After growing up on “Pretty Little Liars,” Hale is ready for her next chapter: starring in her own TV show, “Life Sentence,” which premieres Wednesday on the CW.
In “Life Sentence,” Hale plays Stella, a young woman with cancer who lives life like she is dying, only to find out that she actually cured.
“Most people think this show is about a girl with cancer,” Hale tells Variety.”It actually becomes a show about a girl who has no idea who she is and has to re-think he life because up until very recently, she was living as if there was no consequences for her actions. She was just living like there was no tomorrow.”
Here, Hale tells Variety about her new series “Life Sentence,” why she was attracted to the show, and if she’d be interested in a “Pretty Little Liars” reunion.
Did you know that you wanted to jump right into another series after “Pretty Little Liars?”
I had no idea what I wanted to do. In my mind, I thought I was going to wrap “PLL” and take a little bit of a break. And then it was a couple months before we wrapped the last season of “PLL” that I got pitched this idea, and it was just one of those scenarios where it creatively made me really excited. I don’t care if it’s a play or a movie or a TV show or a TV movie — if it’s a good project and a good role, I’ll do it. It was very different than what I had been doing for the past eight years, and I knew I wanted my next step to be drastically different, just because creatively, I’ve been doing the same thing of the last eight years, so I needed something to stimulate that part of my brain.
What was it about “Life Sentence” that you knew it was the next best project for you?
I had never done anything tonally as light as this because there’s a comedy element. But really why I wanted to do it is because I think Stella is such an important character. She’s someone that I want to aspire to be more like. She’s really smart, she’s just ultimately a girl who gets a second chance at life and is trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. I thought the idea was really interesting to take the cancer movie story and flip it on its head and give it a different ending than they usually have.
In the first episode, we find out that Stella is cancer free. What will be the consequences of living her life as if she was dying?
There are definitely consequences for some of the choices she made while she was living like she was dying. At the core of the show is a love story — this is a guy that she married on a whim because she thought she only had a few months to live, so she figured she might as well marry this guy, so she has to re-think about who this is that she’s married to and if they’re really in love. All of these secrets come out about her family. Her family had protected her from so much of the world because they wanted to give her the best life possible, and Stella realizes very quickly that the world is a scary and messed up place, and she’s got to find her place in it and find out what path she wants to make for herself.
What is the message that you hope comes across to the viewers, as they watch this show?
I never live in the moment and it’s so easy to take things for granted, and I think just being alive is something to be grateful. So I think we can all take a note from Stella and live each day like it’s our last. What I really love about this show is there are some really heavy topics we talk about, but it’s all done with a sense of humor, and I think that’s something we can all try to do — not take everything so seriously, and just kind of laugh through it because sometimes that’s all you can do.
I hate to be morbid, but is there a chance Stella’s cancer comes back?
Yes, it’s always possible that it could come back. But in the show, we find out immediately that Stella has been given this rare treatment that cures her cancer. Basically what these doctors do is they take these viruses that are normally kill people, so Stella will be injected with the AIDS virus so that virus kills all the cancer cells and leaves all the healthy cells alone, and thankfully cures her cancer. It actually is a real treatment that they do. It’s very rare, and it’s still in beginning stages, but it is a real thing. So she’s cured, but I guess there is always the possibility that it could come back.
This is a light, fictional show, but since you play a young woman who had cancer, I’d imagine there is an element of truth there, so how did you go about your research?
Thankfully, I’ve never had to go through anything like this — I’ve never been personally affected by cancer. It was a lot of documentaries and researching online. From a medical standpoint on the show, I did a lot of research because I wanted to make sure we were doing it justice and it was believable. But at the heart of the show, it’s about a girl that’s lost and she tries to figure out who she is, and I could definitely relate to that because we’ve all been there. The biggest challenge was trying to do the cancer story justice.
Since you have been on board with this series from the beginning, were you able to have a say in the development of your character?
I sat down with the creators and writers of the show, and they pitched me the idea and I loved the idea. They got a feel for how I talked and how I acted, and they sort of wrote catered to me, which is great. They’re very talented, so I wanted to let them run with it, and I wanted to be a part of it. As the series goes on, they get a feel for your strengths and weaknesses, so it’s really nice because they actually started to write for you. But it was nice to be involved with the beginning and have this blank page. They let me run with the character and develop it for myself. I’ve been involved from the very beginning and I’m very emotionally involved with the project. It’s been a dream experience.
Have you noticed any different going from cable TV on Freeform to network on the CW?
So far, no. I haven’t seen any differences. This show is a little busier for me because “PLL” was obviously an ensemble, and I’m the lead of the show, so mainly, it was just scheduling differences.
How has life been for you since “Pretty Little Liars?”
It’s so strange. I live so close to where we filmed that, so it’s strange not driving on that lot every day. But I didn’t take any breaks after the show — I immediately went to do the pilot of “Life Sentence” and then filmed “Truth or Dare” and then started the season of “Life Sentence,” so I really haven’t had a moment to sit and think about it. I’ve just stayed busy. With “Life Sentence,” I moved to Vancouver and it’s all new people, so it’s like a whole new chapter. It was sad closing the last chapter, but I’m just excited for the next steps and to see what everyone else does.
Would you want to appear in the “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff, or if there were a reunion, would you want to be part of it?
Yeah, I’m really excited about the spinoff. I cannot wait to see what they do with it. As of now, I am not a part of it. But yeah, definitely. That show was such a big part of my life, and I think the fans would be really appreciative if we maybe one day went back and did something together, so yes, that’s definitely possible.
Now that you are in a new chapter of your career, what are some of your career goals?
Obviously, I would love to continue doing this show. I think the next step for me is I would love to get into producing. Directing, I’m not really sure. But right now, I’m working on taking steps to start producing because that’s always been an interest of mine. I would love to do more film work. I just feel really lucky to be where I’m at, and if I can keep riding this wave, I will be really happy.