TV & Film

'Pretty Little Liars': The Actress Behind Spencer, Troian Bellisario, Talks Toby, 'A' And Losing Everything

Of the four "Pretty Little Liars," Spencer Hastings is as Type A as they come. Throughout the ABC Family show's two and a half seasons, the overachieving WASP has arguably been more determined than anyone to find out who's been blackmailing her and her friends, but it's the one "A" she can't get.

But a lot changes when Season 3 of "Pretty Little Liars" returns on Tuesday, January 8 at 8 p.m. EST and Troian Bellisario, the actress who plays Spencer, says she's having the most fun she's ever had on the series.

When Spencer finds out the truth about her boyfriend-turned-"A"-Team-member Toby (Keegan Allen), "She really has lost everything, in her eyes," Bellisario told HuffPost TV via phone. "And when somebody loses everything, they can do anything. So while she does become more and more destroyed, she also becomes almost more and more powerful."

Find out what's in store for Rosewood's very own Nancy Drew, who Spencer will be sparring with, who Bellisario thinks could betray her "Pretty Little Liars" character the worst, and much more.

Spencer has grown so much over the past three seasons. What do you love about playing her?
Everything? [Laughs.] She's so wonderful in so many different ways -- there's her humor; she's also incredibly strong and yet she's probably one of the most easily breakable people. There's just a really big range with her and there's so much that I get to do. We always joke around that while the other girls are on beautiful romantic dates, I'm the one who's spending the night out in the woods Nancy Drew-ing it up. But that's so much fun, to get to live in both of those words: She's kind of the sleuth of the girls and the big planner, but at the same time, she's also a really big romantic.

Spencer really has developed such a great sense of humor as the show's gone on. Did you ask to lighten things up a bit for her?
No. She always had a really dry sense of humor. Even in the pilot, she has really, really dry, great lines. But I think as time went on and I got to hang out with the writers more and they kind of got my sense of humor -- which is pretty similar -- they just started writing more and more. The fun thing about being the brain of the group is she's kind of the truth-teller. There are two truth-tellers: One is Spencer, who figures it all out, and then there's Hanna, who doesn't really have a filter and can kind of say anything. And that's what's amazing about what Ashley [Benson] does as Hanna. So you have these two characters who can call anybody on their BS at any time and it's always pretty funny.

Going back to the Halloween special -- which was super eventful since it was set in the present -- Garrett [Yani Gellman] told Spencer about Ali [Sasha Pieterse] and Bryon [Chad Lowe] before she died. How much will that factor into the story when Season 3 picks back up?
It's definitely going to create a rift with the girls. So much happened in that episode -- and especially with what Aria [Lucy Hale] had to go through, being locked in a box with Garrett's corpse and after all of that, coming out and having one of her best friends say, "The last thing Garrett told me was this awful thing about your dad." So it really creates a rift between Aria and Spencer, who are so close. And yet, at this moment -- because when Spencer gets wind of a clue or a possible new lead, she can't really let it go -- she finds it hard to take care of Aria, who's going through emotional trauma, thinking, "What if my dad is not who I think he is?"

Mona [Janel Parrish] is out of Radley now and back at Rosewood. What effect is that going to have on the girls?
It's going to have a huge effect. I remember it was actually very funny. We were reading the first episode where she's back and I'm having to interact with her, the girl that tried to throw me off of a cliff not three months before. I was talking to the writers and I said, "This is ludicrous! I would have a restraining order. It is awful that this is happening! How is this possible?" They looked at me and they said, "That's exactly what Spencer's going through." So I was like, "Oh. Well, OK." [Laughs.] It was just kind of fun to play the incredulity of this scenario. One of our directors, Norman [Buckley], said, "What I love about the show is that the circumstances are so completely fantastic and yet, the emotions are all real." So it's like, imagine a world where you can't get protection from the person that attempted to take your life and in fact, she's just your study partner. [Laughs.] That's what gives the world its humor and also its darkness.

There's a scene in the Season 3 preview where Spencer tells Mona, "This is not game to me at all." It's pretty clear she's still screwing with them or at least, they think she is.
Yeah. Especially with kind of power we endowed the character of Mona with, to think that all of a sudden she would just kind of come back and be like, "I'm sorry. I was having a really stressful couple months and I took it too far" ... You can't do that. So the worst part for the girls is the new world that they find themselves in where everybody is wanting Mona to be better and wanting the girls to forgive her, but they know better. They know who this person really is.

Hanna especially wants to believe in Mona, but I feel like Spencer definitely doesn't trust her. Are she and Mona specifically at odds, more so than the other girls?
Yes. I love playing with Janel because she's so much fun and every scene I get to do with her is amazing. But the great thing that was set up between Mona and Spencer is that they're both really, really smart young women and they both want to be the smartest. It was very clear to Spencer that for a long time, she was outsmarted by somebody and that drove her up the wall. Mona, or "A," took the light and was torturing the girls in different ways: With Spencer, it was like a game of chess and she was always five steps ahead. So now that Mona's back, there is a special connection and bond between her and Spencer because they're in a constant game of one-upping each other.

The huge reveal of the Season 3 winter finale is that Toby is part of the "A" Team. Was it hard to do scenes with Keegan Allen after finding that out when Spencer is still in the dark?
It was kind of fun! It was fun for me, but I think it was hard for Keegan because Keegan felt so bad all the time about playing these scenes and saying all these really normal, romantic, sweet Toby lines. But it was really fun for me to play into the trap of it and not have to worry about it because I knew the more I got to play into being oblivious, the more fun the realization was going to be.

