Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, now streaming on HBO Max, may be a sequel series to PLL, but it’s far removed from the tony Rosewood of the original. Where the first was a soapy mystery cut with humor and romance, the much-anticipated sequel leans closer to teen drama meets slasher. Gilmore Girls as written by Stephen King. In the blue-collar town of Millwood, where the new series is set, it’s not enough to have good grades to get out of shoplifting charges—these Liars are dealing with drug tests, teen pregnancies, and more pressures.
Horror fans will find plenty of Easter eggs as well, from the name of the local movie theater manager (Wes, as in Craven) to the ballet teacher (Madame Giry, à la The Phantom of the Opera). What they won’t find is the genre’s long, complicated, and problematic treatment of female characters.
Because this show is first and foremost for the girls. The characters might be secret-keeping schemers, but these five new Liars remain the very best of friends. They are: Chandler Kinney as Tabitha, an affable movie lover; Maia Reficco as Noa, a reformed troublemaker; Malia Pyles as Mouse, who is coming out of her shell (and coming out in general); Zaria as Faran, a hard-working ballerina; and Bailee Madison as Imogen, who is anxious, pregnant, and ultimately very tough.
Below, we caught up with the cast to talk about following the blueprint (literally) of the original series for Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.
Glamour: Tell me about your audition process.
Maia Reficco: It was funny because what they liked about my audition is that I forgot to edit a part out where I messed up. I was like, “Ergh, no! I messed up!” But executive producers Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring said, “That’s when we saw Noa.”
Malia Pyles: Maia has this brilliant video of when she got the role—she’s just sobbing.
Maia: I was a very big fan. This show meant so much to me. I grew up in Argentina, but I was born [in the U.S.] so I connected to this country through shows like Pretty Little Liars. I lost it when I got the part. I literally couldn’t keep myself together. At all.
Chandler Kinney: For me, PLL came out of left field. I was in Canada working on a Disney Channel movie at the time and had no idea what my next step was gonna be. I met with Roberto and Lindsay and told myself, “Even if I don’t get this role, they are so lovely. That was my favorite audition.” I’ve never worked with such collaborative creatives in my life.
I knew Tabby was going to be a role I could really sink my teeth into. All of these characters are so layered and have so much depth. And also, as an O.G. PLL fan, I remember watching the series in middle school and feeling so rebellious because it wasn’t the kind of show my mom thought I was watching. It was my introduction to that Y.A. space, and I was sold.
Malia: They all influenced us. You could not escape Pretty Little Liars. They set such a precedent with fashion, with acting, with everything—a whole generation of young girls took from them.
I was last to sign on. I was sent the character of Mouse by a friend who was like, “You’re so perfect for this.” Instantly, I felt such a deep kinship to her. She was queer; she was quirky. But I wasn’t able to audition for a really long time. Finally, I think it was like the week before filming, I auditioned and everything clicked. It was my first lead on a show, and I cannot express how supported I felt immediately by these girls. They all welcomed me with a huge hug—as did our creative team.
Zaria: I was really excited to get the role of Faran because of the nuance she held in the writing alone. I remember thinking, I said something like this yesterday! It was so collaborative. I like to ask questions, so it was really special to feel like that was the environment they were creating off the top.
Malia, you stepped into the audition process a week before filming, so when did you all meet in person?
Malia: I met all the girls at the same time: when we arrived to shoot in Woodstock, New York. It was a beautiful summer day. And here come these women running out like fairies….
Maia: We were running, yelling, “HIIIII!”
Chandler: With arms wide open.
Zaria: Malia and I actually arrived at similar times.
Malia: It was crazy with me and Zaria. The other three had already been announced; I remember going on my burner account and stalking your Instagrams, like, “I can’t wait to be a part of the group. I hope they like me!” But me and Zaria hadn’t been announced yet, so when I saw her step out of her car, I was thinking, “Who is this intimidatingly beautiful person?”
Zaria: I felt the same about you!
Bailee: Maia and I had the first social media interaction. We freaked out over text and were voice-memo-ing. Maia was the first one to land in upstate. Chandler and I saw each other when our cars pulled up at the same time. The three of us all met outside and then Mallory [Bechtel, who plays antagonist Karen] also came down. We were so eager and excited for our little family to be completed, which happened the next day when Malia and Zaria were able to join us.
