Pretty Little Liars features a large cast of actors who were pretty much all playing characters a different age than themselves. This isn’t unusual, of course. If there is one universal truth in the world of teenage dramas, it’s that they typically star actors who are way older than the characters they play. Take One Tree Hill, for instance. The star of the series, Chad Michael Murray, played 16-year-old high school student Lucas Scott. However, Murray was 21 when the series premiered.
Although Pretty Little Liars’ cast were not actually high schoolers in real life, the show was still super successful. Though it ended in 2017, the series has remained in the hearts of fans everywhere. And, in September of 2020, it was announced that a spinoff of the acclaimed series was coming to HBO Max, meaning that the legend of Pretty Little Liars will live on forever, it seems. Nevertheless, we can’t help but think about the OG cast. If you’re curious to know just how old these small-screen stars were at the time of filming, keep on reading.
Lucy Hale was way older than her Pretty Little Liars character
Aria Montgomery, one of the main characters in Pretty Little Liars, had a pretty controversial storyline as she was in a relationship with her older English teacher, Mr. Fitz. Thankfully, Lucy Hale wasn’t actually 16 years old when she secured the role as Aria. By the time the show premiered in 2020, Hale was 20 years old.
In an interview with V Magazine in 2016, Hale explained “When people see you on TV every week, they just associate you with that character. They truly believe that I am Aria. People meet me on the street and assume that I’m really naïve and really young. I think people are always shocked to realize ‘Oh my god, this girl’s a woman, she’s 26 years old!'” (via Teen Vogue). Clearly, playing a high schooler for so long really effected the way that people viewed Lucy Hale in real life.
Pretty Little Liars' Troian Bellisario felt the challenge of playing a high schooler
In Pretty Little Liars, Troian Bellisario played Spencer Hastings, a high-strung overachiever with plenty of drama in her life. In the series, Spencer started out a 16-year-old high school student but in real life, Bellisario was already well into adulthood at the age of 24.
In an interview with Marie Claire, Bellisario explained that she had a complicated relationship with her character. “Sometimes it’s kind of different because I have a lot of similarities to Spencer,” she said. “But the more I grow, the more I grow away from her.” Bellisario added that she went to a physical high school, which gave her some perspective. “It’s all the kind of the same thing as regular life, the girls are rarely doing their homework or ever in class. They are involved in circumstances I’d hopefully never be involved with, though,” she said. Even though Bellisario was much older than her character, at least she had real-life high school experiences to help her with her role.
Ashley Benson channeled her own teenage years when playing Hannah on Pretty Little Liars
The character of Hannah Marin on Pretty Little Liars was definitely complex. Played by Ashley Benson, Hannah had previously struggled with her weight and fitting in with her peers. While Benson herself was 20 by the time the show premiered, Hannah was just 16. Still, Benson wasn’t that far removed from her teenage years at the time.
In an interview with Just Jared Jr., the actress explained that her teen years weren’t all that great and, as such, actually helped her prepare for her role as Hannah. “When I was younger, I wasn’t like a nerd, but I was kind of left out because I was in the industry and all that,” she said. “I was in the popular group at one point, then they like kicked me out and were really mean to me and made fun of me.”
Ashley Benson went on to add that those kids caused her to feel “miserable,” which is exactly what Hannah dealt with in Pretty Little Liars. While Benson may have been significantly older than her character, it’s clear that she was still able to recall those intense feelings of adolescence for the role.
Shay Mitchell appreciated the Pretty Little Liars time jump for this reason
Toward the end of Pretty Little Liars, fans got to see their favorite characters somewhat grown up. There was a five-year time jump in the final season, which enabled the series to show all the ways the main characters had changed since the first season. Of course, there was still plenty of drama and A-related messes, but some actors on the show especially appreciated the leap. Shay Mitchell was already 23 years old when she took on the role of 16-year-old Emily Fields, so she liked getting to portray a more mature version of her character.
“I’m excited about it because we get to play a little bit closer to our age, which is always great, and I think we owe it to our fans to jump to where they are now,” the actress said in an interview with Teen Vogue. Mitchell went on to explain that the audience could also probably relate to the time jump, as it had been several years since the show premiered and the fans were growing up too.
