Like Regina George, Heather Chandler, Heather Duke, and Heather McNamara (the Heathers) before her Pretty Little Liars’ Alison DiLaurentis is the most cunning of mean girls, highly intelligent, fearless in the face of authority, and able to take down a classmate or so-called friend with a single quip. But unlike those big screen mean girls, half-way through the ABC Family’s break-out hit’s fourth season, Alison, as portrayed by the wise-beyond-her-years Sasha Pieterse, 17, is beginning to show cracks in the veneer of her perfectly malevolent personality (Alison revealed uncharacteristic tenderness toward one of the Liars in the most recent episode).
It’s a foregone conclusion that without Alison there would be no Liars. The quorum of high school girls seeking to pull back the curtain on their collective blackmailer (appropriately, if not ironically, named A), grew out of Alison’s machinations as the ruthless leader of their school, and their bond was galvanized by her disappearance in the show’s pilot, and later by her murder.
Alison’s story, told primarily in flash backs, with a few moments that hint that she may still (somehow) be lurking around the tiny fishbowl that is Rosewood, Penn., is completely nuanced in the hands of Pieterse, who breathes fresh life into what could have been a stock character. It’s a hat trick that Pieterse, who was 12 when she shot the PLL pilot (as was revealed at a forum at the Paley Center in Los Angeles this June), has quite literally grown up on set, deftly lending more and more insight into a character who can’t really age (as she is presumed dead).
But Pieterse, a native of South Africa, who moved to the states with her family when she was just a toddler, was already an acting veteran by the time she landed the role of Alison. Her career really kicked off in 2002 when she scored the role of Buffy in the remake of the beloved ‘60s series Family Affair. She went on to play a recurring role in the cult favorite Heroes. But the actress, who also has a successful music career, is not limited to television.She’s taken on choice roles in movies including Robert Rodriguez’sThe Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (3-D), and the indie darlingGood Luck Chuck. This summer Pieterse made the LGBT film fest rounds with the future teen classic GBF (Gay Best Friend).
On the brink of PLL’ssummer finale and the World War A television event, SheWired chatted with Pieterse about the show’s success, the Halloween episode, Alison’s soft spot for Emily, and just what is up with the creepy Mrs. DiLaurentis (Ali’s mom).
SheWired: First off, PLL swept the teen choice awards!
Sasha Pieterse: It was absolutely amazing. I can’t believe they honored us that much with seven awards. That’s mind-boggling. I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say that it’s extraordinary. Really, our show wouldn’t be anything without the fans. We’ve had such amazing support from the beginning. The fact that they like it in return is really amazing for us.
Sasha and PLL cast at the Teen Choice Awards
The summer season finale is already upon us. Are you still shooting the season or are you on hiatus?
SWe only have a few episodes left (of the entire fourth season). We’ll be done in the beginning of November. We only have five, six episodes left, which will go by so fast.
When did you begin shooting for the season?
We film April to November. We have 24 episodes in a season, which is kind of unheard of these days. We’re really thankful for it.
And you already have a fifth season that you’ve been signed on for…
We do, which is also kind of unheard of in this business -- to be already confirmed for a fifth season. It makes it great for the writers too. They do this slightly anyway, but now they don’t have to worry about being picked up, so they’re going for it. They have a lot of the fifth season already sketched out, and of course they won’t tell us anything. We’re kind of in the dark for the most part, but it’s really exciting.
Do you know Ali’s trajectory at all ahead of time? As an actor, how do you justify her motivation when you don’t know where she’s headed?
I know a little bit more than the fans, obviously. But they really don’t tell us a lot. We do have several secrets that some of the other cast members don’t know. I know quite a bit of what’s going on with Alison now.
But, Keegan knew that he was A from the first season (or knew that he was going to be involved from the first season), and he didn’t tell anyone. So when we found out we were really mad at him for not telling us. When we found out we were so shocked and angry about that.
And so were the fans.
Yeah they were, and it all turned out. But it’s a very interesting process. We’re in the dark for the most part. Sometimes we kind of band together and try to figure out what each other knows.
In our production office we have, literally, peoples faces and pins in them, and then the red string connecting the dots – just like in a detective’s office or something that would be in A’s lair. It’s really funny when they (writers and producers) have to keep track of it just like anyone else would. It’s a really cool thing to go and look at it. We have to sneak in to go and look.
You have to be kind of A-like to get in there.
Yes, you know, put on a black hoodie and some gloves and slide in there after dark. When we get a script we’re all excited because we’re like, “Oh, that’s what’s happening,” and then we’re like, “No, that’s not what’s happening.”