“When child actors and young adults in the business don’t have a strong support system and a strong foundation in their family, they lose their way most of the time.” Sasha Pieterse, the recently-turned eighteen-year-old, has wisdom well beyond her years thanks in part to the fact that she has been in show business since the age of six. The South African-born actress got her breakthrough role on ABC Family’s hit show Pretty Little Liars in 2010 and her career has just begun to take off.
Sasha’s latest film Inherent Vice will have its world premiere on October 4th at the New York Film Festival. She is currently in the process of filming Burning Bodhi, to be released in 2015, wherein she will play a six-month pregnant woman. Aside from her back-to-back TV and film roles, the actress picked up a Teen Choice Award this year for “Breakout TV Actress.”
Check out our Q&A from The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 with the stunning actress who is heating up Hollywood with her diverse roles. Also make sure to download the free “Legendary” Issue App on iTunes and Google Play to check out her feature in the issue, or pick up a copy in our store.
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started as an actress? Your parents were both dancers – did they inspire you to be a performer?
Sasha Pieterse: Of course, I grew up in a showbiz family and came to America for better opportunities. We lived in Nevada for a year, that’s where our really great family friends are, who my parents have known for over 25 years. My whole family is still in South Africa. There were a few friends who had kids in the business and one of the ladies was a photographer and we played around with the camera and I loved it. I was only four and they sent it over to an agency and I got signed… and that’s rare! Getting an agent is one of the hardest things to do when you’re starting out. My parents, up until this day, always say that if I ever want to stop, just tell them. There’s no pressure to stay in the business, but I just always loved it. It’s just a blessing for me to be able to do what I love for a living and not many people get to do that.
IC: You’ve been acting since you were six years old, do you remember the first role you were cast in?
SP: I started out in commercials, but when I was six I got my first TV show – which was Family Affairs. That was just a great experience because I was working with Gary Cole and Tim Curry and that was an honor! It only ran one season but I learned so much and it confirmed my love for the business. It’s always been fun for me; it was never a chore. My mom was so great. She homeschooled me and I graduated when I was 14 – it was the best decision that I’ve ever made. Everyone is different but that worked out so well for me. I’ve always had older friends and I’ve been around older people my whole life. To get that opportunity to finish school and to be able to work as many hours as I need to is great, because in this business you won’t get hired often if you’re under 18 to play teenager roles because of the hours. If you can’t work adult hours, they think twice about hiring you. Getting Pretty Little Liars was such a blessing because that basically solved that part of my life. I have that platform now to use my career, not only because of the exposure, but I got over that hump of being in the middle of being a kid and now an adult. Honestly, Pretty Little Liars is one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career.
IC: How much of a role did your parents play with your acting career? Were they highly supportive with taking you to auditions and really involved?
SP: Obviously the older you get, the less involved they get. My mom was always really involved and drove me everywhere to auditions and did all that with me. The great part about homeschooling is that, depending on the person, the higher grades you get, the more independent you get. As I got older my mom didn’t have to do much work. My mom, dad, and I were really close because of that. Once I graduated and once I was around 15 or 16, a lot of it came more one-on-one with my team, but my parents have always been so supportive and they basically just told me that no matter what they’re there for me. I’ve never been out of touch with that; I’m still really close to them. I don’t think I’d be the same person. A lot of child actors and young adults in the business, when they don’t have a strong support system and a strong foundation in their family, they lose their way most of the time. I’ve been very blessed to have that consistent energy and consistent happy home life, which I think is the reason that I’ve been able to stay strong and confident in the business for all these years.
IC: You’re so mature for your age. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody your age as confident! You’re so focused and working from a young age must have contributed to that. You were only 13 when you were cast as Alison on Pretty Little Liars and all of your co-stars were in their 20s. How did it feel to be the youngest person on set?
SP: It was interesting. I actually shot the pilot when I was 12 and by the time we were shooting the first season I had turned 13. All the girls were older than me and in their twenties, but I was used to that. It wasn’t a culture shock; the girls didn’t treat me any differently or vice versa. All my friends are this age. When I graduated – I was 14 – all of my friends either graduated a year before or were graduating at the same time so I never felt out of place. It wasn’t something that I was thrown into and felt awkward about or felt like I had to prove myself or anything like that. It just felt natural, which is great. I didn’t have to try hard to fit in. The interesting part about it is that my character is so strong and if I didn’t have the confidence to do so, I don’t think Alison would be portrayed as she should’ve been. It’s just been a good fit for me for sure.
