Q&A session with Keegan Allen (2011): ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)
February 25, 2011 by J!-ENT
Keegan Allen plays the character of Toby Cavanaugh on the hit ABC Family series “Pretty Little Liars”.
In the series, Toby is the mysterious boy living down the street from Emily who has been pegged by the town of Rosewood and the police as a person of interest in Alison’s murder. Described as a loner and troublemaker, there is more to Toby than people might think.
Here is a transcript Q&A interview with actor Keegan Allen:
Moderator Emily and Toby have a really unique relationship together; do you think it’s romantic chemistry or just friendship?
K. Allen At first they were just really great friends and they’re both very shy characters. I think that now, seeing as where Emily is going with her own sexuality and finding who she is, they can be friends, but he’s still very hesitant of Emily. We’ll see that evolve more as the series goes on.
Moderator Is Toby going to get positive resolution by the finale this season?
K. Allen Yes, I think that he will. Obviously we see Toby get beaten down and he’s always in that red spotlight. Getting his ankle bracelet off and finding this friend in Spencer, I definitely see a positive turn of events for him towards the finale.
Moderator Last night we saw Toby hanging out with Spencer; how’s that going to affect his relationship with Jenna?
K.Allen That’s a really good question. Actually, Jenna is a very jealous, jealous character. Toby and Jenna have that stepsibling crazy, weird romance thing going on where he’s been abused and bashed by her in the past. I think the jealousy will rise from Jenna in a different way than when it affected him with Emily. Now it’s like another problem for Jenna to deal with, more people trying to pull Toby away.
Moderator He appears to be kind of a strange, dark sort of guy. Where do draw upon to get yourself into that place mentally?
K. Allen I’ve had a lot of friends who have reminded me of Toby; he’s a very interesting character to play. As you know, he has this dormant angst in him that is really bottled up; the character’s very bottled up. It’s interesting to play that as an actor because you’re able to give a glimpse of happiness or sorrow. He’s been abused; he doesn’t trust anybody. I draw that from places of people that I used to know in high school, that were the outsiders; they were very socially awkward. Toby is very socially awkward. When he does find a friend he opens up; that’s when you get the small, little hints removing that layer and seeing that. It’s interesting to play that.
Moderator If you had to describe your character’s motivation in one word, what would it be and why?
K. Allen That’s really actually hard to describe. He’s an enigma and I guess his motivations are drawn by the past. He was accused of murder that he didn’t do so I guess his motivation would just be to live his life like a normal kid and just to get through. He’s still a child; he’s still a kid and likes to ride his motorcycle around. I guess his motivation would just to be innocent, trying to get people to see that he’s not a monster.
Moderator Are there any of your character’s traits that mimic your own?
K. Allen It’s funny, Toby is a complete 180 of who I am. Like I was saying before, it’s really interesting to play that because he is very bottled up and he holds back everything. If he did let it go it would be a tremendous release; he’s been abused during his childhood; he got sent away, taking the blame for his sister being blind. I draw from other people and other experiences, but he’s very, very different from me.
Moderator One of my favorite things about the show is how the writers constantly throw us for a loop. They give us a little bit of information and we think we know what they’re going to do with it then they go ahead and turn us all around. As the actor in the show, do you get to know what’s going to happen ahead of time or is just every script is like, “Oh, I didn’t see that coming”?
K. Allen That’s a great question. It’s very true that we get information; we might go to the writers and plead and plead, “Please tell me what this means or what’s going to happen.” Sometimes they might tell us, but everything gets changed so rapidly. As the actor, it’s nice to know what’s going to happen, but sometimes it’s not so nice. The writers do a really great job of give-and-take with us and when we go to table-reads collectively, we all gasp and are so thrown for a loop ourselves. It’s this roller coaster that we all go on as an ensemble, writers included. It’s really great and they do such a great job keeping all of us on the edge of our seats, so much so that even when I’m watching the show and know what’s going to happen, I’m still biting my nails off.
Moderator I noticed in last night’s episode, your character and Spencer really seem to have an interesting chemistry going on now. Do you think there’s going to be a romantic relationship there or is it going to just strictly be let’s try and clear our names?
