Portraying the English teacher Ezra Fitz in the TV series ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ the young and talented actor Ian Harding already has a cult-like following. He spent some time with DA MAN and reveals some interesting insights. Here, Harding gives us his best poses in this exclusive fashion feature. – UPDATE Aug. 18
Photo above: Shirt from Plectrum by Ben Sherman
Born in Heidelberg, Germany—where his American military parents were posted—Ian Harding joined the drama club at his high school after his family moved back to the U.S. specifically, the state of Virginia. He fell in love with acting at that time and his passion for it continues to this day. He has had a good number of roles both in feature films and on TV, but nothing as prominent as his role in Pretty Little Liars.
His feature credits include Greg Mottola’s Adventureland and Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs—where he plays alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Although he states that feature films and TV are two very different industries, Harding explains that “these challenges are what get me fired up.” Before becoming a regular on Pretty Little Liars (which just began Season 2 in June 2011), he had small roles on NCIS: Los Angeles and others.
DA MAN: Tell us about Pretty Little Liars, a recap of Season 1 and what’s going on in Season 2?
Ian Harding: Wow … a lot happened. I’m still trying to keep my relationship going with the love of my life who happens to be seven years younger than me, (and a junior in high school as well), and this season the stakes are raised, things get steamier and more dangerous, and story lines intertwine like vines in a swamp. A vague answer—I know—but that’s the best I can give in under 30,000 words.
DA MAN: What was the process like getting the part?
Ian Harding: Exciting. I had about five different auditions and, with each call-back, I was more and more surprised at the fact that I got to another step in the process. I was simply having fun with everything so I think that helped a lot.
DA MAN: Did you have any reservations about taking on a controversial role as you have in Pretty Little Liars?
Ian Harding: I didn’t. I saw that it was a love story, as taboo as a love story can be I suppose, but I also realized it was ABC Family, so I felt the thin line between sweet/loving and sleazy/gross would be walked carefully.
DA MAN: Has the relationship between your character, the teacher Ezra, and the teenager Aria, ever felt awkward/creepy to you?
Ian Harding: Not especially. I really trust the writers on this show and have never felt opposed to what was written for Ezra and Aria, not to mention, these two have a maturity about them that’s beyond some adult relationships I know of, so awkwardness has never entered the picture.
DA MAN: The writers are doing a fantastic job of keeping the audience on the edge of their couches each episode. Does that level of secrecy also apply to you and the rest of the cast?
Ian Harding: Yes. I have no idea what’s going to happen by the end of this season, and honestly I don’t want to. Anyone could be a murderer and/or have a past that’s darker than it seems, so part of the excitement of working on this show is not knowing what your character is capable of.
DA MAN: Have you read the Sara Shepard books that inspired the TV show?
Ian Harding: Only up to the fourth book, since Ezra disappears after the relationship is discovered. I didn’t want to see when and how I would become unemployed again!
DA MAN: How is your Ezra different/similar from the books’ version of Ezra?
Ian Harding: TV Ezra is far more fleshed out, seeing as, (for now…) he seems likely to stick around, whereas, in the book version, Ezra leaves one-third of the way through book four. The TV writers have to give him more baggage than he carried in the novels.
DA MAN: How do you work on the chemistry you have with Lucy Hale?
Ian Harding: I don’t know if you can work on chemistry. She and I are very open with each other, and have a comfort level that’s unlike any working relationship I’ve ever experienced. Our real-life interactions have all the trappings of a great friendship. We just happen to make out with one another for a living.
DA MAN: Do you have any idea who ‘A’ is on the show? Will it be the same with the one in the books?
Ian Harding: I truly have no idea. There were several ‘As’ in the book but I know story lines have been moved around a bit. The scripts are handed out a week prior to actual shooting, so in some ways the actors are kept out of the loop as much as the audience.
DA MAN: Do you think the writers will continue to surprise the TV viewers, even those who’ve already read the books?
Ian Harding: Yes. There will be many a jaw on the floor when ‘A’ is finally revealed.
DA MAN: Any scoops on the second half of Season 2 and beyond?
