Pretty Little Liars’ Paige McCullers appears to have come full circle from the awkward, closeted bully who alternately tormented and fell for the show’s resident gay character Emily (Shay Mitchell). In the deft hands of actress Lindsey Shaw, Paige has grown into a nuanced, out-and-proud teen who’s sporting one hell of a hot wardrobe this season. And if that weren’t enough Paige and Emily are ON – at least for now.
A veteran actress at 23, Shaw is no stranger to teen fare, having starred in Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and on ABC Family’s sadly short-lived TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern take on The Taming of the Shrew. And its Shaw’s superior acting chops that lend Paige a down-to-earth, believable quality that shines through, even Pretty Little Liars’ eerie town of Rosewood, where anything can, and does, happen.
From bullying to being a supportive girlfriend, from bowl cuts to badass in a suit Shaw has embraced the many Paige’s many variations and it’s not lost on her young LGBT fans who often take to Twitter to thank her for the portrayal.
SheWired chatted with Shaw about her working relationship / friendship with Mitchell, Paige’s recent synchronized dip with Emily, her LGBT fans and just how good she looks in a suit.
SheWired: I’ll get right down to it. Fans are so excited that Emily and Paige are together right now. What was your reaction when you found out they would get another go at being together?
Lindsey Shaw: I was overjoyed. I never thought Paige got closure in that relationship. It was definitely a struggle for them the whole time, but I was hoping that there would be sort of some pay off at the end or at least some really bad thing at the end to end it.
They called me about doing the finale of last season, and I was so excited to be a part of that, and then they kind of opened the door for this season. Paige is definitely getting her closure this season.
Well, wait. Not in the bad way, but she’s definitely getting a chance to show all sides of Paige, if you know what I mean. There will be no ‘Paige’ left unturned after this.
That’s very funny… I interviewed Shay last spring, and she could not say enough about working with you. I imagine that friendship / working relationship has grown even more since then.
Oh man – it’s honestly just progressed beautifully. As our characters showcase this new intimacy and trust, Shay and I are sort of on the same page. I have the most incredible time working with her. She’s just the best person to have with you on set. She keeps things so positive. Beauty is the only thing I can describe. Everything she does is beautiful, everything she looks at – she’s just all about beauty.
It’s just so good to pick up on her energy, and I think us, as characters, and in scenes like these intimate moments we have, they’re just growing and becoming more spontaneous, and it’s just out of more trust we are having for each other. I just did not expect Shay to be what she was when I went into this, and it has just been so rewarding.
What did you expect?
I expected a pretty girl on a show. Honestly, I just didn’t expect to have such real, beautiful conversations with her. I didn’t know if she was going to give me the time of day – just things that you think about before you go on a set. And just to have the complete 180 happen and have it just be so friendly and caring and compassionate…
And the way she sort of plays Emily with such abandon -- it has made it an honor and been so much easier to bring Paige to life with her as my anchor right there. It’s wonderful.
That’s interesting that you had reservations about going on set and working with her and yet you had quite a career before PLL.
It’s almost like going to somebody else’s house. These girls have been working on this baby, this wonderful show, and you just don’t want to go in and say the wrong thing, or be disrespectful in any way. I just didn’t know what her energy was going to be. I never take my résumé into those things. I want respect based on our connection right here. And to find that all of the girls were just adorable, awesome, perfect, totally unaffected by this mega thing that they’re doing, was just wonderful It has made playing Paige all the more rewarding to have such an atmosphere of kindness.
You just had a really sweet swim scene with Shay, which is kind of the opposite of some of the earlier swim scene on Pretty Little Liars, which were kind of combative. How fun was that to shoot?
That was awesome. That was about midnight on a Friday. We had done everything for the day and then they were like, “All right, time to jump in!” And it was awesome, the pool was amazing. And then we were right back to the training we’d had a year earlier. It was cool to have peace in the pool. I wish that it could’ve been a longer scene or done a whole scene in the pool. Who knows? But, you know, water seems to follow them, so it was nice to come full circle and have a nice scene in the pool.
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When I spoke with Shay, she mentioned how absolutely hot you looked in your suit in the Season 2 finale. Paige has had quite a hair and makeup fashion evolution over the past season. How are you feeling about that?
I feel so great about it – I have never actually changed my appearance like that for anything. I’ve definitely never had that evolution of clothing. She’s just changed faces so many times, but just all while coming into her own and exploring herself, and I think it just speaks to the confidence she has now that she’s making all these statements – “Who am I? Where do I fit now that I’ve come to this huge realization in my life?” It’s super fun, and I love Mandi (Pretty Little Liars’ costume designer Mandi Line). I worked with Mandi on 10 Things I Hate About You. So sometimes it’s like a throwback, like, oh Kat would wear that. I really loved her evolution – hairdo, clothing, everything. I look good in a suit, I think. I don’t know.
You look amazing in a suit.
This is not the last time you’ve seen Paige in a suit.
That is definitely good to hear. It seems that people are really responding to Paige’s slightly butcher look.
And I think that’s what they were going for with the haircut at first. It sort of went a different direction, but I think androgynous is always the way to go. As the clothes have changed, my own interpretation of her has changed as well, which has been cool. Clothing, it’s what’s on you. It’s touching you when you’re doing the scene so it adds a lot to the mood of Paige that day.
