Lucy Hale On The Adventurous Way She’s Saying Farewell To Her Pretty Little Past

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Lucy Hale
Dress: MICHAEL KORS

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

By: Laura Schreffler

Photography: Randall Slavin    Styling: Alyssa Sutter

Hair: Chad Wood     Makeup: Jenna Kristina

Nails: Christina Aviles

Shot on location at the Regal East Gate Compound at 277 St. Pierre Road, Bel Air, 90077, as listed by Joyce Rey 

Lucy Hale
Dress: John Galliano
Ring and earrings: Van Cleef & Arpels

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

In Hollywood, it’s easy to lose yourself―in a role, in your own hype,  in the glittering golden façade of fame. Lucy Hale can admit this truth: For a while, she too was lost. And what’s more, at only 29 years old, she sure as hell isn’t in any rush to be “found,” either.

After playing Aria Montgomery on Freeform’s teen drama series Pretty Little Liars for seven consecutive years, it’s no wonder Hale had an identity crisis. Not only did she become her character, but she was also playing a teenager for most of her twenties. While Aria, the girl, dominated, Lucy, the woman, got lost in the shuffle. The part was inadvertently preventing her from growing up. To paraphrase Britney Spears, Hale was not a girl, but not yet a woman.

“It’s been really fun, but [taxing] to find an identity outside of my public persona. For a while, that’s who I thought I was,” she admits. “I thought I had to live up to certain expectations, of who people expected me to be. It was miserable trying to keep up with that and keep up a perfect image.” She pauses, then adds, “I’ve had to let that go.”

She had her epiphany shortly after wrapping Liars in late 2016. “I went through this weird phase, and it wasn’t the happiest I’ve ever been,” she recalls. “I was going through real human s**t that we all go through, and it was shortly after that that I told myself I was going to make some major changes that would make me happier. Part of that is cutting out all the bulls**t and making decisions for me, not for anyone else.”

Hale acts as if it’s NBD to make these revelations—as if her candor isn’t an anomaly, and it’s striking that for someone who’s built her career around playing a liar, she is, in fact, the complete opposite.

“Fame and this preconceived notion of what my lifestyle is, it isn’t real,” she maintains. “It’s so artificial, so fake, and it could go away. It’s not real, and that’s what I’ve had to learn. Yes, I’m blessed: I have a house, a job, notoriety and people recognize me, and that’s what so many people would ask for. And that’s part of me, but not the whole picture. I have to find things that normalize me and keep me down-to-earth.”

Lucy Hale
Dress: CHRISTIAN DIOR
Shoes: NICHOLAS KIRKWOOD

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

In our book, she’s succeeded. When we meet up at Aroma Café, which is packed with fellow creatives reading scripts and talking trade, she not only busses the dirty table herself, but even offers to pay. It isn’t forced—―she’s just being herself. Her goal in life is to be “honest and cool and nice.” She ticks every box. 

“I’m just figuring it out just like everyone else. I’ll try to keep it real,” she acknowledges, noting that part of her bid to keep grounded was, among other things, cutting down on social media. It was making her miserable, and though she has 19.9 million Instagram followers, she isn’t ashamed to admit it.

“It’s almost like a disease,” Hale notes. “We’re all so addicted to it, and to what other people are saying. Honestly, I know it sounds cheesy to say that social media was affecting my happiness, but it really was. It was important for me to disconnect from that, to put down my phone occasionally and live the life around me.”

If you look at her socials, you’ll see the usual suspects: artfully posed headshots, project clips and celebrity selfies. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see the real Hale peek through in an oversized, floor-length Whitney Houston T-shirt, sans makeup, holding her dog, poking fun at her diminutive size with the caption “Never looked taller.”

But beyond these glimpses into the true Lucy, it’s the quintessential starlet stuff and red-carpet moments that keep fans happy, so she obliges. “It’s a highlight reel. It’s everyone on their best days, posting a picture they’ve probably taken a hundred times and put a million filters on,” she says, noting that she, too, is guilty of this. “I’m not saying that I’m not looking for validation, because I’m not. There are days when I need that from people. But it’s nice to be at an age and time in my life where that’s not the most important thing, because for a long time, it was. It’s not anymore; I broke free.”

It isn’t coincidental that this newfound clarity coincided with the end of Liars and the endless possibilities that career freedom offered. Although she loved the show, she needed to distance herself from the teenager she played. With the bustling oasis of actors and screenwriters surrounding us, Hale is hushed as she speaks about the year of personal and professional growth that’s passed since the series ended.

“That’s why I’m doing really obscure roles, because you get typecast—especially when you’re on TV every week and people view you as that,” she confides. “After Pretty Little Liars, a lot of offers were coming my way that were the exact same show, and the exact same character. I had to turn them down because creatively I wanted to do something different. It’s easy to get bored, so I constantly have to change it up.”