IC: Your character on the show is obviously portrayed as the bitchy, popular, conniving sort of girl, how do you get into character with something like that? Obviously it can be a challenging role to play sometimes, no?
SP: Yeah, of course. When Pretty Little Liars first started out it was very, for Alison anyway, was very bitchy and manipulative – you saw all these nasty sides to her. But as the show evolved, you started seeing little bits and pieces of Alison’s core and what makes her tick and the softer and more vulnerable sides to her. In our four seasons, you’ve seen a lot of layers to Alison. That was nice for me because I never get bored playing her – when you’re on a TV show you play the same character all of the time and sometimes it gets boring or monotonous. I have not had that problem because we basically had so much fun with Alison and with our characters. Every episode I’m doing something new and I’m in a different situation and it’s a treat as an actor to be able to figure something new with a character and know that there are just a lot of things to come. I think the secrecy with the show makes it fun for us and makes it interesting for us – we don’t even know the full story, I mean, obviously we know more than the fans do, so it’s just intriguing for us to be able to keep those secrets and play with it and toy with it and know where the writers are going with each episode, and the trails that we’re leaving for our fans. Our show, what I love about it, we’re not just some high school drama. There’s so much to our show and that’s why I think our demographic is growing as well. We have the murder mystery, there are a lot of things, you have to pay attention, it’s a web. There are a lot of characters in our show, it’s a thick story line, it’s not something that you can just kind of watch and kind of get the gist of what’s going on. There is a lot of light and shade to our show and we had the opportunity to do some crazy episodes whether it’s our Halloween episodes or our black and white episode. I think it kind of boosts our love for each other because we get to do so many interesting things. The black and white episode was insane in the best way. Our writer, Joseph, he also directed it. It’s so up his alley and I’m so glad that he got to do this because he basically inspires a lot of our show – influences like Hitchcock from Psycho – all these movies that he brings to a younger generation, which probably wouldn’t understand. It makes our older demographic latch onto our show and get into it. Our show has been doing well and I don’t think that any of us thought that this would be possible, and our fans are just so incredible and supportive and loving towards us. We really don’t have anything to complain about!
IC: So tell me about Inherent Vice, which is your new movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and you’re starring opposite Benicio del Torro, Joaquin Phoenix, all of these amazing actors. Can you tell me a little about your role in that film and what that film is about?
SP: It’s based on the book called Inherent Vice and it’s a really interesting novel. Joaquin Phoenix’s character is a private investigator, based in the 70s. To put it nicely, everyone is stoned or high on crack, it’s really entertaining to be around all that. It’s hysterical the way that they’re portraying that kind of thing. I kind of got thrown into it last minute and I’m so glad that I did. My character plays opposite Joaquin Phoenix and Martin Short. I play a girl in my 20s who is addicted to cocaine and is sleeping with Martin Short’s character to get drugs. So it’s obviously very different than anything I’ve ever played but it was just an amazing experience. Paul – it was such an honor to work for him and to see his take on things and his visions. Martin and Joaquin were brilliant; they were so welcoming and just fun to be around. It was such an incredible experience to work with them and have the opportunity to do something like that. I’m so excited for this movie. Most of my fans from Pretty Little Liars won’t be happy if they watch it – it’s not for them! It’s definitely an older age range of viewers, but that’s the kind of stuff that I want to do. I’m hoping that the next step of my career will be features and working with many amazing directors and actors – that’s kind of where my passion lays as well. Hopefully this is just the beginning to that part of my career.
IC: So you want to do more feature films instead of television?
SP: Yeah, I mean I’ve done TV my entire life and I love TV and I hope that I can still do TV but I just have love for features.
IC: How did you end up getting cast for the role in Inherent Vice? Was there anything special you had to do for your audition?
SP: As far as I know, Paul had an actress in mind for this role but at the last minute he wanted to switch her into a different role and they had to find someone to play Japonica Fenway. I was going for another audition and my manager was like ‘you need to go to this one instead, go get something super bohemian, keep your hair natural.’ I didn’t even meet with Paul, I literally sat talking to the casting director for over 45 minutes and she loved me and two days later I got the job. The first time that I met Paul was at the table read and I was beyond nervous, I was like ‘I’m going to be in a room with all of these amazing people, I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.’ I hadn’t even been able to read the script yet. I had no idea what my character was about and I thought it was going to be this snooty group of people, sitting all formal in a conference room, but it was in a house way up in the hills, so I just walked into such an amazing environment. It’s something that I’ll never forget in my career, it was so much fun.