It was very instant. We were about to embark on a really big journey together. All of us were unsure of what was ahead, but looking around at each other we were like, “We have each other.” The show resembles that as well.
Chandler: Going into it, we were all excited to see what the dynamic was going to be because we didn’t have a chemistry read, which is not the norm. So there was nervous energy, like first-day jitters. The first time we were all together, I looked around and thought, This works; we have something special.
We spoke that first day—I don’t know if you guys remember—about what an amazing experience this had been for all of us, even in that first day, to be surrounded by such amazing, strong women. That’s a big draw for us to this project. It created a different level of creativity and vulnerability that you can bring to your work.
Malia: Do you guys remember the first day when [the producers] brought us down into this rehearsal space and brought out blueprints from the original Pretty Little Liars series? We all held it, oohing and aahing over the original sets.
Bailee: I do remember the blueprints! It was blueprints of the sets from the original PLL. So you could see Aria’s bedroom and Rosewood. We were holding the actual physical pages with location notes, and I teared up.
Maia: Bailee, you and I almost cried. As always! As always.
Are you the criers on set?
Maia: Oh, yeah.
Chandler: These two.
Zaria: Pretty Little Criers.
The original series is based on a book series, so there’s a preexisting notion of who all the characters are. Also, they knew each other back in the day. However, your characters are not friends until the end of the pilot.
Bailee: It was a wonderful experience for us to not have that [backstory and characterization] entirely locked in. If anything, it helped make it a very authentic performance as friends. It was fun for us to go through each episode and get to know each other as our characters are going through life together. You’re watching the characters, but you’re also watching us blossom as partners on screen. That’s a beautiful thing that very rarely gets to happen.
Zaria: Every single character is an individual stand-alone person, but they also come together to create this beautiful fabric, like a thread that becomes a quilt. A thread is still a thread, but a quilt is pretty cool too. Faran’s not very trusting, but she learns she has people she can confide in. I thought that was a beautiful story for her to experience.
Malia: For Mouse too. She doesn’t have any friends when the show starts, and there is a fear of getting too close to her peers. Through this accidental meeting of the girls, she finds her strength and eventually her voice. That is so much of what young women go through when they are coming of age. You’re finding yourself and your individuality. When you find friends who validate you and lift you up, that’s when you feel comfortable enough to step into yourself.
Zaria: I also love how Mouse finds the most rambunctious group of friends.
Chandler: She’s like, “What have I gotten myself into?” It really was a life-imitates-art moment for all of us. Zaria, I love your analogy of the quilt. All alone we are our own threads, and we all have our own experiences that we were coming into this project with. We have different backgrounds, we have been exposed to different things, and we have our own stories. To come together and be bonded by this project, we have to lean on each other. We have to confide and trust one another to create. In a way, our characters were going through a very similar thing—we’re thrown together by this anonymous identity “A” and have to now rely on each other to navigate this situation.
How much did you know of your character’s secrets going in? Because some of the secrets—
Chandler: Going into this project, we knew very little about our characters. We knew that we all had our own secrets. We knew about our relationships with our mothers. That was it. I had to trust the story and the creatives and know that it was all going to turn out alright. We were reading these episodes and honestly so shocked about what was happening. We kind of turned into our characters, being detectives. We would go up to people on set and try to figure out if we could catch them in a lie or pick up a little tidbit of information.
Maia: We would look at the sets they were building for the next episode.
Bailee: There was that one wall in the production office. Any time we were nearby, we would be like, “Oh, we’ll just take this way,” and our phones would be out.
Chandler: I have so many videos in my phone just walking by that wall. I ended up loving the experience because I didn’t know the things that Tabby didn’t know. So when I got to the last couple of episodes, I was finding information out at the exact same time as her. When you watch the episodes in real time, everything that we were playing was absolutely honest and true, because we had no idea what was going on.
You mentioned earlier how female-focused the production is. That’s something I noticed watching the pilot. I don’t think a guy talks for the first 15 minutes. It’s very much about these girls and their relationships with each other.
Chandler: I’d never done a project that was so women-centric before. It’s about these girls and about their relationships with their moms. It’s about their dynamics and the secrets they have to uncover together. Nine out of our 10 episodes were directed by women. That doesn’t happen a whole lot in the entertainment industry. We had strong, powerful women of so many different backgrounds and experiences, and it informed our performances. It gave us a safe space to create.
