Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interview: Laura Leighton on Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars, a new teen suspense drama from ABC Family, premieres tonight at 8 p.m. (ET/PT). Melrose Place alum Laura Leighton is just one of the main familiar faces involved with the new show, and was my main reason for tuning in. I spoke with her yesterday about the new show, and about "the old days" at Melrose Place.

Celebrity Extra: What was it about the show and the character of Ashley that made you want to be a part of it?

Laura Leighton: The script came out when pilot season was casting, and it was definitely one of those scripts that everybody wanted to be a part of. It was talked about. The casting process was exciting. The script was a terrific read. The thing with the show, it makes you want to see what’s going to happen next. You want to have the next episode. It’s the same in the script. You just kept turning the page. It’s fun; it’s suspenseful; it’s a huge cast of characters. I feel lucky that there was a part in there for me. I think the character of Ashley, it’s always fun to play somebody who’s got a bit of, two sides. On one hand she’s trying to do her best, and on the other she’s got a little something a dark going on. It’s fun to play those characters. I’m just so lucky that it worked out.

CE: This is being called a cross between Desperate Housewives and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Would you agree? If not, how would you describe it?

LL: I do agree with that. I think it’s an apt description. I also think there’s a little bit of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in there. These four girls are sort of brought together by this common mystery they share. They’ve all got secrets, and one of them is a big secret that they all share together. Their friendship, I think, is a very important element of the show. One other description that I heard that I think is a really great is “teen noir.” It’s got a little bit of a dark quality to it. At the same time it’s every bit of a teen show with beautiful girls and the storyline is about that time in their lives. So I like the idea of calling it teen noir.

CE: That is great! I wish I had thought of that.

LL: I wish I had too, but I didn’t. I stole it from somebody. One of our directors called it that and now I’m using it.

CE: This is a pretty risky teen drama, dealing with murder, affairs with teachers, blackmail, etc. — how has the reaction been to it so far from people who’ve seen the first episode?

LL: My experience of people’s reactions is it’s unanimous. They are excited to see it and they are excited by the possibility of the next episodes as the storyline keep building. Who doesn’t like a good story with colorful drama, with mystery and suspense and all of that fun stuff? I just think it’s going to be a really fun show for ABC Family.

(Photo: ABC Family)

CE: You are working with an excellent cast — all of the teen girls are excellent (Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell), as well as the parents: you, Chad Lowe, Holly Marie Combs, Nia Peeples. How is the cast to work with, and in later episodes will we get to see Ashley interact more with the other parents?

LL: So far I think they are really establishing the girls together and their relationship, their friendship with one another and then catching a glimpse of their home life with their parents. So far we’ve mostly focused on developing those stories. But I’m sure in the community of Rosewood, every now and then the parents are going to cross paths. There’s a reason for the people in the neighborhood to interact with each other. We haven’t developed those story lines yet where the families meet and cross paths. I look forward to having scenes with Chad and Holly and Nia, and I’m sure that that will happen in the future. But right now they are just getting their relationships launched and really established.

CE: I am excited to see a Melrose Place reunion of sorts wih you and Chad together onscreen again.

LL: We are definitely excited to work together again.

CE: On a side note, I always liked Sydney (Laura’s character on Melrose) with Carter (Chad’s character) best, and was sad when it didn’t work out with them.

LL: I did too. It’s funny — I remember back then in interviews, people would ask, “Who do you think was the real love of Sydney’s life?” And I always thought that there was maybe a part of her that felt it was probably Carter. He was kind of eccentric and perfect for her. He left her on the tarmac, and that was just so romantic.

CE: Back to Pretty Little Liars, Ashley is different from the other moms in that now she is a single mom. How has her husband leaving her affected her as a wife and as a mom?

LL: I think that it’s left her pretty vulnerable and slightly desperate to make it work. I think the idea of a failed marriage, feeling like she has failed as a wife — she doesn’t want to fail as a mother. So she’s making choices to just try to make everything OK. She's not necessarily seeing clearly what the right thing to do is. But I think in her vulnerability and sort of desperation, what’s driving her is to make everything OK for her daughter. It’s definitely, I think, going to keep unfolding what’s going on in that family as a result of being a single-parent household.

(Photo: ABC Family)

CE: She has a line where she tells her daughter, “I buy you everything you need to be popular, so why do you have to steal?” And she sleeps with the detective to get her daughter off for shoplifting. Is there nothing Ashley wouldn’t do for Hanna?

