Ian Harding Reveals How He Scored The Role Of Ezra Fitz In His Memoir 'Odd Birds' — EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT
They say fiction mirrors reality — and the opposite definitely seems to be true as well. On May 2, Ian Harding, the actor who plays Ezra Fitz on Pretty Little Liars will release his first book, Odd Birds, a memoir about his life in Hollywood, all told through the lens of his favorite pastime: birdwatching. If you (like me) think that sounds exactly like something Ezra Fitz would do, you're not wrong. The PLL character actually inspired Harding to put pen to paper and write his story.
"I thought back to an idea I'd had for a while — three seasons back, my character on the show wrote a book, and I've been thinking about writing one myself ever since," Harding writes in the introduction. "What you're reading now is the result of that crazy idea."
Can't wait 'til Tuesday to read Odd Birds? Here's some good news: Bustle's got an exclusive excerpt from the memoir. In the chapter below, titled "Lucy Goosey," Harding reveals that he and Lucy Hale had a special connection, right from the moment they met. "There was something about her that I recognized immediately, or recognized in her," he writes. "We’d never met before, but there was something familiar, something comforting about Lucy."
Oh, I've got your attention now, right?
In the full excerpt, Ian Harding explains how he scored the role of Ezra Fitz — and how he met Hale, his eventual co-star and the person who would become one of his best friends. Read it all below, and pre-order Odd Birds, available May 2 from St. Martin's Press.
Chapter Six: Lucy Goosey
A few months after I moved to Los Angeles, I woke up to a call from my agent, Steve. I’d been sleeping in a lot at the time, and I’d slept in again that day. I groggily picked up the phone, still half asleep, and tried to decipher what my agent was saying.
It took me a second to realize he was telling me to hurry up and get out of bed: I’d gotten a last-minute callback for a new ABC Family pilot called Pretty Little Liars.
I’d been meeting with casting directors regularly since I’d moved from Pittsburgh. I’d gone out for bit parts in TV, but this was my first pilot, and I had no idea what to expect. There’s a difference between acting and auditioning, and I wasn’t sure I was a strong auditioner. I could talk to casting directors all day about the quirks of classical theater training, but when it came to actually selling my version of a character to them, I was still very new to the game.
Despite my self-doubt, my representation kept pushing to get me in the room with casting directors all over town. They seemed to believe in my acting abilities, or at least in my bone structure. Their enthusiasm helped keep me motivated.
They seemed to believe in my acting abilities, or at least in my bone structure.
I’d been in to audition for this pilot once already — for the part of Ezra Fitz, a young high school English teacher. It’d gone decently well but hadn’t been anything to write home about. Getting a callback came as a surprise. Steve gave me the breakdown for the Pretty Little Liars callback — he told me that I’d be reading across from Lucy Hale this time, the girl that had been cast as Ezra’s underage love interest.
Before he got off the phone, Steve said, “Ian, not quite sure how to put this, but look nice, okay? Nice shirt, nice pants, wash your face. Don’t mean to sound like your mom, but this one could be good for you.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much in the way of “nice” clothes. Student loans were hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles at the time, and buying new clothes seemed like a waste of money. I’d had to buy a suit earlier in the summer for a wedding, and had left all the tags on it so that I could return it after. About the only thing nice I owned was a blue button-down shirt. That morning it had pasta stains all over it from a raucous Italian dinner a few nights earlier, and I’d forgotten to do my laundry.
I rolled out of bed and surveyed my one-room apartment: all my possessions were strewn about within arm’s length. Dangling on a suspicious-looking metal pipe sticking out of the ceiling was a hanger with my only other clothing option: a green V-neck sweater that I’d had since high school.
The sweater was from Hollister, and it had the company’s seagull logo on the tag. I always liked that about it. It was like an inside joke between me and myself. Carrying that little bird everywhere with me always felt comforting, like a good luck charm.
Plus, it was also the only item of clothing I owned that didn’t have holes in it. I wore it everywhere.
Carrying that little bird everywhere with me always felt comforting, like a good luck charm.
I threw myself in the shower, considered shaving but didn’t have time, and tried to dry off as best I could. I didn’t have AC, and on warm days the apartment would heat up like an oven. It was early October, and I should have been enjoying something hot and pumpkin-spiced, but it was sweltering outside.
There wasn’t time to stand in front of the open refrigerator to cool off, which I did on a daily basis. I grabbed my trusty green sweater off the hangar and headed out to Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, where the audition was being held. Of course, my car didn’t have AC either, and I could feel the beads of sweat on my back joining together to form small rivulets. It was as gross as it sounds.
Right before I walked into the casting office, I pulled the green sweater on and prayed that nobody would ask me about my clothing choices.
I walked into the office, which was thankfully cooled to an appropriate temperature for long sleeves.
Then I glanced around the room and started to sweat again. The waiting area was filled with handsome model types. Guys who didn’t own knives because they did all of their slicing and dicing with their razor-sharp jawlines. I recognized a few of them from their stints as sexy werewolves and morally loose ad men from the 1960s. Not only were these actors all phenomenally good-looking, they all had booked serious jobs before.
