There are two types of people in this world,” Shay Mitchell tells me. “Those that take their pictures in the camera roll and the ones that take them in the Instagram app.” It’s 10 minutes into my interview with the Pretty Little Liars star, and we both laugh at the of-the-times dichotomy. As we continue to chat, I can’t help but mentally scroll through my feed, noting the friends who throw up hastily snapped shots with total abandon and those who post only carefully edited, magazine-worthy images. It’s easy to attribute the difference to a certain level of vanity, but later, when I watch Mitchell as she searches for the best possible lighting, adjusts her poses and tries various angles while documenting her FLARE shoot for our Snapchat, I realize it all boils down to being driven by either impulse or control. Mitchell (who has 11.5 million Instagram followers, plus 4.8 million on Facebook and 3.2 million on Twitter, along with 1.1 million YouTube subcribers) falls into the latter category; she’s deliberate about every single thing she does. And that’s what has enabled her to amass so many titles—actor, model, author, social entrepreneur and, most recently, Bioré ambassador—by the dewy age of 29 and stay sane in the process. Just in time for Mitchell’s latest accomplishment—her first feature film, Mother’s Day, hits theatres this month—here are 30 things you need to know about the quintuple (and counting) threat.
Prior to PLL, her resumé was pretty spare, bolstered by bit parts on the Canadian television shows Degrassi: The Next Generation and Rookie Blue, for which she’s credited as Model and Cute Girl, respectively.
While hustling toward that big break, she made ends meet by working at the now-closed Toronto nightclubs Circa and The Guvernment. “I might have been the worst bartender in history. I didn’t enjoy it,” she admits. “But that’s the work I had to put in to get where I am today.”
Putting in the work also involved pounding the pavement and introducing herself to every local agent she found on Google. “I put together 30 packages, and I drove around Toronto in my friend’s car, handing them out one by one.” From those 30, one woman, Robyn Friedman, called her back—and she’s still Mitchell’s agent today.
She knew from a young age that she wanted to act—specifically in dramas. “Renting movies with my dad was always one of my favourite things. I loved how actors can make you feel and knew that at some point that’s what I would do for other people.”
But she didn’t start training until she reached her 20s—Mitchell didn’t even take a single drama class in school. She made sure to do the usual formative things instead, like finish high school and travel, before launching into an all-consuming career.
She even dabbled in modelling—a consequence of her try-everything-once attitude that becomes more apparent the more you get to know her.
And she’s pretty good at it, too. Witnessing her work on set, it’s hard to believe professional posing was just a short-lived side gig. She instinctively understood every garment she put on and exactly how to move in it so it would photograph well—not to mention how easily she nailed every shot.
Even as a relative newb, Mitchell was up for the challenge of a network show. “Out of all the girls on Pretty Little Liars, I was the greenest. It was really great that people were willing to take a chance on me,” she says.
This spring, she’ll be deep into taping the seventh, possibly final season of Pretty Little Liars. Looking back, Mitchell says, she’s proud of playing Emily Fields: “A lot of the time in TV and movies, lesbian relationships are overly sexualized. But Emily’s were always very sincere. Our show was a trailblazer in that way.”
She says her family was very open and accepting, so she never considered homosexuality to be a big deal, but she recognizes that for a lot of kids that’s not the case. She hopes shows like PLL can change that. “Because people are watching with their families and friends, it opens up discussion.”
Despite how much she loves working on the show, she’s at peace with it coming to an end. “It’s been great, getting to exhaust all the different things a character can do,” she says, without a drop of sentimentality in her voice. “Now it’s time for me to find another one.”
Still, she’d totally sign on for a PLL movie. “The movie is a rumour. Would I love that rumour to come true? Absolutely. I think all of us girls would have so much fun, especially if we could shoot it in Europe or Tahiti!”
Girl loves to travel. Her insatiable appetite for it is a topic we keep circling back to, and I get the sense she could talk about it for hours. See: Shaycations, one of the 13 playlists on her YouTube channel, which also features fashion DIYs, recipe demos and ask-me-anything-style Q&As. Since launching Shaycations a year ago, she’s taken viewers on tours of Bali, Hong Kong and, her fave destination so far, Morocco.
Her latest Shaycation: the outback of Montana, where she met a professional dogsled racer. “She’s the same age as me, and her life is so completely different,” Mitchell says. “She was talking about how she doesn’t have a smartphone and she just got running water in her place. That’s what I love so much about travel—meeting people and hearing about their lives and detaching yourself from everything you’re accustomed to.”
