If you know and love Troian Bellisario from her role on Pretty Little Liars, you’ll be excited to see her in an entirely different role in her new web series, Lauren. Playing a soldier who is sexually assaulted by some of her superiors, Troian steps into even darker territory than her ABC Family series. (Don’t expect many Spencer-esque quips or Latin translations from the determined soldier in the WIGS show.) When Wetpaint Entertainment spoke with the actress, she explained why she feels it was such an honor to take part in the webseries, especially because of her own family’s military background.
Wetpaint Entertainment: What was your reaction to reading the script for “Lauren”?
Troian Bellisario: I've known Lesli Linka Glater, who's directed the PLL pilot, and she's directed all of the season finales, for a long time. We've always wanted another project to work on as well as Pretty Little Liars. She called me with this one. She read it, and she was like, “Hey, let me know if you like this, if you respond to it.” And I read it in 15 minutes and called her back and said, “Please, please, let me tell this story with you because it's just really fantastic.” The Pretty Little Liars world is so much fun to play around in, but especially as a story teller and as an artist, to be able to have the honor to speak to something that is actually happening and is a topical issue, It's just such an incredible opportunity. I'm so glad that I got it.
I would assume there's a lot of pressure in portraying something that is so real?
Yeah. My father was in the military, and there was just one thing I put foot down about, which was that there has to be a technical adviser. I need somebody to ride me. If my salute is sloppy, if my posture's incorrect, the audience was taken out of it. You have to be so specific. I just wanted to do right by the people in that world.
You have a very specific fan base with Pretty Little Liars. Were you nervous about how they would react?
No. I wasn't nervous for my fans at all because I think that they’re so incredibly supportive. Their reactions when Lauren came out was so incredible. I mean they got #proudofTroian trending. They're the best fans anybody could hope for. I feel like they just want to see you do well, and they want to see you happy. And they're there to support you. I couldn’t ask for better fans. I was not worried about my fans at all.
What was the biggest challenge for you in portraying this character?
I come from a theater background, so — especially with doing this finite project where I know the arc of a character — I really like to have time on it, time to do my research and find the character's voice and the character's history and make choices. But I was hired on a Monday and started shooting on Wednesday. So the most nerve‑wracking part for me was that when you're in the military, you've been living in that world, doing drills, standing up in that posture, saluting for years, and that is not something that you can easily fake. So I knew that was going to be the biggest challenge that I was going to have face. Almost more so than the emotion of the piece. Because I knew these were real stories, that it was a real issue, I just felt so strongly for these women that I wasn't really worried about the emotions.
What can you tell us about the story and where it takes us?
In episode one, it was about Lauren getting her story heard. In our minds, if you are brave enough to come forward and speak about how you've been sexually assaulted, you expect there to be action taken. You demand there be action taken, and I think one of the most horrific and shocking things about what's going on in the military right now, what the military is doing a great job of addressing now and needs to, is that often when women are strong enough and when men are strong enough to come forward and report something like what Lauren went through, like her rape, it's actually a decision as to whether or not they're pursued or whether the attackers are brought to light. So that's where the story goes next. You actually get to see Lauren being interrogated for her part in this. If you thought the first episode was intense, just wait and see the next two. They're really, really heart wrenching.
What I find so disturbing is that Jennifer Beals’ character has obviously been through the same thing. It’s a very intense eleven first minutes.
There's so much packed in. The writer, Jay [Rodan], did such an incredibly job of creating a character like Lauren and Stone. In the whole 11 minutes of these women facing off in a tent, you get where they come from. You get where they're going, their dreams, their aspirations, and also, see the nightmares that they both have to live with. And that there are no more two perfect people to be speaking about this issue, and yet, they are on total different sides of the fence.
Does it help to have someone like Lesli there as a director when you do tackle something like this?
Yeah. I love working with Lesli so much. She's such an energetic spirit. She was a dancer growing up, so she has this incredible discipline and endless creative energy. She is ready to support you. She's ready to push you, and she's ready to listen. I've never seen a director that is so, so sort of like happy, but at the same time, challenging.
Do you think about what you want to do after Pretty Little Liars?
Yes, I definitely think about it. Pretty Little Liars is amazing, and I have my Pretty Little Liars family, and all of the support, and all of the wonderful fans. But it's been three years of working nine to ten months out of the year, and it's been pretty all consuming. And so that's why it was really important for me to get back here. I wrote and produced and acted in my own short films, and we're just doing the final touches on that to get that out there. And I did something like Lauren. I'm always looking for the next project to work on because, to me, an actor, it just means that you never stop. You're never satisfied telling one story. I'm so thrilled to be a part of this legacy of Pretty Little Liars stories, and there are so many more places that we have to go with these plotlines. But I don't feel satisfied as an artist unless I'm involving myself in different lives and different experiences and really challenging myself.
Is there a genre that you'd like to tackle next?
I'm very, very much all for the raw, dramatic realm. That's always been my kind of first passion, but I also am a huge fan of period pieces. So if I can get in on some kind of dramatic period piece, I think I'd probably be in heaven