Malia Pyles

Malia Pyles is owning her space.

The Pretty Little Liars series defined a generation with its dramatic cliffhangers and terrifying text messages. HBO Max has created a spin-off that has garnered praise for its refreshing take on the horror genre in a modern show. Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin centres on five teens who are terrorized by an anonymous stalker after the mother of one seemingly kills herself and a classmate dies during the school prom.

Malia Pyles portrays Minne ‘Mouse’ Honrada. But she is not all she seems – like any good liar. The tech-obsessed teen hides her trauma on the web but is soon drawn into the gaze of the sinister and omniscient A in this slasher-fuelled spinoff. Malia is bright, bubbly, thoughtful and wise. She certainly recognizes that she is part of a new generation of actors coming into their own space in a new era of media that freely gives way to diverse storylines and characters. Before Pretty Little Liars, she featured in many side roles in FX Baskets and the CW’s Batwoman, and she has taken her leading role by the horns.

In a conversation between two newbies, 1883 Magazine and Malia Pyles spoke about the success of the show, her character, horror movies and her love for Lea Salonga and Viola Davis.

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Firstly, congratulations on the show! Pretty Little Liars Original Sin is amazing! I loved it; I was scared and clutching my pillow. I loved it. How has it been for you, the success of the show?

Oh, my gosh. Well, you can only hope and dream after being so close to something for so long and putting so much of your blood, sweat and tears into something that will be received well. And of course, being part of a known IP like Pretty Little Liars, there is huge pressure to satisfy the fans and hope to introduce this storyline to a new generation and new viewers that maybe hadn’t been as close to the original.

And, of course, we’ve had some time passed since then. And so there’s like the very real feeling that we are bringing this to a new group of people that will either take it with warmth and with love or, you know, tear it apart. And it has just been such a blessing to see how everyone has responded to the show and how it’s touched so many people.

I definitely wasn’t active on Twitter or social media as much as I was before, but it’s been really touching to be able to hear how the project in a lot of ways as fun, as entertaining as it can be, but has also helped people work through and feel seen and their trauma and their experiences, which is always like the first and foremost goal for me, at least as an actor, is it’s to touch people and then also to leave them with something that they can hold onto and to make their own, you know?


That was something I wanted to touch on. In comparison to the original series, I felt more connected as a young person watching this. It reminded me of my own high school experiences. With Mouse, I could relate to her shyness and awkwardness around making friends and wanting to keep to herself. Was that something you felt when you were making it and reading the script?

Absolutely. You know, Mouse is very special and the way that she is a fully realized character. She might have one motive but then act on it in a way that feels almost far away from her goal. I think that rings very true for young people. It’s as if you are being introduced to all these new problems and issues and circumstances that a lot of times are given to them when they are young and unequipped. It’s like seeing how somebody will deal with that and their mistakes. But then, how they learn from those mistakes and grow and explore themselves and explore the people and places around them to make and curate and create a certain level of safety. I think Mouse is so similar to me in high school in a lot of ways.

I always had a core group of friends and would probably be perceived by other people as outgoing or social. But I’ve always been very introverted and I’ve always found a lot of safety and security by myself. When I was in situations with peers where I had to get out of my comfort zone, to feel like being a part of something, it was very difficult at times.  I think doing that outreach as a young person is what helps find your voice and find who you are.


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I was going to ask about your similarities to Mouse! She is, and I’m being very honest, my favourite of the group. We see her trauma manifest itself in a very interesting way that we don’t get to see in media, particularly for young women.

I think it’s really interesting with Melissa’s storyline and where we’re left guessing for X amount of episodes what this big thing was that happened in her childhood, and then the reveal happens in episode seven, and you realize that she was almost kidnapped. But I think what was interesting was the response, it felt like a lot of people almost came at it like, oh, that’s it. Like she wasn’t even taken.

But what you have to realize is when there is a pivotal event like that in your childhood that bleeds into every single part of your life. The consequence of that was how her moms confined her to herself. I mean, she literally would go to school, then work at the pawnshop and then stay home.

And she didn’t have a network of people or friends to turn to. And a lot of that was a manifestation of her trauma. And she had been locked into a certain box that was not in her control, that was not her choice, of course, being a minor and being under the guardianship of her parents. And so I think this story is, it’s coming into her womanhood and finally having the ability to look at herself, her life, and how she lives. And it’s like, is this what I really want? How do I regain control of my own situation, of the way that I live my life? And, of course, she’s confined again by the fact that she is still living under their roofs and doesn’t have as much mobility as, of course, an adult. But she finds her ways of coping and that happens a lot in the online space and a lot with the character Steve.


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There were moments when I felt like really sorry for him. The two of you had a really interesting relationship. How was playing that? 

Definitely, the most complicated relationship that I’ve ever had to explore. It was interesting what the process of the way that we shot and received scripts was, we wouldn’t get anything except the episode we were filming at the time. And so my first time digesting what the relationship was, this very strange online relationship where they’re, they’re planning on meeting up, but you don’t really know why.

