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From your smartphone to the big and small screens, actress, activist, and social media superstar Shay Mitchell is slaying Hollywood and beyond as the girl next door—but not without speaking her truth and inspiring her (millions of) followers.
In a place like Hollywood, where the media glare is unforgiving and imperfection can be fatal, it’s rare to encounter someone who is truly down-toearth. Enter Shay Mitchell. The Canadian-born bombshell was catapulted into the spotlight at just 23 years old when she landed the role of the sporty and spunky Emily Fields on the hit television show Pretty Little Liars. Fast-forward seven years and Mitchell has solidified her status as an in-demand actress, launched a lifestyle channel on YouTube, coauthored a novel titled Bliss, and become one of the fiercest and most followed social media stars of her generation. Yet despite her success, she remains genuinely kind and humble, continuously reminding us that she’s “just like anyone else.”
Now, with the PLL series finale having aired in June, a very different role in the upcoming horror film Cadaver, and a new decade ahead of her (she turned 30 in April), Mitchell’s star is shining brighter than ever. She has a zest for life that is as charming (and irresistible) as it is inspiring. It’s no wonder she has 16 million Instagram followers and counting...
Bodysuit, $595, and pants, $995, by Cusnie et Ochs at Saks Fifth Avenue; stud earrings, $875, by Jacquie Aiche at Saks Fifth Avenue.
What’s your favorite Pretty Little Liars memory?
My first day on set and the very first scene that I shot with Lucy Hale. It was the same scene that I auditioned with. Those memories just stick with you. And the last scene will always be a really fond memory, although sad. It was all of us girls saying goodbye, and it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. All of us were crying. And if one of us stopped crying, we would look over at the other one who was crying and we would start again! It was incredibly emotional. It’s been seven years and a long journey, and so many things happened—from our crew growing up and having kids to engagements and weddings. We have been a huge family, and it’s always sad to say goodbye.
What did you think of the PLL finale?
Marlene King [the show’s creator and executive producer] has said that this last season was like our love letter to the fans. We wanted to really give a season to them, which meant that it would be the most romantic season and one that would answer every question that people have had—most of them, at least. You will find out who has been the mastermind of this entire thing, and it’s going to be a really fun ride for the fans.
You’ve said that the hardest part about your career is the criticism. What have you been criticized for?
So many different things! I do have a big social media following, and the more you put yourself out there, the more you lend yourself to being criticized. As long as I’m good with who I am and I can go to sleep at night confident with how I spend my time, my day, and the type of person that I am, then all is fine. The criticism started when I first went into the PLL role and [the critics said], “Oh, she doesn’t look anything like the character. The character is supposed to have red hair, a fair complexion, and freckles; she looks nothing like that.” I thought, All right, that was the girl next door, and I’m the new version of the girl next door. The world is a melting pot now. It’s no longer the typical American girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. That didn’t stop me for one second from wanting to go in and give it a try. I still wanted to give them my best take on who I thought this character was. And had I stopped at that physical description this character was known for, then I wouldn’t be here right now. It’s all about taking chances and stepping out of your comfort zone. About not taking no for an answer and continuing to fight for what you want. If we don’t, then we can’t complain about staying stagnant.
Dress, $2,990, by Ralph Lauren Collection at Ralph Lauren; 14k gemstone hoops, $3,250, by Jacquie Aiche at Saks Fifth Avenue; Betty sandals, $795, at Giuseppe Zanotti.
You’re a queen on social media! How do you take a good selfie?
My biggest tip is to take 5,000 photos. I’m not even joking. My friends who have taken photos of me know that it takes an entire camera roll full of photos, and hopefully, fingers crossed, there will be one that I like. I always want to make it a point to say that when girls say, “You take such good photos!” Also realize that I, like you, take 5,000 different shots to get the one I like. We all do the same thing; I’m definitely no different. And I really think [social media] shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I like seeing other people’s outfits of the day, so if I’m wearing an outfit that I like, I take a photo against a white wall and there we go. So start filling up your camera roll, okay? And always find the light! Natural light is the best.
You’re also followed for your beauty tips and style secrets, but was there ever an awkward stage?
