PRETTY LITTLE LIARS – Ashley Benson stars as Hanna Marin on ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars.” (ABC FAMILY/ANDREW ECCLES)
Ashley Benson began her acting career at a young age and was cast on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” as Abigail “Abby” Devereaux (2004-2007) and left the soap opera to get the main lead role for the film “Bring It On: In It to Win It” and had appeared in several television films and series after.
But it was in 2009 when Ashley was cast for the role of Hanna Marin in ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars”. The series revolves around five friends Alison 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.
Ashley Benson’s character, Hanna Marin, becomes the new “Queen B” and fills in for Alison’s spot as the most popular girl in Rosewood High School. She also tends to shoplift in order to get her father’s attention.
In our second Q&A feature with Ashley Benson, we present you a Q&A transcript with the actress to discuss her character Hanna Marin in the popular ABC family series “Pretty Little Liars”.
Moderator When you first signed on to this show, did you have any idea of what kind of level of success it would bring, how big of a show it would become?
A. Benson No, not at all. When I first went to the cable [network], they were telling us that it was going to be; they just thought it was going to be successful and me and the other girls were kind of like, we hope for it, we hope for it, but you never know.
So, we filmed the pilot and we waited to hear if it got picked up and it did, and then we filmed and started airing it and it just went out of control, so I had no idea. But it’s pretty amazing to be part of something that you think could be successful and then it starts to actually happen and go above and beyond is unreal, so it’s really awesome.
Moderator Yes, absolutely. And you talked a little bit before about how playing Hefty Hanna was very emotional for you. Are we going to see more of that coming up?
A. Benson Yeah, definitely. Every episode usually has flashbacks, so there’s a lot of Hefty Hanna and there’s really good stuff this next couple of episodes. That’s my favorite part to play, so I can’t wait for you guys to see it.
Moderator I wanted to know if you could tease anything to fans of Pretty Little Liars for the first episode coming back.
A. Benson Yes, it starts off with my character Hanna in the hospital after she’s gotten run over, and she wakes up and she’s still shaken after the whole thing and she doesn’t really remember what happened, but she thinks she remembers who she saw by the car and in the woods and who she thinks is A. So, she tells the girls and it goes from there and it’s pretty insane.
She gets a few visitors in the hospital that aren’t supposed to be there, so it’s very creepy.
Moderator I love Hanna Marin on Pretty Little Liars. I think you bring a lot of great depth to this interesting character and I was wondering if you could share what you perceive as her best qualities and her worst qualities within this series.
A. Benson First, Hanna’s best qualities are how down to earth she’s been recently. She always kind of seems to lighten the moment. She’s really sarcastic and makes jokes and she’s kind of a little bit more free-spirited than she was previously, and some of her worst qualities are probably how self-conscious she is, and she kind of tends to snap back into old Hanna Marin where she’s just this popular girl and she puts herself above everybody else.
But more recently she’s been completely different and down to earth and funny and that’s my favorite quality about her.
Moderator Why do you think this show, Pretty Little Liars, resonates so well with viewers?
A. Benson One thing, it’s based off of a book series by Sara Shepherd and we’ve been really lucky that the readers have followed through with the series. It can get complicated when books are turned into shows because if something is on there that’s not in the books, the readers get kind of upset about it.
But I mean they love it and, obviously, there’s just so much suspense and mystery and fun. The four girls are always so different; we have completely different personalities and I think that each girl is very relatable to young girls and young teenagers right now. We all deal with real issues, so I think that a lot of people can attach to one person and kind of feel that they can connect with them and I think that’s really important.
All of our fans usually grow to like one person. We get a lot of people whl come up to us and just say, you know, I’m dealing with what Hanna’s going through right now, what’s your advice? And we give them advice, it’s amazing.
I think the fans being able to connect with your character is really important and they seem to be doing that, so it’s awesome.
Moderator That’s great. Well, how do you relate to your character Hanna?
A. Benson I know what it was like to be left out and kind of picked on because I was in elementary school, so whenever I play Hefty Hanna it’s really emotional because I just feel so awful for her, and you know, she’s just a sweet girl and she’s not – I mean she’s cute – but she’s a little overweight and Alison just gives her such a hard time and I totally know how that was because I got picked on for being in the industry or for being a dancer or whatever and I just had the worst time in elementary school.