When she packed her metaphorical bags and peaced out of Rosewood, she didn’t look back. She was ready to grow up. “I will always have a special place in my heart for that show because it changed my life,” she explains. “But honestly, it was time to go. I felt sad to leave what I consider to be family behind—even though I didn’t leave them behind, they’re still in my life—but I was so excited. It was a new chapter. Creatively, I needed something new to stimulate me again.

“Being on a show that long, you live in a box,” she continues. “It was bittersweet, but mostly I was like ‘I cannot wait for my next job.’ We beat that show into the ground.” (Which means, sorry fans, you won’t see Hale reprising her role when the spinoff series Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, in a cast led by her former co-stars Sasha Pieterse and Janel Parrish, reportedly has its pilot premiere this fall.)

Lucy Hale
Dress: CHRISTIAN DIOR

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

In a bid to separate herself from Aria, she chose her projects strategically for their diversity. In the last year alone, she starred in the post-high school Netflix comedy, Dude; the horror film Truth or Dare; and the charming indie The Unicorn, which earned her rave reviews when it debuted at SXSW for her portrayal of a super millennial Reiki healer. She returned to TV in 2017 on the CW’s Life Sentence, as Stella, a woman who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, literally lives like she’s dying. It’s only when her prognosis is miraculously reversed that she has to deal with the ramifications of her impulsive free-for-all behavior.

“I want to say [playing Stella] was strategic because she was the opposite of Aria, and I wanted people to view me in a different light. It was ultimately the best decision I could have made for myself,” she asserts.

The series was, unfortunately, canceled a week after our interview, but even before she was given the news, Hale’s attitude was pragmatically que sera, sera: “It was exactly what I needed at the right time. We set out to tell a really beautiful story, and I think we accomplished that.” She echoed that sentiment publicly on May 8, tweeting, “Sometimes things don’t resonate with the audience and shows just don’t work, but I’m so proud of what we accomplished & for the experience I had.”

Not that she wasn’t constantly on her toes waiting for the news, but she says that instead of letting the uncertainty get her down, she thrives on it. “I’m addicted to the feeling of the unknown,” she admits. “This business is hard—there are such constant highs and lows. Honestly, I’m lucky I’ve made it out alive in this crazy business.” She pauses, and smiles. “Well, so far.”

It doesn’t always come easy, of course. She’s a natural pessimist, a self-proclaimed “worst-case scenario, black or white” type who sometimes—like all of us—lets irrational fear rule her. But in the last year, she’s been taking steps to change that about herself, to let go of what she can’t control, to grow.

 When you’re a control freak, letting go is a challenge. So is letting go of fear. Hale’s fear is being alone with herself, which she fought tooth and nail this year by indulging her grand passion of travel and escaping to the wellness and health spa Canyon Ranch in Arizona for a little solo soul-searching.

“I have a fear of being alone and sitting with my feelings; I just hate that,” Hale reveals. “I overthink and overanalyze. I was dealing with and thinking about things and emotionally bottling a bunch of stuff, and I finally dealt with some of those things there by hiking and meditating and sitting with myself. There was very little technology. It was kind of depressing at first, but towards the end I really didn’t want to leave. It was the best thing I could have done.”

The trip helped her to change her perspective, to let loose, to cut herself some slack. “It was more like I was resetting,” she notes. “I’ve been going, going, going for as long as I can remember, but I’m going to be better about that from now on. I feel so much better about life in general.”

For the past few months, she hasn’t had a project and has found herself with some rare and much-needed time off. She’s been hanging out at home in L.A., planning a plethora of travels (she headed to Maui and Paris with a group of friends shortly after our interview) and soaking up the sunshine. But the trip to Arizona helped to shape her perspective about the break: Instead of her typical fear that she’ll never work again, now she just shrugs. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived, after all. “Usually, it scares me when I’ve had a few months off because I’m like, ‘What if people forget about me?’ which is ridiculous,” she says. “But I feel so good, and the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been.”

The expression “When you know, you know” typically refers to finding true love, and for Lucy Hale, it’s no different. Her love, however, is not a person, but a place: Los Angeles.

Lucy Hale
Dress: ANTHONY VACCARELLO
Ring: VAN CLEEF & ARPELS

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

Her love affair with L.A. began at a young age. As a coping mechanism during her parents’ divorce, without friends, sports or hobbies as outlets, she’d lock herself in her Memphis, Tennessee, bedroom, karaokeing her heart out to Shania Twain and Martina McBride. She was so good that she was invited to the City of Angels to audition for American Juniors, a children’s spinoff of American Idol, at age 13. 

“I remember vividly getting off the plane and thinking, ‘I’m going to live here one day and make all my dreams come true,’” she recalls. “I was hell-bent.”

Her mother, a travel nurse, packed up their worldly possessions and moved west without a penny to their names so that Lucy could make her dream a reality.

Her singing career segued into acting. She auditioned hundreds of times before scoring a minor role on Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, which was followed by bit parts on series like NBC’s Bionic Woman and the CW’s Privileged as well as in films like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Sorority Wars. Her debut album, Road Between, was released in 2014, four years after she found success with Pretty Little Liars.

