LOS ANGELES – Lucy Hale wasn’t planning on jumping into a series after “Pretty Little Liars.”
But one month after saying goodbye to that TV family, she said hello to another on “Life Sentence.”
“I wanted to take a break but I thought this was a very important story to tell,” the 28-year-old says.
In the new CW series, she’s a twentysomething who has spent much of her life living in the moment, largely because she had been diagnosed with cancer. When doctors tell her the cancer is gone, she doesn’t know what to do – particularly with the family who hid plenty of secrets from her because they didn’t want to upset her. Back home, she tries to process all she learns and considers if she still wants to be married to a man she wed on a whim.
“It came as a surprise that I signed on to do something so quickly,” Hale says. “But, to me, if something resonates with you, you run after it. It’s not every day you read something you absolutely fall in love with.”
“Life Sentence” is like the television sequel to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” In early sequences, Hale’s character does plenty of those bucket list things. Then she comes back to reality and has to figure out what she wants her next act to be. She tries a variety of jobs, learns her parents aren’t happily married and discovers everyone doesn’t get a happy ending.
The story, Hale says, resonates with everyone: “What do I do with the time I have left?”
While the TV veteran has friends who are spontaneous, she has always been “an in-bed-by- 9:30 kind of person. I’m very Type A – I must have a schedule – but I’m trying to change. This role has opened my eyes to living more freely. I’m definitely trying to get to that 10 o’clock mark.” She smiles.
While Hale has had success in a number of arenas (she released a hit country album, had a long career on television and serves as spokesperson for several products), “I’m still trying to figure out who Lucy is as a person outside of the industry. That’s so much of my identity.”
When friends suggested she take the post-“Liars” time to regroup, Hale was hesitant. “People make the mistake of saying, ‘I’m not going to do something for a while.’ That’s not always the best decision. If it speaks to your soul, you should do it. With this show, I just felt it in my gut.”
Talking with real cancer patients, Hale got a chance to feel what they’re going through.
“I remember the first time I went to a cancer ward. I was terrified. What do you say to these people that will make it better? So I kept my mouth closed and realized there’s such a sense of optimism there. I was blown away by the nurses and doctors. You walk out and it’s not sad. It’s because these people are fighting – these children who can barely even talk are fighting – because they have to. There’s no other choice.”
Statistics? Hale says one in four people die of cancer, “so we’ve all been touched by cancer in some way.”
Stella, the character she plays, is clueless about careers and doesn’t have a plan. Hale has always had a plan. “A couple of years back I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to act anymore. I asked myself those same questions: Who do I want to be? Am I on the right path? We all go through that to find the best version of ourselves. Stella’s on the path, she’s just a little late.”
Because “Pretty Little Liars” lasted eight years, Hale knows signing on for a series can be a big commitment.
“TV does not last that long anymore,” she says. “It was a blessing to be with that family for so long. But this feels so right.
“When you see on camera how well we get along you’ll understand why I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”