The waiting area was filled with handsome model types. Guys who didn’t own knives because they did all of their slicing and dicing with their razor-sharp jawlines.
The only work I had under my belt at the time was a bit part in an indie film and a smoothie commercial I’d done in college.
A young woman with a clipboard approached and checked off my name.
“You’ll be up in just a second.”
I’d been to this office once before to meet with casting directors right after I moved to Los Angeles, and I knew there was a bathroom down the hall. I had to get away from everyone for just a second, make sure none of the cold pizza I’d had for breakfast on the drive over was stuck in my teeth.
In the bathroom I looked at myself in the mirror and doused my face with water, careful not to let any droplets get on my festive sweater. I started running through my lines in my head.
When I first started auditioning, I’d listened to music — usually fast-paced metal or hip-hop —to psych myself up. But I realized after a few auditions that I was going in and practically screaming my lines. So, I tweaked my routine to be a bit more meditative. It’s been more effective so far than listening to Slipknot.
I closed my eyes, took a few slow and deliberate breaths, and, with my eyes closed, watched as my lines appeared in the dark space behind my eyelids.
The scene I was working on today involved me striking up a conversation with a woman at a bar in the middle of the afternoon. Cut to: we’re making out in the women’s restroom. It would end up being the scene that introduces my character in the first episode of the show.
The first time I read the pilot, I didn’t quite know what to make of Ezra, but I felt like he and I somehow clicked. I felt a warmth about the role, a sort of natural rapport. I didn’t want to go in and fuss with the part for this callback. I knew what I wanted to do with it.
I didn’t quite know what to make of Ezra, but I felt like he and I somehow clicked. I felt a warmth about the role, a sort of natural rapport.
From outside the bathroom I heard a door open and a female voice say something. Then a muffled chorus of heys and hellos from all the guys. I didn’t want to keep casting waiting on me, so I ran a hand through my hair and gave myself a final once-over in the mirror.
Back in the lobby, the guys were all talking quietly. I sat down in an empty chair.
One of the sexy werewolves turned to me:
“You just missed her. Lucy Hale just walked by. The girl they cast as Aria.”
Aria, the girl my character picks up at the bar. The entire room was buzzing about her.
“My friend did a short with her. He said she’s single.”
“Your friend’s wrong, man. She’s dating a guy from my cousin’s acting class.”
“She’s so hot.”
A door opened at the far end of the room, and the casting assistant with the clipboard poked her head around the corner.
“Ian? We’re ready for you.”
The sexy werewolf called after me to break a leg as I walked across the room.
The shades were all pulled down on the windows in the audition room, and it took a second for my eyes to adjust. The only source of light was a bright lamp mounted on a C-stand. There were half a dozen people seated behind a camera on one side of the room.
“Hey man, good to see you again,” a guy called out from behind the camera.
“Yeah you too, bud,” I replied, realizing that “bud” might have sounded a little too chummy.
There were familiar faces in the room, but new ones too. The woman to my left — I was pretty sure she was the writer of the show. Or the creator? Both?
The guy to her right — Bob, was it? He had seemed like a nice guy the last time I read for the part. I figured I would try and keep him laughing, maybe crack a joke about all the lookalikes waiting outside.
Gayle, the casting director, whom I’d met a few days prior, gave me a big smile. “Good to see you again, Ian,” she said. “Have a seat there and go ahead and slate whenever you’re ready.”
I sat down, a hand over my eyes to shade the glare of the light over the camera.
“Hi,” a voice chirped to my side.
I totally hadn’t seen her: right next to me, smiling expectantly, was Lucy Hale.
“Oh hey,” I said. “Didn’t see you there.”
“Hot out, isn’t it?” she teased, eyeing my sweater.
“I just like Christmas a lot,” came out of my mouth. That didn’t entirely make sense.
She grinned mischievously at me.
There was something about her that I recognized immediately, or recognized in her. We’d never met before, but there was something familiar, something comforting about Lucy. Perhaps the way she looked at me in that moment felt open, receptive. Like she was taking me in as opposed to merely appraising me.
It wasn’t cinematic: sparks didn’t fly, orchestral music didn’t well up as we gazed into each other’s eyes. It was a simpler moment. Quieter. Two people stuck in a whirlwind of expectation and excitement — we each somehow understood who the other was.
“I’m Ian, by the way,” I said, leaning forward to shake her hand.
“Lucy,” she said, a slight smile spreading across her face. “Whenever you’re ready,” Gayle said.
I sat, took a deep breath, and we began.
Two people stuck in a whirlwind of expectation and excitement — we each somehow understood who the other was.
Lucy’s line went something like, “Oh, I love this song.”
I nodded. There wasn’t any music playing, but I nodded. I looked into Lucy’s eyes, and it suddenly dawned on me what the scene was about. It wasn’t a love scene at all. I didn’t need to kiss her, or have sex with her, or make her my wife.
