Q&A with “Pretty Little Liars” actress Janel Parrish (J!-ENT Interviews and articles)
March 21, 2012 by Dennis Amith
For nearly two seasons on ABC Family’s hit drama series “Pretty Little Liars”, the audience and fans following the show have wondered “who is the mysterious individual known as “A”? What is this person’s motive?”.
Since the first episode, “A” has been cyber-bulling Aria (played by Lucy Hale), Spencer (played by Troian Bellisario), Hanna (played by Ashley Benson), and Emily (played by Shay Mitchell), four teenagers who carry a mysterious secret about the death of their friend Allison (played by Sasha Pieterse)
Many characters have fit the mold of “A” but it wasn’t until the season two finale when we find out that “A” is Mona Vanderwall (played by actress Janel Parrish, “Bratz” films, “Heroes”, “Triple Dog”), a student who was bullied by Allison.
Needless to say, the season final ended with the explosive reveal but to continue this character even longer, it was also announced that actress Janel Parrish will be back for season three of “Pretty Little Liars”.
Recently, ABC Family held a media Q&A with actress Janel Parrish to discuss her role as A/Mona but also the fan feedback of the season finale.
The following is the media Q&A transcript with Janel:
Moderator I’m a little worried, but I hope I’m safe from you now that you’re … “A.”
J. Parrish I promise I’m safe in my apartment and I don’t have my hoodie on right now, so you’re safe.
Moderator Was it a hard transitioning from the bubbly Mona that fans are used to, to the dark twisted Mona that we saw last night in the episode?
J. Parrish Yes. That was definitely the most challenging part and also the most fun part was transitioning from this bubbly character that I’ve played for two years to this dark, psychopath character that I’ve never in my life played before. That’s what made it so appealing was that it was a challenge. It was fun and I had to just kind of let go of this character that I’ve built for two years and create a new one and just go there. That’s what was really, really fun.
Moderator You’re doing Spring Awakening in L.A. Does this mean there will be less Mona in Season 3?
J. Parrish Definitely not. I’ve just been made a series regular for Season 3, so it’s very exciting. You will see more Mona. I am doing Spring Awakening in my hiatus because we do not start filming Pretty Little Liars until Season 3 starts April 2, so I’ve had time in my break to do a musical, which has been amazing because musicals are actually my first love.
Moderator You’ve probably had plenty of suspicions that you were “A” just because of the books to begin with, so take us through when you first actually found out that you were going to be making this crazy, kind of awesome transition.
J. Parrish Well, like you said, I had an idea during the pilot because I read the books, and since I was “A in the books. I’d asked the producers if I was “A” and they were being very coy and saying that I could be “A” but things could change since we’re not following the books exactly. I’d always kind of put it in the back of my mind that I could be “A” and I found out officially the week that we were filming the finale. We got the scripts a week before we started filming it. I read it and I was super excited. It was surreal and it was really hard not to tell anyone that I was “A.”
Moderator Has Marlene given you any sort of details about what you’re going to be doing in Season 3 yet that you can share?
J. Parrish I do know that Season 3 the premiere will take place six months after Maya’s body was found, so it’s the second anniversary of Alison’s death. Mona will have been in the Radley Sanatorium for the last six months. She’ll get a mysterious visitor. You’ll find out more about that and there will just be more answers and connecting the dots.
Moderator The episode kept us jumping from suspect to suspect, but before you found out for sure, was there a moment in the scripts that you became absolutely convinced that you were “A”? Was a there a moment you always look back on and, “I just have to be ‘A’?”
J. Parrish I started to suspect that it was me once I started getting texts from “A.” That does happen in the books and I know that Mona was sending them to herself, so I had a feeling that that’s where they were headed with it. Like I said, they never confirmed that I was “A” until I got the script, so I was trying not to get my hopes up too high.
Moderator Mona mostly had scenes with Hanna, but these past few episodes you were getting more in with the other girls and Caleb, of course, but as “A” now it just opens up this entire new world for Mona and you both. Is there anyone in the cast that you haven’t had too many scenes with yet that you’d like to see Mona interact with the upcoming season?
J. Parrish Interestingly enough, Marlene has said that people will start having scenes with each other that you didn’t even know knew each other, so I’m excited. I think a lot of people in Rosewood are connected that the viewers don’t know about yet, so we’re going to start to see all of that come to light in Season 3. I do think I’m going to have some scenes with people I’ve never had scenes with before, which is always fun to work with new people.
Moderator How is the revelation that Mona is “A” going to affect her friendship with Hanna?