I’d cry all the time and also they’ve put actually a lot of my personality into her recently. She’s really sarcastic and she’s adding a lot of comedy to the show and that’s so much fun for me to do and just another way I really care. And, shopping, of course, but yes.
Moderator When I watch Pretty Little Liars Alison, all the girls love her, but I don’t think Hanna really liked her at the end because Alison seemed to make her feel bad about herself when she was Hefty Hanna. When did Hanna realize that being the queen bee really wasn’t her?
A. Benson I think since Hanna was always the outcast and she was never up to Alison’s standards, once Alison disappeared she just thought, you know, she just took everything Alison did and Alison taught her how to be skinny, which made her have, you know… with that and she started to make herself sick a little bit to lose weight and she became popular.
She did her hair like Alison, she dressed like her and it was good for a while, but soon enough she just knew that it wasn’t her. And you know, Hanna was never the one to be mean to people and to treat people like they’re nothing and that she’s above everybody because when she was younger she was just this innocent girl and I think even when Hanna was still popular and kind of having that sort of ego, when she was at home or when she was with her boyfriend or just with her mom, you see her true personality and I think she just got kind of tired of playing someone that she’s not and recently she’s overcome that and she started hanging out with guys like Lucas who she would never even look at previously, so it’s really nice that she finally realized that she doesn’t haven’t to be someone that she’s not , because she’s a great girl and she has a great personality for who she is and I think she finally started to discover that and she’s staying true to herself.
Moderator Did you also start hanging out with any of the cast members?
A. Benson I do. Me and the four girls are like best friends. It’s truly a blessing to get to work every day with your friends, it’s awesome, and surprisingly with a four girl cast sometimes that wouldn’t work out, but luckily it has and hopefully it will keep going, which I think it will.
But we hang out on set and also we go to movies and we shop and we do all kinds of girly things and it’s so funny because when we’re out together and if someone knows us they’re like, you guys hang out, like outside of work? And it’s just really nice that we’ve become so close and it makes it a lot more fun.
Moderator If you could just talk a little bit about meeting the fans and how that’s been for you as an experience?
A. Benson When the show started airing, what really got all of us was that we were a trending topic on Twitter. I know that sounds stupid, but it was everywhere, like in different countries, which is bizarre to me because it only aired here and then they watch it on Hulu and it was just unreal.
But it’s so amazing to meet the fans and for me as a person, I’m kind of shy, so when people come up to me I get a little self-conscious because this whole thing is just weird to me. I don’t like when people know who I am or that kind of thing. I just like to do my thing on set and then when I’m done I just go back to everyday life and hang out with my friends.
So, when people tend to notice me more, it was a little weird, but now I’ve gotten used to it and it’s so nice to meet the girls and sometimes their moms come up to me and even guys; there’s a lot of guys who come up to me and just really love the show and it’s really awesome to see who watches it and like give us their feedback. We have really supportive fans so we’ve gotten really lucky.
And it’s pretty insane, but I love to interact with them and that’s why I think Twitter is such a great thing because I answer the questions and I just see everything they write about the show and what they like and what they didn’t like, you know, it’s really great. It’s really great to get close to them.
Moderator And is there any specific sort of fan experience that sticks out in your mind as far as meeting someone?
A. Benson Not really. I mean, the one thing I do like is a lot of the girls tend to come up to either me or the other three and they just relate to us, and that’s one thing that we wanted to keep as a goal on the show, is to be very relatable. We all deal with separate issues, whether it’s if we like boys or girls, or we have eating problems or we like an older man; it’s just everybody can relate to us and I think a lot of our fans they really do click on to one character and they watch the show and they know that they’re going to be okay.
For instance, one person came up to me and they had an eating disorder and she just told me, am I going to be okay? And I said, you will, and I just told her to be herself and she doesn’t have to do anything to be like all these girls and especially girls on TV or magazines, because we do a photo shoot and we get photoshopped and we’re not as skinny as we are in magazines; it’s all fake. And I just think it’s really important for girls to see that because all these girls just try to be the people they see on TV and it’s all just movie magic.
So, it’s nice to let them know they’re beautiful in their own skin and everybody has imperfections and it’s good to just embrace that and we talk about that.
