Troian Bellisario took Pretty Little Liars fans on an unexpectedly powerful emotional journey last season as Spencer had her world rocked, first by her boyfriend's betrayal and then his "death" -- thankfully Toby was just faking. But Bellisario made Spencer's pain so real, it left an indelible mark on fans and the series.
The 27-year-old is also reprising her role as Lauren in WIGS' incredibly important webseries of the same name about a soldier who comes forward following her on-base rape. Season one chronicled Lauren's failed quest to bring her attackers to justice while season two jumps around in time to showcase Lauren's life, pre and post-rape, as well as the series of events that led her superior (played by Jennifer Beals) to stonewall her.
I caught up with Bellisario to talk about Lauren's second season, the similarities between her two most prominent characters and the soon-to-launch fourth season of Pretty Little Liars. Plus, ETonline scored an exclusive clip from episode three of Lauren, which you can watch below.
ETonline: What was your reaction to finding out season two would play with time?
Troian Bellisario: I was really quite overwhelmed. When I first got the script, it was like 85 pages long, and I was shocked because I was ready to make a few more 5 minute episodes and I got this feature-length script! Then Jon Avnet [producer/director] added in combat scenes, so I was like, "What is happening right now?!?!" I was so thrilled to see that it explores Lauren's home life and you get to see her relationship with her rapist. That to me was one of the most interesting things because so rarely is rape committed by a stranger. It's usually someone the woman knows and has trusted at some point in her life, which makes the violation so much worse. So, for me, when I saw we would explore that and see both Lauren's side of things and his side of things, I was excited.
ETonline: Episode three shows, for the first time, Lauren's actions immediately after her rape. Why was it important to bring that to life?
Bellisario: You know, it's interesting. I didn't immediately understand why we were showing that scene, so I asked the writer and director why because we'd already put the audience, and Lauren, through the rape. But Jon explained that the most horrific violation of someone who has been assaulted is, after they've summoned the courage it takes to come forward, what they then must go through can almost be a worse violation. You're asked questions you're not ready to be asked, you're poked, you're prodded, you're undressed again and the raw emotional moment of being brave enough to come forward that soon after your assault was something we all came to see as a hugely important part of Lauren's story.
ETonline: You filmed the second season of Lauren before the third season of Pretty Little Liars. Did going to such a dark place help you, as an actor, for where you had to take Spencer or did it not translate?
Bellisario: I think it was unrelated. But, it was very odd because, I don't know if I attract these types of roles or if I seek them out, but I wrapped with Spencer and wanted to do something for myself as an actor, so I signed up for this Larry Moss intensive workshop where he gave me this amazing scene from a Nicholas Kazan play called Blood Moon, and at the end of the scene, the woman I'm playing is raped. Whatever forces in the universe that you believe in was telling me that this dark area was what needed to be mined at the time. I don't know that it was directly influencing Lauren and Spencer, but there was a common thread consistently coming up in the work I was doing.
ETonline: Have you fully exorcised that after these roles, you think?
Bellisario: I don't know. Truthfully, I haven't been an actor for that long, but there is something about these women that I never want to leave. I adore doing comedy and lighter, falling-in-love roles, but I think exploring the darker side of things is going to be an undercurrent of all my work.
ETonline: You had a fair bit of time between filming the third and fourth seasons of Pretty Little Liars, but the new season picks up where the last one left off. Was it hard to jump right back into Spencer's shoes?
Bellisario: It's interesting. I think that Spencer's break with reality depended on a lot of things. So when she found out Toby was alive and there was a way to seek answers, she kind of spun herself back up into a more stable place. But what's really interesting right now for Spencer is, even though she's in a healthier place and able to take on more responsibilities and go back to her normal life, people around her are not forgetting what happened. Especially her family. And with college admissions happening, they're looking at this perfect college applicant who is really tarnished because of what she went through. This season Spencer is really struggling with the fact that Radley is very much a part of her history.
ETonline: Were you glad to see PLL wasn't wiping that away and leaving fingerprints of that experience all over her?
Bellisario: I was really, really proud. And I want to make sure this is a part of her character forever. Our show has a very quirky edge to it, so when I started to notice this mental institution was being used to say, "Uh-oh, this is where the crazy people are," I went in and spoke to Marlene [King, EP] and Oliver [Goldstick, EP] because people suffering from mental disorders is something very near and dear to my heart and close to my history, so I just wanted to make sure we never took for granted that these are human beings. And I think that might be what planted the seed for Spencer's downfall. I told them, "These people could easily be Spencer" and that kind of started conversations about how Spencer could end up there. I was glad they took it seriously and gave it a lot of gravitas.
ETonline: What are you excited for fans to see this season?
Bellisario: The world is going to become much bigger -- especially with the expansion of Ravenswood, and all these new characters that are going to be introduced into the vocabulary. I'm excited to explore what those storylines are going to weave into ours. Like every season, it goes deeper and darker and more into Ali's history, which is fascinating to me. You see the girls grow and learn and I’m excited for that.
ETonline: What was the on-set reaction to finding out Tyler Blackburn was leaving Rosewood for Ravenswood?
Bellisario: We were all really shocked. We knew that certain characters from Rosewood were going to be venturing into Ravenswood or would be finding out they were from Ravenswood, but I think we all assumed it would be newer characters, or more ancillary characters -- or maybe that's where Jenna's disappearing to all the time. So when all of a sudden we heard it was Tyler, Ashley [Benson] and I were like, "Nooooooo, that's not fair! [laughs] We want him on our show." But I'm excited to see what they do with the show.
ETonline: You say that some PLL characters will find out they're from Ravenswood -- how interconnected will the two shows be?
Bellisario: I don't know exactly how it's going to happen, but I know Toby and Spencer are going to Ravenswood in the episode we’re filming next week! I'm excited to see what that's going to turn out because it's already pretty crazy in the script.
Lauren premieres May 3 on YouTube.com/Wigs, while Pretty Little Liars returns June 11 on ABC Family.