J. Parrish It’s safe to say their friendship is ruined. I kind of hope to see a showdown. I think that would be awesome. If Mona and Hanna meet face-to-face, I think it would be a very interesting interaction so I’m hoping Marlene gives that to me. It would be fun.
Moderator We learned at the very end of the finale that there might be a “Team A,” so what are we going to learn about “Team A” and Mona’s mysterious visitor in Season 3?
J. Parrish You will definitely learn about that in Season 3. I don’t know exactly when. I know that they’ve started writing the episodes. I have not seen anything yet. I’m super excited to see where it’s going, but yes, Season 3 is going to start to get crazy.
Moderator Throughout the series there have been some hints that you were “A.” Can you tell us what any of those were?
J. Parrish Definitely. I think once you look back now that you know who’s “A” you’d definitely find some sly little hints in there. Definitely the scenes where I’m helping Emily hack into the vice principal’s system to find out that he was bribed definitely shows that Mona had some technical skills that people didn’t know about. It also shows that she has a little bit of a devious side.
There is a scene where Mona finds out that Jenna is dating Noel and I saw in the script they wanted me to have a moment where I just looked very angry. I remember it said something like, “Mona is …, and not just in a ‘you stole my boyfriend kind of … off way,’” and that was kind of telling to me that they wanted me to show a different side. I think, yes, if you go back and watch some of the episodes you’d find some hints.
Moderator Mona has always been pretty harsh with Lucas and last night we saw Lucas maybe has a dark side coming out in him with his meeting Jenna. Is there any relationship there that we didn’t know about, that we should be expecting next season?
J. Parrish Yes. It will be very interesting. I’m not even entirely certain the answer to that question, but I know that the writers do everything for a reason. If they show you a glimmer of something it’s for a reason. Nothing is an accident.
Moderator How are you going to be playing this role differently now that you know that she’s such a sinister character?
J. Parrish Well, I think that kind of depends on what the writers give me because I’m not sure where they’re going to take this. I kind of need to get the script and see how I prepare, but I know when I did get the script for the finale it was totally different. My whole mindset of how to play the character was completely changed.
It’s really just, like I said earlier, letting go of everything that I’ve created for this character for two years. Everything that I’ve built upon for this character doesn’t really matter anymore. Unless there are flashbacks of me as that Mona, I’m now creating a new character. It’s really exciting and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Moderator As more of a person and less of an actor, do you feel different toward her now that you know that she’s kind of a bully?
J. Parrish Yes, kind of. I think that there is a lot more going on that hasn’t been told yet. I think we’re going to find more about her motives. I don’t think we know the whole story yet, so I’m excited to find out more about it.
Moderator Congratulations, you’re a series regular for Series 3 and I’m assuming that means that you’re not going to be stuck in that Radley Sanatorium the whole time. Where do you want to see Mona go? Do you want to just see her completely unhinged in Series 3 or seeking redemption? How would you like that to play out?
J. Parrish I’d love to see her seek redemption. I’d love it if she could just break out and go crazy and wreak some havoc on Rosewood, but I can honestly tell you I have no idea where it’s going to go. That would be my choice.
Moderator We found Maya’s body at the end of the episode. Do you know if “A” was involved in that murder in any way? Was she texting Emily all along like with Melissa and Ian
J. Parrish I think all of those things will definitely be revealed in Season 3, but like I said, nothing is unconnected in Rosewood. It’s a creepy little town. There are creepy little people in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if everything is connected in some way. I just don’t’ know to what extent yet.
Moderator You talk about how Pretty Little Liars is so good at having subtle little details in each episode like the blonde in the red dress from the finale last night. Can you talk about how it affects the storyline as whole?
J. Parrish I think it definitely keeps people guessing and suspecting everyone in the show, which is fun. It keeps people tuning in to find out what’s happening and I think once the pieces are put together it’s that much more fulfilling because people say, “Oh, I remember when in this episode this happened and that happened. Now it makes sense,” and then it’s rewarding when you have the answers.
Moderator Mona is one of the most complex characters on the show because her screen time is more limited. How do you feel that parameter helped her keep up the facade of being “A”?
J. Parrish I think it was very effective because the fact that I wasn’t always everywhere, I wasn’t readily in the public eye, people can’t say, “Oh, it must be Mona. She’s always around.” They’re very smart with the way that they had my character kind of pop in and out every now and then and make an appearance and leave and then kind of start to build upon my character at the end showing me working my way into the group of girls before the big reveal. I think the writers have been really, really smart with that.
Moderator How hard was it to keep it a secret that you were “A” once you found out?
J. Parrish It was so hard. I had such an amazing time filming the finale and I just wanted to be able to tell everyone about it. Torrey and I got to do stunts. It was amazing. I got to be creepy in a mental hospital and I just wanted to tell everyone, but it was really rewarding that I didn’t tell everyone because last night when people got to see it they were very, very excited.
