From executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble (who’s also the showrunner), and based on Caroline Kepnes’ best-selling novel of the same name, the Lifetime drama series YOU gets deep inside the head of bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley, in an unsettlingly creepy performance that will stick with you), who crosses paths with an aspiring writer, named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), that he quickly finds himself obsessed with. Using the internet and social media to gather the most intimate details of her life as a way to get close to her, what seemingly starts as a crush quickly becomes something much more dangerous.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Shay Mitchell (who plays Peach, the wealthy and controlling queen bee of Beck’s inner circle of privileged best friends) talked about jumping right into another TV series, after the end of Pretty Little Liars, why YOU appealed to her, how she got deeper into Peach’s head, wanting to pay respect to the Peach that was created in the book but also make the character her own, whether she’d personally want to be friends with someone like Peach, and what she thinks about social media.
Collider: When you read YOU, what was it that most jumped out at you, in regard to the story that it’s telling?
SHAY MITCHELL: It’s always great to be able to work, especially on projects that you’re super excited about, and this was definitely one of those. I read the script for it and was just like, “Whoa!” It’s very real to everything that goes on, in this day and age, with dating and being online, and all of this stuff that we’re met with, every single day.
Had you been looking for something, right after finishing Pretty Little Liars?
MITCHELL: I don’t know if I ever really planned it. When I have time off, I travel and I shoot for my YouTube content. When I’m in L.A. and there are auditions and projects that are exciting to me, then I’ve gotta go out and I try for them, but that’s just part of being an actor. You never know how long it will be between projects, or when the next project is gonna be. I’m fortunate that it was this show to be the next one after PLL.
How much of this did you get to read before doing it, and were you also glad to have the book to refer back to?
MITCHELL: Yes, it did help there was a book because I could read that and get a little bit more of an idea of who Peach was. It was the same for PLL, having a whole book series. But you also just have to make it your own because you don’t exactly know where the writers are gonna take it. It’s not exactly the same as how the book plays out so, so knowing that there’s gonna be a bunch of twists and turns, you just go with the flow. We would get our scripts sometimes just a couple of days before we would start shooting it, and you learn a little bit more about the characters, as the weeks go on.
Did you have a lot of questions about Peach, and do you feel like you got answers to those questions?
MITCHELL: Absolutely! I talked to (executive producers) Sera [Gamble] and Greg [Berlanti] about it, in our initial meetings, and then, if I had questions, I actually would private message Caroline [Kepnes], the writer of the book, and we would have whole big conversations of deep dives into who Peach is, through Twitter, which was just perfect for the show. I actually don’t know why we didn’t just text, but that was really cool, to be able to have a writer who knows the ins and outs of a character and get their perspective. Of course, I have to make it into my own because I’m not who she envisioned when she was writing it, but it’s a fun processes to get to create a character together.
Are you someone who likes to have the answers, or do you like to learn as you go?
MITCHELL: I think it’s different. For a character that’s based off of a book, there’s a perception that the writer had in mind, so I wanna pay respect to that. I don’t want it to be completely opposite of who she envisioned and have you watch and go, “This isn’t who I wrote.” That would suck. I definitely wanna give respect to that and at least ask for a little bit of input to see if I’m going in the right direction. It was cool. Caroline said the same thing. She was like, “Make the character your own and take whatever bits you want.” It was fun.
Were there specific things she said to you, that helped you in figuring out who Peach is?
MITCHELL: Definitely! If you just read the breakdown of who Peach is, it’s like, “Queen bee, who does what she wants and who’s a bitch.” But if you do a deeper dive, there are reasons for why she’s like that. Growing up, she lived in a beautiful, big home, and it had everything that she wanted, but that doesn’t make you feel loved. Is that the reason why she’s so cold, and separates herself from anything remotely warm and fuzzy? You have to ask those questions. As an actor, you don’t wanna go into it hating your character. You have to learn to love them, so that’s what I did.
Peach is interesting because it seems like, on the surface, she wouldn’t be so suspicious of Joe, if there wasn’t something in her past that lead her to see something in him that he thinks he’s doing a good job of hiding.