Mitchell calls Los Angeles home, but she’s still a Canadian girl at heart, having grown up in Mississauga, Ont., and spent her teen years in Vancouver, where her parents and brother, Sean, a musician and record label owner, still live.
She’s super close with her family—she even channelled aspects of her own mother for her role as Tina, stepmom to Jennifer Aniston’s character’s kids, in Mother’s Day. “Even when my brother and I were in trouble, she’d smile—but sometimes you knew a certain smile was an angry one.”
She’s bringing her mom and grandmother as her dates to the movie’s Hollywood premiere. (But before you ask, she still hasn’t decided what she’s going to wear, guys.)
The best part about landing the Mother’s Day gig? “Knowing Garry Marshall was directing it,” she says. “I love Pretty Woman more than I can tell you.”
She also loved working with Aniston. “After all the success, she’s still such a sweet person, and she still loves being on set. You could feel that energy.”
Mitchell herself has all the energy. “I’m not just someone who can sit around and wait for the next audition.”
The hustle is so strong she somehow found time in her packed schedule to write a book. After publishing her first novel, Bliss, last fall, which she co-authored with her bestie Michaela Blaney, she’s already working on a follow-up, which she hopes will be out in early 2017.
Although it’s fiction, Mitchell says Bliss is loosely based on her real life and friends. “It’s therapeutic for me to write,” she says. “I can get everything off my chest, but I also don’t have to admit to what parts are true or own up to anything.”
She’s always two steps ahead—after the next novel she wants to put out a lifestyle book. “Something that combines entertaining, home decor and travel,” she says—like an IRL iteration of her YouTube channel.
Mitchell may be committed to old-school print, yet it’s her social media empire that truly awes. “I’m showing behind the scenes, and people are getting to know who I really am, not the characters I play or who I am on the red carpet,” Mitchell says, after I ask her why her fans go so nuts for her Snapchat vids. Follow her and here’s what you’re in for: airport jaunts, exclusive on-set PLL action, filter testing, impromptu car dance parties and a surprising amount of Shake Shack.
Although her #OOTDs are on point, she doesn’t take fashion too seriously. “My style is always changing. It’s all about how I woke up that morning: sometimes I’ll just grab whatever is sitting on the hanger in front of me. I just want it to be fun.”
She admits to editing her photos … a little. “Sure, I’m guilty of taking out a blemish here and there,” she says. “And I’m also not afraid to tell people, ‘Oh, to get that one good photo, I took 5,000.’ These photos are going to be out there forever.”
She sides with Kim Kardashian on #selfiegate: “Kim is a grown woman, and she can make her own decisions. I’m not about to judge her for her nude selfie. What I do have a problem with is young girls doing it for attention or to get more likes. They don’t realize it’s going to be on the Internet for all time.”
Mitchell has her social media limits (naked selfies included). Her golden rule? Never post anything (or anyone) she doesn’t want to get asked about in an interview—that includes who she’s dating.
Her downtime is precious. Here’s what it looks like: eating in bed, watching The Bachelor (she was totally rooting for JoJo last season) and planning a major trip “possibly on a boat” with a group of friends for her 30th birthday next year.
Is she apprehensive about hitting the big 3-0? No. (Obvs.) “I just think it’s something to be very excited for. Every year—30, 31, 40, 50—is just another amazing milestone with even more amazing experiences to come.”
Bonus! Steal her beauty hacks
“If I need to look more awake, I’ll hang off a bed or chair, or do a handstand against a wall,” Mitchell says. “We [as humans] are always on our feet, so once in a while it’s good to get the blood flowing.” She also swears by green tea bags to de-puff tired eyes, cut-up beets on her lips for a natural tint and moisturizing coconut oil everywhere else. It’s no wonder Bioré signed the DIY beauty guru as a spokesmodel earlier this year. Mitchell has long been a fan of the brand’s famed pore strips—she’s even convinced her brother to try them—but it’s the new Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub, $16, that has her bubbling at the moment. The wash starts off as a powder and turns to foam once you add water. “I’ve used baking soda in homemade face masks before. It’s gentle and exfoliating; when you put it on your skin, you really do feel it work.”
Videographer: Andie Ximenes
Video Editor: Carla Antonio
Digital editor: Charlotte Herrold
Styling: Hayley Atkin, The Wall Group
Hair: Luke Chamberlain, Oribe, Forward Artists
Makeup: Patrick Ta, The Wall Group
Nails: Carla Kay, Chanel Le Vernis, Cloutier Remix