Zaria: One of our female directors, Lisa [Soper], gave us each a QR code for a playlist for our character. It was so thoughtful and nurturing. It built who I imagined Faran to be and who she became. It was so important to have such thoughtful representation upon all of our specific backgrounds. It was really, really special to feel safe and to have this shorthand with, especially, our female directors. It felt like the direction that we need to be going as a society too.
That’s such a female-friendship thing, to make someone a playlist.
Bailee: I listened to mine every morning because it was all character-centric. It was songs that Imogen would hear when she looked at Faran or Mouse. We’re meeting our characters in a very specific time of life, and the music put us into that experience and vibe. “Pumped Up Kicks” was a big one for me. There was a lot of rage.
Zaria: I had a lot of Bjork. I was like, “Yeahhhh!”
Maia: For Noa, I had “Fuck tha Police.” Which is literally her.
Malia: I had “Creep,” but not the Radiohead version. The Jinkx Monsoon cover. They are a drag queen, and I love RuPaul’s Drag Race, so I was like, “Oh, I’m being seen.” There was an element of playfulness to those playlists too. It was like, “Yes, get into your character but also remember this is fun. They’re young girls.” We deal with a lot of very dark themes, but we’re also finding ourselves in friendship and enjoying each other.
Bailee: Our show is a very sensory-based show. Our music is very heightened. Our visuals are very heightened. The storytelling is a very immersive experience when you watch it, which is what makes the show exciting. The music was our first introduction to this world.
Chandler: We have to credit Lisa Soper a lot for establishing the feel, the energy, the aesthetic of our show. She is an incredible production designer, so she brought all of her knowledge to our show. She’s so detail-oriented and a mastermind when it comes to art. One of the first conversations I had with her, she showed me a whole mood board for our bedrooms. The first thing she had picked out for us were the wallpapers. Each one tells a story and is an integral part of who our characters are. That speaks to the level of detail and care that is put into the show.
That’ll be a fun Easter egg while people are watching. Was that also how you felt about the clothes? Fashion was such a major part of the original series.
Zaria: It goes back to the conversation of collaboration. When we were working with Megan Stark and the amazing wardrobe team, it was a conversation: What does our character get up and pick from the closet? That felt so intimate and character-building as well, because it was conversations about, “What does the character like to show? What does the character like to hide?”
Maia: The original Pretty Little Liars had such iconic fashion, and they were trendsetters in many ways. I was obsessed with Aria’s style. I’m still obsessed with Aria’s style. So being a Liar feels very surreal, to put ourselves in those shoes. I remember that first fitting and feeling like we’re officially becoming those characters. There was something really full-circle about that.
I love fashion in my regular life, so it’s a very big part of my character-building. With Noa being an athlete and having—can I say the ankle monitor thing? It’s the way I’m introduced. Once she gets the monitor off, or…oh, God, I did it! I was the first one to say a spoiler!
Zaria: I can’t believe it was the wardrobe question that got us.
Bailee: My character is pregnant, so the wardrobe was incredibly specific for me. The first time I put on the stomach I was super excited. It was so interesting, knowing that I was signed on to play a character who is pregnant and what happened psychologically the moment that I put that belly on. When they added the clothes on top of it, I truly felt for the first time in my career that when I went home at night, it was really hard to leave the character. Imogen became a huge part of myself.
Malia: Walking into my fitting, it was clear that our show was interested in subverting stereotypes rather than playing into them. My character is addicted to technology, and she’s more quiet and reserved, so I expected to go in there and see a black hoodie or dark, muted tones. But I saw a beautiful array of color and things I personally would love to wear. It was exciting that just because she’s quiet, she’s not trying to hide herself.
Zaria: Faran is a ballerina, so every time she can dress up for anything, she’s like, “I’m there, I’m doing it!” That and the music just really got me.
Chandler: It’s also just fun—a lot of the fashion is ’70s-, ’80s-, and ’90s-inspired. There are spoilers and Easter eggs that you can find within the wardrobe if you pay close attention throughout the season. You can pick up on things or even maybe guess as to what may happen in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Originally Appeared on Glamour