“Peaks and Valleys”: Lucy Hale Talks to Awkwafina About Building a Life After Your Big Break
It has been over a decade since Lucy Hale stormed Hollywood with her role as Aria Montgomery in Pretty Little Liars. In the wake of the teen drama’s formidable seven year run, the 32-year-old actor has built a career dipping in and out of genres with the ease of a seasoned television and film veteran. While this time of year is, for many of us, a chance to catch our breath, Hale has her foot heavy on the pedal, juggling multiple upcoming films while the accolades for projects past come rolling in. While navigating her first-ever gig as an executive producer on the upcoming botanical (yes, botanical) thriller Borrego, and ramping up production for her lead role in the adaptation of the bestselling novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fickry, the actor celebrated the release of her spicy new rom-com The Hating Game and the season finale of AMC’s crime drama Ragdoll. In between her many engagements, Hale found time for a chat with Awkwafina, her friend and fellow young Hollywood titan. The pair—who first met on the set of Olivia Milch’s 2018 dramedy Dude—reconnected here via Zoom for a discussion about learning your lines, ogling local fishermen, and building a life after your big break. —ERNESTO MACIAS
LUCY HALE: First of all, before we start, you’re the frickin’ best. Thank you so much for doing this, I know how busy you are, and it means a lot to me.
AWKWAFINA: Of course! It’s actually very flattering that you asked me, of all the people.
HALE: They told me to choose someone who I think would be cool, so I was like, “There’s one gal…” You know I am like your biggest cheerleader, so. Where are you right now?
AWKWAFINA: I’m in London.
HALE: You’re still in London!?
AWKWAFINA: [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve been coming back and forth for a while. Are you in L.A.?
HALE: No, I am in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
HALE: Yeah exactly. It’s Cape Cod.
AWKWAFINA: Like the Vampire Weekend song.
HALE: No truly, it’s Manchester By The Sea vibes here because it’s a summer town and no one is here. So it’s a little lonely but it’s very pretty, I’m just here another week and then I go home for the holidays.
AWKWAFINA: Wow. Do you recall how we met? How did it all go down?
HALE: I remember the first day I met you. Olivia Milch had the girls of Dude get together to bond and hang out. I believe we went to that house and then we went to the beach…
AWKWAFINA: Oh yeah! We did go to that house.
HALE: We went to some house, it was very wholesome, very cute. I remember Olivia was so pumped to have you on because she was singing your praises and sure enough after Dude came out you just skyrocketed. I remember when I first met you I was like, “This girl is next level funny.” I consider myself pretty quick, but you’re next level quick.
AWKWAFINA: Tell that to my parents, they would hate that. I mean it’s funny because I was a huge fan of yours, and I was so nervous to meet you. I had obviously known of Alex [Alexandra Shipp] and Kat [Kathryn Prescott] but I was a huge Pretty Little Liars fan, so even now talking to you, I still get a little like, “Woah…”
HALE: I still get hives talking to you.
AWKWAFINA: You’ve had a long history of playing in spooky films and TV, with Pretty Little Liars, Scream 4, and Privileged, is there a genre you haven’t tried yet?
HALE: I was thinking about this the other day because I feel like I’ve sort of dipped my toes into many genres, but there are a few things I haven’t done that I’d love to do. I would love to do a musical, I gotta do a musical.
AWKWAFINA: Yes, you have such a good voice. You should.
HALE: You’re so sweet. I mean, let’s put it out in the universe, maybe. I’d love to do an epic love story à la The Notebook. I would love to do a period piece, anything ’70s or before. Those are things where I can have fun, but I do love the darker genres, I love murder mysteries. I’ve done the whole rom-com thing too, which is really fun. But like you, I like to try different things, and I’m just grateful that people have been like, “Okay, cool. Go have fun with this and we trust you to do a good job.” So it’s nice to be picky.
AWKWAFINA: I mean it’s definitely not easy, and I remember in Dude, you had so much dialogue and you were so good at remembering your lines. I had like one line per scene, and I still didn’t know what I was doing.
HALE: You’d steal every scene you were in, though. I think the whole dialogue thing either just comes naturally to people or it doesn’t. I kind of just got lucky, and it sounds so douche-y to say, but it comes easily to me, and that’s the hardest part of the kind of work I do. Most of my work has been in TV, I worked on Pretty Little Liars for so long, and in that world you’re getting the script 12 hours before rolling. They’re changing things left and right and doing blocking and everything. So it kind of helps you hone your craft, you have no other choice but to know your lines.
