While the benefits of starring on television’s most tweeted-about show are clear, the drawbacks may not be as obvious. “One of the hardest things for me to do with this job is maintain growth within my career in terms of my acting,” she said of the show, which is about to launch its fifth season. “I think there are amazing opportunities as Spencer. I’ve done so many scenes with an animal scaring the crap out of me, or being trapped in a house. And sometimes, when I read the scripts, I think, In the five years I’ve acted on this show, I’ve had my life threatened this many times, I’ve had to defend the people I love, I’ve had to do stunts, I’ve had to cry and have my heart broken, I’ve had to do really funny conversations, comedy, drama, all this stuff, all in this one character. It’s a huge exercise as an actor, but it’s a very specific show.”
In short, at 28, Bellisario is still playing a woman more than 10 years her junior.
“I’m most interested to see, when I’m out of this show, what kind of a woman I’ll play,” she wondered aloud. “I can’t audition for my age yet. If I find a role that’s my age, they’re like, ‘Send this child away.’ It’s interesting because I’ve done so much growing in my life, but the world has only seen me in this age range. I literally will go home from a day of being yelled at by my ‘parents’ to the house that I own and pick out the dress I want to wear to my friend’s wedding. Life around me is such a dichotomy as I sit in a high school desk all day and meet my friends’ babies at night.”
Bellisario is rumored to be under contract for two more seasons of Pretty Little Liars — although if the show’s ever-increasing ratings are any indication, ABC Family would likely back up a Brink’s truck to get her and the other actresses to sign on for more. But for now, Bellisario will continue to ready for a career after Spencer by spending her free time writing scripts she hopes to direct, honing her craft to one day act for auteurs like Sofia Coppola or David Fincher, and getting physically ready for whatever Hollywood throws at her in Wildman’s studio, whether that’s more massive hits or some fumbles along the way.
“If I can walk into an action movie audition with three years of sword and combat training, they’ll still train me for nine months, but I will have a foundation so that doesn’t kill me,” Bellisario said. “But the work we’re doing is more about preparing you for life. Right now, as a society, we’re so protected. So when you fall, it feels like you’re going to throw up because you’re not used to the sensation of falling. But when you train, you approach it with the knowledge of knowing how to land. It really prepares you for the world in a different way.”