EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Marlene King (Creator/Executive Producer) of Pretty Little Liars

February 28th, 2011 by

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Pretty Little Liars won me over as a young adult book series and it won me over again as a television series for ABC Family. It is full of shocking twists and turns, many surprises (even for book fans) and of course, that pesky A. But no one knows the show’s secrets like the creator Marlene King. She even knows who A is, but of course, she’s not telling. However, when I had the chance to chat with her, she told me a lot of good stuff. The rest of the season is filled with jump-off-your-couch-oh-my-God moments, interesting developments for each of the character’s love lives and family lives, and of course, the mystery of who killed Alison. She talks about all of this and so much more, and after speaking with Marlene, I am even more excited for the rest of the season than I was before.

What stood out in the book series that made you want to adapt it for television?
Rosewood was such a [great] town. I had never really read a book that was sort of a teen world but also this really fun mystery at the same time. And I kept using the word delicious, which we still use. There was this deliciousness to it. And I fell in love with the characters in the first book. Sara Shepard [the author of the book series] did such a great job of creating these well drawn characters. They’re liars and they make these mistakes; they’re cheaters and sisters boyfriend stealers but you still love them because you saw their pain, too. I also got through the first book and I had to know what “The Jenna Thing” was and I thought gosh, if I need to know what the Jenna thing is, and we can create this in a show, then it’s going to be a great formula. So I recognized this great formula that Sara had really put together for us, and we thought, if we can really capture that on television, this is going to be special.

When I read the books, I had the same thought. And can you talk a little bit about the casting. Was it harder because the characters had been described so vividly in the books?
I think Aria probably looks like Sara envisioned her. We cast Lucy [Hale] first. She had a relationship with all the people on the show. She was on a show called “Privileged,” which was also an Alloy book series show. And everybody loved Lucy, and she read the pilot script and loved it. So that very organically happened. But with the other characters, we decided we’re not going to stay true to exactly what they look like in the book, but instead we are going to go for the people that embody who these characters are. So we made that leap, and I think initially before people saw the pilot, they started to freak out. Book fans were a little upset that Spencer wasn’t a blond, and Hanna was and Emily was ethnic. But as soon as people saw the pilot, they let go of that and we realized that we made the right call. I can’t imagine another Spencer other than Troian Bellisario. Or another Hanna or Emily. And Sara met the girls before we shot the pilot, and once she met them and realized who they were at their core, she felt the same way. She was like “These girls are the Pretty Little Liars.”

And book one was the entire pilot, so you obviously have to deviate from the books a bit. So what goes into the decision to introduce these characters that we’ve never known before.
That’s a good question. There are about six of us in the writers room. We meet and we just talk about stories. It’s really a fun part of the job. We’ve all read the books and we know the mysteries and the characters in the books very well. And we love to draw from that, but then if we feel like Hanna could really use a new love interest, or Hanna’s mom, we start thinking about who would be a fun character to bring into this world. Sometimes we like to bring characters into the world that feel like they belong in Rosewood, and sometimes it’s fun to bring characters that feel like they’re outsiders to Rosewood.

The show obviously pushes the boundaries on ABC Family and on teen shows in general. So have you ever gotten any notes to tone it down?
Occasionally. (laughs) Not too much though. There’s a scene coming up. It’s episode 119 which airs on March 7th. We call that the romance episode, or everyone’s sort of getting together episode. That was really the first time in the show that we got one note that something was just a little too suggestive. And we had to cut a couple seconds off — I’ll call it the tent scene — so when it airs, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

(laughs) Sounds good. And let’s talk about the Ezria relationship. I am a big fan, but some people are not. What sort of reaction have you gotten to them?
I think most people are fans of them. We’ve heard some negative feedback from people, which is totally understandable [because] we’re romanticizing the student/teacher relationship, but I think we’ve always sort of came at it from this place of — in this circumstance — we are true to the books. And it was such an important part of the books, and to not give our audience Aria and Ezra, would have been a huge letdown. We felt like we needed to do it.

I’m sure they have a lot coming up in the second half of this season, but is there a lot that’s going to happen with them in season two?
Yes, and by the end of this season, there is a big shift in their relationship and it’s going to be sort of taken to a different level, in some positive and some more challenging ways.

And I know when I spoke with Lucy Hale, she said Aria and Ezra are not sleeping together. At least not yet. So will that subject be brought up or will it be left more of a mystery?
It’s going to be a mystery for now. But I think in season two, because of the circumstances of their relationship – and I don’t want to spoil anything for you – because of what happens at the end of season one and the beginning of season two, we’re clear about that.