Moderator I know you love to shop and I was wondering what kind of fashion can we expect to see Hanna wearing on the show for the second half, and if there are any pieces that we should look for that are really special or that you wanted to take home because they were so great?
A. Benson Oh, gosh. The next couple of have really stepped up. It’s amazing what the stylist, Mandy Lyon, can do, and she is just so much fun and in some of the wardrobe fittings I kind of choose which outfits I like more and, you know, Hanna is way more out there with her fashion. She has really cool jackets and high-waisted skirts and heels.
She’s actually gotten a little bit more like me, we’ve put a lot more black into it and I love wearing black, so she’s a little bit more edgy at times, but she definitely takes her style, she does most business and then she does most funky and edgy and more classic, she just tries out everything and it’s such a blast that it seems every day through hair and make-up and then going to my room and seeing what outfits I’m wearing in the scene, because it’s just so much fun.
We have really sparkly rings and just everything put together is such a great outfit and I think the fans are really going to love them… because they are so much fun and everything is just awesome.
Moderator That’s great. And TV shows are doing a lot of musicals these days, so if Pretty Little Liars said, oh, we’re going to do a musical, what song would you pick for you and Lucy and Shay and Troian to sing together?
A. Benson Oh my gosh, honestly I wouldn’t know. We always just sing really horribly on set all the time to rap songs just because we have an all guy crew and we just like to make them laugh. But, it’s funny because we all do sing, so we always joke about doing a musical, but I don’t think it would happen and I don’t know what song we’d sing. It would be cool, though.
Moderator Going forward in your career what other types of roles you are interested in playing or other career opportunities on the horizon?
A. Benson Eventually I want to just break into film. I mean ever since I was little I’ve just been fascinated by movies and one of my favorite things is going to the theater. And, I don’t know, I really want to do film and I want to do a character that nobody has ever seen me play because I’m always pretty much the pretty girl and I want to break away from that.
I want to be something completely different, whether it’s someone who faces drug problems or just like kind of an edgy role and I just think it would be quite a challenge for me and I love to challenge myself, so something a little darker.
I love what Natalie Portman does and so, I don’t know, but definitely film. That’s my main goal and we’ll see when it happens, but yes, I’d love to break out into film.
Moderator Is there any specific sort of dream role that you’d really love to play?
A. Benson I don’t think this would ever happen, but I’ve always wanted to play Lucille Ball. Why? I’m obsessed with her. I Love Lucy has been one of my favorite shows and I’ve watched it since I can’t even remember, but it was my mom’s and my dad’s favorite show and they got me into it.
And she’s just so fascinating and she’s such an amazing actress and she just did so many things as being a woman who did comedy and she was just fantastic. And it was really funny because we were doing a photo shoot for the show and we got to eat lunch in the stage that they filmed in and I was just like amazed. But I would love to play her.
Moderator You were talking a little bit before about Hanna’s style on the show. I was wondering how her fashion sense is similar and different to your own.
A. Benson How it’s different than my own?
Moderator Yes, or similar.
A. Benson It’s similar in ways that she switches it up a little bit more in these next couple of episodes. I love to switch up my style, but I’m usually like more edgy, rough kind of vibe. I’m usually in black or like ripped jeans and a cool shirt and high heels or boots. But, actually going into Hanna’s wardrobe and being in all kinds of really cool dresses and high-waisted skirts, I’ve actually bought a lot of things similar to what Hanna’s wearing now because I’m like wow, that’s actually really cute, and I get a lot of new ideas from Hanna’s fashion that she’s going to be wearing in the next couple of episodes. But usually, I’m more edgy.
Moderator What are you looking forward to the most with the return of Pretty Little Liars?
A. Benson I’m just really excited to see what the fans say. It’s definitely a lot more creepy and scarier. We go on this huge ride; I mean, A just does things that are just so devious and so mean and she literally tortures the girls in the next couple of episodes, especially my character, Hanna, because of everything that she went through, you know, being hit by a car and Hanna gets pushed to her limits and I’m just so excited to see what the fans think, because it’s a crazy next couple of episodes. The writers did an amazing job.
Moderator I read before that you were home schooled. Do you ever find that you’re living your high school years vicariously through Hanna?
