Mallory Bechtel | And Do The Harmonies of Horror Scream?

In conversation with the actor fresh of the finale of 'Pretty Little Liars: Summer School'

Written by

Maria Kyriakos

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In the fanciful tapestry of life's passions, there's often a humble beginning that quietly blossoms into an undeniable calling. For actor Mallory Bechtel, venturing under the umbrella of acting started with melodies and a longing for the illustrious lights of Broadway. Bechtel narrates the infancy of her promising career to me with an emphasis on the theater, where dreams quickly collided with reality in the form of auditions for television and film; a realm Bechtel could not imagine taking to at that point, just yet. As this unfolded into a natural metamorphosis to the typical child actor stuff, being driven around to auditions, possibly hoping to lock in something, she expresses to me that those beginning years were quite hard, as she loathed watching herself act.

“I was finally forced to watch myself which I never had to do before," Bechtel shares, "then I had to reckon with the fact that I wasn't a very good actor, which I did not realize at the age of 11.” She presents this far-away admittance with a matter-of-fact attitude, a right of passage to the eventual emergence of a seasoned actor. The tapestry of her acting bore witness to a particular career-changing credit in cult-favorite horror film, Hereditary, where the magnitude and effect of such a film on the actress’s catalog is not lost upon her. Soon-to-be-added to that very same catalog is Richard Linklater's film adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along, where Bechtel will star opposite Paul Mescal, Beanie Feldstein, and Ben Platt.

Cut the scene to the present, Bechtel has been propelled into the intriguing labyrinth of another beloved production, Pretty Little Liars. For the better part of the last two years, Bechtel has embodied the roles of twin sisters, Kelly and Karen Beasley in Season One of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, with the current roll-out of Season Two, Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. She sounds confident in the shadowed corridors of horror's embrace, finding herself caught by the beguiling allure of the category when asked. If Hereditary was her baptism by fire, Pretty Little Liars is her journey punctuated by the sanguine echoes of her screams and the crimson stain of her character's turmoil. Yet, amidst the macabre tapestry of terror, Bechtel discovered a profound kinship, a symbiotic dance between the adrenaline rush of suspense and the intoxicating uncertainty the genre so naturally possesses. 

As the mystic, yet morally tortured veil of Kelly’s character quietly descends in Season Two, Bechtel delved into the depths of her character's psyche. In the tempestuous currents of adolescence, she navigated the treacherous waters of insecurity and longing, her portrayal imbued with a haunting authenticity. Through the looking glass of Kelly's descent into darkness, Bechtel beckoned audiences to bear witness to the jagged edges of vulnerability and the shadows of redemption. Bechtel is honest. She is smiley but firm – ironic, as this perhaps makes her quite perfect for those horror roles we’ve been talking about – in her way of describing the hopes and dreams of her complicated character. Pretty Little Liars: Summer School has been marked by an ever-shifting landscape, where the echoes of the past mingle with the whispers of the future. "Anything could happen on Pretty Little Liars,” she tells me. Ominous and fascinating. Along the stormy winds of ambiguity, Bechtel's spirit remains undaunted, her gaze fixed upon the horizon of possibility. 

See here, Mallory Bechtel, tease the mysteries that lie ahead. 

Could you take me back to how it all began and when you knew acting was for you? 

I always loved singing. I can't remember a time when I wasn't singing, so my mom put me into musical theater when I was five years old. And so, my first dream was I wanted to be on Broadway. I started musical theater and that was all I ever wanted to do. It wasn't until I got my manager that I started auditioning for more TV films, which I absolutely despised at first. I couldn't stand watching myself. But you know, practice makes perfect–not that I'm anywhere near perfect. I kept getting sent auditions and truly over the course of five years after being forced to watch myself, I was improving. I started to fall in love with acting. I started to really enjoy it.

Then the TV film thing happened before Broadway ever did. I was cast in Hereditary when I was 17. I believe I missed a bit of school to go do that. Then I came back to school and got my final callback for Dear Evan Hansen. I missed my calculus final to go audition. TV has just been the thing that's been working out for me, which I'm very blessed and very happy about. It started with Hereditary, which was the first set I was on–and  I was only there for three days-I really didn't have much to do. Ever since I was actually on a set I just had no idea what it was gonna be like and I really loved that I was able to do it multiple times as opposed to the theater where it's live. 

With your role in Hereditary and now Pretty Little Liars, do you have an affinity towards the horror genre specifically? Do you find that you want to do more horror? 