I wanted to understand her. It was that simple. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about this woman.
Somebody coughed. I had a line to say.
“B-twenty-six!” I blurted out. It was the number of the song on the jukebox at the bar we were supposed to be sitting in.
I wanted to understand her. It was that simple. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about this woman.
Lucy’s eyes went wide in surprise. She hadn’t expected the line to come out like that — neither had I.
We were both surprised, and because we were both surprised, the moment was suddenly alive. Fresh. We were listening to each other, actually communicating. There was chemistry.
We read through the scene again, the second time the dialogue rolled out crisper than the first. I wanted to read through the scene once more. I was having too much fun.
But all too soon my time was up.
I looked around at the faces in the room. At the end of every audition, there’s a moment, usually no longer than the time it takes to look up from your script, when, for a fraction of a second, you see the next few years of your life align. When you start out as an actor, this is the moment you live for.
Marlene — that was her name! — the creator of the show, thanked me for coming in as she scribbled on the pages on her lap.
“Yup, good job,” Gayle said. I think she was smiling. Headshots were shuffled. Pens scratched paper. “Thank you!” I threw out to no one in particular.
I grabbed my keys and phone, which I had apparently set down on the floor at some point.
I turned back to Lucy.
“Thank you for everything,” I said.
“Oh! You too. Don’t die from heat exhaustion in that sweater,” she said.
I walked back out through the waiting room, waved to the werewolf and told him something like “go get ’em,” and headed for the parking lot. I waited until I got all the way outside before ripping off my sweat-drenched sweater.
On the way home, my phone buzzed. Vikram, my manager, was calling. I pulled over to take the call.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“I really have no idea.”
“That can be good.”
I sat for a moment, mulling over the audition.
“This one was different,” I said.
Vikram waited for me to continue.
I put the phone on speaker and laid it on the dashboard, freeing my hands to gesture what my mouth couldn’t articulate.
“Lucy Hale was in the room. It was a chemistry read, right? I was surprised at how easy it was. It was like hanging out with an old friend. It was weird.”
“Ian, all of that sounds like a good thing.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I conceded.
“No, I am right, because they want you to go in for a network test.”
“You already knew!?” I yelled at the phone.
Vikram chuckled. “I wanted to know your thoughts first!”
Several more rounds of callbacks followed. And every round there were fewer and fewer of us in the waiting room. Lucy and I read together in front of different people in different rooms, and we got to hang out a little bit, too. We were becoming fast friends.
Finally, there were just two of us left trying out for the role of Ezra. Me and one other guy. He was Canadian. The pilot, and possibly the entire show, was going to be shot in Vancouver, so my agents had warned me that he was the financially responsible option for the studio.
On the day of the final producer session, I arrived early. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot, going over my lines with my eyes closed, when I heard a tap on the window. It was Lucy. She grinned and waved. I rolled down my window.
“Schmian!” she yelled. Lucy loves nicknames.
“Hey, Lucy Goosey.”
“How you feeling?” she asked. “Excited?”
“Nervous,” I said. “I’m feeling really, really nervous.”
“I know what you mean. Between you and me, I hope you get it. It’d be really fun to work together.”
We went inside, shook hands with the producers, and I auditioned my heart out one last time.
I was going to miss this. With all of the other actors I’d met in Los Angeles, acting had felt like work. I showed up and I did my job. With Lucy, it felt like two kids in a sandbox. We were constantly surprising one another.
After the audition, I felt a strange hollowness. It was my last audition for the show. There was nothing else I could do now. And I wasn’t ready for this all to end.
With Lucy, it felt like two kids in a sandbox. We were constantly surprising one another.
I wanted this role.
Back in my neighborhood, I was circling the block looking for a parking space, when my phone started to buzz again. It was Steve, my agent. I put the phone on speaker.
“Hey!” I said.
The voice on the phone was somber.
“Ian, hey,” he said. “This a good time?”
“What’s up?” I said.
“I’ve got bad news . . .”
I stopped the car in the middle of the street. It was over. It had been a nice fantasy, but I should have known better than to get my hopes up.
“Let’s hear it.”
“Yeah. It’s just — do you have any warm clothes?”
In the passenger seat next to me was the green sweater that I’d worn to that first callback. One of these days I was going to remember to get it washed.
“Yeah, I’ve got a sweater or two,” I said. “Why?”
“I hear that Canada is cold in November.”
“. . .”
“So you’ll need to pack some warm clothes since you’re going to be up there shooting for a month. You got the role, Ian. Knocked it out of the park. Congrats!”
“. . .”
“Ian, are you there?”
“Goddamnit, Steve!” I shouted. “My emotions are not a pipe for you to play upon!”
Steve chuckled and took my outburst for what it truly was: tremendous excitement.
After we got off the phone, I looked back over at the sweater with the seagull on its tag.
When I got my first paycheck, I went and got it dry-cleaned.