Can you explain what you said about how your own interpretation of Paige has changed?
So, she started out in these little sweaters, little tiny khakis and tiny little skirts, and everything was very tight. She wasn’t comfortable in those clothes. So it was all just very muted, downplayed, sort of very nervous, anxious, desperate almost. There wasn’t really any style to it. So, these outfits she’s rocking now, especially a couple that are coming up, dude, she knows not only does she embrace herself as a woman, but she embraces her sexuality on top of that, and she becomes so confident. It becomes loose, like “look at me.” Not “look at me” in that sort of “stare at me” kind of way, but it’s like she has become complete, and she feels confident in her own footsteps and walking forward.
The clothing really speaks, on a deeper level, to this beautiful arc that Paige has had with coming out. It’s so rare that we get to see something that’s so complete and so well told on television. I imagine there are so many LGBT kids who have reached out to you because of it her coming out.
It’s been the most rewarding experience of my life to hear back from these fans. And that’s really what has made the show so transcendent for me. Not only her storyline and her character, but honestly, I went into this not having experience to draw from for these actual real life experiences that she’s having, but I literally can only think, “If I don’t do this as honestly as possible this is just a mockery to this real life thing that’s going on right now, this issue of our generation.”
I just wanted to go in there and do it like that. And then to be validated that it was honest or this was helping – it’s all that I do this for. Entertainment should affect. It should be the trendsetter in a social perspective. And to be a part of that, to be somebody who’s doing that, it’s just the most rewarding thing in the world. It gives as much back to me as it does to them. And it’s coming full circle. This is just the best thing I’ve ever done because it’s reaching people in a real way, and it just makes it so transcendent to know there’s all that fan support when I go on set and do that. They created a safety for me there and I want to show up for them and for me.
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Can you share a quick fan story or fan letter about someone who’s been affected by Paige?
I actually do have a piece of fan mail right here, but , I get all kinds of Twitter notices that are just like, “You make it easier for me to get up. You make it easier for me to face going out there. You make me confident as a gay teen. It’s been so much easier to come out.” Just people like looking to you knowing, like seriously you’re not alone. Look at how entertainment has evolved even within the last five years. There are gay characters on television. There’s just been so many people thanking me for this. Right here (the fan mail) -- She’s just like, “Thank you for making this path easier for me, and I look up to you.” It’s just wonderful.
I’m getting choked up listening to you talk about the response.
It’s just moved me to tears so many times. I cant reiterate enough that this is why I’m doing this and on this path. It’s just like, “Yes, this is my purpose.” I’m so happy.
On the flip side, have you heard from Emaya (Emily and Maya) fans who are not happy with the plot? Not like you had anything to do with that of course…
You know, there have been a couple Emaya fans that have tweeted me, and I have to say they’re not malicious in any way. I admire so much their loyalty to that relationship. Going from my own relationship with Emily and that whole experience, and obviously, Maya’s was totally different. Emily had different qualities she was pulling out of her. I can’t imagine losing that or having to bring that to a close (for a fan). I can imagine the intensity and the ties that they have. My only message to them is that this does not compare to Maya in any way. This is just the next step. I think Emily is just at the top here, so a lot of them, I think, are happy that Paige is making Emily happy too. In a way I feel for them. It’s the end of this beautiful thing, but hopefully it’s the start of another really cool thing. Even if Paily isn’t their first choice…
I didn’t realize there was a Paige and Emily mash-up – did you just say it?
(Laughs) Yeah, Paily. P-A-I-L-Y. Love it!
I should have known that!
Oh yeah, hashtagging that all over the world right now.
You mentioned how there’s a lot in store for Emily and Paige this season. I know that PLL producers are so secretive about what to expect but can you share anything?
So we’ve seen Paige and Emily sort of get back on track with their relationship, kind of. That intimacy will keep going, and it’s just been wonderful to play a deeper intimacy than they’ve ever experienced. But on the flip side of that, it is Rosewood, and we know that things don’t stay right in Rosewood for all too long, and unfortunately some of that darkness touches Paige for sure. We’re definitely going to see more of first episode Paige, for a second. Perhaps she’s bringing the darkness back. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of light there too.
Can you tell me about any of the other projects you have coming up?
I have a horror film coming out. It’s called No One Lives, and it’s going to the Toronto film festival, which is awesome. That was super fun, and no werewolves involved.
And I did this thing called “Love Me.” It’s actually going to be released as a social media project on Facebook. There’s a series now called Aim High on there with my good buddy Jackson Rathbone. It’s like a full-length movie but released in episodes / snippets because it’s on the Internet. That is definitely coming up, and it’ll be available to everybody right on the computer.
When all is said and done Paige and Emily has gone back and forth a couple of times now – do you think that Paige and Emily are the Ross and Rachel of Pretty Little Liars?
Definitely. I think I actually I said that at one point – I definitely do. You have all the emotions right there in that bag and then still the desire to come back for more. The desire and intimacy is so strong and despite all these first things that have happened, possible red flags, I just think they need to have their chance. And they’re having it now.