I really do love horror and I was meditating on that earlier today, and I really don't know what the answer is. I feel that Hereditary was such a fluke that I got that. I'm so grateful to Ari Aster, but I think it's helped kind of get my foot in the door with certain things. I had no idea how big of a fan Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and Lindsay [Calhoon] were of Hereditary until I was cast in the show. In the first season Ari Aster gets referenced, and then I think at least three times in the whole season. So, I think my love for horror has really grown since I've been involved in so much of it. And it's just fun. I didn't get to scream or anything in Hereditary, nothing crazy. But on this show, I've gotten to do it a lot and I've gotten to be covered in blood. I think with horror, everything is just really high stakes, which I really enjoy. The stakes are you could get murdered, which is just fun. 

With your character, Kelly, her actions reflect a desire for acceptance and inclusivity. It felt reminiscent of typical teenage dynamics. How would you say these common teenage experiences contribute to the overarching themes of horror and the show itself?

I think Kelly's actions are obviously crazy, but props to Lindsay and Roberto–they're still understandable and you can still look at it and say, ‘Yeah I was an insecure teenager once that was just desperate for validation and to be a part of a community that would have done crazy things’, and so I think for Kelly, you look at the horror of season one when it's her idea to pull the Carrie on the girls and her twin sister ends up getting murdered because of it. I still think there's so much shame that came out of that. Kelly holds herself responsible and that has carried into season two where she's just walking around with this really deep sense of shame. We end up hearing that she thinks her sister and her dad are in hell and that she's a bit responsible for that. Not only is she trying to be accepted by these girls, but she's also trying to save them. She really does think that she's doing a good thing. She's just so deep in, she's so deluded and what's funny is the church has provided that sense of acceptance that she’s so desperately needing. 

Deluded is a great word to describe it, she took on an almost villain-like feel to her in this season. What can you say for audiences to expect next and what do you hope for, for Kelly?

I would say not all is lost. This show is really good at redemption arcs. Kelly's been a part of one before and there's certainly a possibility that she's part of another one or she could become an enemy. We'll see. 

You're very well into Season Two, and with that, has the pressure, if any, with the previous Pretty Little Liars installment, worn off or has it deepened? Do you feel like it's not comparable anymore to its original counterpart?

I remember I was so nervous going back because we had filmed for nine months for the first season. Then it had been almost a year since we had done it. So I was like, ‘Do I even remember how to do this?' It's been so long. But of course, I step onto that set and we're all such good friends that it really helps that it’s a great support system there. But I do think it's taken on a life of its own while still paying homage in those little moments. 

Is there a certain thing you do to get into character? 

I think with Kelly, the things that I used to differentiate her from Karen are still very present. Like how I talk a little differently than Kelly and her voice is just a little higher. It depends on the scene. If she's talking with the Liars and she's putting on a face like ‘everything's fine’, which is very typical if she's putting on a little show, then her voice would be a little higher. But if she's at home with her mom it's going to rest a little more. It's stuff like that that I just think about beforehand. Whatever happens on the day happens. Then you forget about all of it once you're there and you just do the scene. 

What sort of challenges did you face, if any, with trying to get into character with the twins, and what does that process look like?

It was really nice because I had an acting double. People would always ask me, ‘Do you ever get confused about which one you're playing?’ I would say no, because there was another girl always there who, If I was dressed in Karen clothes, she was dressed in Kelly clothes and she would sing her lines and then we would trade. I like to say we were kind of figuring out that character together. As far as the little things that differentiated them, hair and makeup was super helpful. They would put me in heels when I was Karen, so that my posture was a little different. I was always showing a little more skin when I was Karen. I was more conservative when I was Kelly. With Karen, I have a bit of a deeper voice. 

What's the most unexpected or unusual skill you've had to learn for this role?

Screaming. My voice, and I think it might be because of my vocal training, just can't go that super high without it sounding like singing. My method now is I just go mid-range and hit it with a bunch of a vocal fry. It's terrifying in its own right. It's not what you would expect, but that was a skill I had to learn. I didn't know how to scream beforehand. But now it's something I feel comfortable doing when they ask me to.

What do you do for yourself to take time away and chill out, to take a breather? 

I had my own sourdough starter that I would do from scratch. If I ever had a long day off, I would just say, ‘Okay, I'll make some bread because it takes a really long time’. I had never done it before that summer. I have a starter now in the fridge. It's something I'm into, but it's an all day process to make an actual loaf. It's very calming, very fun. Then I would get to share it with the cast. I definitely recommend it.


Photographed by Katie Jameson

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Mallory Bechtel, And Do The Harmonies of Horror Scream, People, Maria Kyriakos