Ian Harding: Everything in Season 2, (the clothes, the romance, the story lines), feel as if they’ve been juiced with steroids. ‘A’ is no longer a mere nuisance, but a threat to everyone’s lives. And I mean everyone.
DA MAN: After 1.5 acclaimed seasons and running, how attached are you to the cast, the crew, the story?
Ian Harding: Very attached. I feel incredibly comfortable on set, and the energy is incredibly positive. Having never shot a TV series before, comparing the happiness and joy for the work to other productions is difficult, but the veterans on the show talk frequently about the smoothness and overall enthusiasm on our set.
DA MAN: Have you had the chance to meet Sara Shepard?
Ian Harding: I haven’t, which is insane considering we’re half way through the filming of Season 2. I think I had two opportunities to meet her that fell through at the last second.
DA MAN: What do you think is so special about the ‘forbidden love affair’ of Ezra and Aria?
Ian Harding: Just that. It’s forbidden. The characters are actually in love, it’s not simply a physical thing. They complete each other and the audience can sense it. People can really relate to the whole “the world doesn’t understand our love” aspect of Aria and Ezra’s relationship.
DA MAN: What is it like working with Lucy Hale who has had so much experience in playing a ‘student’ role? And how well do you two get along on and off the set?
Ian Harding: We get along extremely well. We even speak in “baby voice” to each other between takes. It nauseates the crew. She’s a pro, yes, but she has never made me feel like an amateur despite her six-year headstart in the business.
DA MAN: You did theater work in the past. Ever feel like going back to the stage in the near future?
Ian Harding: I would love to. In fact, I might as well say that I will. I don’t know when and where, but I need to do stage work again. I miss it. I miss how challenging it can be. I need to have that muscle stretched again.
DA MAN: Since TV/film stars are now fashion icons more than ever, what is your take on fashion?
Ian Harding: I’m still figuring that out. I find fashion interesting in so much that it’s art and a form of expression that one personally tinkers with as one grows. I would never call myself fashionable, seeing as I dress rather plainly, going for comfort over self-expression, but I do enjoy learning about different styles and aspects of clothing from designers and artists I meet.
DA MAN: What TV shows did you like while growing up and what are your favorites now?
Ian Harding: I didn’t watch a ton of TV growing up, but regularly caught many of the big shows like Friends or ER. My mom was a huge fan of JAG, and I watched an episode with her one night and basically fell in love with Catherine Bell, the lead actress. I even had a poster or two of her. Now, I’m religious in my following Modern Family, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. They are my new favorites.
Shirt by Richard Chai
DA MAN: Being born and raised in a military family, do you think you’ve developed a kind of strict discipline and has that helped your acting?
Ian Harding: I wasn’t raised in any sort of rigorous military fashion. My parents thankfully left ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ at the door. That being said, I did have a disciplined work ethic instilled in me from an early age. My parents supported my sister and me in everything we pursued, and let us make our own mistakes. Regarding the progression of my acting career, I suppose my philosophy is rather simple; keep doing projects that excite you, even if they won’t make you a lot of money or gain you any fame, if they’re fun and stimulating, then that’s reason enough.
DA MAN: Seeing as how you were quite the athlete in soccer and basketball, why did you decide to join the drama club in high school?
Ian Harding: Hilarious question. Some of my childhood friends would debate that ‘athletic ability’ you speak of. I started doing plays in high school for several reasons. First, girls from neighboring female academies, (my school was single sex), would come and take part in the drama productions, so that was a big incentive. Second, yes I was athletic, but not exactly on par with the child prodigies that made up the varsity teams. I chose flirting with Catholic schoolgirls over sitting on the [sports team] bench.
DA MAN: After high school, what prompted you to study acting at Carnegie Mellon University instead of going directly to do some off-Broadway theater acting?
Ian Harding: I actually didn’t know if I was any good at acting. I loved doing it, and knew I wanted to get better at it, so I figured going to college for it made the most sense. Besides, simply driving out to New York or L.A. and hoping for the best seemed ludicrous to me. I also wanted the experience of college, thus, Carnegie was my best option.
DA MAN: You seem to have tasted both feature films and TV series. Which industry do you feel meets your passion for acting more?
