“Pretty Little Liars” will be going off the air for good after nine more episodes, but seven seasons ago, the Liars were just auditioning for the show that became a pop culture phenomenon and changed social media forever.
Last week, “PLL” creator Marlene King chatted with Variety’s TV podcast, Remote Controlled, about the final season and her decision to end the series. She also recalled auditioning the stars, sharing memories of the first time she met Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell, Troian Bellisario, and Sasha Pieterse, who was just 12 years old.
Some fun facts: Benson came into her audition crying, Hale didn’t have to audition, and Mitchell was not the first choice for her character Emily.
I remember her coming in for her audition and she was in tears because she was on a show called “Eastwick” and she had just found out it was canceled, and so she came over to this audition. We knew we wanted a blonde for this role because it was one of the last roles to cast and other than Alison, we did not have a blonde in the show. We couldn’t find the right person and she came in … there’s just something magical that happens with her and the way the camera captures her and those eyes. We all knew in the room that we found our Hanna.
We had a hard time finding Emily. … We searched and searched and searched and we hadn’t found our Emily, and Shay self-taped from Vancouver and we loved her tape. Emily is nothing like Shay — she is the most girly person you’ve ever met. There were two girls who came down and our preference was this other girl, but in the room full of a lot of people … Shay just nailed it in the room. I had never done this before, so the girls left, and I said, “Am I allowed to change my mind?” And they said yes, and that’s how Shay got that job.
Lucy didn’t audition. She was coming off of “Privileged” and everybody wanted to do a TV show with her. I grabbed a coffee with her … and she had read the script and she loved it, and she wanted to play Hanna and I didn’t think she was a Hanna; I thought she was an Aria, so I said, “Go home and read it again.” She read it again and she chem read for both roles with a couple of guys, and once she started doing her scenes, she’s like, “You’re right. I’m Aria.”
Troian came in to read and she did a great job, but we were like, “It’s ‘Pretty Little Liars’ — you’ve got to put on a little lipstick or some makeup.” She loves to tell this story — we’re like, “Come back. Go turn into a Pretty Little Liar and come back.” And she came back and she just owned it. It was a scene where she was supposed to be smoking a cigarette in the pilot with Wren, and we didn’t end up doing that, but she took off this Armani jacket and she had this low-cut back and she lit the cigarette in the room. She was just so bold and so courageous, and then she got that in the room.
Sasha is a great story because we had read Sasha for Hanna and we were going to test her at the studio or network … and then we found out she was only 12 years old — not that she couldn’t play a teenager, but I knew what Hanna was going to do and I was like, “Do we really want a 12-year-old doing those things?” But also, they can only work a certain amount of hours under the age of 16. So that’s when we just said she’s Alison. She read with a few of the girls as Alison, she was several years younger than all of them, but she scared he hell out of everyone in a good way.