Heads up! A new generation of Little Liars is coming your way! Forced to pay for the secret sin committed by their parents two decades ago as well as their own, a band of disparate teenage girls find themselves being tormented by an Assailant that goes by the name “A”. In a brand-new town, miles away from Rosewood, but still existing within the Pretty Little Liars universe, comes the dark coming-of-age crime thriller drama—”Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”.
The series stars Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Maia Reficco, Malia Pyles, Zaria, Mallory Bechtel, Sharon Leal, Elena Goode, Lea Salonga, Alex Aiono and Eric Johnson. In this interview, Lea Salonga and Malia Pyles share their take on portraying the role of Elodie Honrada and Minnie “Mouse” Honrada, the challenges they faced working in this project and more.
1. How are you feeling about the series release? What impact do you hope it has?
Lea Salonga: I’ve been excited since the very first table read that I attended. One, you could feel the excitement coming from everybody that’s involved in the show. My first episode wasn’t like the very first episode that’s going to be shown. The first episode I filmed was, I think the second or third episode in and it’s exciting because everybody that’s involved is excited about it and it shows a real great love and enthusiasm for the work and for the story. When you come to work with that environment, it’s sort of influences and touches everything else, including the release date. It’s very exciting that I’m now able to talk about it. Now, we can really look forward to the release, which is happening very, very soon.
Malia Pyles: I think what makes our project special is that everyone that there was so excited to be part of it. Whether that be because we were fans of the original, I know I can speak on (behalf of) me and the other girls—the five Liars—we all couldn’t believe that we were trusted and that we’re in a position to even call ourselves a Liar, because those girls (the original Liars) were so iconic to us. That made it so exciting to film. Even more than that, in a lot of ways, this is a feminist retelling of a lot of horror tropes that we know. Being led by such a rich, creative team—we had queer people, we had nine out of ten directors who were women—I think it was incredible, and so fulfilling for all of us to be able to tell stories from a lens that felt authentic, to tell stories about women, led by women, and through the tireless work of women, and knowing that the topics and themes that we explored would be such a light and a therapy for those viewing at home.
I think there’s a lot that we go into that people sometimes avoid, because it’s not easy to talk about. I know that the impact our show will have is that the younger generation today, they’re so eager to learn and they’re so eager to have conversations and I think our show will start conversations. I think it will open people’s eyes to other experiences that they might not have or they do relate to themselves.
2. The original “Pretty Little Liars” was a really big hit. What was the challenge of acting in this sequel?
Malia Pyles: Being a fan of the original myself, it can be intimidating. Being part of a project that has such a large fan base and also touched so many hearts, it really was the show of a generation and coming into it, I wanted to make sure that we paid the most respect, and made the fans really proud. It’s been really wonderful with a known fan base, having such a positive response, and feeling so supported by a lot of them. Also, what’s so exciting about our show is that it really is a reimagining of the original. It colours the concepts and the core elements that we know and love with a different brush in a lot of ways, the horror, we’re exploring different types of relationships and very different girls. I think there’s something there for the original fans as well as a new audience. At the end of the day, we want to make a show that people can relate to and that makes people feel less alone, I think we could accomplish that.
Lea Salonga: Yeah, and I think what was also really helpful was that the original series is left to be the original series. This is a different group of girls, it’s a different town, different people, a different story. It does not follow the original at all. If there are people coming into this wondering, do I have to watch the original one in order to understand what’s going to happen in this one? The answer is no. It’s a whole different story.
I’d like to think that the fans of the original will appreciate that. I think Roberto and Lindsay are fans of the original series. It’s different in that it’s going to be on HBO GO, which means that the show can creatively, as Malia mentioned, lead more into the elements of horror, which were not possible on network TV where the original series was airing. I think there are maybe topics that might be seen as more delicate, that we will be able to then address on this show, which means there’s a really great opportunity for viewers to be able to see this and go “Yeah, yeah, I understand why they’re doing it on this platform”. It’s because we can have certain conversations that might not be possible elsewhere. So, it’s very exciting to be a part of it.
