Q&A with Keegan Allen

Keegan Allen is most well known for his role on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars, but acting isn't his only passion. It seems our Toby is also an excellent photographer and writer, not to mention a voracious reader, film student, and lover of New York pizza (who isn't?)! With life.love.beautyAllen presented  some of his incredible photography and poetry in a life-spanning photojournal that documents everything from his childhood to his time on PLL. We talked to Keegan about what exactly inspires his photography, working with James Franco, Pretty Little Liars, and more!

-Adam Downer

GGM: life.love.beauty is a really long, extensive, and powerful collection of photography. For readers who don’t know the story behind it, could you summarize the project?

KA: Long before my training as an actor, I was really obsessed with photography. When I was ten, I was keeping a photojournal similar to how we all share things close to our hearts digitally in Instagram and Tumblr posts, but through a physical copy I was sharing with people. The idea for this book came from going through those old journals and employing new photos that I’ve taken from candid, behind the scenes pictures of different projects I’ve been a part of, whether it’s Hollywood or Broadway. There are also things I found in architecture, things that support the three themes of the book. Half the book is what it is, but half the book is the relationship the reader has with it. In shorthand, it’s a photo journal (laughs)!

GGM: This is a life-spanning project, featuring a lot of photography from your childhood as well as recent pictures. What about photography grabbed you at such a young age?

KA: I think it was my obsession to capture moments. It’s a driving force consistently in me that made me want to share moments that impacted me with someone else and experience why or why not they felt or didn’t feel what I felt. I wanted to know the interpretation behind images. You could take a photo as simple as an apple or a crack in the street and it’ll have so many different meanings to you as it would to me, or we might think the same thing! I love that idea of sharing those moments and keeping photos that in a way felt like a time machine, where you could step back into them and be aware of what was going on at that time. Images have such a strong influence on our lives, and I feel like for me, it’s one of my most important means of communication.

GGM: There’s also a lot of writing in the book, including some of your poetry. Can you explain the thought process behind pairing a poem to a certain photograph?

KA: As I was writing a poem, or in the midst of writing it, I would be out and take a photo as I was experiencing it. A lot of it has to do with that ‘in the moment’ feeling, and also it’s a kind of way to draw in where I was at physically writing it. And the perspective! There’s so many choices of lenses and film and aperture, it told a story to myself of where I was at.

GGM: So, I have to ask you a Pretty Little Liars question: do you think the show’s rabid fanbase has influenced how the series has played out?

KA: Oh, completely! You know what it is? Never in the history of television has a show listen to its fan base so beautifully before, really. We really listen to the fans, all the cast, all the writers. Marlene King, hats off to her. She took to social media when the show first started, and we just had a Twitter, and she listened to all these fans say “we want more of this, we want less of this.” A lot of our fans came as readers of the series Sarah Shepard wrote. The show is really run by the fans and I think that’s why we have such a happy pairing. We are constantly putting on a show for them. It’s not another railroad going with our own agenda. That’s always been really rewarding, and also kind of intense.

GGM: You have some projects coming up, including Zeroville with Megan Fox, but I wanted to talk to you about your roles in two upcoming James Franco pics, Bukowski and The Sound and the Fury. What is it like working with him?

KA: Amazing. James is wonderful. We talk every day, and he’s been a really big influence on my art and craft, not just in writing and poetry, but in acting as well. He’s really been a strong mentor and a good friend. He’s a very deep thinker and a very wise actor. There’s times working with him and he’ll be with just a small crew, and it’s magical. It’s such a difference from Pretty Little Liars where so many people are on set. It’s a different world to be on a television show. With James, it was very raw, very into understanding the objectives of these characters to make it real. In a story like Bukowski, for example, with someone as troubled and crazy as Hank Bukowski was, it was magical to step into that time period and those souls, and make that story real.

GGM: The material is obviously very literary. What are some of your favorite books?

KA: I have a lot of favorite books. Right now, I got into a Young Adult kick, and I’ve been all across the board in the past year. A friend of mine got me into Empire of the Summer Moon, which is a wonderful, unbiased telling of the Comanche Indian story in the 1800s. He also told me I had to read The Origin of Consciousness in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. That one took me a long time to read through. I got really burned out, and got into YA, like John Green, The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns. It was such a sigh of relief that felt really easy to get through, and it also affected me. I love John Green. I think he’s a wonderful writer, and I think he speaks beyond a YA audience to people anywhere.

GGM: When you’re not making Pretty Little Liars, what are some of your favorite TV shows?

KA: I don’t get to watch TV a lot, but when I did get really into shows, I got into Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones. I started watching something called Jane the Virgin, and I was watching that recently. It’s a great show and it’s really fun, and that’s my little guilty pleasure, cuz it’s a CW show. It’s not like those HBO shows, but you can’t stop watching it.

GGM: Favorite movies of all time?

KA: My favorite movie of all time is The Wild One, with Marlon Brando. I love that movie. It’s such classic cinema, and it evolved the way movies were made back then. It’s all about the acting, the huge set ups, the fights, the dialogue—it felt like it could be from any time. I could watch that forever and ever and ever. Recently I loved Foxcatcher. It was unbelievable. Steve Carrell is unbelievable. So good.

GGM: Is there any music you’re jamming right now?

KA: Right now I’m jamming a Bob Marley vinyl. I’m really into Radiohead, Nirvana, Grateful Dead. I listen to a lot of old stuff. I love listening to Lil’ Wayne. It’s a totally random thing to be into after classic rock.

GGM: You travel a lot. Is there a certain place that makes you stop and think “Okay, if we’re going to be here, we gotta stop at this restaurant”?

KA: The first thing my mind goes to is if I’m in New York City, I immediately go to Joe’s Pizza in the West Village. I know you take the 1 and walk to Bleecker. I land in New York, and it doesn’t matter what time of day—it could be 6 in the morning!—and I go straight to Joe’s Pizza. I say “Hey guys,” and it’s like I was never gone. I get a cheese slice, and it’s like I’m home.

GGM: Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes Pretty Little Liars story?

KA: There’s a lot, but someone just brought up the do-rag story. My character has a flashback where he’s in juvenile hall, and my character has this do-rag on all of a sudden. Because of that do-rag, so many memes have been put out, like “Little Toby’s about to drop the hottest mixtape,” or “Thug life,” and all this stuff. The funny thing is that the actual do-rag was not supposed to be in the shot! It was kind of my fault. It was holding my hair down and I was supposed to take it off before the shot, but I forgot to take it off. It’s forever this really funny mistake that turned out to not be such a mistake! It resonated with our audience in an odd, cool way. I look back on that very fondly. 

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