LOS ANGELES | Shay Mitchell says those 17.5 million people who follow her on Instagram have a good sense of who she is, not who some public relations person wants her to be.
“It’s about being genuine,” she says, explaining why she does all her own posting on every social media platform. “Fans are extremely smart. They know when you do it and they know when somebody else wants you to do it.”
Those perfectly crafted selfies? All Shay.
Those appetizing food shots and inviting travel scenes? Shay’s work. Even the no-makeup moments are her idea.
“I’m on social media because I love it,” the “Pretty Little Liars” star says. “If I don’t feel like I have anything to say, I’m just not going to Tweet.” (By the way, she boasts 3.5 million followers on Twitter.) “I wasn’t forced to have a YouTube channel – that takes a lot of work – but I love doing it.”
Thanks to the Freeform series (which ends its run this year), Mitchell and her co-stars have solid support online. Fans, they say, love to ask questions about the drama’s plots, its twists and turns and their private lives.
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A possible relationship with one of her fellow actors? “I don’t really have secrets,” the 30-year-old says. “When I’m in a relationship and things get out, they get out. I’m not going to do something bad, so I don’t feel like I have to hold back.”
When cast members got tattoos on their “shush” fingers (as Lucy Hale calls them), social media fans learned first. “They somehow got me in the chair and I was screaming for the two minutes it took to do this,” Mitchell says, showing her character’s initials. “But I love it now.”
While the other cast members have multiple tattoos, Mitchell’s tribute to “PLL” was her second – and last. “We figured this was such an amazing experience we had to encapsulate it with a tattoo.”
The show – which consistently led its network’s ratings – gave her and her costars a great platform. In addition to other acting work, they’ve been able to launch and endorse product lines, begin music careers and write books.
Most recently, Mitchell penned “Bliss” with Michaela Blaney. The young adult novel resulted from many of her experiences. A second, she says, will draw on the entertainment industry – “things I’ve come across, stories I’ve heard from people and friends and experiences I’m fortunate to have from this show.”
Rather than plan writing days, Mitchell says she jots notes on her phone or, “if I hear a story, I’ll say, ‘Let me record this.’ I don’t do anything I feel forced to do. I always want to have a good time and feel creative.”
A film or TV script, she says, “is a completely different ballgame. I have the most respect for writers of all kinds but seeing how amazing these (‘PLL’) writers were, I wouldn’t want to do it on my own. I would love to partner with them to share ideas.”
When the series wrapped, Mitchell, who plays the athletic Emily Fields, made sure she got all of her character’s track suits. “I didn’t think I needed her running shoes because our styles are completely different. If I could wear heels every day, I would. But that’s Shay. Playing Emily was super fun for me because I literally got to be in her shoes.”
Also in that memory box: “My audition papers. They’re ripped and highlighted.”
The series, Mitchell says, gave her so much she couldn’t possibly sum it up in a Tweet. Those friends and fans, too, have made her appreciate every little thing. “I’m fortunate for the things we wake up to every day and yet forget.”
Besides the book, Mitchell’s post-“Liars” life includes “Cadaver,” a psychological horror film, slated for release in the next year.
She has plenty of online advice to deliver, too. In March, she wrote, “Comparison will kill you…be you.”
And, in case you wondered about those perfect selfies, there is a formula.
“Always have your phone above you, add a little head tilt and find the light,” she says. “Get close to that window… a little filter never hurts.”