Any actor who dares accept a role designed to drive a wedge between a fan favorite couple should be prepared for the inevitable online backlash. Something Ryan Guzman learned the hard way by joining Pretty Little Liars as Jake, a post-Ezra shoulder for Aria to lean on. The fact that Guzman turned a majority of Jake's haters into swooning fans over the past eight weeks speaks volumes about the heart (and abdominal muscles) he brings to the role.
Tonight's episode, titled The Mirror Has Three Faces, is poised to reveal even more of that heart I was just talking about as Aria learns a lot about her new boy. I caught up with the 25-year-old to talk about digging beneath Jake's surface, the enduring pull Ezra has on Aria and what you can expect from his character next season. Plus, Ryan reveals what Step Up fans can expect from his upcoming return to the franchise!
ETonline: Before you joined the show, did Marlene King or anyone sit you down to say, "Ok, the fans are going to hate you at first, but in time, they'll come around"?
Ryan Guzman: No. No one warned me about how vocal the fans will get if they don't like you [laughs]. Initially I was only supposed to be on the show for an episode or two, but I think I got along with the cast and the producers liked how I was playing Jake, so they slowly started writing me into the show more. I think that was more of the shocker for fans. They realized this wasn't just a fling for Aria and it was going to delay Aria and Ezra getting back together. I understand. It takes a while to get used to something new. But I'm very prepared now. I'm very aware of how they feel about my character. Luckily they've started to like my character a bit more now.
ETonline: Was there a particular moment or episode where you feel like the tide turned for Jake?
Guzman: The second Jake took off his shirt [laughs]. That's when things started to turn a little bit. The deep Ezria fans will never like me, and I've been Tweeted some crazy, crazy things. But the ones that are now 'shipping Jake and Aria are becoming more vocal, so I'm getting a lot more love now, which I seriously appreciate.
ETonline: Jake has been very understanding of Aria's enduring feelings for Ezra. Do you think those will ever fully go away?
Guzman: No. This is what the first big love is kind of like for everyone. You never truly get over that love. That person will always be in your mind, so it's about how you deal with it and get over it. Ezra is always going to be a stick up Jake's butt throughout the whole thing [and] it's a pain. Jake just has to slowly break down Aria's walls so she can trust him a bit more, and show her that he's a good guy who is trying to help. And I think you've really seen that from him over the last weeks. He's waiting for her to be ready and won't rush things.
ETonline: Both Jake and Ezra seem like level-headed guys, but what are the chances their competition for Aria's heart will come to blows?
Guzman: I think the only reason Jake would ever touch Ezra is if he threw the first punch. And that would be a big no-no for Ezra. I mean, he would be out of commission from teaching for a while [laughs]. Jake doesn't walk around with a big ego, he knows he can take care of himself -- and like he said, it's not about offense, it's about self-defense. Jake would leave it up to Ezra to make that mistake and try to fight him.
ETonline: The logline for tonight's ep says "Aria makes an effort to get involved in Jake's interests." What can you tease?
Guzman: You'll find out more about Jake's martial arts and what makes him tick. That's another big step forward in his relationship with Aria because it lets her into his life. By seeing his heart, it takes the relationship to the next level.
ETonline: And how much of tonight's episode does Aria spend staring through windows while Jake gets dressed? I mean, if the genders were reversed...
Guzman: [laughs] Oh yeah, if a 22-year-old guy was staring at a 17-year-old girl through the window, he'd get arrested or something. But, they played it more like admiration than infatuation ... beyond that, I'll leave it up to Lucy to answer. There's no way I can answer that without sounding super into myself [laughs].
ETonline: Fair enough. Looking ahead, what are you excited for the PLL fans to see?
Guzman: We're going to leave Aria and Jake with a newfound like for each other that could grow into love. Their relationship is blossoming and you'll see where it goes next season. I'm also excited because you'll see me do some martial arts next season.
ETonline: Oh, so Jake is sticking around for the foreseeable future?
Guzman: He is. Jake's not in every episode, but his presence is always felt because even when he's not there, Aria's talking about him -- and how she can get his clothes off [laughs]. Oh man, I'm going to hear from Lucy about that one.
ETonline: Lastly, I know you're working on Step Up 5 with Briana Evigan, who was in Step Up 2. Is this like a mashup of all the casts?
Guzman: Yeah, that's the plan for the next one. You've got Briana, who I'm training with right now, Adam Sevani is coming back, Allison Stoner is coming back and quite a few other people. It's pretty cool. I am so excited because [this is what] started me out. They're like family. I already put on my dancing shoes, and I'm paying for it because my body is already hurting. Big time! I've lost 16 pounds in two weeks -- the dancing is just ridiculous. Seriously, whenever it comes out, Step Up 5 is going to blow your mind!
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.