Coming Out With Emily and Paige
Writer admits, “I’m in an intimate relationship with two teenage lesbians.”
Let’s get one thing clear: The individual writers on Pretty Little Liars don’t play favorites when it comes to the characters and the stories. Each of us likes writing all of them. I swear.
Each writer writes every relationship on the show. But we tend to get those parts of the relationships that work best with our particular strengths as writers. This composite creation is one of the reasons the characters on our show have a cumulative reality you don’t get elsewhere. It’s also one of the things that makes it fun to write.
Early on it fell to me to write Emily coming out as gay to her parents. And the outness of Emily has been one of my particular territories ever since.
I come from a school of television that believes you shouldn’t teach when you write, but you have to be aware that people are learning from what you’ve written. There are a lot of girls and boys trying to figure out where they are on the sexuality see-saw. That’s hard enough to do without having to worry about homework and what your parents think about “those people.”
One of the things that can help is seeing relatable people on television. It’s a small, good thing to see someone going through something like what you’re experiencing and surviving. Maybe even winning a couple of rounds.
We read fiction and watch drama to try things out, to have experiences we haven’t had. Yes, we watch to get excited and laugh and look at the great clothes, but Pretty Little Liars wouldn’t be heading toward the hundred episode mark if it was just a fashion show. Spectacular as the fashion show has been.
I thought it was important...okay, if not “important” then “valuable,” to have a girl like Emily on television. Not that there are girls “like” Emily, there is only one, as shaped and performed by Shay Mitchell.
I didn’t create the characters of Emily and Paige. Their story was well under head-dunking way by the time I showed up. But, and I want the record to show, I wrote the first kiss. Furtive and stolen as that kiss may have been, it was mine and I remember it well.
I also remember the night we shot the scene on the back-lot at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. I remember Shay and Lindsey Shaw chatting up a storm while they were adjusting the lights and cameras. I remember the two of them chewing on those little disposable toothbrushes to make sure they would remain kissing sweet during the long night.
Looking back, it was clear from the beginning that Shay and Lindsey totally got what was going on. They knew who they were as actors and young women, and what it meant to be telling this story right now. They were then and remain today, fearless in their approaches to the characters as individuals and as a couple.
I know how Ashley Benson breathes so I can punctuate her speeches just right. I know how to get out of Lucy Hale’s way and watch the thoughts play on her face. I know Troian Bellisario likes to work the corners of the strike-zone.
And I know how Shay and Lindsey listen to each other in a scene. More than half of all acting is listening and these two characters listen intensely to each other. Each is taking a big chance with the other and with themselves and they want to make sure they understand each other. It’s fascinating to watch them work together and I’m remarkably proud of what I’ve written for them. Emily and Paige represent some of the best scenes I’ve ever created.
Because of how important it is to these two girls that they be honest with each other, they try to be as clear as they can when they talk. That means the best things I’ve written for them tend to look deceptively simple on the page. Which is how you end up with a memorable line consisting only of the words “Don’t look away.”
And I wanted them to be a very sexy couple. What’s the point of watching a relationship on television if you can’t enjoy the fantasy of it all? So Paige and Emily swam together in that beautiful blue pool under the moonlight. And Emily indulged Shay’s Barbarella cosplay while on the arm of the dashing Paige dressed as Marlene Dietrich (at the request of I. Marlene King). “Tell me of love on your planet.”
Emily has loved and lost, terribly. That she’s still able to be open and loving is miraculous. She stands there, shaking sometimes, sometimes a little drunk, sometimes very angry, but she stays on her feet, a great mixture of the things she learned from her father and from her mother. And what she learned from Alison and Maya.
Emily says she didn’t come out of the closet, she fell out, on her face. That’s only partially true. She fell out, but she fell into herself. When she came out, Emily finally got to become all of Emily. She stopped checking herself and holding her breath.
Where Emily was afraid of her sexuality, I think Paige hated herself for what she wanted, or more accurately she’d been taught to hate herself. Emily recognized that isolation in Paige after the kiss in the parking lot. Maybe even a little before.
It’s the terror of loneliness you saw in Paige at the beginning that attracted me to her. I thought, if I can help remove the ten-ton weight that’s crushing this girl’s heart I will have done a good thing...at least fictionally.
So Paige came out and as a reward she got Emily. And that makes me feel like Santa Claus.
Drama requires conflict and the couple has had their share of that, but I’ve been lucky to get to write more of the dreamy perfection of their love. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.