Harding was born in Heidelberg, Germany, the youngest child of a military family. The family moved back to northern Virginia a few years later, where he excelled in soccer and basketball. In high school, he joined the drama club and discovered a new passion, something he continued to pursue at Carnegie Mellon University.
Harding's feature credits include Greg Mottola's Adventureland and the upcoming Ed Zwick film Love and Other Drugs. He also recently appeared in an episode of NCIS: LOS ANGELES.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV recently talked with Harding about PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (PLL), forbidden love, his career, on-set intimacy, and BULLY BEAT DOWN.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I was hoping you could tell us about a time in your own life when, like Ezra, you were attracted to somebody that you couldn’t have or you shouldn’t have.
Ian Harding: I feel like everybody goes through that in their life, and definitely there was a moment when I got out here to Los Angeles and I was newly single and I thought this one person was just amazing, and she was also an actress. I know that she was kind of in a relationship at the time and I was like oh no this is so wrong, this is so wrong, and then once I finally got to know the person I realized that oh it was not who I thought they were. But yes, I think that’s probably the most or the worst kind of love obsession that I’ve had recently.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you have a guilty pleasure TV show that you wouldn’t mind telling us about?
Ian Harding: I haven’t watched it recently, but a few months ago I got into this show, BULLY BEAT DOWN, which I just thought was like—some of my friends back home said you have to watch this show it’s fantastic. I’m like oh this sounds so stupid, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it’s basically this bully gets beat up by a professional MMA fighter and the people that he bullies are sitting there watching it happen, and as sick as it is you can’t really turn away. So that has been my most recent guilty pleasure.
Why do you think people love Ezra and Aria’s relationship so much?
Ian Harding: I think because it’s so right, and like there’s a connection that is undeniable and kind of once in a lifetime. But I think the problem is the circumstances; it’s that kind of element of forbidden love that it needs to happen, but oh it can’t happen, and so it’s them trying to work it out and trying so hard to just make this love happen. I think people can really relate to that and really love that.
How do you view the current status of Ezra and Aria’s relationship?
Ian Harding: It’s always a fluctuating status. The moment that it starts to kind of hit a plateau of ease and of happiness somebody gets shaken up A, because it’s a TV show, but B, because their lives are very strenuous; just the student/teacher relationship, even though it’s changed a little bit. It can be difficult, on top of just Aria has stuff that she’s keeping from Ezra because it’s so crazy I think in some ways she doesn’t think he’ll believe it. So it’s always it’s a very material relationship, to say the least.
How much does Ezra factor into the games “A” is playing considering that she, or whoever “A” is, has a spare key to his apartment now?
Ian Harding: Well I think “A” is going to be messing with Ezra a little bit more, and whether or not he knows that I think is going to be up in the air, because I think it’s a little bit more dangerous. As opposed to like getting him involved and having him aware maybe it’s more dangerous, and probably more fun for “A” to just start putting a wedge between Aria and Ezra and have Ezra not know about it, like thinking what’s going on with Aria. But she’s just like oh I have to keep it together, I need to keep “A” away from Ezra, and it just creates this wrench, among other things.
Could you speak a little bit about how things are different for you to shoot when you’re filming a scene with just you and Lucy versus you and the whole cast?
Ian Harding: Lucy and I have a comfort zone that’s otherworldly in the sense of like we had to take a photograph, I won’t say specifically for what, but there is something where we just had to be affectionate. And it’s gotten to the point where I remember when we first starting shooting if we were going to do a make out scene we were literally brushing our teeth beforehand and flossing and chewing all kinds of gum, and now we’re lucky if the other person has brushed their teeth at all prior to a make out scene. So there’s definitely a comfort level there that is pretty unique. When it’s the whole cast it’s just very professional when we’re actually shooting, but in between takes it’s pretty goofy.
Has there been any change in the atmosphere on set going into this highly anticipated second season?
Ian Harding: Not too much. I think everybody is really excited to be there and is really gung ho and enthusiastic, and really just works there they brought off, but I think everybody’s just happy to be there. It’s like a very relaxed set and judging from people who have done this for a while, they’re like kind of the elders, if you will, of the whole production, they said that this is one of the most relaxed, fun, happy sets to be on. So I think we’re just continuing on that path for season two.
What has been your favorite scene or episode to shoot and why?
Ian Harding: There was one episode recently that I can’t really talk about, because it does give it away just simply by explaining it, that’s probably my favorite just because it was so much fun to shoot. It was really loose on set and everybody was having a good time. The last episode where I left Rosewood High School was a lot of fun to shoot because it was with all the girls and they would try and distract me. I would try and distract them, and it was just quite funny—because it was so like heartfelt and everything we made light of it in between takes by ridiculing each other.
Can you talk about if any other girls will have I guess an impact or a role in the relationship with Ezra and Aria?
Ian Harding: Well, yes, but that’s all that I’m going to say, because I think where the writers are going with this one story line is really, really interesting. So I think that we’re starting to shoot—well, actually no, I won’t say any more. I’ll just say yes and be really vague.