Pretty Little Liars' Sasha Pieterse grew up with her character
The only actor on all of Pretty Little Liars who wasn’t older than their character was Sasha Pieterse, who played the most complex character on the series, Alison DiLaurentis. Although Alison wasn’t in many of the episodes of the earlier seasons (because — spoiler! — she was presumed to be dead), she was the one who bought the other main characters, Aria, Spencer, Hannah, and Emily together. And, as it turns out, Pieterse was actually much younger than her character in Season 1.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Pieterse explained that the age difference was always interesting to her. “The funny thing about [age] is, I shot the pilot when I was 12, and I was younger than Ali is supposed to be,” she said. But, after a few years had passed, Pieterse outgrew Alison. “And now I’m older than Ali is supposed to be,” she continued. Playing both older and younger than her actual age surely presented a challenge for the actor. But, a challenge that she totally nailed nonetheless.
Ian Harding was close in age to his Pretty Little Liars character
The most controversial relationship on Pretty Little Liars was definitely between Aria Montogermy and her English teacher, Ezra Fitz, played by Ian Harding. Harding was actually 24 years old when the series premiered in 2010, which was very close to his character’s age (23).
In an interview with Elle, Harding revealed that as Pretty Little Liars went on, he was able to relate to Ezra more and more. “He’s becoming less and less of a pushover, he’s such a good boyfriend that I’m wanting him to get a little rougher because, okay, yes, we’re in the clear now in terms of ‘this is not a creeper relationship,’ so it’s cool if he has some skeletons in the closet; it’s cool if he’s not always great,” Harding said. However, many would argue that the relationship was still inappropriate. Despite the controversy Ezria caused, Harding was able to get to know his similarly aged character.
Pretty Little Liars' Keegan Allen recognized the power of teens when playing a high schooler
Pretty Little Lairs’ Toby Cavanaugh ws played by Keegan Allen. Toby was about 17 years old when he first appeared on the show whereas Allen was a few years older, 20. Still, Allen was no longer a teenager when he filmed Pretty Little Liars, so he really had to tap into the teenage mindset when playing Toby, who was the main love interest for Spencer.
When channeling that way of thinking, Allen actually started to appreciate the teen generation and all the viewers Pretty Little Lairs had garnered over the years. Speaking to ClevverTV at the 2012 Teen Choice Awards, Allen explained that he recognized the power of teenagers, though he wasn’t one himself. “We have such a voice in this generation, and I’m speaking like I’m a teen,” he laughed. “Using social media, using just word of mouth, like it really does boil down to that demographic.” Though Allen wasn’t a teenager while he played one on TV, he still understood the complexities teenagers face, and respected their unique power.
Tyler Blackburn experienced a lot while playing a teen on Pretty Little Liars
Perhaps the biggest heartthrob on Pretty Little Liars was Caleb Rivers, boyfriend of Hannah Marin, who was played by Tyler Blackburn. Though Blackburn was 23 when he first made his appearance as Caleb, his character was closer to 18, meaning there was a fairly significant age difference. Still, Blackburn was able to really feel all of those teenage feelings of confusion and exploration, as he has explained that his time on Pretty Little Liars helped him come out as bisexual.
In an interview with The Advocate, Blackburn explained how it all went down. “I felt the pressure from all sides to have (it) figured out,” he revealed. “And I think for the longest time, I suppressed more of my attraction to men. It wasn’t until my late 20s, toward the end of ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ that I really allowed myself to go there and not just wonder about it.” Tyler Blackburn, much like his character Caleb, didn’t have it all figured out when the series began.
Pretty Little Liars' Bianca Lawson played a teen way longer than she was one
Though not a main character, Maya St. Germain was certainly an important part of Pretty Little Liars. Maya was played by Bianca Lawson and was not only a romantic counterpart for Emily Fields, but she also had a more sinister side. Yes, she ended up being a lot more intense than viewers initially imagined. And while Maya was a 16-year-old high school student like many other Liars, Lawson herself was actually 31 years old. If that’s not a huge age difference, what is?
As impressive as it is was that 30-something Lawson was able to play a high schooler so convincingly, it’s not totally surprising. Lawson has actually been playing a teenager since the 1990s. “It was frustrating because there would be parts that I really wanted and they would say, ‘Oh, Bianca looks too young.’ I’m like, ‘Right, but I really am this age,'” Lawson explained in an interview with Complex. “It was a weird thing because people wanted to cast me for certain things all the time, and I was like, but I want to keep progressing.” Playing a teen might not have been Lawson’s ideal role, but she certainly made it work.
Pretty Little Liars star Janel Parrish loved playing for a younger audience
As iconic as all the characters in Pretty Little Liars were, Mona Vanderwaal definitely took the cake. The character went from sweet and unassuming to mysterious and dangerous — and just over the course of a few episodes. Mona was played by Janel Parrish, who really was the perfect actor for the part. But Parrish was already 21 when she played 16-year-old Mona, though the age difference might have helped Parrish really nail Mona’s sinister side.