Spencer isn't looking so good in some points of the trailer. It looks like she's starting to break down and she says the girls need to stop blaming "A" and start blaming themselves. What happens that leads her to feel that way?
That's what's kind of always been interesting about our show is that the girls themselves are not innocent and I think that the lesson of our show is that if the girls figured out a way to tell the truth about all of these things tomorrow, they would probably be in the clear, but they can't actually own up to everything that they've done because it would change everything. It would change the way their parents looked at them. I'm not saying they're evil or malicious, but they've definitely made mistakes -- as everybody does -- very early in their lives, and they're still paying for it.

This season was the most fun for me to shoot personally because Spencer's always been willing to go 100 percent to fight "A," but once the truth comes out about Toby -- which, let's face it, Spencer's a very, very intelligent girl and she's not going to stay in the dark forever -- she really has lost everything, in her eyes. And when somebody loses everything, they can do anything. So while she does become, like you saw in the trailer, more and more destroyed, she also becomes almost more and more powerful.

We've heard about some major scenes in the woods coming up. What can you say about those?
Those scenes are not what I'd call "fun." [Laughs.] I mean, they were exhausting. I was in a highly emotional state, I will say. And probably, the next day, when we were shooting the sort of morning-after scene, that was really fun because I got to be Spencer in a completely different light. It's kind of like the phoenix moment because all night, we shot in those woods and it was kind of like her burning herself to the ground and in the morning, you get to see what rises out of the ashes. I think it will be really, really fun for the audience. I think they'll be kind of worried for a while, but ultimately, it will be really fun.

We know that Melissa [Torrey DeVitto] returns too and viewers have always been suspicious of her. What's to come between Melissa and Spencer?
I love having Torrey around -- she's so much fun to play with and I adore her on set and off. For me, Melissa is one of the characters, outside of the four girls, that holds so much possibility. I just really believe that she has done so many bad things. There are moments where she's really tried to connect with Spencer or help Spencer, so she's not just a 100 percent evil character. I think it's kind of interesting because Spencer has that kind of relationship with Melissa that Hanna has with Mona, where you don't know if they're 100 percent evil because you've seen them at their weakest moment, you've seen them reach out to you and ask for help and you can't help but give it to them because no matter how bad it gets between them or what they've done to each other, they're still sisters. I also think that there's the ultimate betrayal set up in Melissa, but I don't know what's going to happen.

We've seen that picture of Jason [Drew Van Acker] and Mona hugging. What's Spencer's reaction to that friendship?
One of things that Spencer quickly realizes when she's looking at the NAT Club is that it was Ian [Ryan Merriman], Garrett and Jason. Ian's dead, Garrett's dead and now all of sudden, Jason -- who she found out was her brother and she has a new connection with -- is hanging out with Mona. Spencer is definitely on high alert. Also, there's a personal feeling of hurt when she finds out that the two of them are becoming close, which is "You're supposed to be my family. This person hurt me for so long. How could you be spending time with them?" I think it's really difficult for Spencer to understand.

You and Shay Mitchell have a Kickstarter campaign going on. How'd that come about?
Two of our very good friends who work with us every day on "Pretty Little Liars" are Kyle [Hasday] and Matt [Stewart]. They want to direct movies together and they're such wonderful people and they work so hard with us every day. We often go out to dinner with them and have movie nights and we said, "Why don't you guys write something and shoot something? We'll do a movie with you." So they took it upon themselves to write a short film calle "Afterlife" that's totally different for Shay and I, and they started this Kickstarter to raise money to shoot it.

The characters are different and alike. We play two women who wake up on the other side of a mass cult suicide and they're the only two survivors. One of them realizes it as a miracle or a new chance at life and backs away from the cult beliefs and the other quickly realizes that they're going to be left behind and she wants to go with the other cult members. It's really interesting and happens in real-time and in one location. It's purely about the mental and physical struggle between these two characters as they fight for what they consider life.

What else are you working on?
This year, I wrote and acted in and produced my first short film called "Exiles." I'm really proud of it and right now we're sending it out to festivals to see where we can find a home for it. The fans have all been really supportive and I want them to see it.

Shane Coffey, who played Holden on "Pretty Little Liars," is in it too, right?
Yes. Shane and I went to school together and the director of the film, Thomas Bertelsen, we all formed a small theater company together when we went to USC. We're all really proud of it and it's truly like a family endeavor.

Will you be shooting more "Lauren"?
Yes, I love everything about playing that character. It's so completely different and so wonderfully strong in a totally different way: She's a mother, she's a soldier, she is having to operate in a completely different landscape than I've ever known. I've read books and I've spoken to women who've served and I can only imagine what that's like. So to get to go back and revisit that world and attempt to tell more of her story is such a delight to me. I'm so equally nervous and excited for it.

What's it like working with Jennifer Beals?
Amazing! She's just one of those people who's so strong in herself and yet, willing to play at the same time. She's confident with her choices, but willing to throw them out at a minute's notice. She's also such a giving actor that all the scenes with her were just an absolute delight. Working with Lesli Linka Glatter, who has been working with me on "Pretty Little Liars" for a very long time, to have the three of us in a room, it was just such a collaborative circle of energy that it was just so much fun.

The "Pretty Little Liars" Season 3 winter premiere airs on Tuesday, January 8 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC Family.

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