MITCHELL: Exactly! It’s just a feeling. Maybe she sees that the way he looks at Beck is the same way she does and she’s like, “Are you feeling the same way?” It’s fun to see them go toe to toe and have some sort of weird love triangle.
Were there things you got to do with this character that you haven’t gotten to do with another character before?
MITCHELL: Play the mean girl and walk in a room in high heels, every day. That was fun. The wardrobe, in and of itself, was such a great process ‘cause I got to have a huge say in that. Peach is funny. There are so many moments where you’re like, “What?!” She doesn’t care who’s in the room, she’ll talk about Joe when he’s right there. That was hysterical. After shooting, we’d laugh about how she’s horrible but funny, at the same time.
Is she a character that you would want to be friends with, or do you think it would be better to steer clear of her?
MITCHELL: That’s tough. I think it would be more fun to watch her. At the same time, there’s a real love for Beck that Peach has. She’s capable of loving, you just wanna catch her on a good day. So, would I personally want a friend like that? Probably not, but that’s not to say that she’s a horrible person. She’s just had it a little tough.
Why do you think Beck stays friends with Peach?
MITCHELL: I think it’s ‘cause Beck would take in any stray dog. She’s just that person that can find something lovable about everybody, and that’s why she’s lovable. She sees beyond. How she looks at Peach is just, “Oh, Peach, soften up.” She sees a different side of Peach than other people do. She sees a little bit more of a softer side, and she knows that Peach is always willing to do anything for Beck. That’s a nice support system to have, especially in New York. As a young woman, growing up, you wanna have and feel support, and Peach definitely offers that.
When you are on a show as successful as Pretty Little Liars was, were you nervous about finding the next thing that would get you excited, or does it make you more excited to find that next thing?
MITCHELL: It’s the cherry on top, if it’s a super successful show. We all put work into it, so when it’s loved by a lot of people, that makes it even better. I enjoy the process of shooting it, and I enjoy having people react to it. I love all of the stages of being on a show. If it wasn’t a success, and they were like, “Okay, that’s it, thank you,” I would never regret it. I had such a fun time shooting it. So, for the people who did watch the episodes and loved it, great. That’s cool. We did it for them. The success of the show was just the cherry on top for me.
Once the show had ended, was it scary to go into the unknown and figure out what that next step would be?
MITCHELL: Yeah, but in this day and age, with social media and creating a brand outside of being an actor, you’re not waiting by the phone. I can honestly only choose the projects that I’m passionate about. That’s one of the luxuries that I have now because of social media. I don’t have to do or act in a project that I don’t care about. Projects that I’m acting in are gonna be the ones that I’m really excited about, and that’s a really great place to be. I’m one of those people who loves what I do. I love to work, every single day, and find ways to take up every hour of every day.
YOU seems like a show that will make people think about their own presence on social media and what they put out there. Was that something that you thought a lot about before you started using it to your advantage?
MITCHELL: Yeah. Coming off of such a successful show, that was successful on social media, we did learn, along the way, what not to do when it comes to that. Just for safety, for anybody, whether you’re an actor or not, you should maybe not live-stream exactly where you are, unless you’re comfortable with people knowing. Being a little bit more careful with what you put out there is a smarter idea. What I say to a lot of young girls and guys is, “Don’t think that just ‘cause you hit delete it disappears. It never goes away. Think about it like that, before you ever put a photo up or say a mean comment.” It’s a very delicate thing. I think there actually needs to be a whole class on it in school ‘cause it’s not spoken about enough. Social media is something that I’m super passionate about. If you said something horrible in a tweet, years ago, that can come back to haunt you. You really do have to just be careful about what you put out there.
I always feel like, before you hit send, you should think about whether it’s something you’d say in a room full of people.
MITCHELL: Absolutely! That’s a great way to look at it. I’ll be like, “Would I show this photo to my mom?,” before I post it.
YOU airs on Sunday nights on Lifetime Television.