Pretty Little Liar turned Spring Breaker, there’s a lot more to anti-fame icon Ashley Benson than meets the eye.
Red chiffon shirt and yellow, red and black wool mix skirt all by MIU MIU
There are some TV shows you can just pop in on, and pick up on the action and characters and plot from that point forward. Pretty Little Liars is not one of them. The ABC Family teen thriller is exasperatingly conflated, full of red herrings, redder herrings, and herrings of a red so bright it would make a Ferrari blush. Something about a girl being killed and someone named “A” (possibly the dead girl) haunting her friends via text message.
“I’m so confused about the show myself,” says Ashley Benson. She plays Hanna Marin, who is either the mean girl or the funny girl or the vulnerable girl. On a cold late-December day, sipping an iced tea at the restaurant within the Chateau Marmont, that citadel of celebrity, she laughs at the thought of hardly knowing what’s going on in the show that’s made her something of a hero among teens.
“Everyone’s like, ‘What’s happening?’ I’m like, ‘I honestly don’t know,’” she says with another hearty, raspy laugh. Unlike the show’s liars, it is quickly apparent that Benson is brutally candid. “We film so much, I never remember anything. I’ll be filming a scene, and I’ll be like, ‘Wait, why are we doing this, what’s happening, and who is this person?’”
But there are obviously a lot of people out there who do know exactly what’s going on, because it’s the cable network’s longest-running show ever, having just confirmed a seventh and supposedly final season. “I think they want to do more, and a film,” Benson says. “It never stops getting bigger. I’m like, ‘The fact that you guys still like it after five seasons of not knowing who the hell ‘A’ is, I applaud you.’”
Because of her role as Marin, Benson is extraordinarily popular – 5.3 million fans follow her on Instagram, the tabloids tirelessly debate her love life, and she attracts attention, wherever she goes, from the show’s zealous fans, many of whom have grown up with Benson throughout the show’s five seasons and are now going off to college. But there’s a sense that Benson isn’t exactly comfortable with the pressure of fame.
“Weirdly, I’m shy,” she says. “When people first meet me, they always think that I’m a bitch. I always get called that. Always. Because I don’t talk. I get really nervous in public situations, but once you get to know me, I’m so outgoing, I’m so loud and bombastic. I have the biggest mouth. But [at first] I’m very closed off. I hold in emotions. I don’t like to be vulnerable, ever. But when you’re acting, you get to explore those feelings and those emotions and those moments. Acting is so fun. I love memorising lines and I love doing scenes.”
She sighs. “If I could work and not have anyone know who I am – I know it’s not possible – that would be my goal.”
A younger Benson sought that fame, acting and modelling from an early age, having grown up in Anaheim. “When I was little, I was such a ham,” she says, blowing on a spoonful of the lentil soup that has just come to the table. “I’m obsessed with my younger self. I want her to be my daughter. I said anything I wanted then. I was so funny. I watch videos, and I’m like, ‘What happened to that girl?’ She’s not here. She comes out when [I’m] drunk, or on TV.”
She recalls her first brush with fame, something that keeps her grounded, when thinking of her own popularity with young people. “When I was younger, I was obsessed with the Olsen twins. I watched everything they did, so I always go back to the time when I did that, but when it happens to you, it’s weird. I just watched their movies every day. I got to meet them when they were 14. I was modelling for their clothing line and they came to set one day and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Having a younger fan base has its perks: for one, their loyalty is often unflagging, and that can lead to future success for different projects. But, when Benson landed the lead role in Harmony Korine’s R-rated thriller Spring Breakers, she found that her underage admirers might have actually hurt the film at the box office. “I went to see Spring Breakers in theatres, all these teenagers were lining up with How to Train Your Dragon tickets, because they couldn’t get into Spring Breakers. Me, Selena and Vanessa all have a younger fan base, so there were a lot of younger people sneaking in, so How to Train Your Dragon made a lot from us.
Black floral silk blazer by SAINT LAURENT BY HEDI SLIMANE, red cotton sweater by MIU MIU, black skirt stylist’s own, brown leather loafers by THE ROW and sterling silver necklace by BROKEN ENGLISH
Black wool sweater with flower embellishment by FENDI, pearl ring by BROKEN ENGLISH JEWELLERY
White shirt and blue denim jeans all by MARC JACOBS, silver necklace by HENRIETTA JEWELLERY and bracelets by BROKEN ENGLISH VINTAGE JEWELLERY
Photographer: Charlotte Hadden.
Fashion Editor: Jamie Schneider.
Words: Maxwell Williams.