A Conversation With Troian Bellisario
When our paths crossed with Troian Bellisario's a couple years ago, it was a girl gang waiting to happen. The woman is beautiful, talented, thoughtful, and has got a thing for healthy plant-based food (quadruple threat). So when Troian and Danielle hung out in her hotel room on a rainy NYC morning, they dug into everything from body image to manifestation (while digging into watermelon jerky), and the result was something so magical, we laid it all out here for you to enjoy.
Danielle: One of my favorite things about you is that a couple years ago, you reached out to us and said ‘I love what you guys are up to, can I just come by?’ Most people don’t do that! I feel like you have such a specific personality, a specific level of confidence, a specific level of knowing who you are and what you seek out in the world. What attracts you to certain things and why do you go after them in such a proactive nature?
Troian: It's so funny, because I feel like that side of me is so prominent within my career. A lot of the films that I've been a part of or people that I've worked with are because I've reached out and just said, ‘I'm interested in you. What are you doing? What is this script that I've heard about?’ Mostly because I don't really know any other way to be than proactive. I feel like there's this section of the world — and I'll sort of generalize here — that is the Marilyn Monroes of the world, where they feel like everybody has to take care of them and come to them. They attract people by being introverted. I’m sure that people would argue that Marilyn was extroverted, but for the sake of this analogy, she’ll be introverted. And then there are the people who draw things to themselves. And I feel like, for whatever reason, whether it was being raised by writers and producers or being raised primarily in a family of brothers, I was sort of taught that if you want something, you go out and get it. You don’t wait for it to come to you, because it might not.
Danielle: How do you equate that with working hard? I have a lot of friends that are artists and actors. I hear them say, ‘I work so hard,’ but yet I know that, for them, it doesn’t necessarily mean going after it. It means doing the work to feel like they’re good at the craft. Then, it's just about waiting for things to come to them. I feel like it’s a very different approach.
Troian: It is. It is. I think that, for me, work begets work, you know? Especially as an actor, if I'm not feeling fulfilled by the work that I'm doing, it's my responsibility to either write, create a role for myself, or go back to an acting class. I never want to put that responsibility on a current job or on somebody else. I feel like that's how people get embittered. When you say, ‘I expect you to fulfill me creatively…’ it’s never going to happen.
And that’s a way to look at everything in your life and in your relationships — if you’re not experiencing the kind of relationship that you want to be in, you’re not going to get anywhere without talking to your partner about it, or without saying what’s missing for you. Otherwise, you stay in these patterns. I think a therapist or an acting teacher taught me that…
Danielle: Same thing!
Troian: Yes, totally. It’s the comfort in the uncomfortable. We love our own dramas. We love all of the negative things, because we're used to it. It's addictive. It's scary to suddenly stand up and say, ‘I would like to change this situation, possibly for the better.’
Danielle: We talk about that a lot. We talk about how choosing Sakara is a spiritual decision more than anything else, because eating this way does transform your life. It does transform your body. When you come to us, you're asking for change. I think that the uncomfortable comfortableness is: are you deciding to be proactive, or are you deciding to be reactive? There's a very clear distinction.
Troian: Absolutely. That was what drew me to Sakara. Obviously, the aesthetics of it were all mind-blowing, but I felt that, as somebody who was always eating on the go, there were points in my experience on Pretty Little Liars where I could basically end up eating trail mix for dinner, because you’re on your 16th hour. They have to feed a crew, which is a lot of people working really hard, so they’ll bring you heavier options. But I was like, ‘Well, I guess it’s just raw veggies again…’.
And it’s the same thing with the other food delivery services. Sometimes you’ll get food delivery that just doesn’t even look like food. It looks like space food, which might be fine, but I just didn’t want to feel that because I was constantly working I had to eat convenient, ready food. I’d never come across any company that gave me convenient, ready food but in a way as if I had taken the time to cut all the vegetables myself, made the dressing myself, and made it beautiful. I also loved reading about all of the ingredients and understanding why it was important for me to eat this salad, and what I was getting from it. That meant so much more to me than 'Okay, I see that there's a protein. I see that there's a measly excuse for a vegetable in this small section of the container.'