And what can you tell me about the sort of old, sort of new Ella and Byron Montgomery relationship?
They’re fun, aren’t they? They act more like teenagers than the teenagers do on the show. (laughs) Make up your mind people, are you together or not? They’re great though. I love those actors, and I love their characters too. It’s really fun to see them exploring. Really, the initial bump in their relationship was from Sara’s books — that Byron had the affair with Meredith and Ella is having a hard time letting go of that. But by the end of the season, Aria will actually push her to make a decision. You’re either in or you’re out.

Make up your mind people!
It’s like, I’m the teenager. I’m the one who’s supposed to be indecisive.

And Emily’s storyline this season has been so great, and such an important story to tell. How is that going to continue to develop in the second half of this season.
Emily sort of has found a comfort level for herself in terms of her sexuality, and what’s interesting is there are going to be two girls who come into her life, and her romantic life is going to be less “Am I gay or am I not gay?” and more about finding the right person now. So it’s going to be sort of typical teen romance, but it happens to be girls instead of a girl and a guy.

Is Paige going to be sticking around for a while longer?
Paige is going to be sticking around for the rest of this season. And we’re unsure about next season, but definitely this season.

And Caleb is obviously one of the new guys in town –
Yes! One of the new hotties in town!

I kind of get a really creepy vibe from him, but what can we expect coming up for him and Hanna?
It’s interesting. It’s funny too. He’s such a nice guy in real life. But we created him to be that way. He’s one of those characters that I was talking about before; he comes into town, he doesn’t feel like a Rosewood boy and he is a little bit sketchy. And we loved introducing a character like that to our girls and to Hanna. Because they do seem like such opposites, and they come from such opposite worlds, and you’re going to find out that Caleb has a side to him that is kind and sensitive and good but he doesn’t want to show that to anybody. But he ends up having a very interesting and lovely connection to both Hanna and her mother.

Interesting! That leads very well into my next question about Hanna’s family life, because A has really been torturing her so much.
Ugh, A is such a bitch!

I know! Seriously! Such a pesky bitch, too!
Totally! She doesn’t take no for an answer! Or he…I should say.

(laughs) So how is Hanna’s relationship with her mom going to play out in the rest of the season?
I love Hanna and her mom. They’re such a fun family to write for, and two great actors. They have such great chemistry together and they’re so connected. It feels like just both of them have been dumped on by Hanna’s dad (Tom). And we touch on it more coming up, too. Ashley Marin, the character, really does come from a dark and very sketchy, shady past. And we’re going to start to get into that a little more and what they left behind and what they’ve had to do to get to where they are and why it’s so important to Ashley Marin to keep that. [We get into] why she struggled so hard to get to this place, and why should be willing to steal (laughs) Mrs. Potter’s money.

Yeah, seriously. And what can we expect from Hanna’s love life? Will Lucas and Sean re-appear? Where is the whole Caleb thing going?
I think you’re going to see all three of them. There’s some really fun Lucas stuff coming up, and some really fun Caleb stuff coming up. And some really interesting Sean stuff coming up. So Hanna is attracting a lot of men to her in these next few episodes. It’s not a bad problem. I’d say it’s a high class problem to have.

Totally! It’s a good problem to have. And Spencer is sort of in the middle of her own family crisis with Melissa and Ian. Are we going to find out more about their past and what lead them to get married, because it all happened so quickly.
We definitely are. And it’s going to become very key and central to the mystery of the story for the rest of the season. And I’ll just say, poor Spencer. On one hand, it’s poor Spencer. But on the other hand, there’s some smiles and romance coming towards Spencer too. And I can’t wait for those episodes to start airing. They’re really good and I’m really happy, because we drag Spencer through the mud this season. And it’s going to get worse for her, but there will be one shining light in her life. And you’ll get to see pretty soon how that’s going to play out and it’s so romantic, and so beautiful and so fun.

That’s good to hear. And she recently remembered some stuff about the night Ali went missing. Is she going to remember more as the season ends?
We’re going to touch on it more next season, where — and it’s a turn that Sara takes in the books too — she throws out this idea of what if you could remember every moment of your life, which of course we can’t. But next season, we are going to get into the thought that the girls sort of do start to remember bits and pieces of the night Ali went missing. And Alison says something in the first episode back this year when Hanna’s in the hospital and Ali comes to visit her in that dream — or reality? — and she says, I’m paraphrasing but it’s basically “If you put your collective memories together, you do know what happened that night.” So we do want to start exploring that.