Although Parrish was older than her Pretty Little Liars character, she still understood how relatable the show was for its younger audience. “I think every girl, especially like high schoolers, can really relate to the show because you have to deal with people bullying you and making you feel bad about yourself every day,” Parrish said in an interview with We Love Soaps. “You just have to have confidence in yourself and be strong. I think young girls can definitely relate to the show.” Janel Parrish just got teenage girls, despite the fact that she wasn’t one when she played the role.
Pretty Little Liars' Lindsay Shaw finds younger roles "kind of easier"
When Paige McCullers stepped onto the scene in Pretty Little Liars, things with her and Emily Fields got pretty complicated pretty quickly. Paige, played by Lindsay Shaw, was another interesting character. And with her romantic interests and susceptibility to become a villain, she didn’t seem all that young. That makes sense, given Shaw was already 22 when she first appeared on Pretty Little Liars in 2011.
However, that wasn’t the first time Shaw played someone younger than herself. In 2004, Shaw starred in Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide as a middle-schooler when she was 15 years old in reality. Around that time, Shaw was interviewed by The Star Scoop. She explained that she liked playing a younger character. “It’s kind of easier, since I’ve already been through all this stuff, and I can reminisce on what it was like to go through that kind of thing or bring the outcome of my experience to the show,” she said. The same can certainly be said of Pretty Little Liars, especially as Paige’s character has helped so many LGBTQ+ youth, and really took the series to the next level.
Pretty Little Liars' Tammin Sursok got sick of playing a teen
Jenna Marshall is an ambiguous character on Pretty Little Liars. At first, viewers didn’t know what to make of Jenna, played by Tammin Sursok. Interestingly, Sursok was 27 years old when the series premiered, meaning she was a full decade older than her character. Honestly, the fact that Sursok was able to pass for a high schooler while she herself was in her late twenties is pretty impressive. Nevertheless, she got a little tired of playing a teen.
In an interview with Stellar, Sursok revealed that she had doubts about playing a younger character (via Daily Mail). “I really don’t think I can pass as a teenager, but whatever people believe, I’m fine with,” she said. Additionally, Sursok explained that she wanted to play more mature roles. “I’ve been stuck in a very specific role for a very long time and I’m a mother now,” she said. “And I have different fears and pain that isn’t that of a teenager.” Sursok’s frustration with being typecast is understandable, but her role as Jenna was still remarkable.
Brendan Robinson wasn't too much older than his Pretty Little Liars character
It’s no secret that Pretty Little Liars was full of complicated, dark, and mysterious characters. From the four Liars themselves to their varied love interests, family members, and friends, no one was safe from the drama on the show. This includes Lucas Gottesman, the somewhat nerdy friend of Hannah Marin, played by Brendan Robinson. Robinson was 20 years old when Pretty Little Liars premiered, making him only four years older than his character.
Despite being older and no longer a teenager, Robinson explained that he didn’t struggle at all to get into Lucas’ mindset. “The part was just ‘so me’ that it was a natural fit,” he said in an interview with A Touch of Pink. “Like I said, it was such a natural thing, I almost felt like I wasn’t really doing any ‘acting’.” Robinson wasn’t too much older than his character, but age aside, he knew Lucas inside and out — and totally crushed the part, of course.
Vanessa Ray played a complex character on Pretty Little Liars
It wasn’t until Season 3 of Pretty Little Liars that Charlotte “CeCe” Drake, played by Vanessa Ray, appeared, scaring just about everyone. But one thing that confused viewers was how old CeCe was supposed to be. In fact, even Pretty Little Liars fans on Reddit were initially unsure of CeCe’s exact age. One fan, however, pieced together that CeCe was 22 years old at the start. That said, Ray was actually 31 when she started filming the show. Clearly, Ray knows how to act nearly a decade younger, but playing a darker character like CeCe was still a little challenging for her.
In an interview with Us Weekly, Ray revealed she had to talk to show creator I. Marlene King quite a bit to truly understand CeCe. “There was more to her than just being a villain.” Ray said she starting asking questions, like “When did she become victimized? How did she become a villain?” The actress continued, saying, “[If] CeCe was not the villain then, she was kind of this larger-than-life, all about herself [figure].” Despite her confusion and the vast age difference, Ray totally did CeCe justice and gave the role just the right amount of intensity.
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