I had to do a lot within my own process to understand and take a thoughtful look into this, because you receive it and you’re like, Oh, this is so creepy. This is so weird. Like, why is she doing this? And it created some very thoughtful work for me because I had to take a step back and be like, Well, of course, she has lived her life with a lot of secrecy from her moms.

She wants to capture and create a relationship that feels on her own terms. Alex Chapman – the actor that played Steve – was just incredible as well. He was so diligent and the way that he worked and created a really wonderful space where we could play and try out different, different methods of portraying the sweetness and the, again, creepiness, the weirdness of this relationship.

You know that scene in the track when we’re talking about leaving, and he calls me by his daughter’s name. There’s almost a sweetness to that. Here’s a man that just wants to be held and taken care of in a way. Then there’s Mouse, who also wants the same thing. There is an embrace at the end of that scene because they desperately want to steal space and away from the world that has done so much cruelty to them.


I think it added to the horror of it all because this one was much scarier than I was expecting. With the original, you have an anonymous texter who you don’t know. I was wondering why am I seeing this man standing in the window in the first episode? [both laugh] I had moments where I’d be leaving my flat and I’m checking just to make sure there wasn’t a guy. I love horror movies and those old 80s and 90s slashers. Were you wondering how to make it as harrowing as possible whilst also keeping true to the spirit of the original?

Well, I have to credit our team, our creative team, and our creators and showrunners. Lindsay and Roberto, as well as Lisa Soper, who actually directed a majority of our episodes. They both came from backgrounds of being huge horror fans and came with an arsenal of references. I remember when we arrived we had been gifted a storyboard by Lisa Soper, who had stills and references to all these slashers and classic horror movies to pull from and to pay homage to in our show.

What I think is really interesting that was done is that slashers and horror are very in-your-face. There’s nothing hiding there.  Like, it’s a guy that is 7 billion feet tall with a big mask on. He’s not afraid to show you who he is. I feel like that highlighted the psychological and very real horror that these girls were facing in their real lives. It almost acts as this beautiful juxtaposition of this big guy that’s in your face that propped up all these very real issues in their lives and amplified like the nuances of trauma they’re experiencing.

I know the creators had coined this wonderful phrase — “we’re taking a look at horror through the female gaze.” So horror is typically made by and for men. You always see the woman being slashed, which can sometimes be very gratuitous and hurtful. But we wanted to use that to empower women.


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I do love the friendships between the girls because, again, they felt very real. Did you all like having a lot of fun creating those bonds? I loved how you said like the miniature friendships between them and then you also have this significant group dynamic where they all look out for one another.

Yeah, absolutely. I think how our show differs from the original is they all start as friends, and then they’ve had some time apart, and they come together. Whereas with our show, it’s like we’re all in this small town population. I don’t know, probably not that many, but we have never met or developed a relationship with each other.

When we all meet, they reference The Breakfast Club, which I thought was brilliant because it’s like it really emphasized the fact that we come from different walks of life and maybe in a different setting. These girls don’t make sense as friends, but we’re constantly learning and growing from each other. There was so much fun in finding that, especially because there were so many parallels to real life. Of course, it was my first time meeting any of the girls. I had known who Bailey was because I actually went to a taping of Wizards of Waverly Place.


No way! 

I saw her as Maxine! [Laughs]


An iconic role. So good!

I had it. I never even told her that.


Well, she’ll know now if she reads this interview! [both laugh]

I did end up telling her a few weeks into the process. But that being said, I had an awareness of who these girls were but I had never met them. There was some fear going into the process. I think in the nature of this industry, there’s a feeling like you have to compete against your peers rather than uplift them. I was entering a new town and a new space and a new job. You can only hope that the other people around you are kind and willing to be open to who you are. I cannot say enough about those girls and how strong they were and how kind they were. I still hang out with them and those are friendships that I will take to the grave, just like in the show.


Hopefully, not too soon!

[laughs] Not too soon!


Building the importance of representation of female friendship — you work with some amazing, iconic actresses. You worked with Sharon Leal. That is just such like such a cool environment to play as a Filipino actress.

Oh my gosh! The Pinoy pride on that set was so strong! Yeah, it’s funny with Sharon Leal. She is Filipino, but a lot of people don’t know that. I love that you brought that up because there was such a fanfare for me. Filipinos are so underrepresented in media. As a culture, I think we are so excited when people do get to break into the mainstream that is Filipino. For this to be my first lead and my first time on a big stage, to feel very supported by the fact that there were other people like me and shared my heritage was so exciting and comforting. I didn’t initially know she wasn’t coming in until episode two. Mallory Bechdel and Maya Refico broke the news to me when we were all hanging out, and I dropped to the floor in excitement. I squealed. I Facetimed my mom, and I had to immediately share the news with her.

It’s really been wonderful to have the Philippines behind this show as well because of her established legacy and that country. So to feel like closeness and kinship with Filipino people, during this process with the fans as well, has been really amazing.


