Ashley Benson covers Flaunt.
Ashley Benson and I are lounging on a round, upholstered settee in the inner dining area of the Chateau Marmont. “I was just in New York last week,” she says leaning back, focused, cool, “I just got back on Monday; I had to do some stuff for the show.” Of course, she’s referring to ABC Family’s long-standing mystery-thriller Pretty Little Liars. She plays Hanna Marin, the leader of a pack of imperfect girls working to solve a whodunnit while protecting their innermost secrets.
Benson assures me that inside was a good seating choice. She’s happy. I’m happy that she’s happy. Outside, the options were idyllic and blisteringly hot, or shaded and over-talked by a table of forty power women (can Queen Bey dedicate one to all the power ladies?) A star off the clock deserves nothing more than comfort, right? Isn’t that the point? To get the best table at the best restaurant with only the best company?
I’m not even sure what to believe anymore — if I went off the tabloids, I’d assume all of my interviews would be overwrought with awkwardness, bad lighting, kleptomania, and maybe LiLo on a too-much-fun kind of night. Thank you, paparazzi, for setting the Hollywood bar on the ground and then walking away.
When Benson leans back, carefree — in her blue Zara jumpsuit (trés chic) — her top flutters; it’s loosely buttoned, daytime sexy. For the record: she bears impeccable taste in nail polish (chocolate brown, so delicious). We’re immediately at ease: leaning back, enjoying a chance to just chat and not have to text anyone. It’s as if this might be her last chance to relax, ever (if this is true relaxation, if it could only persist).
You’re shooting two movies right now. Did you work with anyone next-level?
Mary-Louise Parker was in a film I just did and so was Chris Noth [Mr. Big from Sex and the City]. But I didn’t get to work with them; I literally wrapped, because I had to go back on the show. I worked with this guy Shiloh Fernandez, we played love interests in the movie [Chronically Metropolitan] and he was great. I just did one for Elvis & Nixon and I got to work with Michael Shannon and that was incredible to watch. He played Elvis and he was so in character and so intense. I was so nervous to meet him, but he was incredibly nice and an amazing actor to work with. As far as filmmakers, Harmony [Korine, director of Spring Breakers] is my favorite. I think I was 21 when I shot Spring Breakers and I had never done anything like that before so it was a pretty crazy and intense experience.
What’s working with Korine like?
I was cast really late in the process, about three weeks before we started shooting. Everyone else had been cast for a couple months. When I got the part, I had to FaceTime with Harmony every single day and he made me watch a couple of films. He made me look up YouTube videos of spring break and college and high school students and everyone getting wasted and throwing up everywhere. And I was like, fuck… This is not what I want to do! And Harmony was like, “You have to be in the character!”
So, when we got there, we did a bunch of rehearsals. When we started shooting, he basically told us to kind of do our own thing. He knew the characters and script and we improvised a lot of the movie, which I had never done before. That was a little scary because it was such an intense film and I didn’t want to fuck up and be all, “I’m cheesy!” I had been on the show [PLL] for two years at that point and it’s for kids, so, for Spring Breakers to break out and be a thing I had never done before, I was really nervous. Harmony was so helpful, there was no pressure; he would have the cameras rolling even when we weren’t supposed to be filming anything. All of the Britney Spears singing was not part of the script, we just broke into that song and dance on a break and we were getting ice cream and Harmony was like, “I’m going to film this! Sit over there!” He gave us fake beers and he said, “Okay, go. Do what you want to do, go dance in the parking lot and reenact your robbery scene from the dinner,” and me and Vanessa [Hudgens] were like okay, let’s do it.
What do you want to do next?
I think I’m going to take a break from TV for a while because it’ll be seven years [that I’ve been] on this show. I was on another show for a year before that and I was on a soap opera for four years. A lot of my career has been on TV, which has been amazing, but I’d like to broaden my horizons a bit and do really great films and work with great directors. I’ve been studying a lot of movies and actors that I like and trying to see where I fit.
I’m going to be 26 this year and it’s insane to say that scares me, but I think it scares me because I’ve been on this show since I was 19. To know that I’m going to be off it when I’m 26 it’s like, “Holy crap, where did my twenties go?” They were on a show, which has been amazing, but I’m really excited to see where my career is going to go, if it goes, and I’m hoping it does. Film is where my heart lies — film only.
How do you relax?
I can’t to be honest, I’m a workaholic. I will work every day until the day I die. When I’m working all the time I do sometimes wish I had a day off, but I would rather be doing what I love. If I go on vacation, I can’t go there for two weeks and do nothing, after two days, I’m like okay, let’s do this, let’s do that.
Your work defines you. It’s what you leave behind when you go.
If I weren’t working, I would travel, I really want to go to Paris when the show is finished and go to cooking school over there for three months. It’s one of my major goals. I don’t know how to cook and that’ll be pretty hard because I don’t speak French, but I’ll figure it out.
Do you find yourself to be a magnet — do you draw different types of people together for social things?
I’m actually really kind of shy, if I don’t know people, I go in the corner and sit by myself and wait for someone I know to walk into the room. People take that a lot of the times as me being very bitchy and mean, but that’s not the case; I just expect so much from people; when I have a friendship, I give them everything. I have many friends, but there are only a few that I give everything to because you can’t give yourself to every single person. I’m a very guarded person, but when I let you into my life, there are no boundaries; you’re fully in.
Being shy is okay.
Yeah, I would rather sit in the corner and have someone come up to me and have a great conversation and be like, “Dude, you’re awesome. I want to be friends with you,” rather than the whole, “hey, how are you!” fake best friends, I don’t do that, I hate fake.
You have to do what you promised and go to France and learn how to cook.
I will definitely do that! Unless I have a mental breakdown and I have to seriously take a break for a minute, then I guess I’d go somewhere, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen to me.
I hope not!
Me too! It’s fun to meet a complete stranger and dive into their world for a second and have the best conversation.
It’s a changing art form, the way we socialize with technology and phones.
Fuck the phones, man.
Benson’s move out of the less-than-progressive role of child soap actor must have been stressful. Days of Our Lives didn’t want her to jump ship in 2007 so she could on a direct-to-DVD role in the fourth installment of the Bring It On franchise. This might seem risky, but it’s inspiring, especially since the move paid off. On PLL, Benson has maintained a vibrant intensity in an otherwise straightforward plot; her and her friends and frenemies have spent six seasons working to solve literally one crime.
Consider too, Harmony Korine’s work with her on Spring Breakers: Benson loved the experience and praised the director earnestly. The Guardian wrote: “Harmony Korine has given us a violent pulp true romance that could be renamed A Pre-Summer’s Night’s Wet Dream,” adding, “Spring Breakers is Korine’s most technically competent and fluent movie; probably his most commercial, his funniest, perhaps even his least irritating.” Considering that the Britney Spears rendition was totally improvised, it’s as if audiences want Benson to be herself on camera and to play around with the concept of the cheerleader and the Orange County “it girl;” themes that could be perceived as trite and boring, yet with Benson’s drive, she becomes a small blessing in an often-blasé Hollywood landscape: a Sybaritic blip in a world of Dead Sea whatever.
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