AWKWAFINA: For sure. So, you started PLL when you were young. If you could say something to your younger self back then, before everything happened, what would it be?
HALE: I started it when I just turned 20, and I did the show until I was 27 or 28. When I look back on it, I was having a blast the majority of the time, but I was so insecure dude. First of all, the show’s called Pretty Little Liars, so there’s pressure just because of that. But our lives changed in the blink of an eye, and I was trying to make so many people happy. I wish I could tell myself to just own my power a little bit more. I never quite felt like I was supposed to be there, I never fully embraced my worth or my hard work, whereas now I can be like, “No! I’m working my ass off! I deserve to succeed and do things that I love.” But back then I didn’t feel worthy of that and that makes me sad looking back on it, because I don’t know if that would have changed my experience. But to your question, I’d just tell her to lighten up a little bit and not be so serious.
AWKWAFINA: That makes me sad too, because it’s something I think we all can relate to in this industry. I think there’s definitely a time where you feel that you don’t really have an identity and you’re just kind of searching for it. Do you think that you’re still in that search?
HALE: That’s a really good question. Being a part of something as big as PLL at a young age, when you’re still trying to grow up, it made us feel like we were invincible and on top of the world. I thought life was always going to be like that and shows were always going to be that big. When the show ended, I realized that you can’t possibly maintain that level of notoriety or success. It’s peaks and valleys all the time. There was a few-year period after Pretty Little Liars where I was so confused about what I was supposed to do with my life because it wasn’t at that mountain peak that I was used to. So now, I’ve sort of leveled out and I don’t feel the need to do things to be “successful.” I do things based on, “Does this sound fun? What’s it about? Is it with great people? Is it something different?” I have learned to live my life for me. I mean, I’m always going to care what people think, of course, but I have settled into my new life without all of that.
AWKWAFINA: I feel that too, I think there comes a time where you just start making decisions for your own happiness. They’re small decisions, they’re not anything that you grew up thinking they would be. So that makes a lot of sense. I think back on the day that we talked about some of the true-crime stuff that we both like.
HALE: Oh yeah girl.
AWKWAFINA: I mean this is obviously a big question, but what’s a true-crime documentary that you could watch over and over and over again? For me, it’s Don’t Fuck With Cats. That’s one I can fall asleep to.
HALE: That one was so disturbing. Like, on another level. It was so bad that I almost had to turn it off a few times. But if I could get past the animal cruelty of it all, I was just enamored by these people on Facebook that were so adamant to find this guy.
AWKWAFINA: Well, do it for justice, you know.
HALE: That was a good one, but I think the one that kick-started it all for me was The Jinx. It’s been a while, but I’ve seen that multiple times and it was just so well done. I think that was the beginning of it all, but even before that, I’m a huge Forensic Files gal.
AWKWAFINA: Love Forensic Files.
HALE: What is it about women and loving murder?
AWKWAFINA: There are certain women that, or I think people in general, can watch a lot of true crime but can’t watch horror movies, then some people that can watch horror movies and can’t watch true crime. I don’t get it.
HALE: People are always like, “How can you sit alone at night and watch this stuff?”
AWKWAFINA: I know how to bury the body now. But I do fall asleep to Forensic Files, it’s like my lullaby. I can hear the ’80s synth right now from the opening credits. When you were in London I saw you shooting Ragdoll, and obviously, things get pretty gruesome. I need to watch this show because it’s right up my alley—it’s about a cadaver that was stitched together from like six different murder victims. So I guess my question here is, how do you compartmentalize something so upsetting?
HALE: That’s a question I’ve gotten quite a bit, because it’s quote a bit darker than most of my jobs before this. I would always laugh when people found out I booked a show called Ragdoll. They’d be like, “Oh my god so cute, can’t wait to see it!” The ragdoll is six body parts sewn together into the shape of one. Yeah, it’s super cute. But I don’t know, I’m not one of those actors who takes my work home. I don’t know if you’re like that.
AWKWAFINA: No. I’m not.
HALE: When I step off the set I leave it there, otherwise what am I doing? I need to have an identity outside of my work. This was a little different because it is so gruesome and it was so heavy and it was so physically demanding. There were a few moments where it kind of took a toll, but I think in general I can switch it on and off. What’s so dark about Ragdoll is that there’s probably some truth to a lot of what we’re filming. Some of these things might have happened to people. So, I need to be really good about putting it in a box and only opening it when I need to.