3. What were your preparations to get into your characters prior to filming? How did it evolve over time?
Lea Salonga: My casting was really fast and I think they had already begun filming. I have a feeling you guys were already filming things when it came out that I was going to be heading over to New York to be a part of this. I auditioned from Manila so it was a virtual audition on the 1st of September. Then, about a week or a week and a half later, I got the call from my manager, who framed it really, really nicely. He said, “I need to talk to you. I need to call you,” and I asked why, I’m thinking there was some sort of emergency and he said “I need advice on something.” I said, “Oh my gosh, did somebody die?” It sounded so grave. And then he said “I need advice because I need to tell a client that she just booked a series, so how do I do that?” And I died. I just died.
When that call came in, I was like, “what are the preparations for this?” In the breakdown, it says that she (Elodie) is a mother of a 15-year-old and I’m a mom of a 15-year-old and I’m thinking in my head, “what kind of preparations does it need? Not very much.” Because this is kind of a “art imitating life” situation. The only real difference being that Elodie is gay and is married to a woman. They’re raising this teenager and there’s all the angst that comes with that. Given that I don’t identify as gay but I have a lot of relatives who are, I think it was just kind of channelling their energy and just trying to respect and sort of give honour to them in portraying who they are on this series. At the end of the day, the core is that Elodie is a mom, she is a Filipino mom, and I think that there is a very specific mould a lot of Filipino moms seemed to be made from and I honour my mom as well in playing her.
Malia Pyles: For me, I was a huge fan of the original. It kind of happened sort of fast. The casting process came out of nowhere and I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. From what I knew of the original and also from what I was given of my character,—which is really important to me to be really specific about who Mouse was—I had to define not only how she speaks and how she walks, but how she is physically and how she uses her body because she is a more quiet character. Also, one thing that was hugely important was nurturing a friendship with the girls and also our relationship with Lea as well. I think our show is nothing more than the strength and its friendships and its relationships, so that was really important.
And just to go off from what Lea said really quickly, meeting Lea and quickly being shuffled into a scene, it was really wonderful because in between takes there was such a wonderful openness and a willingness to exchange conversation. Whether it’d be about queerness or mothers, relating to that experience and how our characters also find themselves in similar situations like my mom found it with me and Lea and her child as well, having that communication really created such a strong foundation.
4. You play mother and daughter (in the series) and the family is Disney-obsessed. So Lea, did they purposely do this after you signed on? Or was it just a coincidence? And Malia, how does it feel to know your mom is being played by a legit Disney legend?
Lea Salonga: I think that Elodie and Shirley were created first and casting came later. So I don’t think they made Elodie and Shirley Disney-obsessed because I was the person that they casted. I think they were already that. That said, at the end of one of our filming days, one of our directors, Lisa, kept on hinting and saying that she was an animator. She would keep dropping hints about how, me having done the song “A Whole New World”, that it was one of her favorite songs, and during the filming, she would be like, “I’m just saying, I’m just saying”. So when I was wrapped for the day, as a surprise to her, I broke out into “A Whole New World” and I think I made her cry. It was just so much fun to do. I had to do it again because then, people whipped their phones out. It was just a really sweet way to finish the day.
Malia Pyles: One thing I can say is that Lea being casted was a surprise to me. I had no idea until I was over with some cast members and they had told me that they saw her headshot in the makeup trailer. I said, “That can’t be our show. That must be like someone just manifesting her presence here because there’s just no way.” Then it was confirmed to me and I remember dropping to the floor because I was just so excited. You’re someone I’ve looked up to a lot for all of my life, and not just because you voiced a couple of princesses, but also just your work in theater and specifically “Miss Saigon”. It really impacted my childhood growing up and so it felt very kismet that she would be playing my mother. They say don’t meet your heroes but Lea was nothing but gracious and so warm. It’s just been a really lovely surprise.
5. There’s an unspecified trauma that shaped Mouse’s life and it also affected the whole family. How did you guys talk about it with the creators and the writers, and how did the both of you collaborate to portray that on the show?
Lea Salonga: How you just said it was exactly what I got in the breakdown. For my audition, I was like, “Hmm, I wonder what this could be”. That was like the first wheel that was turning in my head. On my first shooting day, I had to ask the question, “When I auditioned, this was the breakdown. Can you explain what this is?” So, one of our showrunners, Lindsay, was explaining in detail and I was like, “Oh, okay”, because that was going to inform how we were going to play everything. I can’t really say much more, except, as an actor, you see a breakdown like that and then you ask a creative, “Okay, so what trauma did I go through because the breakdown didn’t say anything?”. The director could say, “Oh, you were in a car accident”. For example, you break a leg—which I’ve actually done in real life—it’s going to inform how you walk, it’s going to inform your posture, it’s going to inform everything. We have to ask those questions of the creators and they have to give us as much information, which they did.
Now that we actually got the jobs, we got the info. That basically informed line delivery. The line delivery with Malia, line delivery with Kim and that just basically informed this through line of how our interactions as a family would be. The decisions that they would make and how those decisions will then have to play out. That’s really it. If there’s anything I’ve learned about doing this, it’s not to be afraid to ask questions, and not to be afraid to try and find out as much as you can, that isn’t written down on a breakdown or on a script. Then, you might get an answer that could inform so much of how you carry this character moving forward. I was very thankful that Lindsay was forthcoming with the information that I needed to know because if I was going to try and be as specific as I could be with regards to Elodie, she needed to really pile on as much information as she could and she did. So I’m really happy about that.
Malia Pyles: I think it’s interesting because you meet all these girls and you meet them at a pivotal point in their lives where they are all suffering, working out how to deal with a specific trauma. However, it’s different because, this trauma has defined not only this moment that they’re presently in but the last years of their life. I really had to define Mouse’s upbringing in a lot of ways, like Lea said, be very specific about what it is they went through and how that ugly truth manifests in different actions and how it defines these characters, their relationship with each other and their relationship with the outside world. As the season progresses you get to learn more slowly but surely as the secrets began to pile on and then, breathe out naturally as we go. Again, that trauma I think is so pivotal and so important to who Elodie and Mouse are.
6. Can you describe the challenges of taking the role of Elodie and Minnie?
Lea Salonga: We had to film the series in the middle of a pandemic. This was probably a challenge that many film companies had to try and navigate and figure out. I started filming in September of 2021 and I had already gotten double vaccinated by then. So everything just kind of clicked into place as far as auditioning for it and then leaving Manila to head off to be a part of the show. Then also recalibrating your brain to ask the question, “Do I get tested today? What is the testing schedule today?” I think that might have been been a bigger challenge because everybody was trying to keep themselves and one another on set really safe. We had amazing safety officers, amazing nurses that would take our tests every day or whatever the schedule would be. Everyone really pulled together because of these very unique circumstances.
As far as the acting challenge for me, because I don’t come from the world of television and film, I think it was the calibration of the performance, to make it right for the camera, which is something that I’m not really used to in the way that all of the girls and the other moms are. I think that was just me being in my head. It’s the “Am I acting too big for for this shot? Am I acting not big enough for this shot?” So those are constant questions that I would keep asking. I would also try and ask the director, if I was doing okay, if everything was all right.
Malia Pyles: For me, this is my first lead on a show. I’m kind of the new kid on the block. It’s always been a dream of mine to be in this position but there was definitely fear and nerves going into the process there, not even just acting, it was my first time living independently. It was my first time living outside of California and going across the country in that way. You hope for a beautiful support system, whereever you go, but that’s not a guarantee. But it just so happened, in this show, that I got so lucky. Not only our cast, but also our crew, I think we all helped each other and lifted each other up. We shot through all seasons of the year. Sometimes you got to ask a cast member to scrape the ice off your car and there was always someone there to do that. It was just all of my fears, my nerves going into something as big as not just this role, but also the show. I felt very supported. There was a lot of love there. Now looking back at it, it’s kind of like seeing a period of growth in my life, that has been such a pivotal time. I can say now that I’m a much stronger person than when I started. That’s the beautiful thing.
7. What surprised you the most when working with the people in this project?
Lea Salonga: Okay, I have a story. Not so much a surprise because you hope and you pray that you end up working with some really wonderful people. Like all the girls are fantastic and not just fantastic actors, but wonderful human beings. The young men who are on the show, all of them are funny. Some are louder than others like Alex Aiono, just his energy is so big, and all the moms are fantastic. We’re all in a group chat, always checking in with one another. I think I had one ‘yelled out loud’ (moment) because of who this actor was. There is a family, the Beasley family, which are Karen and Kelly Beasley, the mom and dad, Eric Johnson who plays Sheriff Beasley—the father and patriarch of this family. And I am a huge video game player and I play “Assassin’s Creed” and save for the very first one, I have played from the second one all the way up until this current one, which is “Valhalla’. Eric Johnson and I were shooting something together and the conversation headed that way like, “Yeah, I play Assassin’s Creed…” and he says, “I was Ivarr the Boneless in that video game” and I was like, “What?!”.