IC: So you guys just sat around and read the script and everybody was really laid back?
SP: Super laid back! It was great.
IC: So maybe a little different from your TV experiences? I could imagine there’s an entirely different role of professionalism because there is so much work involved with TV series.
SP: Yeah, definitely. TV series are faster paced; there are certain elements that need to be done in certain times. Usually you only have five to eight days to get an episode down. Our staff for Pretty Little Liars is amazing, the crew is amazing and 90% of us have been there since the beginning and it is such a great environment. We’re so comfortable with each other, so it’s not that formal. It’s just a different system, a different way of life.
IC: I hear that you also have this new side to your career, which is your country music. You have a single coming out and several more in the pipeline, how did this whole country music thing come about?
SP: I released four singles now, “This Country’s Bad Ass,” “I Can’t Fix You,” “R.P.M,” and “No,” and honestly it’s for fun. I’ve always had a love for country music and my voice seems to suit it well. I just like the genre of music – just a lot of happy people who are supportive of each other. There isn’t a lot of ugliness in that genre. I wanted to put it out there and see if everyone liked it for fun and I’ve had a great reaction so far. So, it’s amazing to me… I have fans all over the world – how supportive they are. I have such a large group of fans in Brazil and France and the Philippines and UK, they’re amazing and so great. I’m just happy with the way that side of my career is going as well and I hope there’s a lot more to come this year.
IC: So the music thing is also something that you want to pursue as a sideline to acting?
SP: Yeah. It is. For me, acting is my first love and always will be and I’m hoping that will take off and continue the way that it is, but singing as well. It’s such a great passion for me and it’s such a great outlet and I’m happy that I get the opportunity to show that side of myself.
IC: It must be a nice opportunity to express yourself in that way. You write your own music as well?
SP: I write my music myself and with my producer, Dan Franklin. So yeah, we kept it really close-knit. It’s a great way of expressing yourself because as an actor you’re always playing other characters and you do a lot of things that you don’t normally do. Obviously I’m not 22 yet and I’m not a cocaine addict, I only met Martin Short once.
IC: It must’ve been challenging playing a coke head. How did you get into that character?
SP: Well, I’m definitely not a method actor in that way! I kind of just watched them – not that they are either – I don’t mean that everyone was actually coked up on set. I just mean they’re so well-seasoned in the business and I kind of just watched them and saw where they took it and followed their lead and supposedly it worked out – everyone said it looked great.
IC: You kind of winged it?
SP: Oh, I totally winged it! Totally pulled stuff out of my ass and it worked so…
IC: Do you have a favorite actress or are you inspired by any actresses in the industry?
SP: There are so many actresses – it’s such a hard question. Like, when people ask you what your favorite movie is it’s the same thing every time. I feel like the first one of any female actresses that comes to mind is Meryl Streep. From my generation, Jennifer Lawrence. She cracks me up, she’s not afraid to show her personality and she knows who she is and that’s something that I think that, even if you’re not an actress, you can look up to. I hope that not only will my career expand but I’ll be a good role model to people that are my age and shed good light on life and the kind of career that I’m in. You know, unfortunately there are a lot of child actors who are showing bad things and bad publicity and it’s so unfortunate because they blame it on being a child star, but there are so many people who started in the industry as a child, and have been successful, that influence the people who have had a really good life – and that doesn’t get shown very often. It doesn’t get promoted very often so I hope that I’m one of the few that people can look up to and see that our business isn’t a bad monster.
IC: Are there any directors that you would love to work with?
SP: Quentin Tarantino, he’s brilliant. I would adore to do a movie with him.
IC: Do you have a personal motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
SP: A few! I’ve had plenty of opportunities for people in my life to give me advice but honestly, a simple as this is… ‘Treat people the way that you want to be treated.’ I think that it’s something that’s definitely over said but I kind of live by that too. I feel like if you just try to be the best person you can and to love yourself before you can love anyone else – if you take that in the right context – I’m not saying that you need to be vain or selfish or anything like that. It’s just important for young girls. Love yourself and be confident in who you are and have a vision of where you’re going and know yourself and be confident in who you are so you can help other people, so you can be a good light for them.
Photography and Interview by: Indira Cesarine
Hair and Make-up by Kerri Urban @ Exclusive Artists Management
Shot 1: Dress by Lie SangBong
Shot 2: Dress by Georgine