.: Not Even the "Pretty Little Liars" Moms Can Justify Their Absentee Parenting :.
It's seemingly impossible to find a photo of all four Pretty Little Liars Moms, in part because in five seasons of the show, they've never shot a scene together. They hang out IRL pretty much never — joking that the only time it's happened was at a wrap party — and yet during a joint phone interview last week, Laura Leighton (Ashley Marin), Lesley Fera (Veronica Hastings), Nia Peeples (Pam Fields), and Holly Marie Combs (Ella Montgomery) had the familiar back-and-forth banter of old friends. During our 30-minute call, the conversation ranged from light and joke-y (see: Nia's confession that she thinks her character is secretly a hooker) to serious and reflective, touching on the awe the TV veterans feel toward on-screen daughters Ashley Benson, Troian Bellisario, Shay Mitchell, and Lucy Hale, who graciously navigate social media insanity that didn't exist when they were twentysomething actresses on hit TV shows.
But like some kind of Rosewood-level trickery, my recorder malfunctioned and the conversation disappeared. Bless the PLL moms for jumping back on the phone with me/answering dangling questions over email ("You poor thing!" said Nia immediately; "Mercury's in retrograde!" said Lesley apologetically) to talk about their maternal instincts toward the PLL cast, that whole hooker thing, and a few hints at what's ahead in season six — where they'll finally film their first scene together.
The big joke of the show is that the parents are never around and seemingly have no idea that their kids are being tormented by an anonymous psycho.
Nia (Emily's mom): Oh yeah. Pam is the stay-at-home, I'm-there-for-my-daughter-24/7, this-is-my-primary-reason-for-existence [parent], and yet she knows nothing! [Laughs.] And I'm like, how could that possibly be? So we have to make up these humorous things to help us just be honest in the moment. For me, it was about Pam being gay herself or maybe stripping in the next town over, because she's always gone. Or hooking or something, I don't know!
Do you feel parental toward your on-screen daughters in real life?
Laura (Hanna's mom): I do have moments of feeling parental toward [Ashley] because she reminds me of one of my own daughters very much, but I also know that nobody wants another person telling them what they think or what to do. And so the relationship I need to have is, we're work friends. I think she feels like she could ask for advice. And she has on occasion. We've had conversations. But I'm very cautious not to initiate a conversation where it'd be sort of overstepping and motherly.
Lesley (Spencer's mom): I don't feel parental, per se. We are much more equal peers. We're mostly friends. She's got her act together, so I really never feel the need to step in or try and advise her because she's got a great head on her shoulders. She's very much an old soul.
Nia (Emily's mom): Shay is so savvy. And she owns what she wants. Period. And me, at 53, I'm still trying to get there. All the girls are a lot more savvy than I was when I was on a show at 22, you know? And Shay is one of those girls who is like, "I am a brand and I'm going to own that." And that's why that girl manages her image like crazy. She takes that phone everywhere. Most of the time she'll have somebody with her to take pictures. Every time she's come here to go paddling — and I mean we are literally in the water, she falls in the water, whatever — she's got somebody there taking pictures. And it astounds me, because half of the time I'm like, "I live here and I'm in the water all the time," and I'm like, "Oh, I don't want my phone." But she is really on it.
Holly (Aria's mom): Gosh, it's so much tougher for this generation. Growing up in any sort of spotlight is difficult. Everything is magnified. But now with incredibly invasive paparazzi tactics, it is tenfold for them — in addition to the requirement of promoting themselves and their projects on social media. The demand is extreme. It's almost like a second job really. This is the stuff publicists used to do for us, but now it's all on them to project a public image, which is good in some ways but not all. Mistakes will be made and broadcast to a much larger audience in real time. It's a lot of pressure. I read some of the comments that people feel comfortable posting to them or me, and I am shocked at just how callous and cruel humans have become from behind their keyboards. It's a weird existence. I hate that part for them. Hate it.
When you have a super-engaged fanbase tweeting with you constantly, do you have to watch what you say?
Lesley (Spencer's mom): It's astounding, the PLL army. The theories and the 'ships and the support of the relationships on the show — it's intense. When asked what my favorite 'ship is, of course I say Spoby, but I also really like Haleb. But they're like, "Haleb? No, you've got to like Spoby."
Laura (Hanna's mom): I do think that Pretty Little Liars has raised the bar in how social media can tie into the fanbase watching the show. I was on Melrose at a time where we had to all go home and be there at the same time when the show was on, or set your VCR. But that was a big thing and people of my generation still talk about that. They remember where they were, at what point of their lives that show came, and then talking about it the next day. There were certain shows where that's what social watching was — talking about it the next day.
