Janel Parrish on Standing Out and Finding Her Own Place In the 'Pretty Little Liars' Pack (Exclusive)
By Amy Lee
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Janel Parrish is not afraid to be herself.
The star of Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists and summer horror flick Trespassers got real about breaking into Hollywood while staying true to her identity for ET's Unfiltered series.
"I do feel like when you grow up in the spotlight it's hard not to find yourself struggling with the idea that you have to be perfect and look perfect all the time. And it's still a journey, even me at 30-years-old I find myself being like, why do I care so much about this, so what I have a zit or so what I'm not as fit as I was when I was 21," Parrish explained. "You know, this is me and I'm changing and I'm evolving and that's ok."
The Honolulu, Hawaii, native has been performing since she was six-years-old. She and her family uprooted their lives and moved to Los Angeles when she was 14 to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, where she was quickly met with the challenges of Tinseltown.
"I struggled a lot with going to auditions and getting feedback that I wasn't quite what they were looking for," Parrish reflected on starting her career in L.A. "They didn't quite know how to place me in a family because I was diverse. I wasn't quite Asian enough to fit the Asian families. I wasn't quite Caucasian enough to fit the Caucasian families. And I just struggled with like, 'Well, then, did I make a huge mistake?'"
"And here I moved to L.A. and gave up my life and moved to a new town," she continued. "And my parents gave up everything to move here and I'm kind of hearing that maybe I'm not what Hollywood is looking for."
With the encouragement and support of her parents, Parrish continued to audition and began to land jobs. She starred in her first big project, the Bratz movie, in 2007.
"I just kept going. Eventually I made friends. I started working in the industry. And here I am now," she said. "I wouldn't be who I am now if I didn't have that struggle."
Parrish got her big break as Mona Vanderwaal in Pretty Little Liars, which aired from 2010 to 2017 (she reprised her role in the current spinoff). There, she explains, she found herself among her Hollywood peers.
"I think I was sort of intimidated to be around [the cast]. They were all so perfect and beautiful and I reminded myself, you know what, you deserve to be here too with these amazing, cool women and kind of finding empowerment in that instead of being terrified of it. And it just set us on this really cool journey. Now we're a family and we have our PLL tattoos forever. I have nothing but grateful, loving thoughts," Parrish shared.
In addition to support from her family and co-stars, Parrish credits her husband, Chris Long, for standing by her side even in the spotlight.
"When I met my now husband I knew immediately that he was the right guy for a million reasons," Parrish shared. "He's always been understanding. He's always been fascinated by [my career], but not dazzled by it. And he's just been the perfect partner."
"It takes a lot of pressure off of me, knowing that wherever I have to go, whatever I have to do for my job, I have somebody who is so understanding and on my side and the biggest cheerleader," she added. "It's the best feeling, honestly."
The couple has been through thick and thin, especially ahead of tying the knot. Parrish's father-in-law tragically passed away two weeks before their Hawaii wedding in September 2018. Instead of cancelling the nuptial, Long insisted they resume as his dad would've wanted it that way.
"We went to Hawaii and we had the most beautiful day, and during our vows, when Chris started talking about his dad, the sky opened up and it just started pouring rain on us," Parrish emotionally recalled. "It was such a beautiful, I mean I don't think anybody was dry eyed, like everybody cried because it was such a beautiful moment."
It in the midst of adversity, Parrish was able to still find and embrace the positive.
"I think you know when something like that happens to somebody that you love, it's just a reminder of how scary life can be sometimes," she explained. "But you can let that terrify you, and obviously there are still moments we are still struggling with that, or you can look at the other side of it and say, but look at how beautiful all these people are. They're all here for us and look it's raining and what a magical moment and look at all these people that have come together help celebrate with us."
Watch Parrish's full interview in the video above and see more episodes of Unfiltered: