Lucy Hale refused to pause.
When Pretty Little Liars wrapped in late 2016, “I didn’t give myself enough time to think about it being over,” she recalls to Us. Instead, she jumped right into the new CW dramedy, Life Sentence. Admits the actress, “I just haven’t slowed down.”
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It’s a motto she shares with her character Stella, who learns she’s miraculously cured of terminal cancer. “She makes the most of to every situation,” the 28-year-old says. “She receives the best news, but that’s also the scariest. Now she has no idea who she is.”
Hale, dating costar Riley Smith, gets real with Us.
Us Weekly: This is a departure for you. Was that the appeal?
Lucy Hale: After eight years, I knew I needed something so tonally different. I needed to step out of the box. And I just loved Stella. We need more empowering female leads like her. She was given this second chance and she’s super optimistic. Where we’re at in the world right now, we need more positivity.
Us: Do you relate to her?
LH: She has a huge heart, but she’s also kind of a mess. I can definitely relate to trying to carve out what my purpose is. Am I on the right path? What do I love to do? There’s also a lot of family dysfunction. Nothing is more relatable! Then there’s the love story, which I think is the whole foundation of the show. These are two people who met, got married quickly thinking they only had a little bit of time together and now they realize they don’t know each other at all.
Us: How does living change her perspective on, well, life?
LH: She knew exactly who she was when she was dying. She never had to ask herself the difficult questions because she had limited time. She never discovered what makes her tick, what makes her mad or what makes her sad. Now, faced with a whole new future, she realizes the world is a scary place. It’s intimidating. She was fearless when she was dying and there were no consequences to her actions. It’s a much different world for her to live in now.
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Us: What have you taken away from playing Stella?
LH: I’m definitely a person who is always thinking 10 steps ahead. I’m never living in the moment. But Stella is. She’s present and aware of everything. She’s just one of those people you aspire to be more like. I love that she has a sense of humor about everything, too. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes. If we lightened up just a little bit, it would be a lot easier!
Us: Stella crosses off everything on her bucket list. What’s on yours?
LH: All my bucket list items revolve around travel. There’s this elephant reserve in Thailand I’m dying to go to. We get so caught up in the world we live in that we forget there’s a big world out there.
Us: Was it difficult for you to let go of PLL’s Aria and mold into a new character?
LH: Living with that show and that character for that long, we had just done literally everything we could. We beat it until the ground and I think, at the end, we were all comfortable saying goodbye. And not in a negative way! We had made peace with it coming to an end. It’s just now hitting me, a year later, that the experience is over.
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Us: Were you nervous to step onto a new set with new people?
LH: PLL was the most lighthearted set you can imagine. We were always goofing off and I just felt lucky. After that, I was like, “Oh my God. What is this group of people going to be like?” I’ve never been on a show where there has been a family dynamic — because this ultimately is about family — and it’s just awesome. We all just clicked. Some days I’m like, “I’m having too much fun. What’s the catch?”
Us: A majority of your fans are teenage girls. Does that lead to pressure when you’re selecting your next role?
LH: I’ve always chosen the roles I play because they appeal to me. I’ve never consciously made a decision because I thought it would make other people happy. But, it is important to me that I am playing a girl people can look up to. This show has morals and a lot of values. That’s the cherry on top. Ultimately, I chose the show because I like the role but the fact that it can impact people is definitely important.
Life Sentence premieres on The CW Wednesday, March 7, at 9 p.m. ET.