Original sin & playing twins

Mallory Bechtel will never forget the day she bought her first Pretty little liars Book. It was fourth grade back then — she’d just been performing a song with her friend Gabby Gillespie at a local bookstore when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a Barbie-like doll in a pink shirt on a book cover. I’ve already watched coral and My teacher ate my homeworkBechtel was immediately drawn to a 1997 children’s horror film about a doll that comes to life.

“It was way too grown up for me at the time, but I was just discovering the world of boys and drama and absolutely loved the scary element,” says Bechtel, now 22 W over zoom with a laugh. “I read that a lot [at night]. I would get scared and have to crawl into bed with my little sister.”

So, when Bechtel got her first audition for the upcoming series Pretty Little Liars: Original Sinthe Houston native who was able to fuel his lifelong love of musical theater to become the first Broadway replacement for Zoe Murphy Dear Evan Hansen in 2018 — knew she could turn her childhood obsession into an art form.

Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring, the fourth series in the Liar franchise, which premieres Thursday on HBO Max, maintains the core female friendships of its predecessors. But this time, the story takes place in the spooky working class town of Millwood, where a new group of mismatched teenage girls are being tormented by “A” – an unknown assailant who is hellbent on punishing them for their mothers’ sins as well as their own.

As a teenager, Bechtel was completely immersed in the world of the five original Liars – Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse), Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) and Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) – and “wanted to be just like Aria.” But after rewatching the show in early adulthood, she was struck by how The Parents was written — and found a particular fondness for Hanna’s mother, Ashley (Laura Leighton). “I don’t know what she would do, but maybe she can befriend our mothers,” Bechtel suggests of her dream performance original sin. “I would freak out if she came and said hello.”

While there are tons of Easter eggs referencing the original, which in its own right had a “creepy crawly feel,” original sin is “quite different in that it’s rooted in horror,” adds Bechtel. “It’s so inspired by the slasher movies of the ’80s and ’90s, and that’s how I sold it to my parents.”

After originally auditioning for the role of pregnant high school student Imogen, whose personal loss fuels much of the perilous quest to expose “A,” Bechtel landed the roles of Karen Beasley, the school’s “reigning queen of means,” and her low but somber voice, Sister Kelly. Playing identical twins in her first appearance as a TV regular was a welcome challenge for the actress, whose previous film credits include Hereditary, Law and order: SVUand FBI: Most Wanted. When it came to playing twins, Bechtel wanted to convey the feeling that she was playing “two different, fully realized people.” She had extensive discussions with the creative team, including director Lisa Soper, about adding details that would set the sisters apart.

“It really helps that Karen has been showing more and more skin – so you’re just wearing yourself a little differently. Karen always wore heels and Kelly always wore flats, so she bent over a bit more,” says Bechtel. “Karen frowns a little more; Kelly keeps it up. Karen has her mouth open when she listens; Kelly keeps her mouth shut. Even my eye makeup is a bit different.”

Despite having the unique responsibility of performing dual duties, Bechtel reiterates that she relied on her “twin double,” actor Alex O’Shea, who was present to film all of the scenes with Karen and Kelly, and acted as a sounding board determine how to bring the power dynamic between the sisters to life. In other words, the actress never felt like acting towards herself. “Internally, my little reminder of myself has always been, ‘Karen is driven to be the best at everything, and all she does is impress her dad,'” says Bechtel. “Kelly is motivated to help Karen and keep the peace between her family.”

For Bechtel, Karen and Kelly’s sisterly dynamic is most reminiscent of Spencer and Melissa Hastings (Torrey DeVitto) from the flagship series. “Melissa was the star of the family and Spencer may have felt he had to do terrible things to compare himself to her. I remember she copied Melissa’s essay to turn in for a school assignment and completely plagiarized it,” she explains. “I think Kelly bites the bullet a little bit more. When we first meet her, she at least accepted that she lives in Karen’s shadow, so that would be the big difference, though [there are] definitely a lot of similarities.”

When it comes to playing the antagonist in high school drama, young actors might be tempted to play up their characters’ cheekiness — to the point where their performances are overly campy. In this case, Bechtel believes the writing lends itself to providing a more informed take on the conventional “mean girl” by giving viewers more insight “why Karen feels like she needs to hit on others.” “I’m so thankful that we can go home and meet her dad and see what a typical family dinner looks like where everything she says is questioned,” she adds. “She doesn’t have that unconditional love from her parents – the only option she can ever have [get] is a nod of approval when she wins.”

Karen’s self-esteem “comes from feeling like she’s the best at everything, and the liars pose a very real threat to that,” says Bechtel. “There’s something about you that makes you feel like, ‘You’re dominating an area where I should be dominating and I’m going to fight back with everything I have because I can’t face the thought of going home go and my father has to hear that I’m not the leader [ballerina or] the Ghost Queen.’”

Kelly’s dynamic with the Liars, on the other hand, is constantly changing. “I love that Kelly feels like she has to do whatever Karen says, but she also has so much love for her,” Bechtel says with a smile. “They’re best friends. And when they hurt Karen really badly, her smart side comes out and her bad side comes out and she takes over the situation completely. She’s on a journey of self-discovery and the liars are very involved.”

And while early tragedy haunts the Beasley family and raises the stakes to uncover the true identity of “A” before they claim their next victim, Bechtel has an ominous warning for fans who think they’ve got the story figured out: ” Not everything is what it seems. Don’t trust anything on this show, because really anything could happen.”

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