Talking to Vanessa Ray, Pretty Little Liars’ Long-Awaited ‘A’: ‘We Really Needed These Answers’

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Photo: Monica Schipper/FilmMagic

After five seasons, 130 episodes, and a frustratingly high amount of red herrings, fans of Pretty Little Liars finally got an episode that officially answers the show’s overarching mystery. Specifically, the identity of the cyberstalking (her technological capabilities mimic a young Julian Assange), black-hoodie-donning, menacing “A,” who has been incessantly torturing the four Liars since taking over “the game” from Mona Vanderwaal at the beginning of season three. The big reveal was a complex one for the teen show: A turned out to be recurring character CeCe Drake (played by Vanessa Ray), who was born Charles DiLaurentis before transitioning to Charlotte DiLaurentis as a teenager. Scorned by her father as a child for her effeminate tendencies, she was forced to live her formative years at Rosewood’s infamous Radley Sanitarium, where her transgender identity made her an easy target for blame regarding various in-house misconducts (“nobody believed the boy wearing the dress”). She escaped Radley and reinvented herself as CeCe, deciding to punish the Liars for their flippant and happy behavior when their “friend” Alison, also the sister she had always loved, was supposedly dead. “The game, it’s like a drug, and I’m really good at playing it,” she tells Alison in the episode. “And it felt great to succeed at something.”

Vulture snagged a few minutes with Ray this morning to discuss the finale. 

So, your secret’s out in the open, huh?
It feels so good. I was texting [I.] Marlene [King] a lot yesterday and the day before. It feels like Christmas. I can finally tell everybody this big secret. It’s sort of hard because I have a lot of friends that watch it, too, so keeping that secret has been harder than anything else.

Were you allowed to tell anyone?
No. I couldn’t tell anyone anything. The filming actually coincided with my wedding. I filmed the full week leading up to the wedding, so most of my closest friends and family knew I was working, and some of them figured it was Pretty Little Liars. I had taken all of this time off for a hiatus, and when I saw the date caption for this episode, I thought, Of course it’s the week before my wedding. I actually think it turned out being good that way, having something to dive into, and I felt very present on set in a way that I hadn’t ever felt before. It was a brand-new experience.

When and how did you find out that you would be revealed as A?
For the last season I only did one episode. I would show up and do one little quick, funny thing and then leave. Show up for showing up's sake. At least that’s what I thought. But Marlene told me, Well, there’s something so much bigger going on here, there’s a bigger story coming. I was like, Okay! Whatever it is, it was very vague. I had no idea it was going to be such an epic episode. They couriered over the script and I got a text from Marlene that was like, "Have you read it? Have you read it?" I was like, "No, I haven’t." Then I started to read the script and I was like, Oh, this is a good script. I had cats sitting on my couch and hanging out. And then it gets to the part where “A” turns around; “CeCe effin’ Drake,” I believe, is what it said in the script. I screamed, and I threw the script across the room, and my soon-to-be-husband came out and was like, "Are you okay?" I was like, "OH MY GOD, YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IT, THIS IS THE BEST SCRIPT." So then I immediately texted Marlene and was like, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." She asked how far along I was in the script. I was only on the fourth page, and she said, "Keep going, you’re going to have a lot more questions." It was cool, actually, going through the script, because I would know questions that I had, and then I turned the page and the question would be answered. From being a fan and having friends that are fans, and the fans of mine on social media, they really needed this. We really needed these answers. We really needed some true, hard facts, and [to] know that we weren’t being led astray. It’s really masterful, what [Marlene has] done.

There hasn’t been this big of a reveal since Gossip Girl. It blew up social media outlets everywhere. It was absolutely insane.
Absolutely. That’s what all of [my] friends are saying: "You’re Gossip Girl!" Even when Gossip Girl came out, I don’t think the show had the online presence that it would’ve had now. My mom has a Twitter account, you know what I mean? Grandparents have Twitter accounts. It’s kind of a Facebook for those things. It’s huge, it’s so massive. It’s cool to be a part of something epic like that.

Before you found out, what were your own theories about A’s identity?
Everybody has a certain day or night where they go down the rabbit role of reading all of the fanfiction and fan theories. My dad always really thought it was Aria. I was sort of on the Wren train for a while, for sure. And then I thought it would be really cool if it was Toby. The ultimate betrayal! 

Charlotte’s backstory was utterly heartbreaking. The dialogue between you and Alison was especially poignant as well.
What I’m hoping for is that the girls get the revenge they deserve. They’re going to come and kick some you-know-what. The whole family dynamic explaining why Alison became what she became … she kind of indirectly became the person she was in the first season. [Charlotte] was taught to be a liar and basically taught by her mother that human life doesn’t matter. She was so neglected, and turned away so casually. I think that Alison got the residual effects of that and through the love of her friends has learned a different path. The whole show carries so much weight. Just because your family is a certain way doesn’t mean you have to be that way.

Do you know how Charlotte will factor into the second half of the season, when the five-year time jump will occur?
I don’t know that I’m allowed to say much about it, but I do have some ideas. I’ll say that it’s so exciting. The girls are excited to be closer to their ages. Mature Pretty Little Liars.

They’re 21, with access to cocktails. What could possibly go wrong?
As if they’re not mature enough.