TV: At the end of the movie, Deb holds her newborn daughter, and she’s played by your baby, Elliot, correct?
Bellisario: Yeah, she’s actually one now. I’ve got her right now in the pool.
TV: What was it like to get that moment with her and film it on screen sort of captured forever?
Bellisario: It was funny because actually the shot of me looking at her, we shot while she was in my belly still, when I was eight months pregnant. So I was looking at a doll and imagining, but then the shot of her, we got to shoot when she was out and, I think, a month old. I held her in my arms and they pointed the camera at her, and it was just magic. She opened her eyes and actually smiled. I was like, “Are you kidding. What a ham.”
TV: Does she have an acting credit now?
Bellisario: I mean, honestly. She’s been on camera before my older daughter, Aurora has, she’s been on camera at one month old. I was four [when I started acting]. So that’s wild. She’s got an acting credit much younger than most people I know.
TV: I was talking to Sasha Pieterse earlier this week about how she was 12 when she filmed the pilot for Pretty Little Liars. From your perspective, you were more like 24, 25 when the show started filming. What did that feel like? Did you have more of a sense of who you were at that point?
Bellisario: Well, it was funny because I remember when we first shot the pilot, she lied to everybody and said that she was 14, and I didn’t realize she was actually 12. I remember when we did the read through, I saw her in the bathroom and I was like, “Oh my God, you brought me right back to middle school. You just, you are so good in this character. You truly make me feel like I’m 14 again.” I didn’t realize that she was 12, acting 14. I just thought she was another person in her early twenties or late teens, like the rest of us. So it was a trip.
It was definitely a weird experience for me because, at that point I had not only graduated from high school, but I graduated from college, too. So to go back to that experience of talking to people and being concerned about SATs on top of the absolute, bizarre experience of being blackmailed by possibly a dead girl, which is your scenario in PLL, it was just all a trip. I was very grateful that I got to be a part of it, but it was also one of those bizarre things where it’s like, I spent a lot of my time in the high school mentality. I think that’s also why I was really grateful to get to play Deb in Doula, because I didn’t really get to play an adult for a lot of my adult years. My twenties were spent actually pretending I was a teenager.
TV: I’ve been talking with this new cast about how their lives are really about to change when the show premieres. Did you feel like you were going through this big thing, or was it more like you’re just doing your life the way you always were? What was it like when it became so big?
Bellisario: It was really weird. I remember the first time I was [recognized], I was super off the grid in the suburbs of Ontario. I was getting almonds by the pound in a very rural part of Canada. This girl was staring at me over the top of the almond bin and she was like, “Are you in Pretty Little Liars?” And that was maybe sometime after our first season. It just felt like this super weird thing where we were filming in a box for nine months and then suddenly it was out in the world and there was a billboard of our faces, but we were like, “Oh, that’s hilarious.” Suddenly people in the world started to ask me if I was Spencer. That was just a really wild turn, operating through the world as yourself, and then one day somebody starts yelling out a different name at you to get your attention, which now after this many years I’m totally nonplussed by, but it was just a wild turn. I don’t know if I ever get used to it, actually.
TV: Was there anything that you wish you knew at the time?
Bellisario: I wish I could have enjoyed it more. If I could even give advice to the new cast of girls is just enjoy it. I spent a lot of time in it feeling sort of out of control. I don’t know if this is going to be picked up for another season, and then it was like, “Okay. And then how are we doing this? And how long am I doing this?” Because it was honestly like such a juggernaut, I felt like I spent a lot of time thinking about how I should operate outside of it instead of actually just enjoying the ride.
I hope that these young women can just enjoy the ride, because I’ve never, and I never will, I don’t think, ever be in situations where I’m locked in a carnival ride, or falling off of a train. It’s such a fun thing to get to do as an actor. That show provided me with all of these different opportunities, to play romance, to play comedy, to play drama, to play an absolutely insane person, and a twin. You just never know what you’re going to get. I hope that they enjoy the ride.
TV: What do you think the ultimate legacy of PLL is?
Bellisario: I feel like the legacy is just, it is honestly, it’s about women supporting women. It’s sort of interesting, in 2022, we are more than ever, like you said, women are having to protect themselves as they move through a world that has certain ideas about how they should control their bodies or how they should operate or who they should be. What was enduring about Pretty Little Liars is that it’s about women supporting women being who they are, and protecting them against outside forces, whether that’s a fellow classmate who’s blackmailing them or whether that’s a much more grounded experience that another woman might be experiencing in everyday life. I think it’s all about the friendship of those core girls and how they operate as a unit in the world.
TV: My last question is a very random one, but I always wanted to ask you about working on Billboard Dad with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Do you remember what that experience was like?
Bellisario: Yeah, I do. It was actually really funny because I grew up with Mary Kate and Ashley. I was very, very close with Mary Kate when I was, if you can believe it, younger than I was when I was on Billboard Dad, I think when I was six. We lived across the street from each other. So we were very dear friends. And then we sort of went away from each other when we moved. And then I booked the job on Billboard Dad. Filming that movie was honestly like returning to summer camp with your best friends, because it was always at the pool and we were over at each other’s houses shooting. It was like picking up our friendship again, but putting it on screen.
Doula is now available to stream on demand.