I just flat out yelled and screamed. I’m like, “That was like one of my favourite characters in that video game”. My day instantly was made because of that. I had a couple of friends who had worked on “Assassin’s Creed” and did voiceover acting for the video games, but this was like ‘Oh My God!’ I couldn’t believe it that I had to tweet it that same day because I was just instantly starstrucked by it. He’s a fantastic actor, and I think everybody that will watch him is going to be floored by him. That was my big fan girly screaming ‘OMG’ moment from shooting the series. I got to meet the actor behind one of my favorite characters in a video game that I just absolutely loved.
Malia Pyles: One thing I’ll say about Eric Johnson is he is the nicest man you’ll ever meet, who only ever plays villains and let me just tell you, this isn’t a spoiler, but Tom Beasley is just particularly evil and he does such an amazing job embodying his character despite him being, again, the nicest human I think to walk the Earth. A lot of this production was honestly just a master class in acting. We had such a diverse group of people. Actually, Lea wasn’t the only person whose won accolades in theatre. I think we had Mallory Bechtel whose known from “Dear Evan Hansen” and Ben Tyler Cook who had so many starring roles in Broadway. For me, that has always admired theatre but always had done TV and film, I think just watching these people work in different ways in which they could work, it was so cool. I was just like taking notes the entire time. I’m like, “Oh it was my turn to speak, I’m sorry I was watching”.
8. This seemed like a very intimate process of shooting. How did you feel when the film was wrapped?
Lea Salonga: Lots of tears. We all wrapped at different times. It’s not like the closing of a theater show where everybody finishes at the same time, on the same day, at the same minute. People would wrap on different days and there will always be applause and an appreciation for that person’s contribution to the show, an acknowledgement of their work, and of their time and their presence. I remember I wrapped with a couple of other cast members. It was deep into the series already. There was so much crying, there was so many tears. We do form very close bonds with people without even intending to. A lot of the girls were away from home. I think some are based in LA, one was flying in and out of Buenos Aires as well, because that’s where her family is. One by one, it’s like family members are leaving. There’s going to be a very emotional response and, I was like “Oh my gosh! I’ve never experienced this” because I’m normally used to closing as part of a company. I think it really says a lot about the emotional openness of the five young women in particular. It felt bittersweet to wrap the season.
I was in the middle of a concert tour, as well when I wrapped. I took a break from the concert tour, went back to filming, then went back out on the road. I think my brain just shifted into, “Oh, I have this other job that I need to get to” so it came as a surprise to me, because it was something I did not expect. It really said a lot about the character, these young women as human beings and that they were wholly invested and so open, and so loving, and their hearts were all so big. I think that also shows on screen who they are, even though they’re all going to be playing characters that are so far removed from who they are as real people. You get to see their humanity on film which is a really beautiful thing.
Malia Pyles: I’m getting emotional just thinking about it because everything feels so big in that moment. I think we filmed for nine months. I was there from August to April in a new strange place with these people I’ve never met before. By the end of it, because of the work that we do, because it’s such an intimate show, but also such an immersive project, the way that we were in a small town together, and that we would see each other for sometimes 15 hours in a day, every single day, you become a family with these people. There’s no other way about it. If you see somebody every day and you work with them, you care about them, the goodbye never comes easy and it was really wonderful being there until almost the end. There were a few more people who wrapped up after me. Every single day it felt like someone who was wrapping up, another family member was saying goodbye. Whether that was for three months or a year, it just felt like an eternity.
I think what was really special is that everyone wanted to make sure that moment had its impact. It didn’t matter that we had been sitting in the cold or working tirelessly for the entirety of that day. We made sure that 30 minutes was there to just cherish the person that was leaving, saying goodbye to them. Then there was letters exchange. There was such a deep thoughtfulness that went into this show and now wrapping the production as a whole, I can look back and look at the work that we were able to accomplish together and the relationships we formed. Of course there’s nerves about how well-received the show will be but at the end of the day, I think we all worked very hard and should be proud of that. No matter what happens it will always be a moment in time that was so special and dear to me and now we’ll let our baby bird take flight and see what happens from there. I’m really proud of us.
Watch the official trailer below:
“Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” premieres on 28th July on HBO GO.
Photos credit: HBO GO.
Neetashini Kanendran contributed to this article