In the first episode of “Ragdoll,” the new cat-and-mouse cop show from “Killing Eve” creators Sid Gentle, the lead trio of detectives played by Lucy Hale, Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Thalissa Teixeira encounter a cadaver (the titular Ragdoll) stitched together from the limbs, torso and head of six separate murder victims, strung up from the ceiling.
Even Hale, a self-confessed true-crime fan, was disturbed by the gruesome sight. “I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing, obviously, what I do for a living [and] who I am, what’s real, what’s not real,” the “Pretty Little Liars” alum tells Variety.
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“But this day in particular was so strange because the three of us decided not to see the Ragdoll before we shot that scene. And when we saw it, I mean, you’re kind of speechless,” she says. “It looks like a real human: the detail, the skin colour, the hair. It was dripping, because it’s supposed to be thawing. The details were so extreme that you couldn’t not be affected by it, which for me, that’s saying a lot. I know Thalissa was completely traumatized.”
Still, despite the stomach-churning subject matter (a serial killer on a quilting kick with a personal grudge against Lloyd-Hughes’ character Nathan Rose), it’s clear why the show, which is already streaming on AMC+ in the U.S. and will launch on Alibi in the U.K. on Dec. 6, caught Hale’s attention. As well as an opportunity to work with the team behind break-out hit “Killing Eve” (“Everyone is aware of how brilliant that show is,” says Hale) and the chance to spend four months shooting in London, “Ragdoll” offered a new premise for the actor, who cut her teeth on a series of teen dramas such as “Privileged,” “Scream 4” and, of course, “PLL.”
“For me, where I’m at in my career, and what I’m looking to do, I’m just always searching for something a little different,” says Hale. “Something I haven’t done before.” She found that in DC Lake Edmunds, her character in “Ragdoll,” a gay strident feminist with a dark past who, for reasons that emerge later, ends up across the pond starting a new career in the British police force.
“Upon meeting her, she seems really put together and really sweet,” the actor explains. “But I could tell that there was probably going to be something in the later episodes that revealed why she was appearing to be that way. And sure enough, something very tragic and traumatizing happened to her, which is why she escaped the States and why she’s in the U.K. So that was where the work was for me.”
To prepare for the show, Hale also re-watched some of her favorite horror thrillers, including “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Seven,” and spent time with a female detective in London. “[I] just got to ask her basic questions like, ‘How do you behave on a crime scene? How do you interact with certain things? Or certain people? What do you say? What do you not say?’ So that was helpful.”
At the back of the actors’ minds was the knowledge that while the story they were creating was fictional, there were undoubtedly real-life parallels. “Thalissa always says whatever is bad in the world is probably rooted from reality,” explains Hale. “So there were moments throughout filming the show where we had to keep in mind that this is in the realm of possibility of what could have possibly happened to people. So that was kind of dark.”
Hale’s next projects couldn’t be more different to “Ragdoll.” First up there’s “The Hating Game,” a classic old-school rom-com opposite Austen Stowell (“Catch-22”), which she describes as “pure joy, pure fun,” followed by survival thriller “Borrego,” alongside Nicholas Gonzalez (“Narcos”), and genre-crossing literary comedy “Big Gold Brick,” which also stars Oscar Isaac and Megan Fox. Hale is also set to start shooting an adaptation of “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” with Christina Hendricks and Kunal Nayyar in a couple of weeks.
“I want to say it’s not strategic that I’m doing all these different things. Because really, for me, I don’t have rules,” Hale says of her varied choices. “I just want to create content that resonates with people. I’ve been acting since I was 15 and I’m 32 now, so it’s nice that I’m lucky enough to be able to be picky, and to do the things that really speak to me and not just have to do one for a paycheck or the viewers. This is a point in my life where it’s for me and that’s exciting.”
Equally exciting is her recent move behind the camera. Hale is an executive producer on “The Hating Game,” “Borrego” and “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” a tactical turn she intends to use as a stepping stone to develop her own ideas. She recently sold her first project, based on a book, although she can’t yet reveal any other details. “That was a really big step for me, because I’ve had the rights to this book for a long time,” Hale says. She hasn’t yet decided if she’ll star in the project as well as produce it.
“I think that that’s the dream, right, to create content?” she explains. “I mean, Reese Witherspoon is a perfect example and someone that I really, really admire because she’s in control of every aspect of her career, and she creates stories and tells stories that are so important and that matter. And so if I could do something like that, that’s sort of what I’m after. That’s the goal for me.”
Sadly for “Pretty Little Liars” fans, Hale gently dismisses rumors she might return to the upcoming reboot, “Original Sin,” even in a producing capacity (she previously worked with showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on a short-lived “Riverdale” spin-off, “Kate Keene”). “As far as I know, no one from the original is involved in any way,” she says. “From what I hear, it’s going to be really dark.”
Would she consider returning for a second season of “Ragdoll” if it gets re-commissioned? “We would love to come back and do more,” she says. “I guess we’ll just we’ll just have to wait and see.”
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