'Pretty Little Liars' Boss Explains the Transgender Twist: 'We Did Not Jump On the Bandwagon'
By Leanne Aguilera
WARNING: If you still have not watched Pretty Little Liars' A-mazing summer finale and do not want to know the identity of 'A', get out of here! For everyone else, get ready for some answers...
'A' has been exposed!
On Tuesday night's jaw-dropping summer finale, Pretty Little Liars gifted fans with a jam-packed hour that answered (most of!) the biggest mysteries of the series. But the biggest reveal of the night? Learning that 'A' -- aka Charlies DiLaurentis -- is actually CeCe Drake.
ETonline just got off the phone with PLL's executive producer Marlene King and we asked all of your most burning questions about that transgender twist. We also called up Vanessa Ray, the actress under 'A's hood, to get her take on the pressures of portraying a transgender character on screen.
Why was Vanessa Ray your 'A'? Marlene King: Oh my gosh, for so many reasons. Originally, when we come up with this idea, and we were starting to look at casting, we wanted to cast somebody who looked a lot like Alison. So she was physically the person that we wanted, and then getting to know her work, and her character more and more, she was just the right fit. You just know sometimes.
When you and I talked before the episode, you said there were three other characters that you were considering to be 'A' at the beginning of season three. Who were they? MK: You know, I don’t want to [say]. I was going to, but then the more I thought about it, there's mythology that goes with those characters, and I don’t want to screw us up for moving forward. But I will tell you once the series is over-over.
A lot of fans haven't realized that you have had this planned since season three, and think you might be hopping on the "transgender trend." What would you say to those fans? MK: Well, we definitely came up with this idea three and a half years ago. I mean, it's been a long time in the works and if you go back and you watch the CeCe episodes -- because I went back and re-watched every single one, and re-read all the scripts to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes in this finale -- we've told you she is 'A' so many times. I cannot remember the specifics, but if you go back and look at the scenes, there are so many clues that point to her, and this is definitely a well-thought out plan. I'm glad that there is a transgender trend anyways, but we certainly did not jump on the bandwagon. I like that we started it three and a half years ago without knowing it.
In past movies and TV shows, transgender characters have been presented as devious or almost like they're misguiding people. That wasn't your intention, I assume? MK: No, no, not at all. Actually, we tried to be very clear that Charles comes from a very crazy family. Crazy runs in the family, I say, and it just so happens that this person, I think, suffered some tragic consequences of a crazy family, but having nothing to do with [being] transgender. I think that's the one thing in Charles' life, as Charlie became Charlotte, that Mrs. D. did in a right way. She allowed him to become Charlotte and that was really her most compassionate action in the show.
Had you ever considered maybe casting a transgender actor [for the role of CeCe]? MK: You know, I didn’t even know that were was even an awareness of transgender actors at that time. This being three and a half years ago, before Orange Is the New Black, and before people were even talking about it as openly as they are now.
How has the reaction been for you? I'm assuming your Twitter feed has blown up? MK: I think it's great. I think we have people talking, I think for people to have this lively of a conversation about a show that has been on the air for six and a half years is a really, really exciting thing.
I love how all of the puzzle pieces came together, but the one thing that I still cannot get over is the fact that CeCe dated her brother! MK: Well she didn’t really date him. Like she said, they certainly didn’t ever have sex. You should have seen the actors at the table read when we read this, they were like "Whaaaat?!"
Why expose 'A' now? What was your decision [behind it] and did it have anything to do with the fact that being transgender has become such a prominent social issue? MK: No, it had nothing to do with social issues, it only had to do with fan issues. We're a very social media savvy show and we could just tell by fans' lack of patience that it was time to reveal the identity of 'A'. The patient fans became very impatient.
Vanessa, your performance Tuesday night was sensational. Did you feel and added pressure to being 'A' due to the fact that you were also playing a transgender character and representing that community?
Vanessa Ray: If I'm being honest, I certainly did and I certainly do. We were revealing the main and ultimate villain of this show and how do you separate it? She's not 'A' because she's transgender, and she's not transgender because she's 'A'. What she is is a person who was neglected as a child, who was never shown love or any humanity and because of that she went down a path of neglecting other people as though their humanity didn’t matter either. The other thing too is that the conversation that we're having about transgender and how it just rolls off of the tongue, even as much as two months ago when I first got the script, it wasn't at this place yet. We didn’t have these conversations as openly. Also if you take it even further back to when Marlene had decided this was going to happen and dreamt up this world, she knew what she was taking on and back then, three years ago, we didn’t talk about transgender the way that we do now. So it's a really beautiful testament to the fearlessness of Marlene because she definitely was like, "I'm going to take on this thing that no one else is taking on, and we're going to talk about it. And we're going to talk about what it means when you don't value another human being."
Season six of Pretty Little Liars returns this winter with a five-year time jump on ABC Family.