An interview with Shay Mitchell

ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars started out as a summer distraction and has turned into a full-blown phenomenon — thanks in large part to Shay Mitchell, who plays bashful jock Emily Fields. Emily had a relationship with the Pretty Little Liars’ now-dead best friend, Alison. And, after dumping her boyfriend early in the season, she’s now developed feelings for another girl: Maya St. Germain (Bianca Lawson).

After speaking with Shay, the success of the show became less of a mystery. She is full of energy and warmth and contagious passion about Pretty Little Liars. She spoke with me about why she’s so excited to play a character who’s trying to figure out her sexuality, about what’s in store for Emily and Maya, and about the ever-present (but always-illusive) “A.” So let’s talk about Emily Fields. Did she choose you or did you choose her?
Shay Mitchell: I think it was a little bit of both. I was originally reading for Spencer, and then when I got Emily as a part I was like, “Oh, this amazing!” I fell in love with her character, and I am so proud to be getting to play her. You know, her sexuality wasn’t labeled. It wasn’t in the background that she is a lesbian, or she’s this, or she’s that. She’s just trying to figure it out. And so many teens are going through that same thing, where they’re trying to figure themselves out. And I love that they can relate to her.

Photo credit:
John Russo


AE: Were you hesitant at all about playing a role where the character
was going to be getting into a same-sex relationship?

No! (laughs) No at all. Seriously, not at all. The way I have been
brought up and the way Emily has been brought up are totally different.
My parents have always encouraged me to be who I am. And the way I see
it, your sexual identity shouldn’t define who you are. And I didn’t even
think about it when I read her character. I thought it was exciting and
it was new, and I was so happy to put it out there — especially on ABC
Family. I thought, you know, maybe teens who are watching this with
their families will have an easier time bringing up their own sexuality.

AE: All the Pretty Little Liars have secrets that they’re
keeping for different reasons, and one of Emily’s secrets is her
attraction to girls — first with Alison and now with Maya — but it
doesn’t seem to me like she’s keeping it a secret because she’s ashamed
of it.

SM: Exactly! That’s one of the questions I had for
my character: Why is she keeping this a secret? And I really think it’s
just what you said. It’s not that she’s ashamed of it. It’s just that
people are always trying to label you: Are you straight? Are you gay?
Are you a lesbian? And Emily is like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me figure it out.” I think she just wants to be
confident in her own identity so that when she decides who she wants to
tell, she can be like, “I don’t fit into any category. I am what I am.
This is what it is.”

AE: I like that. And I like the
conversation she had with Hanna in “Homecoming Hangover” where Hanna
said, “Look, you’re Emily with Ben and you’re Emily with Maya. We love
Emily and want her to be happy.”

I loved
that. I really, really did — especially because that’s not something
you’d expect to hear from Hanna. (Laughs)

AE: Can you talk about Maya and Emily’s relationship? We know they’re going on a date in tomorrow’s episode, “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.”
Yes! I’m really excited about tomorrow’s episode. It’s going to be very different for people, very different from what they’d expect. It’s going to be a good one. I want to talk to you after tomorrow’s episode!

AE: Excellent — but can you tell me anything juicy in the meantime?
I can’t, but I would love to!

AE: So many secrets, Shay! Why do you think Emily is drawn to Maya?
SM: I just think, after everything Emily’s been through — especially last week with the homecoming episode — that Maya is a rock for her. And she really connects with her. She kind of needs her to be around for a little bit, you know? She really understands Emily, and Emily is comfortable with her. I think right now Maya’s presence plays ahuge role in Emily’s life.

AE: It’s a very sweet relationship.
SM: It is a very sweet relationship.