Before "Pretty Little Liars," "A" was just another letter.
But since the show's premiere in 2010, "A" has become the signature of an anonymous figure who threatens to expose the secrets of four best friends in the fictional town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. On the receiving end of the anonymous threats and texts is Canadian actress, Shay Mitchell, who plays Emily Fields -- the sporty one in her four-person posse.
Emily appeared to be the girl next door from the get-go, but as the plot twisted, the writers tossed challenges left, right and centre at Mitchell. From coming out as a closeted lesbian to almost dying multiple times, Mitchell has proven that her character may seem timid, but has a serious competitive nature to her. Playing Emily was Mitchell's big break into Hollywood, and on a recent press trip to Toronto, she reflected on her days of being a Toronto bottle service girl and who her biggest mentors were as she transitioned into a young Hollywood celebrity. She also talked about the dynamics of being on an almost all-girl set to who she would play on the show if given the chance. She even hinted at what's to come in "Pretty Little Liars" Season 4.
HuffPost TV: Your transition into the limelight was extremely fast. How did you deal?
Shay Mitchell: It's still really crazy. I walk down the street in Yorkville [in Toronto] and the restaurant/bar where I used to do bottle service -- I remember it, I see myself hustling on that little patio. It's really cool to then come back here and see my cover [of Elle Canada]. It's just really cool and it's been such a blessing from the show to get to do all these things that I'm doing and have all these experiences. It's really fun.
Emily has been through a lot, from coming out to being the weakest link. Has there ever been a part of it that's been the worst to play for you?
It was kind of difficult at the beginning when she was sort of naïve and she was getting called the weakest link. I was like, 'Come on, Emily!' In certain situations I would want to change her lines but obviously, she's not me and yeah, it's been so much fun to play her because there's been such an arc from the beginning. From the pilot episode 'til now, she's grown so much and I've gotten to play so many roles. I've done a lot of action stuff which I love, and this season it's going to be really crazy. It's just fun to grow with this character.
Your character is one of four girls who are all very distinct. Do you have any similarities with Emily?
I do. I think I share her competitive side, for sure. I also share her loyalty to her friends. I would love to say that my friends would say the same thing, but I also think she's the one out of the group that the girls will come to just to have a shoulder to cry on or just to know that Emily is always there for them. She'd be the one that I would call and I'd like to say that I'm kind of like that with my friends.
From the beginning, have the writers known who "A" is? Do you know, or are you constantly surprised by the twists?
No, I stay back from knowing because I feel like it's going to drive me crazy, or it won't seem organic if I do know. I don't know. I just don't ask the writers. Troian [Bellisario] and Ashley [Benson] are always snooping around and trying to get the details on what's coming up for their characters, where the storyline is going to go, who's going to be their love interest, and I just sit back and I'm like, 'I'll read it on the table read.' I like the surprises just as much as the fans do. I like to be shocked.
What was the biggest twist for you?
I think when it said in the script, "and then Keegan Allen [Toby on the show] turns around and he is 'A'" ... you know what I mean? I looked at Keegan and I was like "How dare you?" and he joined the "A" team and that was definitely a big surprise. When Mona was also a part of it, that was a big surprise. Oh, there are so many. Every table read, I think there's always a gasp in the room.
It can kind of be a scary show!
It is a little scary! Even my roommate watches it and I'm sitting next to her and she's still terrified. And I'm like, "Really? Really? I'm sitting next to you and obviously I'm OK." There are some really really good twists coming up in Season 4 and we're working really hard on these episodes, so I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised to see that it only gets better.
If you were able to play a different character on the show, who would you pick?
Maybe Mona or Allison. I think because Allison is so devious and always snarky, it would be so fun. I play the complete opposite, as Emily. And I think Mona would be really fun, because she's gotten to play three different characters from loser Mona to popular Mona to psycho Mona so that would be an interesting arc to play as well.
The cast is very female-heavy. Do you find it to be an awesome work environment because you're a mentor to a lot of young girls?
It is very fun. A lot of people are like 'Oh my god, do you guys fight?' There are four girls, and not at all. We couldn't be more different from one another and yet love each other more. It really is so nice to go to work because it's like little sister, big sister, middle sister. We all have different interests and different things, so we're never competing for the same stuff. There's no jealousy, there's no fighting, it's just getting to work with really great girls and that's all it is so I couldn't be more happy. There could be drama, of course, but there isn't..
Did you ever expect that "Pretty Little Liars" would take off like this? When you walked onto the set did you think this was going to be big?
I read the books right when I booked the job and I was addicted to them and I couldn't get enough. I loved the script and I thought it was really good. It was a pleasant surprise to find out how well it was doing -- especially internationally. It's so crazy to travel to a completely different place and then have them know you over there from the show, it's really surreal. I mean, I couldn't be happier that the show is going well and I couldn't be happier to share it with all the people involved.
Describe your personality in three words.
Oooooh -- adventurous, loyal and crazy. Only in the good way, though. Maybe I'm meant to play on the "A" team, you never know. It could twist, Emily could be the head honcho.
Can you give us some hints?
You will find out who red coat is, which is a huge thing, and I'm so excited for people to see this season because there are so many gasp moments where you won't believe it. You think you know, but you have no idea. Dun, dun, dunnnnn.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Be myself because there's no one else like you. That's what my mom would always say she'd be like, "Just be yourself!" I was always trying to transform myself into my friends. They all had blonde hair, blue eyes and I was like 'Ugh.' And you know, she'd tell me that and I wouldn't listen to her, and now looking back at those photos, I'm like, 'Why didn't I just ... Why?!"
What's next for you?
Well, obviously working on the show. We wrap up in November and we were also picked up for Season 5, which is amazing. The contest that we're doing for Acuvue, our webisode that I did with my mentoree, airs July 4 on YouTube. Me, Dwight [Howard], Demi [Lovato], and Joe [Jonas] all getting to work with different people and helping them live their dream was a really fun experience. I have a couple other things in my back pocket that I'm holding off on for a little bit, but there's some exciting stuff coming.
If you could see the Emily at the end of the show in a certain way, what would you pick for your character?
Happy, living in Italy on a vineyard with no technology, drinking wine -- wait, I can't say that, that's my dream. I think for the girls, just them being happy. They're getting better at defending themselves against "A" and the whole team -- but I think catching "A" would be good, like in a big net or something. Just get them.
You can watch Shay's Acuvue One-Day Contest mentorship webisode on July 4th. (Click on the link)
You can catch "Pretty Little Liars" on ABC Family Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET in the U.S. and on MuchMusic in Canada.