“I’m literally not leaving bed all day tomorrow,” Lucy Hale tells me over the phone. It’s late in the afternoon on a Saturday, and the actress has spent the past few hours relaxing at her NYC apartment. Just before our call she watched Miss Americana, the Taylor Swift documentary on Netflix (which, same), but otherwise has “nothing on the books for today.”
Spending a Saturday binge-watching under the covers may sound like the indulgent life of an indolent young celebrity, but in Hale’s case, it’s a much-needed break from an otherwise packed lineup.
She’s got a lot going on.
On top of filming and promoting her new CW show, Katy Keene, Hale's also promoting a horror movie, Fantasy Island, which hits theaters Feb. 14 — right after Katy Keene’s Feb. 6 premiere. At InStyle’s photo shoot a week prior, it became clear the actress didn’t even have a moment to see a doctor when the season’s bugs began catching up to her. A physician came to set instead, and in between posing in poufy dresses, Hale received vitamin shots and antibiotics, in hopes of stopping a sore throat in its tracks and ensuring she could sing in a few days (because, yes, her role as Katy involves singing, too).
“It's a busy month,” Hale says, somehow sounding more thrilled than exhausted or stressed. Even after emerging from the dressing room post-shot, the actress’s wincing is short-lived. In a matter of minutes, she’s back to her bubbly self, smiling, cracking jokes, and holding yoga-like poses on top of a tiny box, making for some impressive pictures. “There are a lot of exciting things going on. But what's cool is that these projects could not be more different if I tried. They're so polar-opposite.”
She does have a point. Fantasy Island is a thriller inspired by the ‘70s series of the same name, where her character has the chance to enact revenge on someone from her past (“A total Coke-and-popcorn movie,” as Hale calls it). Katy Keene, on the other hand, is another installment in the Archie Comics family where Hale plays the title role. She was part of creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s dream casting for the show, which is also a direct spinoff from Riverdale: Katy is old friends with Veronica Lodge; Pussycat Josie McCoy, played by Ashleigh Murray, moves into Katy’s apartment in the first episode. However, instead of being full of, um, murder, like its sibling series, it follows a young, aspiring designer living in NYC. She has an intense day job, a long-term boyfriend, and a group of friends who party Sex and the City-style on a Tuesday night.
“When I first got the script, I pictured it to be a lot like Riverdale, in this dark, moody world,” Hale admits. “To my surprise, it's almost like a fairy tale. There are a lot of rom-com and musical elements, and Katy’s story reminded me a lot of my personal one — moving to LA at a young age, an aspiring actor. All of the characters within the show have a big dream.”
Like Riverdale and another member of the fam, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the show is modern with a retro twist. Sure, Katy has an iPhone, but she also works at an upscale Macy’s-like department store (cleverly called Lacy’s); takes PG-rated trips to Coney Island; and dresses exclusively in sequined, heart-embellished, red-and-pink outfits.
“I feel like your wardrobe and how you dress every day says so much about who you are, so stepping into Katy’s clothes helps me become her,” Hale says of the character’s signature style. “Once you watch the show, you see her personality, you see the clothes, and you're like, ‘That makes so much sense.’”
However, the actress doesn’t have any real plans to start incorporating those pieces into her own everyday life.
“I love pink, but I don't wear a lot of it. I'm way more casual, way more laidback, and I probably never wear heels, whereas Katy is always in a skirt and heels, just running around the city. Every time we're filming outside, I'm literally the only one wearing pink, while everyone's in a black trench coat and flats.”
The color scheme may be sweet, but the show does tackle serious issues, too. Katy’s drag queen roommate, Jorge, AKA Ginger Lopez, is discriminated against while auditioning for Broadway shows, and Katy works with some pretty awful women, who try to sabotage her career and keep her from getting promoted, purely out of jealously. A big theme is how the path to success can be far from easy — something that, at 30 years old and with over 15 years in the business, Hale knows all about.
“It's like three steps ahead, one step back,” she says, referencing her own trajectory. For every Pretty Little Liars, with its seven seasons and intense fandoms, there’s a short-lived Life Sentence (the CW show in which Hale played a cancer survivor was canceled after just one season). “From the outside looking in, it looks like everything is going great, and you've had it so easy, but it’s been such a journey. I'm constantly learning and constantly growing. I think learning to deal with rejection and negativity is sort of a tool in itself, and I don't know if I'll ever quite master it. But, you learn how to deal with it. You sort of create this barrier around yourself so you can just power through. I think with that mentality, you can do anything.”
Of course, negative comments and critics still get to her. “I'm just one of those people who are very sensitive; I feel everything,” Hale says. However, there's one thing she does care less about at this stage: her appearance.
“In my early twenties, late teens, oh my god — I was just so hard on myself. The way I looked, how much I weighed, the food I was eating, my skin, anything. And I think that's normal. But it is nice to be of an age where I'm accepting of the body I'm in, and I'm accepting of myself, and I love myself, you know? Like, it takes a while to get to this point where you're like, ‘Oh my god — I actually like who I am."
It’s possible that has something to do with moving from LA to New York to film Katy Keene, which Hale says has made her more spontaneous and social; she now walks everywhere and is genuinely proud to have braved her first New York winter. She also says she’s spending more time doing what she wants, rather than what she believes others think she should do. In the work sphere, that means Hale is only taking on roles that make her happy — and right now that includes partnering with Kyleena IUD, to help women make informed decisions about birth control.
“As women, we have the right to make our own decisions about our bodies, and I think that we're at a very important time where we need to keep that power. Getting an IUD just made a lot of sense with how busy I am. I'm single and I clearly don't want kids right now. This isn't a preachy conversation towards anyone, it's mainly just, ‘Here are the facts; ask questions and then ultimately decide what's best for you.’”
I can tell she’s choosing her words carefully on the topic, calling to mind the documentary that Hale just watched, Miss Americana, in which Swift says she has felt pressure to do the right thing and be seen as the 'good girl,' which can make navigating fame very tricky.
“I was listening to her talk about approval, and just wanting to be good and do good, and felt so heard,” Hale says of the film. “I was like, ‘I feel seen. I feel seen!’”
On the plus side, Hale has come to accept her mistakes — even the “colossally stupid things” that, thankfully, happened behind the scenes and will never become a headline. Sure, she's in the process of getting a few tattoos removed, but it's been mistakes like those that helped shape her into the person she is today.
“I am kind of at the point where I'm like, ‘Oh, I can make mistakes and I can stand up for myself, and I can do X, Y, and Z and still be good,’” she says. Much like how Hale is able to work hard and relax hard, appear in scary movies and then play a perky, pink-loving Katy Keene, she knows that life is all about balance. “My idea of good has shifted as I've gotten older. Good doesn't equal angel. Good can be angel...with an attitude.”
Photographs by Colette Aboussouan. Hair by Anthony Campbell. Makeup by Robert Sesnek. Styled by Samantha Sutton, assisted by Tara Gonzalez. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello.