By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—After seven seasons of playing artsy Aria Montgomery on the hit TV series “Pretty Little Liars,” Lucy Hale is headlining another show, “Life Sentence,” in which she plays Stella Abbott, a young woman who has survived terminal cancer and has to learn to live with the choices she made when she thought she was dying.
It’s a change of pace for the Memphis, Tennessee-born actress, who is committed to trying out and playing different characters through her craft.
The youthful-looking 28-year-old also stars in the Blumhouse horror movie, “Truth or Dare,” hitting theaters this Friday. She plays a college student who, while on spring break in Mexico with her friends, winds up at a spooky abandoned church with a guy she met at a bar. The whole gang starts playing the party game Truth or Dare, but after everyone’s taken his or her turn, and secrets revealed, the game still isn’t over. The friends return stateside and realize that they are followed home by an evil spirit and are still playing the game. If they fail to respond to the “truth” or “dare” order, they end up dead. Of course, in playing against an evil entity, the rules keep changing and the surviving players realize they have to return to the abandoned church to confront the evil spirit in order to try and end the game. Directed by Jeff Wadlow (“Cry Wolf”) from a story and screenplay co-written by Michael Reisz and produced by Jason Blum (“Get Out”), “Truth or Dare” also stars Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron, Sophia Ali and Sam Lerner.
Dressed for an interview in a stunning royal purple dress, her blondish hair cropped just below the chin, Hale is eager to talk up her new film and TV show. Having begun her career at age 13 as a contestant on “American Juniors” (a spinoff of “American Idol”), she has been busy building a music and acting career ever since. She admits she never had a Plan B, never went to college, because she was always laser-focused on following her dream.
Q: You have a new show, “Life Sentence.” Is it different playing a new character after all your time on “Pretty Little Liars?”
Hale: It is. I knew, after “Pretty Little Liars,” I wanted to do something really different because I’d lived in this world for eight years and I knew I wanted to change it up a little bit. But what really drew me to the show was this beautiful story of a girl who gets a second chance at life and has to figure out who she is and take care of her family. It becomes a coming of age story, not only for her but for literally everyone because when someone gets that sick, it obviously effects everyone. But, when someone is cured, it changes everything all over again so I thought it was really funny and sweet. It’s different and scary to have this new show and give it out to the world not knowing what’s going to happen with it, but it’s been really rewarding and I’m glad I decided to go down that path.
Q: Speaking of scary, “Truth or Dare” is a very scary movie. I think it’s your first thriller/supernatural film.
Hale: It is. “Pretty Little Liars” definitely prepped me for (it) because there were so many undertones in that show that were similar to a horror film but yeah, this was not only my first thriller/horror movie to do but also my first as a lead in a film so a lot of firsts happening but it was such a fun shoot and such a bizarre concept and I like doing weird, bizarre things so I knew, upon reading it, that it was something I wanted to be a part of. I’m glad it’s paying off the way that it is because it was a risk for everyone to do.
Q: It’s coming out Friday the 13th. Do you have any superstitions?
Hale: Not too many. But, when Mercury is in retrograde, you have to be very cautious about a lot of things. I’m into astrology a little bit but I don’t avoid black cats or anything.
Q: Olivia, your character in this film, is in a heightened emotional state almost throughout. She’s going through these issues with her best friend and her friend’s boyfriend as well as her other friends. How was it keeping up that energy level and what did the cast do to keep that going?
Hale: That was the challenge. The stakes are so high at all times so we were constantly reminding ourselves of the scenario and what was a stake. But because of the pace we were moving at while filming, because it was such a short shoot, and we had to move so quickly, there really was no down time. We literally had no down time from scene to scene. So, that actually helped us. It benefitted us because we were rushing to get our days and make sure we got everything and I think that only raised the energy on set for everyone.
Q: How did this work in terms of your TV schedule?
Hale: I had finished “PLL” and shot the pilot of “Life Sentence,” shot this movie a week later, and then went to shoot the rest of the season of “Life Sentence,” so it kind of worked out perfectly.
Q: With “Truth or Dare,” you’ve now become part of the Blumhouse (Productions) family, which has made so many horror films over the past several years such as “Insidious” and “The Purge.”
Hale: I consider myself, yeah.
Q: Are you a fan of the horror genre?
Hale: I am. For as long as I remember I’ve been a fan of horror films even when I was really little and probably shouldn’t have been watching them. But I love Blumhouse. I love the risks that they take. I love that they make movies that nobody else is making and really go for it. Obviously, they’re really lovely people and gave me a job so I’m very grateful. But yeah, “Paranormal Activity” the first one, is one of my favorite films of all time. So, it was cool to meet Jason Blum and be welcomed into the family.
Q: Were you familiar with the “Truth or Dare” game and had you ever played it?
Hale: Oh yeah. “Truth or Dare” is one of those games that you hear and it immediately would take you back to middle school when you would play with your friends. I think that’s what’s so cool about it. It’s just really nostalgic and everyone’s played probably at one point in their life. I was a very shy kid so I don’t think I was going out of my way to play that much. Obviously, we make this a very deadly game of “Truth or Dare.” But what’s cool is that you’ll probably walk into it reminiscing about when you played when you were younger.
Q: There is something your character says at the beginning of the game and then something she does at the end that connects the story: Would you save your friends or would you save a bunch of people?
Hale: And she completely changes her mind and it goes to show, that unless we’re put in a no-win scenario, you never really know how you’re going to react.
Q: Did you shoot this in Mexico?
Hale: We took a bonding trip to Mexico before we started. There is a title sequence of all the cellphone shots. That was actually us on that trip. But, I don’t think we knew at the time that all those clips were going to be used but they ended up (in the film). I think it was a cool touch. It made us really look like friends. It almost starts off looking like a documentary which I think is cool. It really sucks you in. But, the rest was shot in L.A. made to look like Mexico.
Q: Did you know any of your other co-stars or did you become friends as you were working together?
Hale: I knew Tyler (Posey) through friends and in passing but everyone else, we met for the first time and it was one of those situations where we just vibed really quickly and the chemistry was there from the beginning which obviously makes it easier to film with people that you enjoy being around. Oh, I knew Sam Lerner who plays Ronnie. I adore Sam so much. I’d known him for a while but I think everyone else was meeting for the first time too.
Q: You’ve been acting for most of your life and you started quite young…
Hale: Yeah, the “American Juniors” (2003 TV series) thing I was like 13 but I’ve been working consistently since I was about 15 or 16.
Q: Did you have a roadmap of what you wanted to do and when you wanted to do it, because you were also singing. Are you sticking to it?
Hale: What’s that great quote (attributed to John Lennon), “Life happens while you’re making plans?” That’s kind of like what’s happened for it. I knew growing up that I loved to perform. I loved storytelling. I loved music. That was my hobby growing up. I wasn’t really good at anything else. I didn’t play sports. I wasn’t really social. This was my thing. Luckily, I had really supportive parents who believed in me. I moved out to L.A. with my mom and didn’t go to college. I never had a plan “B” because, in my head ‘It’s going to work out’. I just manifested that. It’s just going to work out because it has to. I think, without that mentality, who knows where I would be? No. I haven’t really had it mapped out at all. I like to take risks and it’s like a ladder. I’ve worked really hard and met more people and more doors have opened. That’s why I love my job. You never really know what you’re going to be doing the next day and that’s exciting for me. I’m just going to see where it goes from here.
Q: Do you ever get a chance to go home to Tennessee?
Hale: All the time. I was there last weekend. I try to go every month. It’s just nice. I’m really, really close with my whole family there. It’s just nice to be like ‘Oh. This is how people live. This is so nice’ and I have two little nieces that I’m really close to.
Q: Are you still doing any music?
Hale: Right now, it’s on the back burner but music is still my hobby, something that is super important to me. I think, eventually, I’ll do more with it. Things have been busy lately.
Q: Besides “Life Sentence,” do you have anything else coming up?
Hale: Yeah. I have a Netflix movie called “Dude” coming out April 20th that I shot a couple of years ago. It’s a very specific movie so it took a while to find its home but Netflix really liked it and picked it up. I’m in such an exciting time in life right now where there are things I’ve always wanted to do that might eventually happen…so I’m just riding the wave.
Q: What do you want audiences to get out of “Truth or Dare?”
Hale: This movie is such a good time, such an adventure to watch it. There are moments that are really funny and moments that are really creepy. Just go, have a good time and get lost in it. It’s such a good movie to get sucked into so, have fun. I hope they like it.