Troian Bellisario played a high-schooler for most of her 20s on Pretty Little Liars, but she hasn’t graduated from teenage roles quite yet. She wrote and stars in the feature film Feed, out now on demand, about a high school senior named Olivia who struggles with grief and mental illness — including a battle with anorexia — following the death of her twin brother, Matt (played by Tom Felton).
But she now finally has some spare time to catch up on TV — yes, she was also impatiently waiting for Game of Thrones to return — and cross some classic shows off her to-do list.
Here’s what’s on the actress’ current DVR and what’s up next in her Netflix queue, plus more on how she incorporated her own struggles with mental illness in her first feature film screenplay.
Bellisario, too, was unhappy about the year-long wait for new episodes of HBO’s epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones, but is relieved that winter has finally come to Westeros.
“Game of Thrones just came back on, so, obviously that!”
“I’m Dying Up Here. I think it’s really good,” she says of Showtime’s 1970-set drama about the stand-up comedy scene in Los Angeles, based on the bestselling book by William Knoedelseder and executive produced by Jim Carrey.
“I just started watching The Sopranos,” she says. “I’m in heaven. I’m loving it. Never seen it before, and I can see why it changed television.”
“After The Sopranos, I promised myself The Wire,” she says of her next binge. “It’s not OK that I’ve never seen either one of them!”
And yes, she’s aware that both HBO dramas are quite heavy.
“I don’t watch uplifting television,” she jokes.
“I’m really excited about — well, we did just wait a year for Game of Thrones, and that’s something my friends and I have a viewing party to watch every weekend,” she says.
Feed was based in part on Bellisario’s own struggles with anorexia in high school, something she’s been outspoken about in the past.
The 31-year-old actress, who wrote the film over an eight-year period, tells Rotten Tomatoes that although this is her last time playing a teen, her experience interacting with PLL fans is the reason why she never made the character older.
“I was just like, ‘I’m so done playing high school. Why am I doing this? Why not just age her up or something?’ But there was something about being on Pretty Little Liars and being in that high school frame of mind and also communicating with fans that are so young and were struggling with a lot of the things that I struggled with in high school that I was like, ‘Okay, this is really, really important.'”
The actress was particularly taken with the heightened importance everything has as a teenager.
“You’re just pushing the boundaries of what you want to do in your life. There’s so much pressure; there’s so many expectations; and you’re just getting to know yourself,” she explains. “I think that’s why there are so many films and books written about this time, because it is such a formative experience. It’s just sort of rife.
“When I was going through my own experience and when I was communicating it with other people, there were a lot of people who just didn’t understand,” she says. “They were like, ‘Oh, well it’s just, like, a skinny thing, right? It’s just a weight thing or a diet thing?’ And I was like, ‘Really, no.’ It’s not that at all. For me, it was largely about control and it was very, very complicated.”
While the story in the film might have plenty in common with her own upbringing, a wide variety of people are affected by mental illness and eating disorders in particular.
“The thing about eating disorders is they affect everybody of every different gender, race, and socioeconomic background,” Bellisario explains. “This one story examines a white young woman from a privileged background, but there is a whole other set of pressures and expectations on an African-American young man who could also be suffering from anorexia, but there’s maybe not as much of a conversation because people don’t think it affects men.”
The writing gene runs in Bellisario’s family — her father is mega-producer Donald Bellisario and her mother is writer-producer-actress Deborah Pratt — but Feed was her first attempt at a screenplay.
“I wrote a lot growing up, but it was a lot of poetry, a lot of prose and essays,” she says. “This was sort of my learning experience. With every single draft I think it became tighter and I understood what I wanted to say more and I understood dialogue and narrative structure. Making this film taught me so much about filmmaking.”
Now that Pretty Little Liars has ended and her labor of love, Feed, is out, the actress is focusing on her next projects: a part in the bestseller-turned-film Where’d You Go, Bernadette and thinking about what she’d like to write next: “I have a number of other ideas that I’m really excited about,” she says — she also plans to stay in front of the camera as well.
“I don’t think that’s going anywhere. I love acting way too much to give it up.”