Danielle: It's funny because Sakara is so gourmet, but there's something so home cooked about it. I hate eating out. I never like it. I feel like shit afterwards. I love the home cooked nature of Sakara.
Troian: That's also a huge part of what drew me to the company. When I started eating your meals, I was like, ‘If I found a restaurant that gave me these meals, I would be there every day.’ Totally over the moon. How incredible is it that I get to eat this 3 times a day, or 2 times a day, and it's coming to me? I was like, ‘I don't want to go out,’ because there's no restaurant that I'd found that was comparable, you know?
Danielle: Totally. I think it's fascinating to think about the kind of people that Sakara attracts. This is the kind of food that Whitney and I wanted to eat, but we couldn't find it anywhere. We still can't find it anywhere else. It's just so interesting who else is seeking that out. We’ll get people that are like, ‘It's just salads, right?’ We're like, ‘No! You have no idea what you're talking about.’ But some people really get it. It's so interesting to see who gets it and who doesn't...
One of the other questions I have is around this idea of proactivity and reactivity. Do you feel like where you are right now is somehow like you imagined it to be as a young girl, or do you feel like you’re still in the process of what you imagined?
Troian: Definitely the latter. I don’t know if it was just me trying to be rebellious against my parents - because both my parents were in television - but I don’t think that I ever expected this. I grew up never watching television, mostly because what you chose to watch was kind of a political act in my family. If it’s not dad or mom’s show, it says a lot, you know? So I just didn’t want to watch TV. I became obsessed with film and theater, because I could watch these films over and over again. It seemed, to me, like such a different type of creation where you were creating this one thing that was going to stand the test of time, or not. I loved movies and plays because they were constantly regenerating or having a new opinion of something — a new version. You could do Shakespeare 10,000 different ways. I could watch The Godfather 10,000 times and still find something new in it. And because I was drawn more to film and theater, I never imagined myself being in television, especially not in the same role for seven years. It’s bizarre now, looking back on those seven years — entering the final season and being like, ‘Oh my god, it seemed so long and yet it went by so quickly!’
So to answer the question, no. I don't feel like I'm at all where I expected I would be, but I also think that that's sort of the beauty of life. I think we can get very, very lost and very sad projecting exactly where we think we're supposed to be, or comparing ourselves to other people that we think we're supposed to be on the same level with. Really, you’ll get to the end of your life and look back and say, ‘Thank God that thing happened to me, because it helped this thing happen and then this thing happened, and here I am!’ But while you’re in it, you can’t see it all the time.
Danielle: Ah, you're in your last season, how do you feel about that?! Are you excited, sad, everything?
Troian: Everything. I think right now I'm excited. But I’m sure doing it will feel like every other year, where it’s just like, ‘Alright cool, I’m here.’ I love all the people I work with, so it’ll be good to get to go see them again. But I’m also sure there will be a lot of bizarre moments where I’ll just be struck by the ending of it. Like, ‘Yeah, this is the last Tuesday, this is the last Wednesday, this is the last August…’
I'm a Scorpio. We hate change. We will literally dig our heels in the ground and be like, ‘No.’ Even with clothes....I know so many people who just walk into a store and they’re like, ‘I love this jacket on me.’ But if I haven’t seen that jacket on me for two years, it makes no sense. I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s a new jacket…great.’ Which is why I end up just stealing my boyfriend’s or friend’s clothing, because if we’re friends, I’ve seen those shoes on someone for two years. If you end up getting rid of those shoes, I’ll be like,’No I love those shoes how could you get rid of them? I can’t wait to wear them!’
