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The most intriguing TV shows have come with an obsessive question: Who Killed Laura Palmer? What Will Tori Spelling Do Next? Will Carrie Get With Mr. Big? This generation’s version is, “Who is A?” — the antagonist at the heart of Pretty Little Liars, the dark, twisty teen soap about an anonymous extortionist threatening to expose the dark secrets of four small-town friends. “A” may or may not be Aria Montgomery, the character played by Lucy Hale, and Hale says she’s as eager to get the answer as the show’s 2.6 million Twitter followers.
“That’s the question I get asked every day,” laughs the 24-year-old, the show’s centerpiece. “It’ll be nice to finally have an answer.” Although the show revolves around ambiguity, it’s clear that the magnetic Hale has become an old-school breakout TV star. As the cool-yet-relatable Aria, assertive ringleader of the tormented group, she holds the screen, but the secret of her success is that millions of girls want to give her a hug.
That is precisely what Hale appreciates about the show. “What I love about all of the girls is that they’re extremely loyal,” she says. “You look at all that’s happened, and the one thing that’s stayed constant is the girls’ friendship. But they also call each other on their shit. They see the bigger picture and want the best for each other, and I’ve been like that in my real life too.”
Her real life consists of growing up as the youngest of three children in Memphis, Tenn., where the country music scene grabbed her from a young age. “All my life I wanted to be a singer,” she says. She even won the American Juniors singing competition show back in 2003 at the age of 14, but she turned to acting after her group disbanded in 2005. She went on to star as the spoiled granddaughter of a Palm Beach scion on the Clueless-style Privileged in 2008 before landing her role on PLL two years later.
Now in its fifth season, the show is more popular than ever. The obsessive interest means that Hale finds herself approached everywhere she goes. “Literally, the two things I hear the most are, ‘Oh my God, you’re so much shorter in person’ and the classic, ‘Can you tell me who A is?’” she laughs. “Of course I can’t tell them that, and I don’t know how to react to the short question, either. Then people don’t believe it’s me!”
Hale, who — thankfully! — doesn’t actually believe in lying, is followed as much for her evolving style as for the show’s secrets. With her big, expressive eyes and petite frame, she embodies a younger Mila Kunis. She recently cut her hair into a mod bob (our shoot was the first she’s done with her new look), which is sure to be replicated by her pretty little fans. Her fashion choices are an extension of how she’s feeling: “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more classic,” she says. “When I was younger, I was more outrageous. Now I want to keep it simple. Some days I’ll be more classic; some days I’ll be grunge.” As for her favorite designer? “Chanel is kind of the ultimate for me.”
For the past year, Hale has channeled her newfound celebrity into a good cause. She serves as an ambassador for Mark, Avon’s philanthropic beauty brand that concentrates on female empowerment — a good fit since the actress claims that she’s always been into beauty products. “I definitely am the girl that goes to Sephora and spends way too much,” she says. “I’m always buying things I’ll never even use. In life, I just sort of use concealer and mascara and a bold brow. I try to keep it simple. If I’m going out, I love a good lash.” The Pretty Little Liars makeup chair has proven instructive for the star, who has picked up more than one trick along the way. “On PLL we have to enhance things, so we have to put those lashes on sometimes,” she says. “You learn a lot about what colors work for your eye. I’ve learned to contour pretty well. I can apply fake lashes pretty well. And I can cover a zit like nobody’s business.”
For someone who is on top of the world, Hale is taking her time when it comes to relationships. (She is rumored to be seeing Lawson drummer Adam Pitts, but says in her downtime she tends to favor Netflix, specifically The Killing and Orange Is the New Black.) “I think dating, for anyone, is kind of weird, no matter what profession you’re in,” she says. “If you’re busy, it’s hard to meet people. I haven’t been out seeking anything. I believe the right people come into your life when they’re supposed to. I’d say it’s a little harder to date in L.A. in the industry; on the positive side of that, I’m lucky in that anyone I’d meet and be interested in is pretty artistic and creative.”
Next up: Two more seasons of PLL (which has been renewed through its seventh season, which will be its last) and a refocus on music. Hale released a country-inflected album, Road Between, this year and is about to begin writing sessions for another. “The music industry is a lot more difficult than what I’m used to,” she says. “But I’ve always come to it with my love and passion for it, as opposed to ‘I need to make more money.’ At the end of the day, if people love what they’re doing, everything else will come. Like I do with everything, I just follow my heart, and everything else will fall into place.”
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