Ezra obviously reads a lot, and I was wondering if you happen to read as much as Ezra does and what are your favorite books?
Ian Harding: I do read a lot. He reads a bunch of random stuff, like all around his apartment he’ll have something like the economy of 1923 England, which I would never read in my life. But I do read quite a bit, and I just finished a few books. I finished this book called Painters that was a Pulitzer Prize Winner. I’m going to start reading Just Kids by Patti Smith sometime soon. I’m all over the place, something that peaks my interest I’ll read it. And I get up and I have to read every day, because if not my mind just goes to mush.
What else do you do when you’re not on set?
Ian Harding: I try to cook. I have like a bunch of little hobbies, I do the usual; I read, I hang out with friends, I see movies. I love, love, love movies, so I do a lot of that. Learning to cook is very interesting/dangerous, so that’s something that I do most of the time. But like pick up where I left off in the German language, because at one point I knew it and now I’ve forgotten it. So I just keep busy in between shooting and auditions and press junkets, but yes, just kind of simple things.
Did you imagine PLL being as big as it has gotten?
Ian Harding: I knew that it would do well, only because—well actually no, I guess you don’t even know that. I knew that it had like a built in fan base, so the probability of it being a hit was higher than usual, but I didn’t know that it would be this kind of sensation that it is and get the ratings that it does and be as big as it is abroad. Like when last summer I was in Europe and I was recognized in every city that I went to, which is something that I would never expect with this. So it’s pretty surreal, and I’m kind of happy with the level that it’s at right now.
Do we think that Ezra will get to know who “A” is? Do we think that Ezra will find out a little bit about “A” from Aria, and who do you think “A” is?
Ian Harding: I think he’s bound to; I don’t think there’s any way that the show could continue for a whole other season and Ezra is just that in the dark. I think things will come out and skeletons will come out of the closet. In terms of who “A” is, I don’t know. And people that ask me, from like my family to my friends to other people, they’re just like who do you think it is, and honestly none of us know, and it could be you show up to work one day and in the script you come to find out that you’re “A”. So I think that’s what’s so exciting to watch and be a part of the show.
If you could give Ezra one piece of advice what would it be?
Ian Harding: Oh man, oh I would give him the whole book of advice. Can that be my one piece of advice? Honestly, I would just say follow your heart, which sounds so cliché. Well it is cliché. But because he over thinks things and gets really neurotic about things, and as a result that can sometimes make him act out in weird ways and put unwanted strain on the relationship. And it’s like he’s already in it, he already loves this girl, so just go for it.
Do you watch the episodes when they come on? Like what do you find your reactions are to the episode in its entirety?
Ian Harding: I don’t like watching myself, per se, because I’m very critical of what I do and I just feel like I can see through me. But I do think showing support to the writers and the other cast members, like looking at their work and being able to discuss it later or coming in and saying to a director hey I thought that was really great or wow I didn’t think the scene was going to turn out that way. Especially when someone is just kind of starting out like me, I think it’s important to watch your work not in a critical or in an overly praiseful—I think I just made that word up, praiseful kind of way. But just to look at it for what it is and be able to view your work as kind of an objective piece of art. I think that’s probably the best thing to do.
If you were not an actor what would you be doing?
Ian Harding: I’d probably be dead. No, I don’t know. Psychology and helping people have always been an interest of sorts, like I love, I don’t want to say therapy, but I love psychology and all that. So maybe a psychiatrist, but I don’t know if I have the patience to keep going in every day for years on end for somebody to figure out one thing about themselves. So I don’t know what I’d be doing, probably manual labor.
How has going to an all boys’ school impacted you as a person now?
Ian Harding: I absolutely think like almost any stage in life it has its pros and its cons. It definitely helped me learn and grow as a person because I wasn’t concentrating on girls, especially in high school when your hormones are raging. I was able to really focus on me and focus on my education. And then it was just a great point of growth, and then you move on from it. And then I went into a school that was a performing arts conservatory, which is the complete opposite. So because they were opposite ends of the spectrum I was able to kind of see myself in the middle of that spectrum.
How has it affected me now? I guess I have no idea when it comes down to it. I think it has affected me for the better, though.
Do you have any upcoming projects outside of PLL?
Ian Harding: We shoot clear through to December, and I’ve been auditioning and doing other things and kind of getting ready for the hiatus and anything that may come that way. But on the horizon I’m just kind of auditioning and still putting my face out here in Los Angeles, because in the grand scheme of things I’m very new; this was like the first pilot that I auditioned for. So I show up to a casting director’s office and I’ll be in a room with people that I recognize, like all of them are young, established actors, and I’m kind of I wouldn’t say green, but I’m simply new. So there are definitely things on the horizon. There have been a few close calls that have happened these past few months, but right now I’m just kind of doing the daily grind and loving it.
How did you feel when you saw that your name and your character’s name have been trending on Twitter for the last couple weeks?
Ian Harding: Wow. Yes. I had no idea what that meant. My sister told me that hey you’re trending on Twitter, and I said oh that’s cool, are you coming over later? It just didn’t register with me, and then once I realized that oh this is something that’s worldwide like wow that’s really crazy. I felt really blessed. And it’s good that I think Twitter has really affected this show and it has really helped with its popularity, so if I’m somehow a part of that then great.
