Ian Harding has always been good at lying—at least to his mom. So it's fitting that he has generated buzz as teacher Ezra Fitz on ABC Family's surprise hit Pretty Little Liars. Harding plays Fitz, who is in a relationship with his student, Aria Montgomery [Lucy Hale]. This is Harding's largest role since Adventureland, with Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart.
Although his popularity is growing, he is still just a typical, laid-back guy living on the west coast and pursuing his dream. Harding is down-to-earth and sees acting as much more than a job. We recently caught up with Harding, who told us about his character's development—and his thoughts on being a heartthrob.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did you become interested in acting?
IAN HARDING: I always was getting into trouble some way, because I was really good at lying when I was a kid. If I left my jacket at school for the third time and my mom was really angry at me, I would make up a lie and I would just really believe in it. This sounds a little bit sociopathic. She was like, "I know that's not true." Years passed and whatnot, and like any boy in Virginia, I got into sports and all that stuff. I went to this high school and they had excellent, excellent sports teams, and these guys were All-American everything, and I wasn't that good. So I was like, "I think I'll do this drama thing because it's co-ed." I went to an all-boys school, and girls from various girls' schools did it. So I was like, "Oh yeah, women." The girls kind of took second place to the actual performing. Then, everything just went from there forward, and now I'm in Los Angeles.
KAPLAN: How did you go about getting this role on Pretty Little Liars?
HARDING: It was fall 2009, and I got an email for this audition from my agent. I went in, and I don't say this in a really arrogant way, but I just kind of flirted with everybody that I came across. They were like, "You have the part." I said, "Wait a minute, okay... I think you're making a mistake." They decided that they weren't, and now I'm here. It was a really interesting audition process. It was so out of the blue and so surreal. It's so ridiculous how you just get a call one day and go on an audition that can easily change your life for the next several years.
KAPLAN: How does it feel to play such a controversial role? The way that it's played out—it's racy, but it's really romantic. How is that for you?
HARDING: It's strange. I knew because it was ABC Family they weren't going to be having crazy nude scenes with Lucy [Hale]. It walks a very thin line. When I heard the premise, I thought it was going to be another trashy teen sitcom that was going to last two seasons. I think there's a lot of heart to it. On a technical level, the writers are really on top of their game. On an emotional story level, it just kind of happens to be the worst of circumstances—kind of the perfect storm. There's an age difference. Yes, but nobody would frown upon a 23-year-old dating a 30-year-old. Maybe. I don't think my parents would. It depends on the person. The problem is the six- or seven-year difference between them, and I'm her teacher. It's not really smiled upon. I really think they're soulmates at the fullest extent. So they're giving it a go, even with possible jail time.
KAPLAN: How has your life changed since you got the role?
HARDING: It seems like a bunch of different ways. It has and it hasn't. I'm pretty much the same person. I get recognized in the street really frequently, which is really shocking. I'm excruciatingly wary of any female under the age of 19. Even when some of them come up to me, they're usually very cordial, nice and polite. It's really good to be a working actor. I have a job for the next nine months. That's all I can really hope for and be thankful for. This opportunity has fallen in my lap. I think the biggest difference is people I haven't met seemingly knowing me. My friends treat me the same. My family treats me the same. I'm able to put food on my solitary table, if you would.
KAPLAN: That sounds like the perfect life right now for you.
HARDING: It's a lot of fun.
KAPLAN: What would you be doing if you weren't an actor?
HARDING: I don't even want to think about it. Any skills that I have, I couldn't really make money with them. I would like to think that maybe I would be doing something in psychology or something of that nature because I love that vein of medicine—the getting down and getting nitty-gritty.
KAPLAN: Do you have any spoilers about the season?
HARDING: I mean, not that I can contractually say.
KAPLAN: I figured not, but I have to ask.
HARDING: Any interviewer asks if I have any spoilers, and I feel bad for the interviewer because they have to ask this question and get rejected every single time. In the coming episodes, things get very colorful. I think you know a little bit about Ezra, but everything is focused on the girls, as it should be. I think within the coming episodes and within season 2, you get to see more of Ezra's past and skeletons in his closet. He's got some major skeletons showing up back there.
KAPLAN: This might be an awkward question, but how does it feel to be a heartthrob for younger viewers?
HARDING: That is a tough question to [answer]. There's a part of me that's like, "Oh no, I'm not." I, Ian, am not. If there were teenagers who had a video camera and saw what I did on a daily basis, they'd be bored out of their mind. Ezra's a heartthrob, and that's fine. It's cool, I guess. If someone was like, "Describe yourself in one word," I would never say, "Handsome." Especially right now, in my pajamas. I haven't shaved in three days and I've been eating whatever the hell I want. I changed my thinking on the whole subject of what it is to be attractive. It's fine, but I know that ultimately what I am and who I am is not cheekbones and a jawline, if you catch my drift. I ultimately know that who I am is not directly proportional to abs or straight teeth. I have no abs right now, I can tell you that.
KAPLAN: That was one of the most down-to-earth answers to a question that is difficult to answer.
HARDING: Well, what would be the opposite of it? If I'm like, "Oh, you know, it's just really hard being mind-numbingly attractive; it's almost a hindrance, people just constantly wanting to sleep with you," I would be a hollow shell of a human being.
THE SEASON FINALE OF PRETTY LITTLE LIARS AIRS THIS SUNDAY ON ABC FAMILY. THE SECOND SEASON WILL PREMIERE IN JUNE.