K. Allen Toby has been in that light where Spencer is right now, where she’s slowly going through this place where people aren’t believing her. She’s dealing with a whole bunch of issues herself and he knows where that comes from; he comes from that same place. It’s like she starts to maybe find a safe place to land with Toby in a way where we might not have expected. He might open up just a little bit more to her because the trust factor, he needs someone to trust; he has nobody to trust. Spencer is very wise and intelligent; it’s a great place for both of them to be. There is definitely the chemistry and we’ll see where it takes us.
Moderator You were talking before how Toby keeps things bottled up; I was wondering how you de-stress personally.
K. Allen I love to long-board. It’s like skateboarding with long skateboards. I love to go down to the beach; that is the best stress reliever for me, to get on a long board and go right down a hill or take a hike or play some music. I play piano and I play guitar; that’s a really good stress reliever, too.
Moderator Since you play a music instrument and long board, would you like to incorporate some those hidden talents into your character Toby?
K. Allen It’s funny that you say that; I really hope that someday, I see it as Toby is brooding in the corner playing the organ, the pipe organ, that would be psychotically creepy. That would be cool to incorporate some of what I like to do into the character although Toby is such a different character. I feel that anything the writers did write for him would be really interesting to take on if it had nothing to do with my talents or anything. It would be cool to step into those shoes of something that might release stress for him.
Moderator Are we going to be able to get a little more clarification on Toby’s and Jenna’s relationship?
K. Allen They are stepsiblings; it was brought to everybody’s attention during before the mid-season finale that Jenna was abusive towards Toby. The clarification to it – it’ll eventually come to that; there’ll be new things that come up that will explain it better. There’s not really that far to go with it. It’s been brought up and it’s been shown and we’ll see where it goes. Jenna is definitely a creeper and she does not want him to leave her; it’s like her safety blanket. He finds this sympathy with Jenna even though he didn’t blind Allison. He lives with her; it’s a vicious cycle.
Moderator What are the challenges and the pleasures of playing Toby?
K. Allen The challenge is definitely like I said before, he’s so bottled up and he has so many layers to him. The challenge is giving those glimpses as an actor of that he’s not just a flat character, that he has these levels that he can play. He’s been so abused and he has nowhere really to go and no one to trust; that’s a definite challenge is to bring those little glimpses into the character and into the role. The pleasures of playing him have been that I get to fix, I literally learned how to reassemble a motorcycle a million times now, as you’ll see. I have taken apart my motorcycle and put it back together so many times.
Moderator How would you like Toby to grow?
K. Allen I’d personally like Toby to grow; he’s right now growing the way the writers have portrayed him from the books, him growing past dying in the book is amazing to me. In the book series he goes through this whole thing and he’s a totally different character. They took him and they took all the greatest things from him and had him continue on. He’s growing wonderfully the way that I see him now and the way that the writers are portraying him. The way that I could see it continuing is maybe making him go through more situations in which he is uncomfortable; it’s always fun to watch a character be uncomfortable and the more uncomfortable, the more entertaining. Putting him in those situations where he has to grow and he has to get through situations, that would be interesting.
Moderator Do you think you can give us some hints on the storyline ….?
K. Allen He got his ankle bracelet off and he’s developing this relationship with Spencer that is right now very platonic, but still he’s looking for a trustworthy person; he might end up talking to Emily. We’ll see how that goes because you have to remember that even though Jenna came forward and said he had turned her in to the cops, he still doesn’t trust Emily. We’ll see that relationship evolve and Emily might be a little bit jealous of Spencer and Toby’s newfound friendship.
Moderator How is it that you got involved in acting?
K. Allen I got involved in acting from a very young age. I grew up in a very Bohemian family; my mother’s a painter and an artist and my father is an off-Broadway actor. Being around my dad growing up is a huge influence on the thespian bug that bit me; being part of this ensemble and this cast is so overwhelming, it’s so great. I really liked editing movies when I was younger, in high school. I did video production and I realize that in learning behind the camera it was great and I love everything. I learn so much on set every day from the camera crew and everybody, but I really saw that I wanted to be in front of the camera. That was where it started; I did a lot of exploring and where I’m at today is just wonderful, I’m so blessed and grateful.
Moderator Can you talk a little bit about how you got the role of Toby?