Since the series began what’s been the biggest shocker for you?
Ian Harding: I feel like the shock value grows exponentially as the episodes progress. I’d love to say well oh when this happened my jaw was on the floor. Because I’ve gotten into the habit now of we’ll get the scripts a few days in advance prior to shooting it and we’ll have a read through with the entire cast. And I’ll read through my part only, not just for vanity, I don’t really care what anybody else is doing, but because I actually like hearing what the other cast, like I love seeing it happen for the first time with the entire cast. And so when that happens like every read through just my jaw is on the table the entire time. It’s kind of hard to talk.
You’re basically like us as we’re watching it.
Ian Harding: Yes, yes, yes, yes. So to answer your question, it’s each episode my jaw goes progressively further down to the floor.
Do you hang out with any of your co-stars off set?
Ian Harding: I do. Torrey and I, Torrey DeVitto and I have become very good friends. I see Keegan; Keegan actually literally helped me move into my new apartment, so I see Keegan fairly regularly.
During the shooting what has been the most challenging thing for you as an actor to do?
Ian Harding: That is really interesting, because I think that because TV is incredibly different from everything that I have experienced up to this point, because I did theater most of my life prior to this, it’s just the kind of just do it mentality. Like where, for instance, a scene like kind of scared me, I’m trying to think of—oh, okay, let’s say it’s like a shirtless scene or let’s say it’s a really intimate scene, I think the biggest challenge is not over thinking it, which I can totally do. I can over think like oh well we could be doing this in the scene and blah, blah, blah, blah, and ultimately the biggest challenge has just been kind of letting go and surrendering to the situation, to the moment. And as kind of Hallmark channel as that sounds, not to say anything about the Hallmark channel, but you just have to do it. So I think letting go has been the biggest challenge so far in this whole process.
You had talked about liking to cook. I was wondering if there was a favorite dish that you like to make?
Ian Harding: Oh man, oh I hate this question, because there are many a things that I would like to cook. Well I suppose baking is not the same as cooking, but kind of. I’m able to make a really good shortbread that was pretty amazing recently. What else did I do recently? Oh man. I made this amazing kind of raw beet and pear salad with mint and all this other stuff. I haven’t been cooking a lot of meat recently, but I used to a long time, I did make this mean standing rib roast that was practically just Jell-O. And actually that sounds kind of nasty, but it was so tender that you could eat it with a spoon. So there are several that I’ve made that are I would say my choice recipes.
How do you see Jackie playing into this season?
Ian Harding: First off, I love Paloma; she and I went to college together actually. But Jackie will play a part in this, because we have shot a few scenes that have been kind of foreboding. I can’t really say the context, but let’s just say on the call sheet I’ll see it will say Jackie or it will say Paloma, and she’s the only person in the scene, and kind of we’re like oh what is that, what does that mean, and I don’t really know. So she’s not just like a filler character; she’s going to have a part in whatever happens towards the middle of this season.
How do you think Ezra is going to react when he finds out about Jason?
Ian Harding: Oh I think it’s going to, how do I say this without getting fired, I think it’s not going to be what you expect. Like anything, there’s going to be some misunderstandings and some moments where everybody has to own up to their feelings, and I think it’s going to look like oh that’s so great, and then something’s going to shift. So I can’t really say, I feel like I’m speaking in like the biggest generalities possible, but I think it will be classic Ezra style and then with a PLL twist.
Besides Aria and Ezra who’s your favorite couple on the show?
Ian Harding: What is my favorite couple on the show? I really love Spencer and Toby; I think there’s a nice kind of juxtaposition there where just they are always pulled together, incredibly neurotic Spencer with the just almost ethereal Toby I think is a nice mix of character. And I think that that’s going to be a relationship to watch over the coming season, and hopefully seasons. So they’re probably my favorite at the moment.
Who on the show has Ezra not interacted with or not interacted with as much that you would like to see him with?
Ian Harding: I would love to, Sasha Pieterse, who everybody forgets that she’s I don’t even think she’s 16 yet; the first time I met her I thought she was easily like 22 or 23. And she’s a fantastic actress and always brings so much to the table from what I’ve seen of her work and in the table reads and everything. I would love to somehow do a scene with her, but I don’t think that’s really possible. Unless there’s some crazy twist I don’t think that—I would love to do a scene with her. But yes. Or I’d love to do a scene with Torrey, only because she’s a good friend of mine.
If there was anyone who you could bring onto the show or who could guest star that you would like to work with who would it be?
Ian Harding: I mean nobody that I actually think would come on to the show. I’m a big fan of right now Carey Mulligan or Marion Cotillard. I just saw Beginners with Christopher Plumber and Ewan McGregor, and I would love for them to come on the show, but I don’t think that’s going to pan out.
So somebody maybe a bit more realistic, like I don’t know somebody from MODERN FAMILY that would be great. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is hysterical; I’d love for him to have like a walk on scene stealing moment in PLL.
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