EXCLUSIVE: 'Pretty Little Liars' Lindsey Shaw Could Not Be More Proud of Paige McCullers
Pretty Little Liars (PLL) quite possibly does suspense better than any other show on television at the moment, but ABC Family’s little juggernaut is also loaded with complex, fully realized relationships and a whole lot of heart. At the core of one of PLL’s enduring relationships is Lindsey Shaw, who plays Paige McCullers, arguably the most loyal and adorable gay character and girlfriend in television history.
A veteran actor at age 24, Shaw kick-started her career in her teens on Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and later on the small-screen version of 10 Things I Hate About You, a teen retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Since her initial appearance as Paige partway through PLL’s premiere season Shaw has guided her character through tribulations from the very real to PLL-only style outrageous. That character arc has included a battle with internalized homophobia combined with a predilection to bully, an emotional coming out, and navigating a relationship with out Liar Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell). And, if relationships weren’t tough enough, Paige had to go and fall in love with a girl who’s under continual surveillance by the A team – a ridiculously efficient, omniscient ring of blackmailers who make their lair in PLL’s tiny town of Rosewood. And as PLL shippers know, Paige’s allegiance to her girl has led to countess unsavory scenarios from enduring a kidnapping at the hands of a lunatic stalker to continually emotionally rescuing Emily from A’s endless clutches.
Despite PLL’s outlandish but deliciously entertaining central arc, the A-story as it were, Shaw has managed to bring nuance, pathos and a smoldering quality to Paige that is endlessly watchable. SheWired caught up with Shaw to chat about PLL’s new season, what’s in store for Paige and Emily (Paily), recent strides in LGBT equality and dispelling labels, and what appears to be a mutual admiration for Troian Bellisario (PLL’s Spencer).
I was on the WB lot last week and saw Keegan Allen (Toby) and Marlene King (PLL creator). I didn't see you, but it was still very exciting.
Yeah. Fans go crazy with everybody walking around. It’s awesome.
You're still shooting this season...
Yes, Pretty Little Liars does it all in one big shooting season. Even when the show takes a hiatus in the summer the shooting block shoots right all the way through. So they stop filming November fifth.
So you know what’s happening way ahead of time.
Well, not ahead of time, but we at least know the schedule. I don’t think anyone knows what’s happening.
Good point. We talked about a year ago before all of the recent amazing strides for LGBT equality – marriage in 13 states, DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, etc… How important do you think it is that we continue to have LGBT visibility and characters like Paige out in the world?
I can’t be more happy and proud that progress has been made. We have to keep fighting, not fighting – it’s not fighting. Everyone is coming around to equality. We’re losing fear, we’re adopting love and it’s becoming a nationwide thing -- part of our mainstream everyday. It needs to become visible until it’s part of our landscape. We need visibility until we can just look at people. The whole goal of this thing is to lose the labels. Labels are what keep the struggle going. I can’t be more proud of Obama. This is a new generation. The old is going out. We just have to keep up our light. Keep shining our light.
Paige looking good Season 2
Regarding the show, I have to say that we’re happy as fans that Paily is somewhat happy right now.
You know what that means don’t you?
I know. It’s Rosewood.
Yeah, exactly. What goes up must come down.
Do you think they could survive a bicoastal relationship.
I think Paily can survive anything together. They have faced death together. Paige sees Emily by her side always, and she would do anything to make it work. That being said, a bicoastal relationship, with everything that’s going on in Rosewood, I don’t know if I can leave my girlfriend and have us be able to survive. I think it’s really something on Paige’s mind right now. I think she really does fear that if it doesn’t work out to where they can be side by side, maybe their future is limited.
Well, they can also move to California / Stanford and get married now.
There you go! You know what, maybe that’ll be a new chapter.
It could be. See, if I were a writer for PLL it will be continually happy and no one would want to watch it.
It would be all over in the first season. It could be a mini series.
Emily and Paige make plans for Stanford.
Exactly! You’ve worked with closely with Shay for several years now and the two of you only ever have the sweetest things to say about each other. How has that relationship grown or gotten better?
Unfortunately it’s fallen a part. (laughs) Totally kidding.
You had me worried.
It is honestly continued on just the most beautiful ascension. What is the word I’m looking for?
Ascension is a good one.
We just keep growing together, as people, as humans. I just feel like we see each other very clearly as human beings and that has just continued to get clearer and clearer. She lives happy and positively and that’s something that is so refreshing to see and be around. I’ve said this a thousand times -- I’ve learned so much and I just continue to learn from her. I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to influence the LGBT community with her by my side. I think we make a pretty good duo dude.
Your fans would agree.
And I think Paily has done a lot of good. I absolutely cannot be more proud of that.
Poor season-one Paige. She was really troubled, and she had a bad haircut.
Now, she's come full circle to become, arguably, one of the best TV girlfriends of all time. Are you proud of your character and the strides she’s made? And happy that you get to wear better clothes?
