The Troian Woman
TROIAN BELLISARIO. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF OLSON
Her stalker, “A,” remains anonymous to Spencer Hastings on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, but actress Troian Bellisario doesn’t mind playing the modern-day Nancy Drew. Bellisario—along with Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, and Shay Mitchell—portrays a girl entangled in a web of lies. Her storyline as the (seemingly) perfect Spencer has developed into one of the main plot points, accompanied by her romance with the “troubled” Toby Cavanaugh (Keegan Allen). The secrets have gotten larger and the lies have become greater since the show’s summer premiere on June 14.
Bellisario shares Spencer’s ambitious persona, which can be seen through her juggling projects. Later this year, she will be shooting her short film, Exiles, in the Mojave Desert. We spoke with Bellisario about her connection with the PLL girls, constantly being stalked by “A” and off-set hookups.
ILANA KAPLAN: Just to get right into it, how did you get your name?
TROIAN BELLISARIO: It’s a family name. It was a surname on my father’s maternal side. It means “woman of Troy.”
KAPLAN: Have you met another Troian?
BELLISARIO: No, I’ve met a couple of Troys. I’ve never met any other Troians. I’ve only been told of them. I came really close. One of my best friends in elementary school went to a different school. Her math teacher heard about my name, and she was going to name her kid that. I remember this whole week where I was freaking out that there was going to be another Troian in the world.
KAPLAN: What has been the most interesting part of playing Spencer?
BELLISARIO: I guess it’s the Nancy Drew elements of it. The show is a little bit of a teen soap opera, with all of the relationships that we have and all of the things you uncover about the town. I think it’s really interesting for me to constantly be playing mystery and finding all of these clues. It involves a lot of late nights in the jungle, staring at clues and wondering. It’s an interesting role to play. It’s also something I feel like I relate to at this point in my life. It’s also kind of like living in purgatory, in a sense.
KAPLAN: Will there be a lot more Spencer and Toby action this season?
BELLISARIO: Yeah! I don’t really know where they’re headed, because I feel like the whole purpose of living in such a twisted place, and setting on a TV show in such a dark place as Rosewood, is that nothing good can last for long. They seem to be doing really well. I’m so interested in the way that their relationship changes. They’re so romantic and so supportive of each other, because of what they’ve been through. The writers were so proud when they brought Spencer and Toby together. Toby and Spencer were the first relationship that took an entire season to develop. I think they have a lot more to go through.
KAPLAN: I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Ian Harding: What has changed for you the most for you since PLL started?
BELLISARIO: To be honest, what’s changed for me is my schedule. We’re shooting ten months out of the year. Maybe nine months out of the year. The girls and I shoot Monday through Friday, generally before sunrise until after sundown. It’s a tough job. Your weekends are spent doing laundry, calling the people you love, trying to have a drink, relax, and preparing for the week. On top of that, I’m a really ambitious person with a lot of things that I want to create and do, like painting or making my own film, which I’m in the process of doing right now. That’s really what changed for me: learning how to juggle and learning how to be easier on myself. I’m like Spencer at this point in my life: I get stressed out really easily, and the first thing I have to do is not let myself go down that road. I know that the circumstances on our show tend to be really heightened. We really strive to, in the middle of all of this insanity and these crazy things that are going on, try to portray real people. I think that’s what makes the girls so relatable in a way. When you’re getting stalked 24 hours a day by some anonymous person, it’s kind of like, What is going on? I think with the crazy stories that are going on, the characters are real.
KAPLAN: So, are you and the PLL girls close outside of the show?
BELLISARIO: Yeah! We are. The funny thing is… Ashley and Lucy knew each other when they were fifteen, but they hadn’t talked to each other in a long time. Right before we shot the pilot was American Thanksgiving, and we had to be up in Canada for it. We had this Thanksgiving dinner with our producers and my director. He and the four of us just sitting there, that was really our first social time just sitting down with each other. It was so weird. I just think they did the best job casting because literally we felt like we knew each other our whole lives. Ever since that Thanksgiving dinner, the girls call me for anything. I feel like I can call them for anything. It’s such a support system.
KAPLAN: Have you ever been caught in any weird scenarios or lies, like Spencer and the girls on the show?
BELLISARIO: Totally! I like to think that I don’t really lie a lot. It’s funny—ever since I got on the show it’s gotten easier and easier to lie. I can’t really think of one off the top of my head, but I’ve told some pretty good lies in my time.
KAPLAN: Practice makes perfect. How did this role come about for you?
BELLISARIO: I was working for the Geffen in a play. My agent just contacted me. I looked at the breakdown and it was called Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family. I instantly judged it and I was like, “Oh, I know what this is….” They were like, “Just go out for it.” I sat down and I read the scene. I was instantly blown away. I was so mad that they cut the scene out of the pilot, but the scene where Spencer was outside of her family dinner bumming a cigarette from Ren and flirting with him. The very first episode. It was scandalous. Bumming a cigarette as a 16-year-old and flirting with her sister’s fiancé. In the middle of the scene, I remember she revealed this one insight into her character and almost breaks down and cries, then pulls herself together. This show is like this mystery. I knew in my head I was the valedictorian of my class. I was a straight-A student. I knew what it was like to be under so much pressure. I could totally relate to this girl. I thought that I would go and they would not like me. I walked in and because I had that attitude, like, “You’re not going to give this to me, but I’m going to show you how much I understand this character and what I would do with it.” I called my agent and said, “Hey, it went great. I had such a fun time. Don’t expect a callback.” They called me back an hour later, and were like, “Well, you got a callback.” I was like, “That’s weird.” Then it went on from there. I never would have expected something like that in a million years.
KAPLAN: So, you, Troian, were a valedictorian and straight-A student?
KAPLAN: This is a role that you can relate to and you can understand Spencer as her character and as a segment of yourself. Has any chemistry onscreen come offscreen?
BELLISARIO: I have spent the entire run of the show in a relationship, not with somebody from the show. I won’t tell you who, but I will definitely say that there have been a fair share of hookups from the show.
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS AIRS TUESDAYS AT 8 PM ON ABC FAMILY.