NEW YORK - Troian Bellisario's two most recent roles have her playing women at very different times in their lives who have reached their breaking point and are trying to move forward.
She plays teen Spencer Hastings on ABC Family's popular "Pretty Little Liars." Since her best friend was murdered, Spencer and her three best friends have been taunted, tricked and stalked by a group that goes by the name of "A."
In a recent interview, Bellisario said she was very vocal with the writers and the network about wanting to take her character to a darker place. She got her wish, but has since "kind of backed out of the writers' room" about what's coming up.
The 27-year-old actress also plays the title character on the Web series "Lauren" on the WIGS YouTube channel. She's a single mother in the military who was sexually assaulted by a fellow comrade.
Her role on "Lauren" seemed a little odd at first, she said.
"It was a little bit like, `What? You want me to do what?' But the material itself was so incredible. I was like, `I don't really care. I just want to get a chance to do this.' I would never be able to portray that role in film or television because it's a bit of a name game. To do this for the Web and to get the attention that it's gotten, it's really kind of a blessing in disguise."
Bellisario said she didn't realize her character's situation on "Lauren" isn't uncommon in real life.
"I walked in two days before we were going to shoot and (co-star) Jennifer Beals had done a lot of research. I was like, `Give me everything please,' and she gave me this incredible book called `The Lonely Soldier' and I watched (documentaries) `The Invisible War' and `Lioness' and just absorbed and read and watched YouTube videos. It was overwhelming. I had no idea," she said.
A report by the Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs. That figure is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.
"I hate to use the word serendipitous," Bellisario said, "but there seems to be a very clear connection that `Lauren' just needs to be talked about, and so I think we just tapped on something on the pulse of America and it's time we address it."
Bellisario also embraced the idea of playing someone closer to her age on "Lauren."
"In real life I'm watching my friends get married and have children and the conversations that I have in my life are different. ... I don't really like one (character) over the other, I just enjoy getting the opportunity to explore a whole new part of a woman's life."
The second season of "Lauren" is now "live" on the website, which means all 12 episodes are posted for viewing. There's no decision yet on whether there will be a third season, but Bellisario says, "I don't think we're quite done" with her character's story.
"Pretty Little Liars" returns for its summer premiere on June 11 (8 p.m. EDT). A spinoff called "Ravenswood" will debut in October.
"You are definitely going to see some of the `Ravenswood' characters being introduced on `Pretty Little Liars,'" she said.