Danielle: I love that. I feel like that's also part of what you do as an artist. You do have to constantly be creating all of these stories and making them meaningful, and you have such specificity with everything you do. I just don't have that.
Troian: Well, it seems like you created a very specific and beautiful company. You have a very specific vision of what this company will be.
Danielle: Yeah...it's this thing that just sort of emanates from us. I feel like there are times when I think about it all the time. But there are other times when I don’t and it just manifests itself.
Troian: I think it's beautiful that this whole way of creating food is also a way of living life, because that’s what Sakara is becoming more and more. It’s not just about the food we put in our bodies. When I read your magazine, it’s about the way we have sex, the way we dress, the way that we imagine our lives. I think that it’s so fascinating that that came out of you.
Danielle: Yeah, and it's so much about feeling like your best self! That's such a personal thing. I'm always so surprised to witness and watch people not feeling like their best selves and not feeling like their most powerful selves - it's definitely something that drives me. Do you feel like you're your most powerful self right now?
Troian: I was actually just about to turn that question on you. I was thinking, ‘How fascinating is it that you’ve created something that helps people get to their most powerful selves, and for you to be able to see how many people aren’t living that way but want to?
Danielle: It is fascinating! It’s the thing that wakes me up. We were just talking about this yesterday — you go in and out of feeling inspired. I think that’s totally normal and important, because you find that not being inspired is part of the journey, too. It forces you to change. It forces you to think differently. It forces you to come across news ways of doing things. The one thing that I always come home to is watching people become their best selves. Witnessing it in some way, whether it’s via an email that we get about how we’ve changed someone’s life with food, or I’ll meet a girl out and she’ll be a little shy and not really feeling like her best self, then I’ll start talking about what I do and it just lights her up in this way. You sort of watch the dimmer being turned on and on. That, I feel like, is the one thing that I can always come home to. It brings so much passion back into what I do. Food was such a catalyst for us to feel like our most powerful selves, and that’s what we’ll continue to offer, because people don’t even know how to start. It’s like, ‘How do you begin to feel like your most powerful self? Do you even know what it means?’
Troian: And, ‘Do you even know what that version of yourself looks like, and moves like?’
Danielle: And feels like.
Troian: I do aerial silks. It's really beautiful, but it's interesting because it completely changed my body. The more I did it, the more it changed my body. God bless my best guy friends because they were like, ‘You look so strong. Your arms are so buff.’ I was like, ‘Stop, just stop saying those things!’ The reaction that I had was interesting, especially coming from a dance background, with my whole younger life being very lithe and almost frail-looking and not feeling beautiful. And this is why I think we have such an interesting relationship with women’s bodies now — being kept frail and girlish invites a man to take care of you. But in order for me to do this thing that I loved [aerial silks], I had to build strength in my arms to do it. I had to build strength in my abs to the point where there was one moment when my fiancé was like, ‘You have insane abs’. I wasn’t even sure if he thought it was a positive thing! I had to accept and learn to love the things that it was going to change about my body, but I certainly didn’t for a long time. I still sometimes struggle with that.
And it’s funny, because that’s what I mean when I think about not knowing if we know what our powerful version of ourselves even looks like until we pursue the things that make us feel powerful, and see what it does to our body.
The aerial coach that I started with is one of the biggest dudes on the planet earth, but he does aerial. He's circus. He's awesome. But I kept on getting frustrated and would be like, ‘But I want my ballerina body back!’ He was like, ‘Well, you’re not doing ballet. Go back and do ballet all the time — would you be happy doing that?’ I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘Okay, if you want to do this, you're going to look like this. And if you want to be a ninja, you’re going to look like a ninja.’
Danielle: We published a piece on the S-Life about why your ideal body isn’t necessarily what you imagined it to be. The way she wrote about it was in the sense that, maybe you want to be a size 0, but you also love having cocktails and french fries in the middle of the night with your best friends. And I think it’s very similar to this — where you make choices in life, and with those choices, comes results. Where do the results that you think are ideal match the choices that make you feel free and alive and joyful?
