The Pretty Little Liars and You actress on social media, sociopaths and her next viral TV series.
Most people with functioning vision would agree that it’s not hard to feel a little awe-struck when catching sight of Shay Mitchell. Impossibly long-limbed, pore-less and waterfall-haired, more often than not her on-screen presence provokes an audible sigh.
She first graced our TV screens back in 2010 as sweet, high-achieving teen Emily Fields in seven-year-long hit show, Pretty Little Liars. Then came horrifying cover-your-eyes exorcism flick, The Possession of Hannah Grace. But very recently it’s the undeniable viral success of Netflix’s teen thriller series, You, that has had everyone (the internet) talking. Penn Badgely stars as Joe Goldberg, a sociopathic book store manager who becomes infatuated with student, Guinevere Beck. Mitchell plays Beck’s wealthy, fabulous, but manipulative best friend, Peach Salinger (what a status surname) – a complete 180° from her gentle long-running character on PLL.
Many stars would feel lucky to snag one such opportunity, let alone two, but the actress’ upcoming project, Hulu comedy series, Dollface, could see her on a winning streak. The show follows a young woman (Kat Dennings) who has to go back and salvage her female friendships after her longterm relationship ends. Mitchell plays her friend, charming and hedonistic free spirit, Stella Cole.
We caught up with the actress ahead of the new show and talked social media, sociopaths and becoming a back-up dancer for Beyoncé…
You were fantastic in You as Peach Salinger – what attracted you to the script?
I actually remember reading the pilot while I was on a plane back home to LA. I loved it and remember calling my entire team as soon as I landed to tell them that I needed and wanted to be a part of the project in some way, shape or form. There were three main things that pulled me in straight way: the character was a complete 180 from the other character that I had been playing for so many years; the location was in NY which I was super excited about; cast-wise I have always been a big fan of Penn and his work.
Your character, Peach Salinger, seemed amazing at absolutely everything – did you relate?
I don’t know if Peach was necessarily good at everything; I really think she excelled at orchestrating the people in her life to do things for her, which can be both a positive and negative quality. All that said, she certainly was a good spy and I admired her tenacity and ability to follow her intuition.
In your career, what character have you related to to this most?
So tough to say. I think all actors bring pieces of themselves to their roles, so you organically and naturally relate to them on innate and visceral levels, and vice versa. From Pretty Little Liars, I always admired and related to Emily’s strong sense of loyalty. From The Possession of Hannah Grace, Megan’s courage. From You, Peach’s style.
How did you feel about all the social media fallout of everyone joking about being in love with Penn Badgley’s sociopathic character in You?
I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that people are attracted to Penn or the idea of Joe sans the sociopathic tendencies. I mean does someone really want a weird strange man breaking into your house and stealing your underwear? Even if he is cute? I think there is a super fine line in today’s society regarding mental health – with everything that happens in media and the real world, no person in their right might would ever want a truly sociopathic partner, or wish that for someone else that they care about.
Do you miss Pretty Little Liars? PLL provided me with a lifetime of memories and lifelong friends, but with anything in life all good things come to an end to make space for new. I don’t miss it because in having that exciting chapter of my life come to a close I have been able to grow and evolve in so many different ways.
Tell us about your upcoming show Dollface?
I’ve never done comedy before so the role is a new challenge and avenue for me to pursue; the style lends itself to an entirely different pace than past projects as well, which I’m enjoying. While the comedy role is certainly an exciting change of pace, I am delighted to once again find myself in another group cast filled with incredible women. Esther Povitsky, Brenda Song and Kat Dennings are all such talents, and amazing people in general. I’m so excited about this project!
What kind of roles are you attracted to?
I find myself gravitating towards roles that are challenging and different from past projects. Obviously also love a project with a strong female presence or lead.
What kind of role would you love to take on next?
An action or superhero also comes to mind, but definitely would love to play a character that can be an inspiration to young women.
What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment of your career so far?
Honestly, every single day is a “pinch-me” moment. One of the most exciting things recently has been watching BEIS, my travel accessories line, come to life. It is an indescribable feeling to be abroad, or even just around town, and see someone out and about in the world carrying a product that I poured my literal heart and soul in to. Spotting BEIS out in the wild often excites me so much that I can’t restrain myself from going up and talking to the person sporting the bag, but that is another story all together. Ultimately, I’m so happy and grateful that I get to wake up and do things that I love with people I respect.
You have near 24 million followers on Instagram – how is your relationship with social media?
Ever since I turned the corner on 30 I have developed a far more healthy relationship with social media. Long gone are the days of FOMO or feeling intimidated by what other people are posting; or even viewing myself negatively. I came to realise that a lot of what you see is merely smoke and mirrors. So in response I purged my feed and now only focus on and follow pages and people that give me inspiration, enhance my world view or make me happy.
You’re basically a household name now – what do you miss most about your old life?
I don’t miss anything about it! Every day is an exciting new day and while some things have inevitably changed, I still have the same great family, group of friends and interests that keep me tethered.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you?
I love to stay home or boast to my friends and colleagues about how early I sometimes go to bed. I can also handle spicy food. Extremely spicy food. I’m always accepting challenges.
What’s next for you? What are you excited about this year?
The sky is not the limit! I could drop an album. I could start painting. You might find me as a back-up dancer for Beyoncé. I’m open, but beyond next steps my ultimate goal is to always strive to prioritise the happiness and feeling of contentment I currently have.
Marcelo Cantu and Ava Ismaiylova @ Broken Cage Studio