorite piece that you’ve gotten to wear on the show or outfit
T. Bellisario I don’t know. Honestly, I always have a favorite piece and then I spend an entire episode in it and I want to get it off my body and burn it. Just because it’s like you find the most amazing outfit or dress or coat and you’re like this is amazing; I will never get sick of this and you won’t unless you wear it straight for seven days for 14 hours a day. Then trust me, you’ll want to burn it.
It’s really hard for me to think because I always remember in the beginning of certain episodes I’m like this is the best thing Spencer’s ever worn and then by the end of it I’m like, please never make me wear that. But, I will say we do have awesome outfits coming up; the clothes are adorable and really insane.
Moderator Spencer has a very defined sense of style – what’s an outfit we’ll never see her wear, something that you can think of that is just like not Spencer at all that you would think would be fun?
T. Bellisario Oh, that’s hard, maybe a giant clown suit. I feel Spencer can go so many different ways. I feel like Spencer could totally traipse into Aria’s closet and put something on and be a bad girl for a day. She could even go into Hanna’s closet, probably less into Hanna’s closet, but she can always—in some aspects she dresses down and she is a little bit more casual like Emily.
Spencer trades hats very easily. She can go very high-brow very prim and proper or she can just be wearing like literally sweats after field hockey and just be the same girl—that’s what’s kind of cool about Spencer is that it’s not really her style that defines her, Spencer defines her style all the time.
Moderator If you could give your character Spencer one piece of advice what would it be?
T. Bellisario Chill out. Seriously, take a chill pill. Life is too short and you need to spend one night maybe going to the movies instead of like sneaking around the house and trying to find Ian. Maybe sleep, maybe find time to do your homework. I don’t know how Spencer maintains such good grades and like literally never does her homework.
Moderator I know that your family comes from a great pedigree, great acting. If you couldn’t act what profession would you be in?
T. Bellisario That’s actually kind of funny because I remember when I first wanted to act my parents were supportive, but it was that they were like please if you can find something else in the world, don’t do this. So it wasn’t even they’re like oh we’ve been waiting for you to arrive, welcome to the family business kind of thing.
If I could do anything else, in a fantasy world I’d be rock star. I mean who doesn’t want to be a rock star? I think that was a quote from Sam Shepard and Sean Penn when they were making the so-called disaster The Late Henry Moss somebody asked them what they would do if they couldn’t be actors and writers and they were like, “What we’d always want to do—be rock stars, because that’s what everybody wants to be.”
When I was younger, I had a very intense obsession with death and I was fascinated by forensic scientists, but also morticians. I had this draw to work with the dead in some sense so maybe I would go back to that. I don’t know.
Moderator When you’re not working on your own show what other TV shows do you watch in your time off?
T. Bellisario I have not had cable for the past five years and I really never watch TV. The only show that I really ever got into was when I got all five seasons of Six Feet Under on DVD in college and that became my obsession. Now I’m really trying to keep up with Game of Thrones because I read the pilot and I auditioned for it and I fell in love with it. I think they’re doing such an amazing job. Yes, I guess that’s really the only show that I keep up with, but I’m really more of a—if I have time I want to go see a movie because I like that containment.
Catch “Pretty Little Liars” on Tuesday night (8/7c) on ABC Family!
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