Troian: Yes! How do you want to be? Even when I was very much out of my engagement with an eating disorder, I was still having trouble ordering food or being in a restaurant, because I was like, ‘How do I engage with this in a way that’s normal and in a way that people don’t look at me funny if I order a salad, or if I do order french fries?’. I remember my therapist would just be like, ‘Who do you want to be in the world?’. For some reason, I imagined myself in a Stevie Nicks dress with long hair, ordering whatever the fuck I wanted and being happy with it, and not feeling like I had to eat too much or too little or stop myself. I was like, ‘When I imagine it, I’m just talking to people at the table. I’m not even aware of the food.’ That was what I wanted so badly.
It felt so heartbreaking at the time. All I wanted was not to be concerned about the food, in the way that I could make it more about the people across from me. She basically told me, ‘Okay, so go make that choice. Go play that character until it becomes you.’
Danielle: Whitney talks about that all the time — how if you want the results, if you want to have the body of a Victoria's Secret model, then go act like that person. Workout like an athlete. Box. Go do those things. Show up as that person if you want to create that person. Fake it until you make it in whatever way possible. Even the act of acting like that person will help you become that person.
I think about when I was struggling with yo-yo dieting...what did I think I was going to have with that ideal body that I didn’t have in the moment? What did I possibly think that I could attract that I didn’t have the power to attract with the body I was in right then, or the way that I felt?
Troian: Yeah, like, when I fit into a dress the way that I wanted to, did it mean that I had somebody else that I was in love with? No, because I was basically hiding in a black room, making excuses not to go out to dinner. You’re not a person that way. It’s hiding your own light and your own power.
Don’t dream of a time when people will accept you and love you for this…just be it. That idea of get out of your head is why I’m so proactive about the things that I want. I’m not somebody who’s going to sit back. I love a vision board. I love all that stuff, but I also don't do well with that, because at the end of the day, I look at that and I'm like, ‘Great, that's up there, but I want to be in it.’ You've got to go out and create these opportunities. You have to be the person at the table who's exactly who you want to be. You have to just be the most powerful version of yourself.
Danielle: Yes! We interviewed Gabby Bernstein for the Mag - she’s super powerful. At one point, she was talking about how to live the life that you want to live, without being preachy about it. She goes, ‘Just shut the fuck up and be it. Stop fucking talk about it. Stop projecting it on anything and just live it and be it.’ That’s when you attract what you want.
Troian: And that’s the thing, right? That's the living. I don’t want to rag on vision boards at all — I know that they help a lot of people - but it is interesting, because you can easily do something like that without the follow-through. It's one thing to make a vision board and be like, ‘That's enough,’ and walk away from it. It's another thing to be like, ‘My vision board has the Bahamas on it, and I need to start researching ways that I can use my points to get tickets, or find girlfriends that want to go with me to a place that's maybe not even in the Bahamas but we can drive down to the Florida Keys, or something.’ That's where it gets frustrating for me, because I see so many people who want to project out into the world these things that they want, but they're unwilling to then take steps to follow through.
Danielle: One thing that’s always been really important for Sakara and for Whitney and myself, whether it’s vision boards or even just dreaming and talking, is taking the time to make sure we're dreaming big enough. I think that’s sometimes why people use things like vision boards. How do you make sure that your hopes and dreams and your proactive nature is going after the things that are your biggest dreams, not just the things that somehow feel doable?
Troian: That's a really, really good point. I think that's the constant struggle, because there's so many things that you know you can be doing better within your day-to-day life. I think a lot of people know what they’re dreaming of, and know what the really want, but they might be a little bit afraid to say it. I know that even if I speak out loud what I dream, it’s terrifying to me. I only share it with maybe two people realistically, because it’s embarrassing to say what you want or how far you think you can go. I think that’s probably something that you have to get rid of. It’s not embarrassing.