AWKWAFINA: Thank god for that ability, because if not, I think we would all go crazy.
HALE: Some of us do.
AWKWAFINA: You have some new projects coming out, Borrego and Big Gold Brick?
HALE: Well, The Hating Game just came out, which is very different from anything I’ve done in a while. It’s a rom-com based on a bestseller. It was really fun to film, because obviously we know what we’re getting ourselves into when we turn on a rom-com, right? We know we’re going to get our happy ending, and there’s something really comforting about that. But this one is so sexy in a way that I haven’t seen a pull off before.
HALE: Oh yeah. That just came out and I’m really excited to see the reaction.
AWKWAFINA: Did you work directly with the author?
HALE: Sally Thorne was in Australia, and because we filmed it during COVID, she couldn’t be on set with us. But she was really involved, and I think we got her seal of approval on the end product. So that was good, because I’m always nervous about doing justice to books. Borrego we shot in Spain about a year ago. It’s a desert thriller and very different from anything I’ve ever done. It was probably the hardest job I’ve ever done.
AWKWAFINA: So you were actually shooting in a real desert?
HALE: In a desert, so challenging physically, I pulled muscles daily because I was just sprinting through canyons. It was such a nice challenge and it’s kind of an inside look at the world of drugs and how we’re all sort of running away from something. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it was one of my first times executive producing, which was cool.
AWKWAFINA: Oh wow. Executive producing is like a whole other thing for actors. You get to see behind the curtain.
HALE: I’m still learning. For me, it’s just exciting to be a part of the creative process and to have a say in the final product. Then Big Gold Brick, we did, like, two-and-a-half years ago. With indie films, it takes a while to find your footing and your audience and all that, but this one is so frickin’ cool. I don’t even know how to describe this movie, I truly don’t. It blends all sorts of genres, and it stars Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Megan Fox, Emory Cohen, and myself and it’s…a fantasy?
AWKWAFINA: By the way, I loved Fantasy Island.
HALE: Oh, girl. Fantasy Island was an interesting experience. That’s how I met Austin Stowell who did The Hating Game with me, so if it weren’t for Fantasy Island I wouldn’t have connected with him.
AWKWAFINA: I mean you’re doing so much.
HALE: People online are probably annoyed with me, because I post a new trailer every day.
AWKWAFINA: When you’re releasing all these things at once, and you’re on set, and you’re traveling and stuff, what are things that you do to keep yourself centered?
HALE: God. No matter where I’m at in the world, or what time I have to be up for work, I always wake up an hour early because I have to start my morning off slow. I have to make my coffee and do my journaling and just sit there, otherwise my whole day is thrown off. It’s always important to me that I have a non-hectic morning before I start a hectic day. Then I try to do the normal things like getting tons of sleep and exercising when I can. As you know, it’s hard when you’re working and doing 16 hour days, you come home, you eat, you sleep, you do it again, so it’s hard to find those quiet moments. I am a girl who loves solitude, so sometimes being on set can be sensory overload for me, so I just find a corner and and put a jacket over my head, put my AirPods in and listen to music.
AWKWAFINA: I’m going to ask a few quick-fire questions here. East or West coast?
HALE: You know, I gotta say West. I’ll tell you why: I am happier with sunshine around all the time.
AWKWAFINA: We have the sun on the east coast…
HALE: But not every day. I’m partial to L.A., but I have lived in New York too, and as you know, there’s no city in the world like New York, but I’ll be an L.A.-er for life.
AWKWAFINA: What is coming up next for you?
HALE: The reason I’m in Cape Cod is that I’m doing a film adaptation of a book called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s a great cast: we have Kunal Ayar, Christina Hendricks, David Arquette, and Scott Foley.
AWKWAFINA: Oh, hell yeah.
HALE: It takes place over the course of 15 years, so that’s a first. It’s an inside look at how books and stories can help us cope with every phase of our life. So, it’s a movie about the appreciation of literature, I guess.
AWKWAFINA: And in Hyannis, which is such a beautiful place to sit and reflect.
HALE: You know what I’m looking at right now? I have this house that’s right on the harbor, and every day I watch these really attractive fishermen on their boats.
AWKWAFINA: Can they see straight into your window?
HALE: I really hope not.