LL: Well, we’ll see. I think that right now we are seeing that she’s making a pretty drastic choice to try to cover up Hanna’s misdemeanor. We’ll see what sort of repercussions that has. I think it’s going to unravel in a way that I don’t know yet. It hasn’t unfolded yet. The stories are still developing. But I definitely think that there will be some sort of either conclusion or unraveling to that choice. 

And it’s interesting, I think, with the relationship with a teenage girl and especially a single mother. I think that there’s a really interesting color: They have things in common. Sometimes the parent is just as vulnerable as the child, and sometimes the child can relate to the parent in ways that she was never able to when she was younger. I think they become a lot closer when the children are that age. You find that you have a lot more in common. You can see your parent as human. You can see your parent as flawed. And sometimes the parent can even look to the child for advice or support. So I think it’s a really interesting relationship to have a single mother and a teenage daughter just kind of going at it together. Trying to find their way and figure it out.

CE: The look on Ashley’s face when she looked back her daughter while going up to bed with the detective was just devastating. What was going through her mind at that point?

LL: Well, I think the idea is that nobody wanted it to come to this. She wants her daughter to be clear that I’m doing this for you— for us. This is because of what you did, but I’m doing this for you. It wasn’t a decision made without regret or remorse. So there is definitely anger and sort of desperate love for her daughter too.

CE: I like that this is based on a book series — anything to get kids to read! Have you read the books to prepare for the role?

LL: Well, the pilot script was the first I’d read, and after we shot the pilot I was interested. I was intrigued. I wanted to peek ahead a bit, so I did read a couple of the books. But I stopped because I decided I wanted to be surprised. As much as it was fun to see where it was going, I also wanted to be surprised. So much of the first book is in the pilot, so there is so much yet to come. Sara Shepard’s eighth book in the series, Wanted, is coming out at the same time we are premiering the television show (today). In a perfect world, the show will go for a long time and they’ll run out of books for material, and they’ll go off in their own direction. I think that’s really exciting. There’s a lot of material left to explore and then there’s a lot left for the imagination. The series is going to be appealing to people who have read the books and are dying to see it come to life. And then for people who have never read the books, it’s a brand new series that has exciting episodes.

CE: I don’t know if this a question you can answer, but this first season has 10 episodes to air throughout the summer. If it does well, is this the kind of things that can transfer to the fall, or is this meant to be a summer series?

LL: I’m not sure if I’m able to answer that; if I really know. I know that ABC Family runs their programming a little bit different than some of the other networks. I think that’s a good thing. They structure 10 episodes and then a bit of a break. It’s great for the crew and for the writers. I think that they are like any other network where they are going to wait to see how it does on the air before speculating on how to proceed.

CE: It’s great with the new trend of having original shows airing in the summertime — now we always have something new to watch and entertain us!

LL: And I think ABC Family definitely has their finger on that pulse. People don’t just want to watch television at certain times of the year. There is definitely a year-round appetite for it. I think it’s a perfect summer series, but it does take place in a school year beginning in the fall, so why shouldn’t it air in the fall as well?

CE: I was so excited when they announced the Melrose revamp, but angry that Sydney was killed off in the first episode (yet relieved that she still showed up in flashbacks). What were your thoughts when they presented this idea to you?

LL: You take a bit of a leap of faith and think, “Well, they must know what they are doing!” You do sort of wonder whether or not you entirely agree with that vision you think, “Well, somebody must know what they are doing.” You just try to go with it. I certainly knew what I was signing on for, and I thought it was an interesting way to approach it and have to tell the story in flashbacks, approaching it from the end and looking back. You never know how things are going to end up. It was just one of those things where I was excited to go back and play the character and completely willing to try it.

(Heather Locklear as Amanda, Laura Leighton as Sydney in Melrose Place on The CW. Photo: Michael Desmond/The CW ©2010 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

CE: Was it fun to work with and see your old Melrose Place castmates again?

LL: It was great fun. As much as I love the new cast and it was really great to get to know them and work with them and stuff, it was also particularly rewarding to get to catch up with the old cast members. That was our favorite part.

(Pictured: Daphne Zuniga as Jo Reynolds, Heather Locklear as Amanda Woodward, Thomas Calabro as Dr. Michael Mancini, Josie Bissett as Jane Andrews. Photo Credit: ©The CW/ Michael Desmond (C) 2010 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.)

CE: I absolutely loved that scene, even though Sydney didn’t get to be in it, where they were all at a party at the apartments, and there was Jane, Jo, Michael and Amanda all hanging out together, remarking on how weirdly familiar it felt. That was a great treat for us old-school Melrose fans.

LL: I do think that what’s the old Melrose audience was interested in. I think that was a great thing to do, to get them all together, and it was a bummer to not get to be there that day.

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