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Actress Shay Mitchell plays the character Emily Fields on the murder mystery-thriller Pretty Little Liars. The Emily character is a closeted lesbian who gets outed on the show.
Mitchell doesn't take playing a gay character lightly. In an interview for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, she explained what it was like to take on the role.
SM: Playing that character and not being able to tell anyone that I was gay — tell my friends on the show, it felt like such a huge weight was lifted after I'd come out to my dad on the show. Then I was like, "I'm free!" Like, I even felt free after that.
GS: It's like, "This is my new real-not-real new life.
SM: Yes, exactly, exactly. I had my own coming out party after that. It's just like, "whew." I can go to work tomorrow morning and I am gay and I can say it, you know?
GS: And then it's not the storyline of the show. That's what's interesting, and now the show just carries on.
SM: Exactly. And now we go on. And my friends were like, "Awesome, cool." Because that was kind of the same way that I looked at it. When I got the show, [showrunner I.] Marlene [King] was like, "By the way, you're going to play a lesbian eventually."
GS: I think in the story she was bisexual, right? Had a baby by somebody else. Was it Victor? Then they sent the baby over there.
SM: She was experimenting a little bit which I think a lot of people do, you know, when you're in school and whatever, and even later on in life.
GS: Don Cherry and I still talk about our weekend in France. I mean all I did was hold hands but it felt intimate.
SM: Exactly! So it was really interesting when she told me that. I was like, "Cool. So does she wear sneakers or heels?" Like, it wasn't anything that I had to think twice about. And when people are like, "So what does it feel like kissing a girl?" I'm like, "It's pretty awesome." I actually almost prefer it sometimes, because they always smell pretty.
GS: What I'm sure you've started to realize, I'm sure, is the impact that's had on young people. Not just little girls who are gay, but anybody who is gay, or straight, or trans, or other, or bi — it means something to them to see themselves represented on television. Have you felt that?
SM: Exactly. I've had a lot of people, even who are older, who "might not be in the demographic," or so they think, come up to me and be like, "I wish this was on when I was in school. It would have made it a lot easier," because they relate to my character. And now a lot more shows are having gay characters come out — which they should — but back then there weren't shows like that.
Shay Mitchell's interview with George airs Friday, March 14 at 7 p.m. on CBC.