Moderator If Pretty Little Liars were to have a crossover with another show, which show would you like “A” to wreak havoc on?
J. Parrish Revenge. I love that show so much.
Moderator Are you surprised that the TV show followed the book so closely and do you think that people who are watching it are surprised that it was Mona in the end?
J. Parrish I am not surprised that we did follow the books in that way. I like the way they did it because it is such a big part of the books that Mona is “A” that I think fans probably would have been upset if they would have changed that, but I think that the way they revealed it went a little different than the books. Obviously, I didn’t die like I did in the books. I survived and they’re taking it in another direction. I think it’s actually great because the book fans get what they have been hoping for and been wanting and expecting, but they get a little bit more of a twist to keep them excited.
Moderator Since we were just talking about fan feedback, how has the fan feedback been since you were revealed? Have you been on Twitter and seeing what people are saying?
J. Parrish Yes. I’ve been on Twitter. It’s crazy. A lot of it has been great. People are very excited that I’m “A” and they want to see where it goes. A lot of them said that they knew. A lot of them were shocked.
Some of them I guess feel a little disappointed because I guess they were under the impression that it would be different from the books, but really we’ve never said that “A” would be different from the books. We said that the reveal would be different and it kind of was. It didn’t happen exactly the way it went in the books. They will have nothing to worry about because there will be a lot more surprises coming their way.
Moderator Now that you know for sure that Mona was “A,” are there any scenes looking back you wish you’d have played differently or that maybe you would play differently now that you know the truth?
J. Parrish Interestingly enough, I did go to Marlene King at one point and she gave me a scene. I went up to her and I said, “Is there a certain way you want me to play this because you haven’t really told me 100% that I am “A” yet? I don’t know if you want me to play these scenes differently or if you want me to keep doing what I’m doing. What do you need from me to make your big plan work?” She just said, “Keep doing what you’re doing. We’re giving you these scenes for a reason. Do your thing. We love all your instincts and everything will make sense in the end.” It was kind of nice because I feel like I never really had to worry about it. I just did the material the way they gave it to me and let them kind of guide me.
Moderator When you read the part of the script a week before shooting where Mona falls off of the cliff you said you were very excited to find out that you were going to be “A,” but was your excitement ever dampened? That brief moment where you see she falls off a cliff did you think, “Oh, well they just killed me off?”
J. Parrish Absolutely. Definitely, especially because in the books that’s what happens is I pull the car over, Spence and I get into a fight, and she pushes me and I fall off a cliff and I die. When I read that my heart definitely stopped for a second and I thought, “Oh, great, this is my last episode of Pretty Little Liars,” until I found out that they saved my life and kept me in the show. I’m just so grateful to still be a part of it.
Moderator Have you ever seen Twin Peaks?
J. Parrish I love Twin Peaks and yes, absolutely I see the correlation. I definitely think that Pretty Little Liars is like a modern slightly less creepy version of Twin Peaks and it’s great. It’s a small town. The queen bee dies. Everyone’s a suspect. Everyone has a secret, so I actually love that.
Moderator How did the rest of the cast react when you guys all found that out?
J. Parrish Differently. Some of them were very shocked. Some of them had suspicions from the beginning. Overall, everyone was just extremely excited. It was the most intense episode we’ve ever had and everyone felt the excitement, even in the table read room. It was very exciting.
Moderator At the end we see Mona talking to the girl in the red coat. Does that mean that we can expect more than one “A,” especially since you talked about “Team A?” Is the black swan involved somehow?
J. Parrish Yes. You’re definitely going to see connections between everyone and I think Season 3 will focus more upon that.
Moderator How did you get involved with doing musicals and acting?
J. Parrish I started out when I was six I did the touring company of Les Miserables and went to Broadway with that. That was my first love immediately and then back home in Hawaii I did musical theater until I moved here when I was 14 and then started getting into TV and film. It’s really exciting to go back to musical theater after all this time.
Moderator Do you have a favorite moment from filming, whether it be behind the scenes or something you were doing that they might be interested in knowing?
J. Parrish My favorite scene is definitely when Spencer and I grapple because we had just so much fun doing those stunts together. We definitely had a couple giggles before the cameras got on us so it was super fun and then falling off the hill that was fun. They put pads down and I was kind of scared every time, but it was super fun.
Moderator In a way, PLL is about mean girl politics gone to the extremes. Have you had any personal experiences with mean girls?
