Meet Vanessa Ray: The ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Actress Talks Co-Stars, Rabid Fans, and Red Carpet Nerves

Leah Bourne
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photos: Tiffany Hagler-Geard

Consider “Pretty Little Liars” one of your favorite TV shows? What about “Blue Bloods” and “Suits”? Actress Vanessa Ray has starred on all of them.

Born in California, but raised in Vancouver, Ray got her acting start in the theater world, before landing on a little soap opera called “As the World Turns.” Since, her resume has grown to include roles on some of our favorite shows on television including “Girls” (which involved Ray doing a very memorable dance sequence to Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”), “Damages” starring opposite Glenn Close, and on “White Collar,” among many others.

Currently, Ray is playing CeCe Drake on cult teen favorite “Pretty Little Liars” starring as a twentysomething boutique owner with sociopath tendencies, who yes, mostly hangs out with high-schoolers. In a very different role, she’s also starring on CBS’ “Blue Bloods” playing a tomboy cop opposite Tom Selleck.

Ray, 33, stopped by our office to talk about everything from those infamous “Pretty Little Liars” fans to prepping or the red carpet (smiling for that long apparently is not easy!)

Read on to get to know Ray, and be sure to tune into the show’s season finale tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.

StyleCaster: You’re playing two very different characters right now—how do you switch between them? 

Vanessa Ray: The way they dress actually really helps. CeCe Drake [on “Pretty Little Liars”]  is an extreme fashionista, she runs a boutique in Rosewood, and she cares a lot about her looks and her presentation. She paints it all on, since it’s all a façade, to hide who she really is. [Eddie] Janko [on “Blue Bloods”] is a tomboy ball-buster, who’s more of a leather jacket, dark denim kind of girl.

You’ve worked with some incredible actors—Ted Danson and Glenn Close, for example—what’s that been like? 

I sometimes look at who I’ve gotten to work with, and I really can’t believe it. The first job that I ever did was with Ted Danson. We were chatting in the makeup trailer and he was so sweet. He was like, “You know, I’m much older than you, and I worked for years on a television show called ‘Cheers.'” And I was like, “I know what ‘Cheers’ is Ted Danson!”

Then, when I was first on the set of “Damages” I had to sit in a car with Lily Tomlin for like seven hours, and I got to talk to her about being the second woman to ever host “Saturday Night Live.”

These people, their stories are extraordinary, and yet they still love doing it, and they still can’t wait to come to work. That’s pretty cool. The thing that I find so charming about all of these seasoned actors is that many of them seem to just be grateful to have had that job [that put them on the map], and there’s still that feeling of thank god, I am working right now, and I have a gig, and someone is hiring me. I guess that never goes away, which has been good insight for sure.

“Pretty Little Liars” fans are notorious. What’s it been like to be on a show with such a rabid fanbase? 

They care so much about it, which is infectious. How many people in the world are doing things and not even sure if anyone even cares. “Pretty Little Liars” is pretty  much the closest thing you get to instant gratification working as an actor, outside of the theater world.

It’s a pretty fashionable show. What character do you think has the best style? 

If I had Troian [Bellisario’s] body I would love Spencer’s stuff. It’s really cute, and pushes the envelope of sexy and flirty, even though [her character] is super prim and proper. But realistically, I would probably dress like Ashley [Benson’s] character.

What about your own style? 

I’m always in jeans and a T-shirt and a sturdy pair of boots. I wish I was fancier than I am. I’ll take a fashion risk if there are no cameras around. If no one’s taking pictures, I’d wear a pink tutu tonight.

You don’t sound like a big shopper.

I have like two pairs of jeans, and I’m pretty sure my friends are concerned that I don’t have enough clothes … A friend of mine brought over a bunch of jeans, and was just like, “I think you’d look really great in these, here, have some clothes.” And another friend was like, “I was cleaning out my closet and I thought of you.” I do get in shopping modes maybe three or four times a year, and when I am in it, look out world. I’ll call my boyfriend, I’ll call my brother, I’ll call my mom, and ask, “Hey, does anybody need or want anything?”… So that happens a few times a year and the rest of the time, I just don’t like to go.

What about the red carpet, do you get excited getting dressed for that? 

It’s both fun and terrifying. It’s so fun to get ready for it, but once I get on it, I do get little jolts of nerves. And my face ends up hurting after because I have to smile a lot. But it’s really a cool thing that I can’t believe I get to do.

Has your red carpet style evolved at all?

I used to go towards really baggy clothes—because I was insecure about my body—I thought that would be better. But the reality is, I have a body, and it’s not a stick figure like a lot of actresses. Now I like to show it off a bit. Now I’d rather be fearless about it then insecure about it. I wear a lot of form fitting pencil skirts, form fitting shirts, things that I feel flatter the body that I have rather than the body that I wish I had.

What’s next for you? Anyone you’re still dying to work with? 

Martin Scorsese. I would do anything, well, just about anything [to work with him]. I would also love to work with some of the great, contemporary actresses like Amy Adams, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Winslet, who are just kicking ass right now. I am finding that I have a big desire to be around women that are maybe ten years further along than I am, who I can really learn from.

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