Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin star Chandler Kinney saw her most recent role playing Tabby in the teen slasher series as the perfect opportunity for personal growth. Kinney is certainly no stranger to the world of PLL, having been absolutely “hooked” on the show as a teen. After growing up watching the series and being absolutely engrossed by the young adult drama and the competitive spirit of its characters, Kinney has now come full circle, starring in the HBO Max spinoff, a darker “darker, grittier, and bloodier” take on the original program.
Starting her performing career as a dancer, Kinney soon transitioned to the screen with rom appearances on American Horror Story: Asylum, 90210, and the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World and K.C. Undercover. She would go on to hit her stride as a series regular on Fox’s reboot of Lethal Weapon, where she played Riana. In her own time, Kinney became engrossed with the zeitgeist of television and pop culture, leading the way for her PLL role as well as the part of Willa in Disney’s Zombies 3.
Read the full Chandler Kinney interview from “The REBEL Issue” below.
Can you share your earliest memory of performing in front of an audience? How old were you, and what was it like?
I believe my first time performing in front of an audience was when I was three years old. My first exposure to the arts was through dance, and I started competing on stage early on. I don’t have many specific memories from that time in my life, but I do recall how it made me feel. I remember the rush of adrenaline while being up there, and how it felt like you were on top of the world. It felt liberating, in a lot of ways.
After starting out dancing ballet and performing in stage musicals, how did you transition to acting for TV and film?
I had the opportunity to audition for a GAP commercial at the age of nine, which led to signing with a commercial agent and taking acting classes. It was such a gradual, natural transition, and it genuinely felt right as I moved through it all. I loved utilizing and creating art as a form of self-expression, and in a lot of ways, acting felt like an even more direct way to do so.
You got an early start in front of the camera, with several roles across major productions. What are some of your favorite characters you’ve played so far?
It’s really difficult to pick a favorite, as I’ve been able to take away a valuable lesson from every role I’ve taken and every experience I’ve had. Additionally, the work I’ve done is vastly different from each other, so it’s truly difficult to compare. Riana from Lethal Weapon taught me how to stay present in a scene and stay on my toes (thanks to the improv genius, Damon Wayans), Willa from Zombies was a rare wonderful opportunity to push me outside my comfort zone and incorporate dancing and singing into my acting, Tabby from PLL:OS allowed me the fortune to dig deep into a character’s psyche and grow with her throughout the season. I honestly could go on and on!
You are currently starring in Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin – can you tell us about your role in the series?
Tabby Hayworth is the kind of best friend anyone would wish for. She’s extremely loyal and protective over her friends, and won’t hesitate to stick up for them anytime, anywhere. She’s a total cinephile; movies are somewhat of a gateway for her in connecting with the world. She perceives and contextualizes the world through movies, and also uses film as a coping mechanism to process the things she’s going through.
What sets this series apart from the original?
Compared to the OG PLL, Original Sin is a bit darker, grittier, and bloodier too. We take a very close look at the traumas these girls have and are currently facing, but through the lens of the horror genre. Our show has a ’90s slasher horror film vibe and pays homage to many iconic horror films of that era.
How does Tabby fit into the crazy world of PLL?
Tabby, with her extensive study of film, can sometimes use her knowledge of horror movie tropes to deal with A, which can certainly come in handy. She also often provides levity in some of the darker moments this season.
What attracted you most to the role?
Our co-creators and showrunners Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring did an incredible job at writing a story that focuses on young women and the challenges, struggles, and real horrors they experience every day. These characters are fully fleshed out and multidimensional, each written with such truth that makes it easy to resonate with them and their stories. That’s what caught my eye with Tabby; that there was more there than what met the surface, and beneath that was a rich world of humanity just waiting to be tapped into.
How are you and Tabby similar, and how are you different?
Tabby and I share a drive that cannot be stopped by anything if we’re passionate about what we’re doing. She inspires me to not give up, even when it all seems impossible and the obstacles feel insurmountable. In terms of our differences, I would say Tabby has a far greater knowledge of film than I do, haha! That girl has a reference for literally everything!
Did you watch Pretty Little Liars or read the books growing up? Who was your favorite liar out of the original group?
I got hooked on the OG PLL show in middle school; it was my introduction to the YA space, so I felt quite risqué while watching! I really identified with Spencer due to her competitive spirit and high standards for herself! I loved the way she navigated her world and the decisions she would make, it was very validating, in a way.
You also play Willa in Zombies 3, the leader of the werewolves. How does this third installment continue on from the first two films?
The werewolves are fully settled and integrated into Seabrook society at the beginning of Zombies 3. They’re definitely a bit suspicious of the aliens when they invade the town, and in classic werewolf fashion, are all “claws out.”
Can you tell us about Willa? How did you get into character?
Willa protects her pack with the utmost love and care, which is always the most important thing to her. Getting into character came naturally with such an incredible wardrobe, hair, and makeup team who helped build the coolest look for the werewolves! As soon as I slip on those boots, it’s easy to embody Willa’s physicality.
Do you see her as a rebel?
Willa can be a bit of a rebel, she will “break the rules” if it means protecting those whom she loves. She also doesn’t believe in conforming to societal standards, especially if it means compromising her individuality. So in that sense, she certainly is a rebel with a cause.
Are there any actors you look up to?
I love Lupita Nyongo’s work because she has a way of bringing her characters to life in such a specific way. There’s an honesty in it that is so pure and vulnerable. Her emotional life is so rich, it’s impressive to see how far an actor can take their characters!
Would you want to incorporate your passion for dancing into future roles? What’s your dream role?
I would love to dance again in a future role, as dancing has taken on a defining role in my life both personally and professionally. It’s something I truly do hold near and dear to my heart. It’s also such an interesting form of expression for a character, another opportunity to tell a story through movement. Any time I can dance, I take it!
Tell us about your non-profit, Chandler’s Friends. What are its goals and what does it stand for?
Chandler’s Friends is an organization my mom and I founded when I was younger to reach out to children who don’t have access to the resources they need to thrive. The overall goal is to make sure they feel known and seen. Some of our projects have included a reading program, blankets for foster children, back-to-school supplies, and our largest endeavor which is our annual toy drive.
What sparked you to start a non-profit at such a young age?
I’ve always had a propensity for philanthropy, and from a very young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of giving back. I firmly believe in helping the next person up the ladder after climbing up.
To read our print feature on Chandler Kinney, pick up your copy of “The REBEL Issue” here.
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Make-up by Carola Gonzalez
Hair by Kachay Dorsey
Styling by Janelle Miller
Photographed on location at Hotel Shangri-La