K. Allen I long-boarded over to the casting office; I had a beanie on, which my manager, he lost his mind when he found out I was wearing a beanie for the audition. It’s just a huge no-no, but I wore this beanie, long-boarded over there. It just worked out and it was great; I felt so connected to the character and the rest is history. I went in and Oliver Goldsmith and Marlene King both developed this character over the series of books by Sara Shepard. I read all the books and I got really into the series itself. That’s how it developed; I became hooked on the book series just like everybody else. It just continued the snowball effect of learning about this character.
Moderator I know from the book series and everything who A is and I’m sure you do, too. Do you know if they’re going to go that way in the TV show as well?
K. Allen The book series, obviously I can’t tell you who A is even though we, you and me, might know who it is from the book series; I can’t even divulge that. It’s one of those things, not only will I get in a lot of trouble, but it constantly changes. The writers are doing a great job. They have their ideas; obviously they’re going to hold off on who A is, the longer the better. I don’t honestly, every time that I think I know who A is, I don’t. Every time I think I know who A is, it gets switched around and changes so drastically that it drives me nuts. I’m close with all of the writers and it drives me crazy; imagine how I feel. I wish I could ask; I wish I could find out.
Moderator Toby is kind of a standoffish character at times. Has that made for any memorable fan encounters in real life?
K. Allen Yes. I have a really interesting thing that just happened recently at the Justin Bieber premier. A lot of fans that were there, obviously part of that demographic, saw me and they wanted to all give me a hug and it was a little bit crazy, getting a hug from a lot of girls at one time was a little bit intense, but yes, I’ve had a lot of fan encounters that have been really, really positive. It’s really great that our fans are such good people; they’re really good kids. It’s just been really great and even though the character’s standoffish, I, Keegan, am not. It’s great when people approach me and they talk to me. I love talking to the fans and hearing what they want and what they see. Getting insider ideas from them is always great.
Moderator What has been your personal favorite Toby moment so far?
K. Allen My personal favorite Toby moment used to be and still is, I loved getting pushed through that wall of glass during the homecoming episode. It was so weird, but we did that in one take and I just loved having that happen. It would be a toss-up from that moment where Emily pushed him through glass to this last episode when we were talking in Jenna’s room. The set design is beautiful and he comes in; it was definitely one of those moments that was great. Also the moment where Spencer sees Toby break down in the alleyway; that was another cool moment. I can’t really pick just one, but definitely those are up there.
Moderator What character that Toby has not yet interacted with on the show would you like to see him interact with?
K. Allen I would love Toby to interact with Ezra Fitz. Even though they shared a glance, it wasn’t even like a real glance; it was Ezra coming out and noticing that Toby was taking that stoic walk through the hallway. I’d love to see Toby talk to Ezra; I just think that it would be really interesting conversation even because Ezra’s been talking to Jenna. I think it would be great to have that take on Toby and Ezra. Ian is a good friend of mine so it would be fun to do a scene with him.
Moderator I’m curious, now that Toby is off the hook how do you want to see the character evolve?
K. Allen I would love to see him go through more, experience someone that he trusts, would be the most rewarding thing for me to deal with. Like I’ve been saying, he’s so held back and is such a caged, beaten dog almost. It would be great to just see him, which is starting now. He gets his ankle bracelet off; he’s finding this friend in Spencer. I think where the show is taking it, it’s going to be great to see what happens over these next few shows into the season.
Moderator Toby hasn’t really had a romantic relationship on the show yet; who would you choose for him to go out with if you could choose any of the Pretty Little Liars cast members?
K. Allen That’s a really good question. I personally don’t know who I would choose. It’s funny, I feel like he could go with anybody, obviously not Aria because that would be a little bit intense. I’ve even thought a funny one would be Ella; Aria’s mom would be awesome. That’s obviously a silly fantasy, but you never know.
Moderator Have you seen the Pretty Little Liars It Gets Better PSA and if so, what do you think of it?
K. Allen I think it was amazing and I loved how all the girls and Marlene King and Oliver Goldsmith stood up and spoke for something that’s a real issue. I love that the show touches on these issues; it should allow people to see that whoever they are, you’re beautiful and you can be whoever you want to be; nobody should be allowed to tell you otherwise. I think that PSA does a really great job of that. It’s very rewarding to be part of a show like this with writers and developers that are so passionate about the message that we relay.
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