Pretty Little Liar

“I called and said, ‘You were right, Daddy.'” Turning to a smiling Mark, “He loves hearing me say those words.”

It turns out that Mark was right about the show being a hit. Pretty Little Liars has become a new queen bee when it comes to teen shows. It centers around four friends – Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer – who are reunited one year after their best friend Alison goes missing. When her body is found, the girls start receiving texts from an anonymous person known as “A,” who knows things they thought only Alison knew and threatens to expose their darkest secrets. Parrish’s character Mona is Hanna’s best friend who replaces Alison as the town’s “it girl.”

The show certainly has a degree of romantic melodrama like others aimed primarily at a teen audience, but Pretty Little Liars, with its mix of mystery, thrills and drama, is an animal of its own – and has garnered comparisons to a wide range of shows from glitzy Gossip Girl to unnerving odyssey Twin Peaks. In addition to Parrish’s win, the show as whole swept last year’s Teen Choice Awards, being named Choice TV Drama, and three of Parrish’s co-stars winning awards.

The show’s following extends beyond its teen target market; it also won last year’s Favorite Cable TV Drama at the People’s Choice Awards, beating out hits like Dexter and True Blood, and has been nominated for the same category again this year.

Mona’s transition into the show’s bad girl – and her subsequent descent into psychosis – has been a highlight for Parrish.

“I knew that something big and meaty was going to come that I could just really sink my teeth into and have fun with,” Parrish says. “I finally got a chance to really, really play with the role.

“Every time I get a new script, I never know exactly what my character is going to do, and it keeps it really fresh and fun for me,” she adds. “Even after three years, I still look forward to going to work. It is so fun.”

Parrish promises viewers will continue to see a lot of Mona throughout the rest of the season. She’s careful not to reveal too much, but does say that Mona has been released from the insane asylum, where she had been locked up earlier in the season.

“(The rest of the season) will be putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, showing that there’s more than just one (villain), and how and why, and what the main goal is,” Parrish says. “There were some really fun scenes, and I am really excited for everyone to see it.”

It’s now mid-afternoon, and Stage Restaurant is nearly empty. Before she leaves with her parents, a couple of servers cautiously approach Parrish for a photo. It’s a scenario she has gotten used to lately, but one that she still happily welcomes. She smiles and agrees.

“Before, people were always like, ‘Mona, Mona, Mona,'” she says. “But lately – and what I love – is when people come up and say, ‘Are you Janel Parrish?'”

When Parrish returned to L.A. a few days later, she was scheduled to go right into filming The Concerto. Pretty Little Liars, which recently got picked up for a fourth season, will resume filming in March.

Looking back at last season’s big revelation, Parrish admits that she initially was intimidated by the transition.

“The first time I read the script for the season-two finale when I found out that I was going to go insane … (I thought) I had never played a role like this before. This is going to be a challenge,” Parrish recalls.

“The key for me is having fun,” she says. “Sometimes, you look at a script, and you go, ‘Am I going to be able to pull this off? How am I going to play this?’ And we can have those doubts and those questions, but for me it’s just going, ‘No, I can do this. I am just going to go and play and have fun and just really get into the zone and see what happens.'”