NOC Interview: Troian Bellisario Discusses Her New Film, ‘Doula’

Troian Bellisario stars as Deb in Doula, which is out now! The new comedy follows an L.A. couple, who after the sudden death of their midwife, hire her son to be their live-in doula.

We discussed which scene was the most challenging to film, why being pregnant in real life added to the experience, her fans, what she looks for in roles, the message she wants viewers to take away from Doula, her upcoming podcast, and more. Keep reading for our full conversation!

Did you learn anything specific from the character of Deb? What did you enjoy most about portraying the character during her pregnancy journey and bringing her birth story to life?
Troian Bellisario: Oh my gosh, I learned so much from Deb, mostly how to be yourself. It was so fun actually working with Cheryl Nichols, the director, who’s one of my best friends because she is very much Deb in my mind. She’s a woman who is opinionated, speaks her mind, is not afraid to let you know how she feels, and she is very, very good at drawing boundaries, and I am not. So one of the biggest things was that she just was like, “you have permission to apologize less — apologize less, don’t make it pretty, don’t try to people please with this role.” It was so cool to be literally like under her tutelage as Deb and just not apologize, to be who she was and say like, “this is what I’m experiencing right now. I’m not into you. I am into you. Let’s do this. Let’s not do this.” It was really very cool.

I love that! Women apologize way too much. We need to apologize less, especially during that time in someone’s life.
Totally. Yeah, I mean, literally what a time to be selfish. You are about to enter into parenting, which is one of the most selfless, like, you have to make yourself so selfless. So why not take those 10 months to be like, “No, dude, I’m doing what I need right now, doing what I want right now. I’m about to make a huge sacrifice in my life. This is what I need.”

Can you break down the most challenging scene for you to film and explain why was it challenging, whether it was the emotional aspect or just the scene itself?
Sure. There were a lot of emotional and difficult scenes. The birthing was really interesting because I was four and a half months pregnant at the time and I had an extensive conversation with my doctor, who is the wonderful Jay Goldberg, who since passed. The whole time I was doing this film, I just kept on going to him and being like, “Hey, can I shoot a movie while I’m pregnant?” He was like, “Yeah, sure.” And I was like, “Can I play basketball while I’m pregnant?” He was like, “Yeah, if you’re not too rough,” and I was like, “Can I shoot a movie where I give birth and fall when I’m playing basketball, and do this and pretend to smoke weed,” and he was just like, “Yeah, I guess… what are you doing?” So truthfully, getting his permission to be able to shoot that really, really intense laboring sequence because were I actually full term, that was something that he was like, “you don’t want to push in your body or put yourself even emotionally through that because who knows what it could trigger in your body,” but because I was very early on in my pregnancy, he was like, “It’s okay, it’s safe.” But that was a really, really intense thing for everybody when we were filming it because I was pretending to be in labor and I was actually pregnant. It was really wild, so that was really challenging.

I also love that Deb has such a passion for basketball, those scenes were great! What were those like to do and what was a passion that you didn’t want to give up?
Oh my God, that’s such a great question. So many, so many passions. I think one of the things that was really interesting is Cheryl, the director, who is also just like a basketball fanatic, she’s actually had all of our lady friends start a basketball team so she could teach me how to play basketball because I haven’t played basketball since like seventh grade. She was like, “you’re gonna be good in this movie.” I was like, “I’m gonna be very pregnant this movie,” and she was like, “you’re gonna be good.” So we called ourselves the Eastside Crimson Tide and we all played together for a year leading up to this film so that I could play as a team and it was also really fun because we played, like not, not fiercely with each other. So that sort of competitiveness, and that sort of connection to the game and to the sport was so important to Cheryl for this movie and to Deb. For me, there’s so many things, your body is changing in such wild ways and it’s like, one day, you’re totally fine and you can do exactly what you’ve been doing, then the next day, you don’t look any different, but you’re like, “I couldn’t do that if I tried, what’s happening?” One of the things honestly, for me when I was pregnant the first time, was I used to do a lot of aerial silks and it takes such intense core strength, and that’s of course, one of the first things — you can’t do like a bunch of crunches and sit-ups. So it was really sad for me to have to say goodbye to that feeling of really pushing my body in those ways because I knew that I was about to take my body on this different journey. It was going to require a different sort of strength for me. So that was something I had to give up that was really tough.

You mentioned that you were pregnant when filming this movie. Did that add to the experience for you at all? I feel like that’s the ultimate “art imitates life” moment.
Yeah, no joke. It added so much. I mean, I didn’t know whether I was having a boy or a girl at the time but just knowing that there was like a little passenger along in every scene really just helped ground me. It also, which was interesting, it helped ground me in the reality of like, the carefulness that you have to have with yourself that I think is a big part of the journey for Deb. She’s used to, as an athlete, pushing her body or doing this with her body when she wants to, how she wants to. Then she can’t, she comes up against this barrier of like, “I can’t do that with myself anymore.” That was all the more real because I was in the same position, a lot of the things in the film that I was pushing up against were my own real limitations because I was also pregnant. But it also made for some really fun stuff. The ultrasound scene, that’s actually Chris giving me an ultrasound and in that my daughter is like moving around, which was freaking Chris out so much. He was like, “every time I touch her, she moves!” I’m like, “Well, she’s cold in there. The ultrasound is cold.” And he was like, “This is so weird!” So it was really fun.