Danielle: Right. Get rid of the humble pie!
Troian: Also, you’re not being not-humble by saying things that you want or saying things that you imagine for yourself. I wonder if that’s a thing for guys as much as it is for girls?
Danielle: I think about that too, for sure. Especially being a woman and being the creator in a lot of ways. It’s interesting you said that your fiancé is all about authenticity, because my husband is the exact same way. We have these discussions of, ‘Is there such thing as manifesting? Is there such thing as creating your future in this more ethereal, mystical way, and not just doing your homework or taking action?’ He leans towards, ‘Where do you draw the line? Do things happen to you or are they pre-planned? How much control do you have over what happens to you?’
My take is always: I have no idea, but I do witness things happening in my life that I first dreamed of. Like our office, we dreamt that. We had a photo of an office that looked just like the one we have now hanging up in our old office. We were like, ‘One day!’ Then we saw it. It didn’t look like that when we moved in, but we painted it and we did all these things. In a way, we created it. But in a way, the space sort of found us. I don’t know where to draw the line. But I do think that’s a very feminine approach to this idea of manifesting.
Troian: For me, honestly, I think it all comes down to Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey, and what it meant to men and women. We [females] innately have this ability to create — we don’t feel the need to prove to the world that we are worthwhile. Men have to go out and they have to pursue the hero’s journey. They have to get the golden fleece and come back to the women and be like, ‘Mate with me. I am worthy.’
Danielle: Yes! They do the dance.
Troian: And women just kind of sit back and are like, ‘Okay, let's see…’. It's interesting that men have this drive to see life is more like...'Well, did you pick up the phone to call about the office? Because that's how you got the office.’ Women are like, ‘I dreamt about the office! Then, when the opportunity for the office came to me, I picked it up because I knew it was right because I had seen it.’
Danielle: Exactly. You can recognize that that was the path, because you had dreamt it.
Troian: I think it's fascinating that there's this level of creation that is involved with that, versus just saying, ‘I'm going to go out and I'm going to get it.’ I’m so excited about where we’re moving now with sexuality and masculinity and femininity really being a scale.
Danielle: 1,000%. We talk about this a lot, where it all really is moving into the feminine.
Troian: I recently posted a picture on Instagram of me standing next to two of my friends who were both wearing this “The Future is Female” sweatshirt. I was over myself at the time so I was like, ‘Whatever, I’m going to crop myself out of this photo.’ I wrote “The future is female,” and the response from women was like, 'This excludes the male point of view. This is insane. This isn’t equality. This isn’t feminist, this is sexist.' Then I posted right below it, with me included, because I was wearing a shirt that I got from the same place that said, “I’m With Problematic” and had an arrow pointing to them.
I wrote back and I was like, ‘Guys, up until now and even consistently now, it’s been a man’s world. We have lost the way of the goddess and the way of the matriarch, and all we are saying is that the future is going to slide towards the feminine because it has to.’ Haven’t we done enough to this planet and to people doing things this way? All we’re saying is, ‘Let’s see if there’s another way of doing it.’
Danielle: A more inclusive way. I was thinking about this last night at dinner at my friend’s house. They’re recently engaged and had us over for dinner. When we were finishing up, of course, us women got up and were like, ‘I’ll get the dishes’. It’s so funny, because my husband does the dishes at home. But then we’re out in the world, and the women get up. The men go sit on the couch and have a drink. I just witnessed it happening and was like, ‘A few weeks ago, the same thing could have happened and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed, but how funny is it that we’re so used to the way the world is, that we don’t notice that there is this discrepancy between the two?’
Troian: We're the nurturers though, you know? We're enablers to some extent.
Danielle: Yes, and saying the future is female isn't necessarily saying it's a certain sex. It's saying we're moving towards characteristics of femininity. We're moving into a place where everyone is more nurturing and compassionate, less overpowering, less arrogant.
