Wetpaint recently caught up with Pretty Little Liars producer Oliver Goldstick at the Television Critic's Association Winter Press Tour where he spoke to us about Emily's coming out on the show and the chemistry between Emily and Toby.
What reaction have you heard to Shay Mitchell's character Emily coming out?
It is from the books. It’s very sweet. I was interviewed in the LA Times a couple of weeks ago. I am talking to 15 and 16-year-olds. My kids’ babysitters – I have two little boys. The babysitters are my best audience.
Are they giving you feedback or ideas for the show?
They send me emails after Monday night’s show.
Have they influenced what you’ve done?
To some degree, yeah. It's so refreshing that they’re so open. It’s a very different time. Look, we’d be naïve for us to believe that there isn’t a reaction in many families and that it isn’t [all] going to be negative. We know what the It Gets Better campaign is all about – we just did a campaign this Thursday where all four characters and [show creator] Marlene King and I talked about our turbulent adolescence to some degree. It’s shocking that kids who are 15, 16, or 17-years-old don’t have the drama. Some do, but they’re not reacting with such a whiplash element. And we don’t want to give up too much, but Emily does deal with somebody at school in a homophobic position. It’s coming up, and it’s pretty ugly.
She’s an athlete in the books, and inevitably you would have to deal with this because of the team dynamics. So we deal with it in a big way this season with some real fallout of being not nonchalant but, because her friends are so accepting, she assumes that’s going to happen with her teammates, and it doesn’t.
Have you gotten positive accolades for the coming out story?
I haven’t paid that much attention to that. I think Shay has. I know she has personally received so many touching letters and emails. And Marlene and I have received a couple as well. There was one in particular we were very very touched by. I feel like this [half of the season] deals with it more than last season. Last season was more about her being tormented and beleaguered by it.
But this cycle is much more, because her friends were unconditionally accepting, because they’re friends from childhood. Hanna played a lovely role in the first cycle where she took Toby to the homecoming and Ashley’s character Hanna was asking, "Why are you with him at this homecoming, when we know that’s not who you want to be with? Why do you think the three of us would not want to support who you want to bring to this dance?" That whole thing in Mississippi came out right when we were filming this episode [when a school prom was cancelled because an openly gay female student demanded to be allowed to bring her girlfriend].
We don’t cull the headlines, and no one is online looking for topics. But things are coinciding. There’s a certain synchronicity with what’s happening out there. Granted, that girl’s in Mississippi and our girl is in a fictional town in Pennsylvania. She does have a military father, and a very traditional, conservative mother.
No reason why small town PA is more or less conservative than MS.
Exactly. So yes, we were cognizant of that when breaking that story, too, of what we wanted to do at the homecoming. At that age, there’s a certain fluidity. And Emily does have feelings for Toby. They may not be sexual, but there’s something – the two of them, the first time they got on screen. We cast an unknown for Toby – Shay was a bit of an unknown, too – who was a pretty seminal character in the book. They both are very halting, and shy, in real life to some degree and they had a lovely, halting chemistry of who’s going to fill the silence first, and meet each other’s eyes. We ended up realizing they could be soul mates, these two. And after episode 4, we decided they should go to homecoming together.
So a storyline was based on viewing their chemistry.
This truly was. We’d seen the two of them onscreen. And that happens in a new series. You have certain ideas of who’s going to be with who, but then you see certain people on screen and for whatever reason they have a similar energy. Sometimes a similar energy cannot work and they can fall flat, but sometimes, with them, they both were like still waters, where it feels like something else is happening.
What were the other pairings that inspired you?
Lucas and Hanna. Lucas was supposed to be a one-off, we thought. He came in for episode 7, I believe. And quite honestly, he’s in the books, and they call him Hermie the Hermaphrodite. Allison called him that. We were really going to use him only once or possibly twice. [Brandon Robinson], who plays Lucas, is a lovely actor. And he brought out great colors in Hanna, and we found out from the audience that they loved the two of them together. And they were asking if the prom queen was going to get together with the school nerd, to upend all expectations. He comes back for some very poignant stuff this season. He’s in the episode the week after next (January 24), and then he’s coming back for the finale. It’s turned out to be a character that we really enjoy writing for.