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I can definitely imagine like watching it. It was a very different vibe again. In the original there was only one Liar of colour [Emily Fields, portrayed by Shay Mitchell]. It was really great to see you have this diverse group of friends, but it didn’t feel tokenistic in any sort of way. When taking the role, was it important for you to feel like you weren’t just checking off a list in regards to representation? 

I think going into any project, there is a worry they are weaponizing stereotypes or building these characters based on tokenized ideas, specially as an Asian-American. I’m more so speaking about like when I first started years ago, but the pool was very small of roles written for Asian people and shows and creators that had Asian stories in mind. To be part of this and getting the audition, initially, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting!” because they are going to be telling an Asian woman story on TV and in a leadership position. Then it also included all these women that come from different backgrounds and representing different things.

It was so important for us to to make sure that it didn’t come off as disingenuous. If we’re going to do representation, let’s do it thoughtfully and let’s have those conversations. I know there was a very open dialogue about if a certain thing didn’t feel right or feel true to their own experience. I think that’s so imperative when creating a TV show. You need to listen to the actors that are representing their own heritage and have writers in the writer’s room that have that lived experience.

I know for episode seven, which was like a big pivotal moment for me and Jordan [Gonzalez], who plays Ash, there was a lot of queerness in that episode. One of the writers for that episode, Neil McNeil, is queer. With episode six, Danielle Amon, who was one of the writers, is Black, and our director was Black. I think the fact that, for those episodes and moments, we not only had people of colour and queer people in the forefront on screen but also in the room.


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That is really great to hear! That was very much one of the many things I loved about the show. Looking at the previous projects you’ve worked on – Batwoman, Baskets with Zach Galifianakis, and you were in an episode of How to Get Away with Murder. I can only imagine the vibes you get by being in the same room as Viola Davis!

It was amazing!


I’m empowered just looking at a picture of her. Were there any lessons you took from those smaller roles into this lead role?

You know, I think I had a very unique experience with how my career has gone. I have been in these smaller supporting roles in different projects. The blessing of working with these huge giants in the industry is that all are very sure of themselves and are very good at what they do. They have nurtured their craft. The first TV show I ever really worked on was Baskets and working so closely with Zach and Louie Anderson was incredibly impactful. They work with such freedom, and they honour their work, but they also aren’t scared of flipping it on its head, trying new things. That was like a huge moment for me and my growth as an actor to still do the work as it was written, but to honour myself and feel free.

Working with Viola Davis, that was such a teeny tiny role, but getting on that set and just being in proximity to her and getting to watch her work. It was a courtroom scene, so I just got to sit there and watch her do a monologue for like 6 hours. As a young person, it was like going to school. I was taking notes about just her poise and grace while occupying that space and the power that you can just feel that she holds in her room. As a woman of colour, seeing that and then being able to think I can also own my space in that way.

I’m no Viola Davis by any means, but all those pivotal moments in my life brought me to this place where I feel like I was finally gifted autonomy in this space. Instead of shying away from it, I was able to really take ownership of where I was and how I wanted to be perceived and how I wanted to approach my work.


Is there a role in mind that you’d ever like to play?

Exploring the horror genre was so fun. It was the first time for me. I would love to explore this in depth. I am so excited about how our media is shifting. I think there’s so much great happening right now that takes a look at people alongside the horror. To be a part of something like that would be great.



It’s insane to me that we’re the same age! How do you keep grounded, being in the public eye?

I think as much as I’ve already spoken on this call with you about taking ownership, that wasn’t an easy thing to do. There’s a lot of responsibility put on anybody in this space, whether you’re an actor, a writer, or a journalist. I think a lot is going against you just because of your age.There’s always something to prove to somebody — “No, I belong in this space. I can use my voice in a thoughtful way.” I could use my voice to impact people. Going into the press run after the show was incredibly daunting. People used a lot of words like ‘debut’ regarding what I was about to experience, and the idea of being perceived on a larger scale was incredibly difficult to reconcile with.

I had to return to myself before I was even in this world and know that I’ve always been outspoken. I’ve always wanted to speak from a place of truth and speak to people who need a friend or someone to listen to them. Finding my voice has been one of the most gratifying things about this whole project as a young person; I think it’s it’s led to so much growth in my personal life. I have been given a certain amount of independence I never had before. It was the first time I had ever lived alone! To experience everything in such fast motion has been wonderfully chaotic, but also so, so, so just it’s just such a blessing.


I can relate, as a young writer – not on the same scale, of course! And ethnic moms will always keep you grounded [both laugh] 

For sure!


Not to get all Tabby on you – favourite horror movie?

This is so hard! I love Donnie Darko, which you might not even consider a horror movie, but it’s just so abstract. I’m a huge, huge fan of psychological thrillers.


Season 1 of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is streaming now.


Interview Michaela Makusha

Photography Mallory Turner

Talent Malia Pyles

Styling Natalie Hoselton

Hair Rena Calhoun

Make Up Pircilla Pae


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