(laughs) I am happy and proud of Paige through every single stage that I played her. First, dealing with the bob, everything… I could not be more inspired by the character I am playing. I read her on the page and I’m just grateful to these writers who know what’s important, who know how to write this evolution of her. I think it’s realistic, I think it’s courageous. I’ve learned from her strength. I think it’s amazing to play these episodes and transform through this entire season. I feel so close to Paige. I think when we see any character be their own hero it’s really uplifting, including for me. I’m very proud of her.
Paige and Emily as rivals - season one.
If you could be cast as any other character on the show, who would you love to play?
Spencer man! Spencer, that’s where I’m at. I would say Mona but no, it’s Spencer. I truly think it is the way Troian plays her. Troian is phenomenal. Oh gosh, I just have a little love affair with her every time. She’s just so good. She’s such a little smart mouth-- I love it.
And she was excellent in that web series she did with Jennifer Beals.
I’m blown away by that chick. She’s so talented.
I just read she was valedictorian or something.
I know, it’s something ridiculous. I’m like, “You are the smartest ever.”
You said in an interview recently that you would like to get a chance to work with some of the other Liars. Who would you like to work more closely with?
First of all, I would love to work with all of them. They are each so fun with their characters. It’s so fun to watch all of them. I’d really love to work with Ashley, because I haven’t that many talking scenes with her, and that would just be fun. So, I think Ashley. I’m sorry – Hanna.
Shay Mitchell, Ashley Benson, Troian Bellisario and Lindsey for PLL's Halloween episode.
You also said in that interview that you would like maybe see Paige become really evil?
(laughs) Those are the two ends of the spectrum. That’s what Rosewood offers to you is to be really good or really evil. If I’m going out on this show then I just want it to be really epic and crazy and like, “Holy crap! We were right!” Have her be really evil. I think that would be fun
Your fans will go berserk.
Oh they will go berserk. In my heart of hearts, I do not want Paige to be evil. I want Pailey to be beautiful and amazing. But I’m just saying, with the world turned upside down, it would kind of be cool to be evil.
Maybe the writers can do an alternate universe PLL.
Yeah exactly. Oh my gosh! I just saw me in the hoodie on the DVD extras. (Gasps) Oh my lord, I died a little bit.
For Season 3?
Yeah, season 3. They shot the alternate endings of people other than Toby being A. And to see myself in the hoodie looking so evil -- I kind of liked it!
I want to check in with you about your fans. This story is so important to so many young people. Do you have stories that you want to share of people who have reached out to you.
So many stories. People write me letters, and on my Twitter and in person telling me that I’ve helped them come out. Pailey has helped them come out. The show has helped make their days easier. That’s something I get over and over. It’s insane when you think about that. I’m doing a show on ABC Family, which is great and it’s awesome, but you don’t expect it to… We’re changing lives every day. I feel like we’re working together. This is serious stuff. It’s not just entertainment. It’s a movement. I’m with you fans! I’m with you so much! I’m just trying to help and be there. It’s been really moving and supportive and I just try to do it honestly and genuinely as I can. And to just remember that this is life changing. I just feel a great responsibility with Paige and the fans to make sure it’s a story that’s inspiring and can actually help them.
US magazine recently put out a Pretty Little Liars collector’s magazine. There’s one full-sized poster of the Liars and three other posters dedicated to Aria’s, Spencer’s and Hanna’s boyfriends, but not even a single thumbnail of Emily and Paige in the entire thing. The magazine is clearly geared toward young fan girls, but a lot of them are gay.
I feel like that’s a hold over from what people think they can put out on a big mainstream level. I think with all the progress we’ve made, we still have to understand it’s going to take even more. We just have to keep pushing again. It’s not fair. But its okay, we can understand it.
Exactly. Nothing to be too up and arms about.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It’s when we get offended and up and arms, it’s when we shut out any possibility of reconciliation, or compromise or coming together… That’s what I’m saying with the labels. We got to stop with the labels. That’s what’s keeping us separate.
Moving past labels and otherness does appear to be the future.
I think we have a long way to go to make these labels valid and then losing them. But we’re on the path.
I like that idea of making them valid and losing them. Regarding Paily and their futire, there’s a term I’ve always loved from an early Friends episode... Do you think they are each other’s lobsters?
Aw, yeah. I do think they’re each other’s lobsters. I really do. They’ve become who they are with each other. And where that takes them--maybe they’ll have a few lobsters in their lifetimes. I think everyone has a few lobsters. But it’s either going to prepare them for the next lobster or they’re just cruising on their own lobster journey. They couldn’t have done it without each other at this point. Each of them gave them an pivotal piece of the puzzle together.
The infamous pool scene.
I know you’ve been asked this but it never gets old… Favorite Paily moment.
My favorite Paily moment is either by the pool, of course, the infamous by the pool scene, or when they’re sitting in bed during this season and Emily says, “I just want to have this life here with you.” And Paige is like, “Maybe we already have. Maybe we already have this life.”
That is really sweet.
When I read that at the table read, it really moved me. It just shows how much she cares for Emily as a human being. Whether they’re together or not, I think she really loves that chick.