J. Parrish Oh, definitely. I live in Los Angeles and I’m in the entertainment business. I think every girl, especially like high schoolers, can really relate to the show because you have to deal with people bullying you and making you feel bad about yourself every day. You just have to have confidence in yourself and be strong. I think young girls can definitely relate to the show.
Moderator I saw on Twitter that Pretty Little Liars was trending eight times all over the world so that was great to see. How did Mona know about Aria and Ezra? I don’t think we quite find out how she got all the information.
J. Parrish Yes. I think a lot of those questions will definitely be answered in Season 3. I don’t even know 100% how Mona gets everything. She definitely mentioned an “A Team” so that’s a possibility and you know she also had Alison’s diary. That’s how she knew about a lot of past things, but as far as a lot of the present things they did mention that Hanna’s phone was set to record every time it would turn on so obviously she can hear what’s going on. As far as everything else, she may have help and we find more about that in Season 3.
Moderator If you could choose the character that you would like to see Mona just lose her mind on next season who would you choose to take the biggest revenge on?
J. Parrish Oh, man, probably Hanna just because I feel like she’s the easiest target and she’s the most vulnerable right now. I would love to see a cat fight.
Moderator What do you think the chances are that we might see a Pretty Little Liars musical episode?
J. Parrish That would be fantastic. Man, I would love that.
Moderator You should talk to Marlene and make that happen.
J. Parrish I would love that, yes, because a lot of us do sing so that would be fantastic.
Moderator Marlene King tweeted today that Mona did all the things that “A” did, except for two things. I was wondering had she told you this before.
J. Parrish No. I actually read that today too and was kind of surprised because I don’t really know what she means yet.
Moderator Which things do you kind of hope you didn’t do? If you had to sort of guess what were the two worst things that “A” did that you were cringing at and hoping, “I hope Mona didn’t do this?” Like the creepy massage, poor Emily got that creepy massage and there are some really disturbing things that “A” did.
J. Parrish I don’t think I did the creepy massage because I was with Ken at the horse stable so that’s probably one of them. Maybe setting the fire on Jenna. I would like to think someone else other than her doing that, but I’m not sure.
Moderator Do you have any favorite “A” moments and did any of those change now that you know it was Mona?
J. Parrish Favorite “A” moments? It’s hard. I’m trying to remember all of them, so creepy. I love when “A” sends an exterminator to their house and says that there is some type of infestation in Hanna’s basement because Caleb’s living there. I love that. “A” has done some creepy stuff.
Moderator It’s awesome that you are “A,” but if you had to pick one other person for it to have been instead, who were you kind of hoping if it wasn’t you?
J. Parrish My first suspect before I knew it was me was probably Jenna. She would make a creepy “A.”
Moderator There have been rumors floating around that there possibly could be a PLL movie. Do you have any information concerning that?
J. Parrish I heard whispers about that too but I don’t know for sure. If there is, I would love to be in it.
Moderator Do you have to get into different mindsets when playing Mona and “A?”
J. Parrish Absolutely. It was funny Marlene one of the first things she said to me when I was getting ready to do my first scene as “A” was, “Make sure you don’t do your sing song talk voice that you do for Mona.” I had to make sure that I completely changed my vocal inflection, which is hard for me because I kind of sing song everything anyway.
It was different getting into a different mindset and I actually go to play three different characters in the finale – the dorky Mona, popular Mona, and crazy Mona. Kind of like an actor’s dream. It was really fun. It was like a workshop for me.
Moderator The cashmere sweater clue just before Spencer figured out it was you, how fun was that to set up in the show?
J. Parrish It was really, really fun because all the clues just came to a head at that one point. We had a blast filming that.
Moderator What has been the most challenging thing for you filming the show so far, other than keeping “A” a secret?
J. Parrish The most challenging thing probably just playing such a complex character with different levels. I didn’t want to make her just the stereotypical bubble gum mean girl. I wanted to give her more layers and give her a reason for why she was the way that she was.
Moderator If Mona or “A” was ever to get a love interest, who of the current guys would you like to see her with?
J. Parrish Since I’ve been asked this before, I’m going to use the same answer. The new guy Duncan is really cute.
Moderator If Mona were to get with another girl on the show, who would you want her to get with?
J. Parrish Come on, Emily. She’s hot.
Moderator Your transformation last night happened when you put on that hoodie. Is that how you’re going to prepare going forward to just transform yourself into this Voldemort-type character by putting on the hoodie?
J. Parrish That would be cool. If they have it there for me every time it would be a good preparation choice definitely. No, but it was really cool the first time I put the hoodie on and I looked at myself in the mirror and it was like this is going to be really creepy and weird.
“Pretty Little Liars” airs on ABC Family Mondays 8/7c
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