And yes, she loves L.A. like a boyfriend (although she has one of those, too, her former Life Sentence co-star Riley Smith)—but this love is deeper, truer and here to stay. “All my childhood dreams came true here,” she notes. “I grew up here, became an adult here and figured out who I was. I feel like I can be myself here.”

And just because she loves it doesn’t mean she can sugarcoat Los Angeles. It can be gritty, and for every 10 positive experiences, she’s certainly had her share of negatives. She recently had a break-in at her Sherman Oaks home, and many of her prized possessions were stolen. She’s also spoken out about the #MeToo movement. “I’ve experienced stuff on the small side, but assault is assault,” she maintains. “I think there are a lot of people who have been intoxicated and taken advantage of. It’s happened to me and people I know. It’s very common. Luckily, I’ve been unscathed; nothing’s hurt me too badly.”

She adds, “I’ve had super-dark times here, but it’s been a place that’s always had my back. I know it sounds weird, but I’ve always been at ease here. For me, this is it. I think I’ll always live here. I feel like I can be myself here.”

This is definitely a departure from her religious upbringing in the South, which always made her feel slightly uncomfortable, like she had an itch that she couldn’t scratch. “I was raised Christian, and I follow the morals of that religion,” Hale says, “but I’m in this cool place of exploring my spirituality and finding what works for me right now.

“When I moved here, I always felt a little bit different from where I grew up,” she continues. “There are certain mindsets in certain parts of the U.S. that are in a very specific box. It’s not right or wrong, it just is what it is. I always felt like I was outside of that box, but when I got here I thought, ‘Yes! These are my people. They’re so open, and easy and nonjudgmental.’ I love that people are open and accepting to different ways of life here.”

As a self-proclaimed weirdo who’s obsessed with serial killers and true crime, she has no issue admitting that she has crystals, does Reiki, pulls tarot cards and believes that when “Mercury is in retrograde, my whole life goes to s**t.”

Just as unexpected as her esoteric side, given her girl-next-door image, Hale has almost 10 tattoos, variations on the theme of light―from a lightbulb (her name means “as of light” in Latin), a sun for her grandmother and an “A” with her PLL squad. Even more surprisingly, she says, “I love tattoos. I think if I wasn’t an actress, I’d be sleeved.”

As for her future, she truly cannot imagine a life without acting. “I never had a backup plan,” she says. “I didn’t go to college. My dream has always been to do film.”

She pauses to take a bite of a brownie before pondering, “I think it’s that mindset that has caused me to succeed. If you have a backup plan, there’s always the idea in your head that it’s not going to work out, and that’s just not how I think. I think, ‘It’s going to work out because I’m going to make it happen.’ I’m very stubborn.”

Not that she hasn’t thought about the evolution of her career—she has. But as an admitted procrastinator, and one that’s happy with where she’s at, she hasn’t felt the great need to act on anything… yet.

Lucy Hale
Dress: MONIQUE LHUILLIER

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

She’s toyed with the idea of one day creating a skincare line, becoming a stylist and even maybe directing—something she had adamantly never considered in the past. But those aspirations are on the back-burner: What she really wants to do as her next act is to produce.

“I’ve always loved acting, and my dream has always been to do film, but I also love the idea of being behind the camera and putting the creative pieces together. I’m a control freak, and even when I’m acting I want to control everything,” she says with a laugh.

But as she’s already established, sometimes you have to let go, of who you think you should be, and of perfection, because it’s perfectly okay to be imperfect. Sometimes, you have to own up that you sometimes want to run away, that it’s cool to frequently escape through travel, and that you’re obsessed with serial killers and true crime.

This former teen drama star does own these things, which is why she’s approaching a new phase in her career, refusing to bemoan the loss of Life Sentence and focusing on her secret new projects, which are “a lot darker” than she’s used to playing. She smiles devilishly, saying, “I’ve always wanted my Girl, Interrupted moment.”

LIFE ACCORDING TO LUCY

ON FASHION: “I used to dress like I was at Coachella all the time, and it’s so tacky. I’d try all the trends at once, and it was like, ‘Lucy, calm down.’ In every outfit that I wear, I want it to have one-of-a-kind pieces that no one else has, which includes jewelry.”

ON HER PRIZED POSSESSIONS: “I love vintage diamonds. I just bought a diamond choker, but it was from the diamond district downtown. The most expensive thing I own is my ’96 Rolex with diamonds. I love watches. My most prized possession, though, is my grandmother’s ring from the Victorian era.”

ON THE WEIRDEST THING SHE OWNS: “I have a mourning ring from Australia. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people used to have mourning rings. When someone would pass away, they’d have a piece of jewelry made in the deceased person’s honor, and put their hair in it. I bought someone’s old mourning ring. It’s got a person kneeling on a grave, and it has a bible quote and someone’s hair in it. Someone’s probably haunting me. Or my guardian angel.”

ON HER IDOL: “Reese Witherspoon is my idol. She scoops up every good book before anyone else can get it and buys the rights. It’s genius.”

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