You obviously have a huge fanbase from PLL. I’ve had the pleasure of following your journey since then, kind of growing up with you into these newer roles, and it’s been a really amazing journey to see you grow as an actress as I grow in my real life. I know all of your fans are just so supportive and love all of your new projects, what does that means to you? What it’s like to see their excitement for new projects like Doula?
Oh God, it is just amazing. I don’t know what sort of lucky star I was born under to have this incredible group of fans that really could have just left like the day Pretty Little Liars ended because I understand how much it means to people and I also understand that that journey for me is closed, that chapter’s closed. So I am so grateful that there are people who want to come with me on new journeys and are interested in this kind of storytelling that is not just PLL. But I feel so incredibly lucky, like, every time I put out anything as a creator or a creative, people are just like, “we’re so stoked! We can’t wait. Thank you.” I just feel really lucky and very loved.

Continuing with that, I didn’t realize at the time growing up and watching how important it was to have five strong female characters leading a series. I didn’t realize what that meant and I’ve loved the strong, emotional, and complex characters that you’ve played since. Do you look for that in the role rather than being the supporting female or love interest?
Oh, thank you. I really appreciate that and I guess for me, particularly because I’m now a mom of two, I just know how much energy and time it takes to portray a character in the way that I’m interested in portraying it. So I’m not able to just do a bunch of things in the way that I once was when I was 20, 21, or something like that, I had more time. And so I think for me when I read a role, it’s got to grab me in a way that I say, “Oh, this is worth not putting my daughters to bed that night. This is worth me saying, ‘Mama’s gotta go to work, because this is really important for me,’ so that they learn, like, ‘Okay, you go to work too, and sometimes it means you don’t get to always be together but you’re doing something you love.'” I only want to do the work, I’m in a very fortunate place that I can right now do that, that will allow me to be with them and also allow me to show up to work in an excited way.

Do you want to play more mother figure roles in the future?
Yeah, I do. I feel like I would love playing a mom. I’ve like played a mom so — I think only a few times before this, but it’s just, I love it. It’s just the best, it opens up a whole new world of characters and I hope with Doula that now people in the industry can see me sort of taking this step in my life because I think coming from Pretty Little Liars, there’s a lot of people who still view me as a very young woman and not as a person who could be a mom or who could be entering motherhood, or frankly, who could have teenagers because guess what, I can have teenagers if I had kids really young. So I feel really excited to explore this whole new phase of my life, and to put that on screen and tell that story.

While this film presented such a unique birth and pregnancy story, I am a firm believer that someone watching this film is going to relate to some part of it. I think it’s going to be relatable. What message do you hope viewers take away from the film or Deb for their own life journey?
Thank you. Yeah, just that it’s all okay. It’s all okay, whatever you’re going through and the reason— I totally agree with you, I think the more specific you are in storytelling, the more universal it is because Deb is a very, very distinctive person, who has a very distinctive pregnancy and that’s validated in this film. So what I hope is that women watching this film, who are not anything like Deb or who we’re not ever going to have a pregnancy like Deb can go, “Oh, but I’m validated in my life choices,” that goes beyond just your choice whether or not to be pregnant, you know what I mean? It’s like that goes on into your choice about how you enter into romantic relationships, how you interact with your job, and your personality. I just hope that in making more films like this, it’s just more validation for women to say like, “That’s valid. My experience is valid, my experience is different than that and that’s okay.” So that’s what I hope people take away from this movie.

I have to imagine this was just such a fun set to work on. Do you have a favorite filming memory when you look back that sticks out? I know that’s a hard one because there are probably so many.
There are so many, it’s ridiculous. Oh, wow. A favorite filming memory… there are so many, oh my goodness, because everybody on this film were all just such good friends every day, even the smaller roles, they’re all our best friends. I will say that one of my favorite memories because I just could not believe that we were shooting it, was the sex party scene because it was one of the last days that I was filming, I was nine months pregnant, and so not only did they have to get me an entire pleather catsuit that would fit my belly, I just kept on, like, I was walking around with a giant belly, in a body-hugging pleather suit with nine-inch heels on. Then my job was to do a sexy dance for Arron while he was tied to a chair directed by Cheryl, his real-life fiancé, outside the door. The problem was that it was a million degrees and I could not believe what I was doing. I just kept on hearing Cheryl losing it outside the door and I was like, “I cannot hear you laughing because I won’t be able to do my job,” and she was just crying outside the door. So that was by far one of the best days. The whole crew was gathered around because we had to shut the door like you couldn’t see in the room. It was just the camera, Arron, me, and our wonderful sound guy, and so the whole crew was gathered around the monitor outside just losing their minds. It was hilarious.

It must be so funny watching the final version and remembering what went into filming it but also then being like, “Wow, it actually came out!”
It came out! I don’t know how you didn’t hear everybody, there are like 30 people outside of that one doorway just losing it. I don’t know how we managed it, but it was really — that was by far one of the best scenes to film because it was just so ridiculous and hilarious. The other thing was that Aaron wrote it and so every time he looked at me, I just kept on being like, “you are so twisted. You wrote this, I can’t believe it!” He’s just tied to a chair going, “I wrote this, I wrote this.” It was like his mantra, he’s like, “I wrote this.” It was great.

Lastly, what projects do you have coming up that fans need to be on the lookout for?
I am in the middle of writing a podcast with my dear friend Josh Close, which is really exciting. That’s also being produced by BARRY LINEN, which is Chris Pine and Ian Gotler’s production company. So Chris is going to be a part of it and you might hear a couple of other familiar voices pop up. So I’m really excited about that. Then just momming, just living life, but I’m really excited and I hope that I get to share some new projects with the fans soon because they’ve always been so supportive.