I was so awkward when I was 14, 15, and 16 years old, and before that and after that. We all go through a phase when we look back at photos and are like, “Why was I doing that?” I constantly ask my mom, “Why did you let me dye my hair blonde and wear green contacts? When did you think that was a good idea?” And my mom always says the same thing: “I just wanted you to be who you were and who you wanted to be at that time and have no regrets.” And I don’t regret it. It’s funny to look back at photos and see yourself so different. But if I could have given myself advice back then, I would have just said, “Embrace your natural beauty and enhance what you already have.” I was always trying to change myself and conform to what my friends and girls around me looked like, or girls in the magazines. Most of the time, they had blonde hair and light eyes and weren’t as tan as me. So there was a big period in my life where I was doing everything that was the opposite of what I was born with. I think now what has helped me the most is staying true to what I was born with naturally. We always have those up and down days, but we should celebrate the fact that we are all unique. That thing that you don’t like, it could also be the thing that makes you different from other people. And if we all looked the same, wouldn’t that be boring?
“I’M A COMPETITIVE PERSON, BUT I’M COMPETITIVE WITH MYSELF MORE THAN ANYBODY ELSE.”
Do you see kids in your future?
One hundred percent. That is something I’ve always wanted. Family is a huge part of life. I am definitely not rushing to have that happen right away, but when it does, great!
You’ve done a great job at keeping your private life private. How do you do it?
When I want to go out and have fun with my friends, I know there are places where paparazzi aren’t going to take your picture. I’ve been caught having a few too many drinks, and you’re asking for it when you go to places where there are paparazzi. But if you want to have fun and let loose, there is no better place than your home. I have people over quite often, and it’s my sanctuary. I can be who I want to be and let loose and not have to worry about cameras or anything. I think you just have to be careful in public and on social media as well. Don’t put up things that you think you’re going to take down in a moment. People [take] screenshots. So I’m really careful. I love wine and have drinks with dinner; I’m no angel. But I also don’t have to be in the public eye when I’m having fun like that.
“I WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO CHANGE MYSELF AND CONFORM TO WHAT GIRLS AROUND ME LOOKED LIKE. NOW, I STAY TRUE TO WHAT I WAS BORN WITH NATURALLY.”
Is dating in Hollywood difficult?
I think it’s hard to date in general. Everyone has the same struggles, whether you work in Hollywood or not. We all have the same insecurities when it comes to relationships. The only difference in Hollywood is that your relationship is more public. It’s about how comfortable people in Hollywood are with posting about their relationship and knowing it is going to get picked up by every single news outlet. For me, like other parts of my life, I want to live it exactly how I want to live it. If I post something on social media, then you have all the right in the world to ask me about it, because I’m putting it out there. But with [relationships], I don’t. I’m having fun, I’m very happy, and that’s it. I don’t want to have anyone look at my Instagram and see a timeline of guys I’ve dated.
Where do you like to go in New York?
I love Roberta’s Pizza. You can’t go wrong with pizza in New York. That water, whatever it is. I am a huge fan of Russ & Daughters. It’s a Jewish deli, and they have this caviar cream cheese that’s to die for. You have to check it out; it’s amazing. My friend Lawrence Longo introduced me to the Off the Menu Club, and it’s seriously every foodie’s dream! The app allows you to discover cool new restaurants and try a new off-menu item every day from some of the coolest restaurants in LA and now NYC. How can you beat that?
Your character on PLL is gay and you’ve said in the past you can love whoever you want to love. What does love mean to you?
I believe that love means that the person brings out the best version of you. When I love someone, I love being in their presence. And it’s also about putting someone else’s happiness first.
Jacket, $1,450, and pants, $595, at Max Mara; 18k gold Serpenti diamond watch, $52,000, at Bulgari; vintage multi-stone ring, $3,000, at Broken English.
You Snap a lot of your workouts, sometimes doing three in a row. How do you find the time?
Whenever people ask, “When do you feel most beautiful or confident?” it’s after I work out. It’s then even more so than when I’m on a red carpet all glammed up, because I’ve gotten stronger and pushed myself. I’m a competitive person, but I’m competitive with myself more than anybody else. Do I think I’m extreme? Yes, absolutely. Do I think people need to do three workouts in a day? No. But if it makes you happy, then go for it! The body is such a wonderful machine and you don’t understand or appreciate it unless you take care of it. That’s why I like to do it, and because of the fact that I love food so much and I need to work it off.
You’ve worked with a lot of different charities. What is one that is close to your heart?
Free the Children [now called WE Charity] is such a great organization. They go around the world to different communities and teach children how to be self-sufficient. They also help build water wells and schools so that kids around the globe can have an equal chance at an education. To me, that is so important, and whenever I can help out, I do.
photography by RANDALL SLAVIN. Styling by Marie-Lou Bartoli. Hair by Andrew Fitzimons using Alterna at ba-reps.com. Makeup by Ariel Tejada. Manicure by Stephanie Stone for Chanel Le Vernis at Nailing Hollywood. Styling assistance by Natalie Hoselton. Location: Private residence of Darren Dzienciol