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Truth Be Told
Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told

Honestly, Pretty Little Liars star Janel Parrish can do it all. By Jessica Hundley. Photographed by Collin Eerie

Janel Parrish is not a crazy girl—she just plays one on TV. The actress stars in the popular ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars as Mona Vanderwaal, a character prone to multiple personalities and stints in the loony bin. “She’s a real handful,” says Parrish with a laugh, sitting cross-legged in a sprawling Los Angeles photo studio. “She’s the sort of character you love to hate.”

Fortunately, Parrish and her high school counterpart don’t have a lot in common. The 24-year-old—bundled up today against a freak California cold snap in a puffy down jacket and fuzzy leg warmers that make her look both adorable and impossibly young—is soft-spoken and sweetly demure, a Hawaiian beauty who can sing, dance, and play piano with equal aplomb. “I’d have to say all that I ever wanted to do was perform,” says Parrish, who grew up on the island of Oahu. “My parents would always play Broadway musicals in the car, and I’d sing along incessantly. When I was four, they took me to see a stage production of Annie. Apparently I spent the whole show on the edge of my seat and afterward I turned to my parents and said, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up.’”

Parrish’s parents were immediately supportive, taking her to auditions and rooting for her from the wings. “I was incredible lucky,” admits Parrish. “My mom and dad were always completely encouraging. And they still are.”

And with good reason. By age six Parrish had won a statewide singing contest. Soon after she was cast as the young Cosette in a national touring company production of Les Misérables and then made the transition to Broadway. Since then, says Parrish, “Performing is pretty much all I’ve been doing.”

Following her Les Mis stage run, Parrish landed numerous TV guest spots, including stints on Baywatch, The O.C., and Heroes, as well as a starring role in the kids’ film Bratz: The Movie. She also pursued a career in pop music, releasing a single on Geffen Records in 2007 and singing with a girl group called Impulse. “Music is my first love,” she says. “Singing, playing piano. I am part Chinese, so learning the piano as a kid was just what you did. Ever since those days in the back of my parents’ car, I’ve been singing. But in the end I love all kinds of performing. If I had my way, I’d do musical theatre once a year, be on a TV show, do a film, and make my own music.”

Turns out Parrish did have her way in 2012. In addition to her role on Pretty Little Liars, she starred in a Los Angeles stage production of the musical Spring Awakening, as well as indie film The Concerto, where she plays—you guessed it—a singer/songwriter. “It’s a twisted take on a modern romance,” says Parrish of the film. “I’m a musician and fall in love with a ghost. It’s a tearjerker. And it’s awesome.”

The writers for Pretty Little Liars attended a performance of Spring Awakening and were blown away by Parrish’s vocal performance. “They didn’t know I could sing,” says Parrish, “so now they’re writing in some parts where Mona gets to show off her vocals a little bit.”

Now it seems that all Parrish needs to do is release her own album. Is that on the horizon? She grins. “I’ve been writing songs,” she says coyly. “So we’ll see what happens…”

Stylist: SKYE STEWART-SHORT
Hair: CAILE NOBLE
Makeup: KRISTINA BROWN