A. Benson Definitely. Yes, I was home schooled for high school. I was never one for school; I didn’t really like going. The one thing I don’t like is always being in a school and being in the hallway and being in the classrooms. But, it’s actually really cool to have dances and prom and all that. I get to get the dress and have my date and film for a week straight and just one little dance scene, but it’s really fun.
Moderator If you could pick one of your male co-stars to be your leading man, would you go for Sean or Lucas?
A. Benson Oh, gosh. I don’t know. They’re both so different. I mean Sean is her boyfriend, so probably Sean. But I don’t know; Lucas is so adorable and they get along well because they kind of have that outcast thing in common. She feels for him. So, I don’t know. I mean if Sean was still her boyfriend, Sean. And she could pick Lucas. But I can’t decide; I love them both to death.
Moderator You mentioned earlier that Hanna will have some changes to her character just kind of based on your personality. I was curious, do some other girls have changes like that, either from their personalities or just from the books that the writers have decided to add this season?
A. Benson Yes, you know, Troian’s character, Spencer, she’s getting a little more, she has a little bit more comedy to her and she’s a little bit more snarky and Troian is hilarious so she’s kind of getting into the Hanna thing where she just makes obnoxious comments for no reason and it’s just like Troian and I and it’s really cool, so, yes, Spencer is getting a little bit more sarcastic.
Moderator I had read that you are a huge Lakers fan and I was wondering if you played basketball when you were a kid or if you were into any other sports.
A. Benson I did not play any sports when I was younger. I was not made for that. I grew up as a dancer, so I competed for eight years, so that was kind of like my life. I am such a huge Lakers fan, so I try to go to every game that I can when I’m not working. And on set we set up this like little lounge and it’s me and all the guys on the crew and we watch the games when I’m on set and we have this flat screen TV and we have all these chairs and it’s like a boy’s lounge and I go in there all the time to watch the games.
But, I love the Lakers; I’m really obsessed with them.
Moderator We’ve been talking about how they portray Hanna in the flashbacks since she was supposed to be heavier then, and she’s always so covered up and wearing these baggy sweatshirts and everything and we were wondering, did you have a hand in choosing how she’s portrayed there?
A. Benson Yes, for a while we weren’t using a fat suit. I just had to wear layers and layers and layers of clothes and it didn’t come off as I wanted it to so I asked them about a fat suit and we tried that and it seemed to be working and I actually just got my own customized fat suit.
It was like the best day of my life. I was in wardrobe just like running around in my fat suit, just dancing with the wardrobe people because I’m like a really big nerd, so I thought that was hilarious.
So, now she’s always in her fat suit and we’re really specific about what she wears and she’s just kind of a little bit dorky and kind of has the stuff that her mom picks out for her and she’s always wearing some sort of T-shirt that she thinks is really cool, but it’s not.
So, yes, the fat suit plays a huge role in Hefty Hanna and her clothes are just completely different from Hanna now, but it’s my favorite character.
Moderator On a rather different topic there, are you a fan of True Blood at all?
A. Benson You know, I haven’t gotten into True Blood. I don’t watch much TV, but I have a lot of friends that do and they’re obsessed with it and cannot wait for the next episode, so I’m sure it’s pretty amazing. But I don’t watch a lot of TV, so no.
Moderator Okay. I was just wondering because the little pond that you guys film at, some of those flashbacks.
A. Benson Oh, my gosh, yes, that’s awesome.
Moderator Yes, that’s in there a lot.
A. Benson Yes, we always film there and some of the girls do watch True Blood and so they just go and see and they told me and not being a fan of the show or watching it, it’s so awesome to know that we’re filming where they are, so a lot of our sets back there in the jungle are everything that they use. So, it’s kind of awesome because they’ll film there, and then the next day we’ll film there, then they’ll film there, so it’s really cool.
Moderator It’s a little surreal as a fan to go back and forth between the two shows using the same location, because I’ve been on that lot and seeing it, it’s like oh, my gosh, that’s where this happened on Pretty Little Liars and then it happens on True Blood.
A. Benson Yes, it’s so funny.
Moderator That’s all the time we have for today. Don’t forget that Pretty Little Liars returns on Monday, January 3 at 8/7c.