In the early 90s, a young actress from Iowa named Laura Leighton booked what was to be just a two-episode arc on the Fox drama Melrose Place that quickly turned into much more than a guest-starring arc. She became a series regular in Season 2 and portrayed the conniving and memorable Sydney Andrews through Season 5, a run that included a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1995. After reprising her role as Andrews in the Melrose Place reboot series, Leighton can now be seen on the new ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars, which will air its series premiere on Tuesday, June 8 at 9 PM ET. I recently had the chance to speak with Leighton over the phone and here's what she had to say about her new series.
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how you came into this role and what your first reaction to the pilot script was?
Laura Leighton: I loved the pilot script. It was one of those scripts that, while everybody is reading everything else that is out there, really stood out. I think a lot of people were really excited about it on the page and I felt very lucky to get one of those grown-up roles. I went through the process like everyone else, I auditioned for it and it went my way.
You mentioned being one of the grown-ups on the set. Can you talk about that dynamic on the set?
Laura Leighton: Well, it's definitely a show centered around the four young girls and the other elements of their lives is they do have parents at home. It's a little bit of a peripheral storyline in the show, but it's a lot of fun nonetheless. It's really fun to watch the kids and how they're developing their storylines and their relationships, the characters that they play. My main situation is I'm developing a relationship between my daughter and myself and that, to me, is fun to play.
Can you talk a bit about working with Ashley Benson, who plays your daughter?
Laura Leighton:Ashley and I are enjoying this relationship and exploring it. We don't know where it's going. Much of what we're doing on the show right now is being pulled from the (Sara Shepard) books, but, eventually, in a perfect world, they'll run out of material from the books and they'll have to go out on their own and develop stories for these characters. We're having a good time. It's funny because we're completely different generations but it's great to make a new friend and we have plenty of stuff to laugh about and talk about.
I believe ABC Family usually does 10-episode seasons. Is that what you are working with right now?
Laura Leighton: We started out with an order of 13 episodes. Was it 13? You're asking me and I don't really know (Laughs). It was either 10 or 13, with the possibility of more. We're premiering on June 8, which coincides with the launch of the eighth book, actually. The eighth book in the series is coming out at the same time.
There has been quite a lot of buzz around the series so far, so I have to imagine it will do fairly well.
Laura Leighton: Well, they're definitely promoting it and I think everybody is really excited about it and rightfully so. I think this will be a fun one and there will be a lot of appeal. It's not for the super-young crowd, either. It's a little bit edgier and it's kind of pushing the envelope for ABC Family.
Yeah, because there is Greek and stuff like that, but most of the shows on this network are tailored more towards the teens. This one is too, but it seems like there's really a lot more going on that can appeal to adults as well.
Laura Leighton: Definitely. It's definitely got an edge to it and they're really exploring some touchy topics that ABC Family, as much as they're considered a family network, they're not making some of these subjects taboo. They're saying these subjects exist. In high school, there is a lot going on. Kids get into trouble, they find themselves struggling with an eating disorder, issues with their relationships or they're exploring the topic of lesbianism in high school, subjects that could be taboo, but they're not making them taboo. They're saying that these are family issues, these are issues that there is a lot of depth to explore there.
Coming off a show like the new Melrose Place on the CW, what's your experience been like with ABC Family and how they've got behind and supported the show?
Laura Leighton: I've been very lucky to have two shows in a row that have been coming out with a launch with a lot of buzz and a lot of advance excitement. Melrose had a previous audience already. People knew the brand and you'd say Melrose Place and they were excited to see it in its new form. There was automatic audience and automatic excitement and it's kind of the same for Pretty Little Liars. The book series has a huge following and there's already an audience that is dying to see it on the screen and, at the same time, there is a whole new audience out there that is intrigued and I think will be thrilled to discover these characters and watch. I don't think you will need to read the book at all to enjoy the series.
Will it be one of those things, though, where even though you don't have to read the book, for those who have enjoyed the series, will there be a lot of little easter eggs for those fans, and did you read the books before signing on?
Laura Leighton: After we shot the pilot, I did go and picked up the first couple of books, but I stopped reading because I decided I didn't want to know what was going to happen. I did want to know how closely the themes were followed and learn more about some of the characters that I'm not involved with in my storyline. I'm really pretty limited to the relationship with my daughter and that sort of isolated storyline, so it's fun to know more about the other characters. I think a lot of the first book actually made it into the pilot. A lot needs to be established in any pilot of any television series. You really need to know who these characters are and what the potential is there moving forward. You really get an idea of how we will be moving forward and there are also some unanswered questions that you will have to tune in to find out more about. 'What is that secret she's keeping?' It's a lot of fun.
Are you still filming on this first order right now?
Laura Leighton: Yeah. We're shooting number five, going into six, so we'll have a few episodes banked when we premiere.
After you wrap on this, is there anything that you're looking to jump on board with, in films or is there anything else you're working on?
Laura Leighton: It's funny because we're sort of waiting to see if there is going to be an additional pickup for this. The schedule for ABC Family and its shows is a little atypical. My scheduled is staggered with my husband's (Doug Savant) schedule on Desperate Housewives on ABC. He runs the regular early spring/late summer for a fall launch. When he went on hiatus for his show is when I started working (Laughs). We're trying to figure out a time when we can maybe take a family vacation, but I don't know if that's going to happen, with the way things are laid out. I'm not complaining, though.
If you do get an additional pickup you'd go back to work right away then?
Laura Leighton: I guess they might run it all together or, I don't know. I'm still sort of figuring this out. It's a different process with the different schedules, so I'm just figuring it out but I'm happy to go along for the ride.
We've heard for awhile that Melrose Place was going to be canceled and I was wondering what your reaction to that was when you first heard?
Laura Leighton: Well, they were definitely disappointed and it didn't run as long as they hoped. It was brewing awhile, that it wouldn't be back for another season. My involvement in the show had always been in a guest-star capacity. I did four in the beginning, to launch the mystery in the beginning of the series, but it was more to launch the new characters and that was their objective.
What was your overall experience like stepping back into Sydney Andrews' shoes?
Laura Leighton: (Laughs) She was always definitely one of the most fun characters. Anything goes and that was quite freeing. Not every role you get an opportunity to do that, be ridiculous and push the envelope. That was fun and I'm definitely different going back and playing the older version. It was conceived as, 'What if things happened this way?' Starting from there, 'What if Sydney had become this?' There was a big gap of time that was left to the imagination and you tried to fill it in. There were a number of scenarios that could've gone and the one that we went with, I was happy to play it. It was interesting and different and I wouldn't even imagined being asked to go back and play that character. It was a very unique opportunity and it was a good time.
I watched the teaser video for Pretty Little Liars and that sets up the show really well. Is there anything you can tease beyond that preview about what we can expect?
Laura Leighton: You know, I haven't seen the preview, so I'm not really sure. I just think that the suspense with the girls and that they're starting to receive all these texts is really deliciously creepy. I heard one of our directors describe the show as teen noir. It was such a great description and I thought it was very apt. There is a really dark, mysterious quality, like 'What is going on? Is she watching us?' At the same time, it's really a lovely teen show about these girls and their relationships and their troubles and their secrets. I thought teen noir was a perfect way to describe it.
Yeah. That sounds very fitting, from what I've seen. Well, that's all I have for you, Laura. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the show.
Laura Leighton: Thanks so much.