And a lot of people are curious to know about the Emily’s friendship with Toby that sort of is on again/off again and Spencer’s relationship with Toby.
Toby and Emily don’t really interact that much the rest of the season, which is sort of by circumstance of their characters and where they are in the story. But next year, I hope to reignite the “Tomily” friendship, because it was so great and you don’t get to see that often, a girl and a guy who could end up being romantically involved, but end up being really great friends. And I love that, and I’d love to explore that more. But what you will see in the rest of this season is Spencer and Toby finding an interesting friendship. Because Spencer was the one who was like “The devil has a name, and it’s Toby Cavanaugh.” She was by far the most judgmental of Toby. But there was a turn in her character in our third episode back when she sees him break down in the alley. So now there’s a little opening there for her to get to know Toby. And maybe realize she was wrong about who he was.

Right. Because I feel like we don’t really know who Toby is…yet.
I love the character of Toby. We originally conceived him as Boo Radley in the book “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Every town has one of those Boo Radley’s, the sort of mysterious engima, and you’re not really sure —

The outcast.
Yeah exactly. And it’s really fun getting to know Toby as an audience. And for the pretty little liars to get to know Toby and discover who he really is. He’s a very interesting character.

And in the books, Darren Wilden comes into the picture and plays a big role in the whole mystery. Will he be appearing soon?
He’s not going to be back before the season is over. But you might find that the new cop in town, Garrett, in some ways parallels the role that Darren played in the books.

Who plays Garrett?
Yani Gellman. Officer Garrett Reynolds is [the character’s] name. He appeared in the first episode back. There’s a very interesting surprise coming up with him.

Fans of the book, or anyone who is curious, could look up and find out who they think is A. But we really don’t know because the show continues to shock and surprise us every week. So how will it continue to do so in the second half of the season?
It really just starts to ramp up. The next couple episodes have a lot of surprising twists and turns but we really sort of start to ramp up towards the last three or four episodes of this season. [They] are very mystery oriented, we really get into who killed Alison. The girls get tangled up in this web of who killed Alison — a little bit more than who is A. And it’s very compelling and it’s twist after twist and a lot of “Oh my God” moments. It’s tough for me to even think about it, and I watch each episode probably twenty times before it gets to television and then I watch it Monday nights like everybody else. There are some great jump off the couch moments coming up.

Oh good, I’m excited. And obviously I know you won’t tell me who A is (and I wouldn’t want you to), but will we find out who A is at the end of season one?
No. You won’t. I think it’s okay for me to say that. We are going to answer a huge question in the season finale, but it’s not who is A. But A is involved with this answer though, of course. A is all knowing.

A knows everything.
A for all knowing.

(laughs) That’s a good one. I know you can’t share too much about the big finale. But I have read on your Twitter and in interviews that you have said it’s really huge and kind of Hitchockian, which intrigues me. So can you share a little teaser of what we might see in the big finale?
We were very fortunate to have Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed the pilot, back to direct the season finale. And it’s really sort of this full circle moment. We reference the pilot and it feels like it’s this great bookend to many of the questions we asked in the pilot. So people who have been following the show from the very beginning, I think will feel very, very satisfied with where it leads. And there’s just some things we do — there’s a character in the show, other than a pretty little liar, who has a flashback with Alison on the weekend she disappeared. So that’s really fun, and we have this very cinematic visual ending which is the Hitchockian part of it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s very suspenseful and spooky and surprising.

Oh wow. And will we continue to see the Ali flashbacks next season as well?
We will. We definitely will. And as of the finale, we’ve opened it up to one other character’s memories of Alison as well.

Be sure to tune in tonight at 8 pm to ABC Family for an all new episode of Pretty Little Liars!

2 Comments

  • msfantasticopr
    posted on March 1st, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    When I first began seeing all this PRetty little liars stuff I was very turned off by it. First it was set in High School, scond the girls were just WAY too pretty like Barbie pretty and third it was on ABC family… I mean seriously! But one of my BFF’s told me there was a lesbian character in the books and so I HAD to tune in. 19 episodes later and I have to say it is my favorite guilty pleasure of this season.
    Love a lot of the directors shots and love Emily. I am particularly drawn to Emily/Paige. Their chemistry brings something special to the show. I am enjoying the suspence and drama of whats to come between them. Will Paige do a big dramatic coming out getsture as the ‘ballsy’ woman she is? Will it be too late? Will Maya return? Thank you PLL writers for FINALLY making an innovative lesbian storyline! :)

  • Great interview. Thanks for sharing!

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