Lesley (Spencer's mom): It's immediate gratification [now], that's for sure. I don't think any show has tapped into the social media market as well as this show, really. I think some are following our show's lead.
Pam, when the show started, your character was very homophobic, and it took you a while to accept Emily coming out. Was it difficult to play that role?
Nia (Emily's mom): Pam and I are very, very different. The one thing we have in common is how deeply we love our children, and that is the thing that I had to tap into in order to bring Pam through the various changes that she had to come through. I was so happy when the writers gave me the scene where I spoke with Paige's dad and stuck up for my daughter and told her, "I don't understand this, but I know who you are." Sometimes it's hard as a parent to admit — or to accept, actually — that we don't know everything. So I was so grateful that they wrote that scene and allowed Pam to make that turn on-screen.
My goal in bringing her through that was to have the audience understand how someone might be that way. I get a lot of tweets from gay teenagers, saying, "My parents don't understand me, they hate me..." What I try to have people understand is that [Pam] just didn't know better. Pam did not understand. So know that your parents love you and give them time.
Speaking of questionable parenting — Laura, I have to say, I loved when your character hooked up with Jason DeLaurentis.
Laura (Hanna's mom): OK, that has not been the easiest thing. And I knew it was just going to completely divide the audience. Some people would go, "I love that!" And some people would just plain-out go, "Ew!" And I had to go into it knowing full well that it was going to cause that reaction and go, "OK!"
Holly, what is your official position on Aria's insane accessories?
Holly (Aria's mom): I, personally, love them and Mandi Line, our costume designer, very much. But you are asking someone who made their own jewelry out of safety pins as a teenager so ... I think Ella knows the value of her children's individuality and mostly encourages them to express themselves honestly and truly. Clearly that expression should include accessories.
What has been the most surprising plot line for you so far?
Holly (Aria's mom): For me, it was the muffin man becoming the extreme creep with Hanna. It's really slim pickings in Rosewood in the eligible-and-not-psycho-men department. #PoorElla.
Laura, one thing my editor brought up that I had never noticed — even though I'm a total superfan — is that Ashley Marin is always drinking coffee. It's like coffee is your other daughter.
Laura (Hanna's mom): Well, I'll be honest. There's a reason for that. The only set in the Marin household is the kitchen and hallway with half a stairway going up. In season two — maybe it was season three — they built a bedroom for Hanna. But that's all we have. So, there's only one place for us to have conversation, and that's generally in the kitchen. And so, for lack of anything better to do: "Here, let me make you some coffee."
I thought you were going to say the reason is that you're addicted to coffee, like everyone on the show.
Laura: No, that's not the reason at all. I will say that I've started offering tea in season six.
Laura: I know that's a little bit of a spoiler. I don't want to ruin anything for you, but…
You're like, I can't tell you anything about "A," but there's tea.
Laura: There's tea. Don't tell anybody else.
Will we ever see you guys send the Liars off to college?
Lesley (Spencer's mom): Speaking for my character, I certainly hope so. It's going to be intriguing to see what the writers do. I don't know what they have in store. I would imagine that maybe there will be some surprises and that might be one of them. I keep thinking that maybe [Spencer] will get into Oxford anyway. A gal can dream.
If Rosewood had Parent of the Year awards, who would win?
Holly (Aria's mom): I think Ashley Marin. Didn't she, like, hit someone with her car? Talk about a maternal instinct. She will kill for her daughter. Ella goes to Austria. I mean, there's just no comparison right there. Maybe Ella will step up this year. We'll see.
Nia (Emily's mom): When the season first started, [Emily] was going to live with Hanna and Ashley and I was leaving for Texas. I was thinking, I would leave her with Aria. I would not leave her there. You know? Why would I leave her there with a single mom and a girl who's shoplifting? No!
Laura (Hanna's mom): I still remember shooting the pilot, taking [Hanna] from the police station where she'd been arrested for shoplifting. I was angry with her and scolding her in the car, but we were just meeting. We were strangers. It was freezing cold and we were shooting the pilot in Vancouver and we were in the car and we had to do this dialogue. I was supposed to put the car in reverse and keep my dialogue going about how she should do this and she should do that, and I accidentally hit the wipers instead of the reverse and the wipers went on and she and I got the giggles and couldn't stop. We had to keep starting and stopping other takes because we would giggle some more. And that was like a really fun moment that I've never forgotten where we kind of had this breakthrough — those giggles together. We have those moments daily now. Something sets one of us off, and we're like, "No, no, no, we can't. Better not look at her because we're losing it." But that was the first one. I'll never forget it.
Pretty Little Liars' sixth season premieres tonight at 8/7 CST on ABC Family.