How 'Pretty Little Liars' Spencer Puts Feminism First, According To Star Troian Bellisario

As will happen when you play the same character for six years and counting, Troian Bellisario of Pretty Little Liars shares a few big similarities with her Rosewood-based counterpart, Spencer Hastings. Both women have a tendency to talk fast, but with words chosen carefully; a confidence that exudes the moment they open their mouths; and a fervent belief in feminism that reveals itself in the making of some of their biggest decisions — such as Bellisario's choice to star in Martyrs , a horror film out Jan. 22.

"No matter what it is, people watch horror," the actor says, speaking with Bustle. "So then in that case, what kind of horror film do we want to make? Do we want to make horror films that are like, 'I hate everybody, let’s just cut off everybody’s heads in creative ways for them to die?' Or do we want to tell stories where there’s also a great friendship and strong female characters?"

For Bellisario, it's clear that regardless of the project, choosing the second option has always been a no-brainer. For six seasons, the female-led Pretty Little Liars has been one of the most feminist shows on TV. There was also a short film called Still a Rose, which featured an LGBT twist on Romeo & Juliet, not to mention Lauren, a web series starring the actor as a solider raped by male colleagues. And now there's Martyrs, a remake of the French cult classic about two female friends seeking revenge on the people who tortured one of them, Bellisario's Lucie, as a child. For the actor, who says she has "mixed feelings" about the type of gore and torture porn often seen in horror movies ("I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of another film that glorified violence," she says), Martyrs appealed to her primarily because of its feminism.

"The women in this film are strong," says Bellisario, adding that they're not "sexualized" like in many other horror flicks. "Lucie is fighting with her own inner demons, and she is, in a way, successful in freeing herself from the circumstances... I know how I feel about a lot of horror films, but this horror film defies all of those things, and creates this really beautiful friendship between two women... that's super exciting, and that's something I can get behind."

Although horror may be new territory for the actor ("I will now definitely re-evaluate how much blood will have to be on me for how many hours of the day," she says with a laugh), playing a complicated female character is certainly not. In a cast full of interesting, flawed women, Pretty Little Liars' Spencer Hastings has always been a standout, a teen whose acerbic wit and headstrong attitude have made her a clear leader, but not a person immune to failure. She's kissed guys she shouldn't have, taken pills she didn't need, hurt friends who didn't deserve it — in other words, she's been a typical teenage girl, albeit one who lives in Rosewood. For Bellisario, that's exactly what's made her so appealing.

"All the female characters that I’ve been really attracted to, they’re complicated," she says. "And I think that one of the reasons that they get to be complicated is because they don’t just interact with men... I keep finding myself drawn to these women who, fortunately, have deep friendships, platonic love, romantic love with other female characters who are just as complicated."

And as her many fans can attest, Bellisario's work in these roles has made their existence all the better.

Image: Anchor Bay Films