Pretty Little Liar turned Spring Breaker, there’s a lot more to anti-fame icon Ashley Benson than meets the eye.
There are some TV shows you can just pop in on, and pick up on the action and characters and plot from that point forward. Pretty Little Liars is not one of them. The ABC Family teen thriller is exasperatingly conflated, full of red herrings, redder herrings, and herrings of a red so bright it would make a Ferrari blush. Something about a girl being killed and someone named “A” (possibly the dead girl) haunting her friends via text message.
“I’m so confused about the show myself,” says Ashley Benson. She plays Hanna Marin, who is either the mean girl or the funny girl or the vulnerable girl. On a cold late-December day, sipping an iced tea at the restaurant within the Chateau Marmont, that citadel of celebrity, she laughs at the thought of hardly knowing what’s going on in the show that’s made her something of a hero among teens.
“Everyone’s like, ‘What’s happening?’ I’m like, ‘I honestly don’t know,’” she says with another hearty, raspy laugh. Unlike the show’s liars, it is quickly apparent that Benson is brutally candid. “We film so much, I never remember anything. I’ll be filming a scene, and I’ll be like, ‘Wait, why are we doing this, what’s happening, and who is this person?’”
But there are obviously a lot of people out there who do know exactly what’s going on, because it’s the cable network’s longest-running show ever, having just confirmed a seventh and supposedly final season. “I think they want to do more, and a film,” Benson says. “It never stops getting bigger. I’m like, ‘The fact that you guys still like it after five seasons of not knowing who the hell ‘A’ is, I applaud you.’”
Because of her role as Marin, Benson is extraordinarily popular – 5.3 million fans follow her on Instagram, the tabloids tirelessly debate her love life, and she attracts attention, wherever she goes, from the show’s zealous fans, many of whom have grown up with Benson throughout the show’s five seasons and are now going off to college. But there’s a sense that Benson isn’t exactly comfortable with the pressure of fame.
“Weirdly, I’m shy,” she says. “When people first meet me, they always think that I’m a bitch. I always get called that. Always. Because I don’t talk. I get really nervous in public situations, but once you get to know me, I’m so outgoing, I’m so loud and bombastic. I have the biggest mouth. But [at first] I’m very closed off. I hold in emotions. I don’t like to be vulnerable, ever. But when you’re acting, you get to explore those feelings and those emotions and those moments. Acting is so fun. I love memorising lines and I love doing scenes.”
She sighs. “If I could work and not have anyone know who I am – I know it’s not possible – that would be my goal.”
A younger Benson sought that fame, acting and modelling from an early age, having grown up in Anaheim. “When I was little, I was such a ham,” she says, blowing on a spoonful of the lentil soup that has just come to the table. “I’m obsessed with my younger self. I want her to be my daughter. I said anything I wanted then. I was so funny. I watch videos, and I’m like, ‘What happened to that girl?’ She’s not here. She comes out when [I’m] drunk, or on TV.”
She recalls her first brush with fame, something that keeps her grounded, when thinking of her own popularity with young people. “When I was younger, I was obsessed with the Olsen twins. I watched everything they did, so I always go back to the time when I did that, but when it happens to you, it’s weird. I just watched their movies every day. I got to meet them when they were 14. I was modelling for their clothing line and they came to set one day and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Having a younger fan base has its perks: for one, their loyalty is often unflagging, and that can lead to future success for different projects. But, when Benson landed the lead role in Harmony Korine’s R-rated thriller Spring Breakers, she found that her underage admirers might have actually hurt the film at the box office. “I went to see Spring Breakers in theatres, all these teenagers were lining up with How to Train Your Dragon tickets, because they couldn’t get into Spring Breakers. Me, Selena and Vanessa all have a younger fan base, so there were a lot of younger people sneaking in, so How to Train Your Dragon made a lot from us.
Ashley Benson finds being intimate on camera “nerve-wracking”.
The Pretty Little Liars actress starred in 2012’s Spring Breakers which featured a lot of sex, violence and consumption of illegal substances. The 25-year-old can still recall what it was like pretending to inhale cocaine, and even though it wasn’t the real deal, it was still an unpleasant experience.
“It was awful when we had to snort ‘coke’ in the movie… we had to crush up B12 vitamins, and it just hurt my nose,” she recalled to FHM magazine. “I was like ‘my nose is bleeding, I don’t feel good, but these are just vitamins, I can’t imagine doing the real thing!'”
Ashley co-starred with James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens in the neo-noir crime drama. The blonde beauty was required to spend the majority of the shoot in a bikini, and despite her gorgeous figure, she actually found it very difficult.
“That was the hardest part, I was like ‘F**k, I’m literally in a bathing suit the whole movie!'” she added. “So I worked out really hard before I went and shot it and then Harmony [Korine, director] was like, ‘You guys need to look like you drink beer every day, you don’t work out, you eat fast food every day, don’t look good.’ So then I had to undo all my hard work!”
As well as pretending to take drugs, Ashley had to simulate a threesome with her co-stars. And while she was anxious about the scene, it helped to have Vanessa with her.
“Any time you’re intimate on camera it’s nerve-racking, but it was a closed set so nobody else was there,” she said. “I was really glad I had Vanessa by my side because we became best friends.”