Ian Harding: Both. From what little experience I’ve had, I know that they are different beasts, but each offer a creative experience that excites me. I hope to do both for the rest of my days.
DA MAN: Are you currently engaged in any other projects that you can tell us about?
Ian Harding: There have been several projects that have come my way through the hype I’ve acquired from Pretty Little Liars, but our shooting schedule is pretty thick. I’ll finish shooting Season 2 in December 2011, having started filming in April 2011, so I’m simply auditioning for things that might shoot during the hiatus.
DA MAN: What sort of things do you have your eye on in the future of your career?
Ian Harding: To have a career in the first place. I’d rather know while sitting on my deathbed that I worked with people more talented than I and experienced projects that inspired me and was able to not get a day job in the process.
DA MAN: What would be your ultimate role to play?
Ian Harding: I don’t really have one, and haven’t given much thought to a specific part. I would like to bounce around from project to project, (TV, film, theater, etc.), each one different and more inspiring than the last. It’s romantic, but it is what I really want.
DA MAN: Who would be your dream dinner party guests?
Ian Harding: How big can the guest list be? How about anyone I’ve ever loved, whether they be alive or dead, fictional or real, human or beast. Actually, let’s exclude some ex-girlfriends…
DA MAN: What do you do to unwind?
Ian Harding: I read. A lot. How much information I actually retain from all my reading is up for debate, but I have at least four books going at a time. I eat. I run. I spend time with friends. My line of work can be deeply rewarding, yet it’s sporadic and complicated. Maybe even a little ruthless. Thus, keeping things simple and working every day on small things I care about makes the most sense for my life path. Is that boring?
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Interview: Refa Koetin
***UPDATE August 18***
DA MAN Web-Exclusive images and Q&A with Ian Harding:
DA MAN: What can you tell us about your background, what were you into while growing up?
Ian Harding: I was into stories—creating them, living them, telling them. Thus, I stretched the truth a lot…
DA MAN: How did you get into showbiz/entertainment world?
Ian Harding: Luck. I always wanted to act, so I went to school for it and befriended my excellent magician of a manager, and now I’m momentarily employed!
DA MAN: Which project are you most proud of so far?
Ian Harding: That’s hard to say. I’m really proud of some work I did in college that no one ever saw. I’m also a believer in the adage ‘each project is the one I’m most proud of since it’s my most recent challenge.’ I actually think I just made up that phrase.
DA MAN: What is your idea of ‘making it’ in the showbiz industry?
Ian Harding: Constantly working on anything that makes you happy for any reason. Fame and money are not part of this equation.
DA MAN: What is your take on fashion, in general?
Ian Harding: Whatever suits my mood. If I’m feeling lazy I dress lazily, if I’m unshaven and disheveled, then I dress like a dirty hipster, and so on.
DA MAN: What is your ‘go to’ outfit for…
1. A cocktail party? Ian Harding: Jacket and jeans and some nice/unique shoes.
2. Clubbing? Ian Harding: I don’t club
3. Business lunch? Ian Harding: Whatever was on my floor that morning.
4. Movie premiere/awards show? Ian Harding: Whatever is not über embarrassing and different from the last big public event I took part in.
DA MAN: What motivates you?
Ian Harding: This changes on a daily basis. I guess my passion for what I do, friends and family, stories, food, coffee.
DA MAN: What turns you off?
Ian Harding: Anything lacking empathy.
Sweater by Calvin Klein Collection
DA MAN: Who is the most stylish person you’ve ever met?
Ian Harding: I met a British scarf designer in Italy once. He was easily the most stylish person I’ve ever encountered since he knew what worked for him. He was able to play with fashion within his own context. It was effortless and not pretentious.
DA MAN: What’s your favorite…
1. Movie of all time? Ian Harding: Impossible to answer.
2. Band/music? Ian Harding: All music, though Mumford and Sons is pretty high on the list.
3. Place to eat? Ian Harding: My Kitchen
4. Place to party? Ian Harding: My porch.
5. Way to relax? Ian Harding: Reading/sleeping/listening to birds outside my window.
Web-extra photographs by Yann Bean.