If you have not already seen my post about Ashley Benson’s cover shoot for Teen Vogue, click here to view it.
“I can’t hear that song anymore!” Ashley Benson, star of Pretty Little Liars, sits down to lunch at the überchic Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles dressed in a vintage gray T-shirt, jeans, clunky Chanel specs, and an oversize Michael Kors gold watch. She starts to tell me about her recent travels—including a now-infamous private plane ride she took with Justin Bieber, Ryan Good (her boyfriend and The Biebs’ onetime swagger coach), and Selena Gomez. “We were messing around, being absolute idiots to this Carly Rae Jepsen song, ‘Call Me Maybe,’ ” Ashley says with a laugh. “Ryan was slapping his face with pancakes, and Justin wanted to videotape it. I was like, Whatever. When he got home, Justin calls and says, ‘Can I please tweet that video?’ Now it’s everywhere!”
That mile-high ha-ha jam session may have gone viral, but being one degree of separation from Justin Bieber isn’t Ashley’s claim to fame. Ever since Pretty Little Liars launched on ABC Family two summers ago—it now snags 3.5 million viewers weekly, dwarfing Gossip Girl—we can’t stop obsessing over it. And we’re not alone: PLL was the most-tweeted-about TV series for all of 2011. It’s not just that everyone on it is blessed with already airbrushed genetics. (PLL is the kind of hot-under-the-Band-of-Outsiders-collar show where teachers, police officers, and students all look the same age—and that age is hot.) Or that the who-killed-Alison? mystery is chilling. (We can’t wait to find out who “A” is.) At its heart, PLL is a girl power coming-of-age story. While Ashley (who plays Queen Bee Hanna), Lucy Hale (Aria), Shay Mitchell (Emily), and Troian Bellisario (Spencer) are trying to figure out who murdered their best friend, they’re really trying to figure out who they want to be.
For her part, Ashley’s known she was going to be an actress since she was a kid, growing up in Orange County watching Lakers games on TV and memorizing lines from her favorite movies (she’s a huge Harry Potter fan). “This sounds crazy,” she says, “but my goal is to be nominated for an Oscar. I was the kid who was practicing my acceptance speech when I was ten.” At twelve, she was taking her first steps, shooting commercials for Pop-Tarts and begging her parents to let her drop out of school to focus on acting.
“I was picked on,” Ashley says, biting into a BLT (bacon extra crispy). “I got made fun of. I was always left out.” By high school, she had landed a regular gig on Days of Our Lives and bypassed stressful hallway run-ins with Mean Girls wannabes for on-set tutors. Still, starring in a soap opera came with its own, ahem, occupational hazards. Think the story of your first kiss is awkward? Ashley suffered through hers at the age of fifteen in front of an army of producer types and some 50 extras. “The guy playing my boyfriend was in his 20s,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is my first real kiss. So don’t be creepy!’ Everybody on set thought it was the cutest thing.”
In many ways, though, Ashley’s your typical 22-year-old girl. She buys her jeans at Urban Outfitters and loves to accessorize with edgy details like skulls and crossbones. If her stylist, Taylor Jacobson (Rachel Zoe’s onetime protégé), has a goal for 2012, it’s to get Ashley into bold colors and girly dresses. “She’s like, ‘In two years you’re gonna be all fancy, and you’re gonna love it,’ ” Ashley says. “But I always lean toward the blacks and the grays.” Still, there’s definitely hope: On a recent episode of PLL, she wore a hot pink BCBG dress and Jeffrey Campbell platform shoes. “I died. I said, ‘I have to get this dress!’ ”
As she sips iced tea in the garden of Hollywood’s chicest hotel, it’s obvious that Ashley has come a long way. She’s on a massive hit show, lives in her own Burbank apartment with access to a pool but no food in the refrigerator (“People come over, and I’m like, ‘Do you want water?’ “), and scours blogs like A Touch of Luxe for furniture and design ideas.
She’s playing at being a grown-up and has been dating Ryan for over a year. And while she seems so crazy in love that she’s practically Day-Glo, she admits the relationship hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “The first couple of months, it was all Skype,” she says. “He was in Japan, Europe—everywhere. I’d have to wake up at two in the morning to talk to him. It’s hard being in this industry. You’re always away from your family and friends and boyfriend.”
Distance can be a challenge for any twosome— especially two with such insanely crowded iCals—so Ashley’s making the most of their time together, whether it’s being silly on a private plane or going to the prom. Wait—the prom? “I never had one!” Ashley says. So when she was invited to a prom-themed party at The Beverly Hilton hotel, hosted by the fashion label Young & Reckless, she admits she turned into a promzilla. “My boyfriend wanted to go all crazy in a powder blue tuxedo,” she says. “But I treated this like my real prom. I wanted good pictures. I got a black strapless dress and a hot pink clutch with spikes on it. We got a white limo—so tacky—and danced to Rihanna and Kanye West. It was the best!”
Now that she and Ryan are living in the same time zone—he recently relocated to Los Angeles from Florida—perhaps they’re thinking about moving in together? Ashley quickly dismisses that idea. “I don’t think I could live with anybody,” she says, shaking her head. “I had roommates, and it’s not for me. I like my space!”
There’s more to it than privacy, perhaps. It’s her career that she’s most concerned with. She has 700,000 Twitter followers (not to mention some pretty supportive parents) to protect and doesn’t plan on embarrassing herself or jeopardizing things by stumbling out of a car or suffering a wardrobe malfunction anytime soon. “I’ve seen a lot of people— for example, Lindsay Lohan—who got into the wrong crowd,” Ashley says. “I always have my eye on what I want. And I don’t want anything to distract me from that.” What she wants is to be taken seriously as an actress. That’s why she recently chopped her hair, ditching Hanna’s long blond tresses for a more sophisticated style. “I always get offered the pretty, popular girl roles,” she says. (She played a cheerleader three times in two years!) “But I want to do something dark, really challenge myself and get out of my comfort level.”
Those challenges are around the corner—she just snagged a major role opposite James Franco in Spring Breakers, a gritty drama about four girls (Ashley, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Heather Morris) who get arrested while robbing a fast-food joint. Shot guerrilla-style in Florida and directed by experimental filmmaker Harmony Korine—who cowrote 1995’s Kids—the project certainly sounds trippy, but how about a little PLL gossip? Pretty little please?
While A’s secret may be out of the bag, we’re already all about season three. In the Pretty Little Liars book series, A is actually three different people. Will the show follow suit? “I don’t know what we’re doing,” Ashley admits, as the check comes. “But I always want Hanna to be A. It would be such a weird twist. She’s acting like she’s scared of everyone trying to torture her, but maybe she was in on the whole thing?” If Ashley had her wish, this new season would take the girls to New York City. “It’d be so cool if we were on the Jumbotron in Times Square and A was chasing us around the city,” she says.
While she’s tight-lipped with details, Ashley does add fuel to the fire that PLL executive producer I. Marlene King sparked this past spring, hinting that the show might hit the big screen sooner rather than later. “The producers are talking about doing four seasons,” she says, “and then wrapping it up with a feature film. We’d all want to go somewhere we’ve never been before.” And of course, A wouldn’t be far behind. “To be followed around by A in a whole other state or country could be really exciting. We would love to make it happen—not just for us but also for the fans.”
A Pretty Little Liars movie? That sounds, in a word, A-mazing.
For more about Ashley Benson’s time with Teen Vogue, visit the Teen Vogue website.