After playing her character Alison DiLaurentis for seven seasons in the teen mystery ‘Pretty Little Liars’, Sasha Pieterse is now back in the new spin-off ‘Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists’, which follows Alison’s journey as she returns to Beacon Heights University as a teaching assistant.
We spoke with Pieterse about the new show to discuss playing her character for such a long time, the toxicity of social media, and more...
...comparing yourself to other people is one of the biggest mistakes we make. Women especially, I feel we do this so often where we compare ourselves to other women and worry and stress about it, and think so negatively about ourselves because of it, but the truth is a lot of things are edited. It takes fifty photos to get that one angle that makes you look as skinny as possible...
COUP DE MAIN: I’ve seen the first three episodes of 'Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists', and it’s so great to see, as you say, a “journey from mean girl to mentor.” How does it feel, to have taken Alison on that journey?
SASHA PIETERSE: Yeah! It’s been so fun. It’s a fun transition because I’ve played Alison for almost a decade now and I love that I’ve never gotten tired of playing her. She’s always got something new, she’s always feeling something different, there are so many layers to her and this is just another one of those jumps. This is the first time that we’ve seen her in about two years and there’s a lot going on there, so it’s been really fun to explore what her mentality is like now and what she’s going through and I think these first three episodes were just a bunch of fun. It’s really great to see all of our fans react again to what we’re giving them and it’s one of the best parts - to see the reaction and how they feel about it. So I’m so happy to be able to talk to everyone all around the world now, and everyone in New Zealand too! It’s been really fun and rewarding. And it feels like we never left!
CDM: As you mentioned, you’ve played Alison for a really long time - over that time have you found that you’ve learnt things from your character Alison that you take into Sasha life at all? Or vice-versa?
SASHA: <laughs> Well Alison obviously started out really mean, and I hope that I never took that into my life! But as she progressed, one of the things that always stands out to me about her is how much passion she throws into the things that she cares about, and one of those is definitely family and friends. She fiercely loves the people close to her and so you definitely see that when it comes to how she’s caring for her students, and the friendship that she’s building with Mona, and obviously the way that she feels about Emily and her kids and her friends back home. So that to me, I’ve always related to that with her. I have a close group of friends and I love them fiercely, so I can definitely relate to Alison on that level.
CDM: Spending your life surrounded by chasing perfection can be really dangerous as Ava realises by the end of episode three of the show, and that learning from your mistakes is really important. Is that something you hope for people to take away from watching the show, that perfection can be really dangerous?
SASHA: Absolutely! Like you said, perfection is a dangerous thing and there’s a part of me that thinks there isn’t anything wrong with trying to always get better at something. I think it’s important for people to be ambitious and for them to want to reach goals and to do the best that they can, but I feel like nowadays in society we’ve kind of turned a corner and we’ve definitely made perfection a necessity. Not just in our jobs or in things that we care about anymore, but now it’s in everyday life, it’s about everything - you know? Obviously mainly about the way that you look, and your job, and your friends, keeping images up, all those things that we obsess over - it is dangerous because it’s unobtainable and the levels that we will go to as humans to reach those goals can be very dangerous. I think that it is an important lesson, and it’s not that far from reality. The show has a lot of realism in it, and especially with Beacon Guard and the way that everything is being watched, it’s very similar to what I feel like we go through now. It’s difficult - you want to not have any flaws but that’s not realistic, and a lot of the times flaws are what make you beautiful, and I think that is a strong message that we’re trying to put out there and hope that people kind of latch onto and realise that it’s unobtainable and it’s not worth it and it’s also a form of destruction.
CDM: Tying into that, I’m a big fan of your Instagram bio: "Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlights reel.” In an age of social media, why do you think it’s so important to be aware of this?
SASHA: Thank you! I think that no-one wants to show their darkest colours. No-one wants to put the things that they don’t like about themselves on social media, and that is something that definitely makes sense. Comparing yourself to other people is one of the biggest mistakes we make. Women especially, I feel we do this so often where we compare ourselves to other women and worry and stress about it, and think so negatively about ourselves because of it, but the truth is a lot of things are edited. It takes fifty photos to get that one angle that makes you look as skinny as possible, it’s the length that we go to put out the perfect parts of us, and that’s not the way that everybody lives, it’s not everybody’s day to day life, and I think it’s important to realise that most of it is a smoke-screen, most of it isn’t real. So comparing what you know about yourself to the perfect highlight reel of somebody else’s Instagram is a sad thing because it’s not worth it and it’s not real. You can’t compare yourself to something that is so ‘picture perfect’.
CDM: What do you think people growing up on the internet can do to keep themselves grounded and not get caught up in that ‘social media as real life’ headspace?
SASHA: I’ve always strived for making sure that the people around you are positive and love you, and love you for the right reasons. That’s always been an important part in my life, finding friends that I want to be around, and the only reason I really want to truly be around them is that they’re good people, and we build each other up and we want to see each other succeed and it’s not a competition ever. I have been so blessed to find people in my life like that and I think it’s always quality over quantity - it’s not about having the most friends or the most popular friends, or the coolest friends, it’s about finding those real people in your life that are more like family than friends.
CDM: In the first episode, Alison talks about how Agatha Christie is one of her favourite authors when discussing the book the class are studying. Do you think that your character Alison loves and enjoys the drama and mystery in life, much like an Agatha Christie mystery novel?
SASHA: Absolutely! I think Alison cannot get away from these bad habits in her life, and those bad habits definitely include drama. She’s been through so much, it’s a positive thing where she in a way can’t help it, she can’t help but not recognise that she sees right through her students and sees that they’re in trouble, but it’s also negative because she’s trying to stay out of that life and trying to be a better person and get rid of those bad habits that she has. She’s definitely conflicted in that, and she obviously ended up caving. <laughs>
CDM: I just love when you’re like, “Bring it on, bitch!”, at the end of episode two! That was like, the highlight!
SASHA: Yeah, “Bring it on, bitch!” <laughs> She’s given into helping these students and so she knows that her wisdom and the things she’s learned can very much help them. However, the extent, and to what length she is gonna go to protect them is a whole different story. She definitely can’t help herself and she knows how to get herself into a mess, that’s for sure.
CDM: Are there any books/authors that you’re a big fan of, like how Alison loves Agatha Christie?
SASHA: Oh my gosh, I love reading and I never find the time to read, but because of Alison I have actually picked up Agatha Christie! So I tend to always kinda end up reading the books that Marlene [King, showrunner] always mentions. Marlene’s always done that, and I feel that even in ‘Pretty Little Liars’ we mentioned a lot of movies like 'Psycho' - they always mention something very specific. It’s actually funny because I end up being extremely interested in them, and so I’ve picked up Agatha Christie in general as an author and I really find her so fascinating! So for now, that’s one of my favourite books!
CDM: It’s cool to see you on-screen alongside Janel Parrish again. What’s your favourite thing about working with Janel?
SASHA: Oh my gosh, Janel is amazing - her and I have always gotten along so well and actually our lives have always paralleled in a way; we both got married in the same year. We’ve always gone through similar things at the same time and she’s a light - she’s just a light on-set, a light in person, and we’ve been having a ridiculous amount of fun to be honest! It’s so nice to be able to work with people that you love to be around. Janel is legitimately one of my favourite people on this planet.
CDM: That must make working together even better, so that’s good to hear.
SASHA: It does! It’s not even work. Our husbands get along so well too, which is so fun.
‘Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists’ is airing on NEON - click here to sign up/watch. Watch a trailer below…