You have such a large following and such a big influence, especially with younger women, what is your message when you’re communicating via your social media? What is it that you really care about influencing?
Troian: I’m going to sound like my fiancé, but I really care about authenticity within the confines of social media. My least favorite thing about social media is that I could be having the worst day ever, and I’ll post a picture of a pretty sunset and be like, ‘So grateful.’ But then everybody is like, ‘Oh my god you have the best life!’ I’m like, ‘No I just cried in my car for three hours, and then I took a picture of a pretty sunset.’ I’m not going to have a video of me sobbing and be like, ‘Life is sometimes awful...'
Danielle: It’s the highlight reel.
Troian: Which can be great! But in the same way, I’ve had two hours of hair and makeup before I’m doing any waking up on my show. It leads these girls to be like, ‘You are so perfect!’. I just want to be like, ‘Wow, thank you, first of all. That’s so kind of you to give me a compliment, because I know that you could also be like, your eyebrows suck…’
Danielle: I do think your Instagram is interesting - it’s not super personal. In a way, I was like, ‘Oh I don’t really feel like I know her from her Instagram.’ Then I was like, ‘That’s kind of great!’ It’s not personal in the way that I’m use to seeing personal, because of selfies. It’s seeing the world in your way. I feel like most Instagrams are not like that.
Troian: That's what I really hope to do. I think now, we’re moving into — especially with a lot of celebrity Instagrams — more just pictures of “me doing things” instead of it being what it was in the beginning, which was “step into my world”. That’s really important for me. Engaging with social media feels like a minefield, because it is so important right now. And at the same time, if I’m going to play this girl Spencer who looks completely different than me, then there’s going to be the reaction of, ‘Well, that’s not her because I know she’s this way and did this.’ I’m interested in holding onto some sense of mystery, if that’s possibly in this day and age. I don’t know.
Danielle: Love it. The one thing that we try to weave through everything that we do on the Mag is this notion of legacy. With whatever and however you want to interpret it, what do you think your legacy is and what do want it to be? What is your message?
Troian: It’s funny to be asked that now...I fly a lot, so I think a lot and have very morbid thoughts. I’m like, ‘If I went down now…’...it would obviously still be like “Spencer Hastings Dies On A Plane!”. And I think back to the short films that I made with my friends that would get re-watched by people. I even think about my social media, and I’m just like, ‘Is that an accurate representation of me?’ I feel like that’s what guides a lot of my engagement with the world and engagement with projects.
I don’t think I’ve reached it by any means, but I certainly hope that when I leave this life, I will have left behind a different interaction with my personal sphere. With the public or with my career, I hope I leave roles and stories that can change people. That’s where it gets spiritual and sort of mystical for me. I’m not so stoked to play the “cool girl”. I’m more interested in storytelling. It’s always been about that for me and about creating a community. I guess that’s why I return to theater constantly, because there’s magic in it.
Danielle: There’s a narrative in it.
Troian: I went to go see Long Day's Journey Into Night last night, which was like for hours. It was amazing. It's Jessica Lange and Michael Shannon. To see her live, spinning this story of a deceased man’s words about his family and his mother out of nothing, and embodying that and projecting it out into the audience — she’s so amazing. And knowing that thousands of people will go see it, but there will be many people who will not see it. To hold that experience within myself — that is a legacy. I hope that in telling stories, I can have that effect in somebody else. There's a beautiful story left behind that can be embodied in somebody else's experience, whether it's a television show or a film or a piece of theater.
Danielle: Jessica Lange is the perfect example of that too. What a legacy.
Troian: Oh my God, what a legacy.
Danielle: She creates a world in everything I've ever seen her in.
Troian: Yeah, and that’s what I hope. I really do hope that I can play, and story-tell in a way that is memorable. But I also really can’t say that, because God knows who’s going to remember me or who I will be remembered by, but if I get to play in the world of great stories, then I feel like that’s all I can really hope for as an actor. That’s it, really.