Ian Harding knew playing a high school teacher involved with his student was rife with potential pitfalls, but when he read the script for Pretty Little Liars, he looked for "the heart in it." In Tuesday's midseason finale at 8/7c, Harding's character Ezra and Aria (Lucy Hale) have a serious conversation in which, Harding says, "A lot of truth is spoken." The 23-year-old actor spoke to TVGuide.com about Ezra's entanglement with the underage Aria and what's it like for Harding himself to adjust to becoming a heartthrob (and Teen Choice Award winner).
TVGuide.com: What did you think when you first read your storyline?
Ian Harding: I didn't really judge it too much because I knew there was so much of a taboo on it, but it's not like he's 50 or something. It's kind of like the perfect storm of the situation, so I said, "OK, where's the heart in it?" and I just found that and played that.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised ABC Family would push those limits?
Harding: To sum it up in one sentence, my friend has been watching the show, one of my guy friends from back home, and he called me out of the blue and his first response was, "A new kind of family, indeed!" And I think that sums it up. They are pushing the limits, but I don't think anything is overly gratuitous. What's so special about this show is that it plays these situations that are seemingly wrong or morally questionable, but they play it with heart and you have to find that for everything. The show will consistently paint people in a new light. I feel bad for people that had to pitch this show. Young teacher, high school student, ABC Family. That may sound bad, but ultimately it's done with a lot of soul.
TVGuide.com: In the last episode, Ezra came back and tells Aria that things can't go back to what they were. Does he really mean it?
Harding: I think that's his brain talking. The whole dilemma is that he's torn between his brain and his heart and I think they're disconnected for him. Because on paper she is off-limits and it's hard to say, "Wait a minute. This is a once in a lifetime thing."
TVGuide.com: When he talks to Aria's mom, the subtext seemed so obvious. Do you think she knows?
Harding: Maybe in that scene, it's the case; I'm not sure. It's all up in the air. We could get a script this fall and it says she's known all along, so I'm not quite sure. It was filled with subtext, but then again what scene in this show is not filled with subtext.
TVGuide.com: Aria has started to move on, so what will this mean for them?
Harding: More juiciness, to put it simply. I would certainly get jealous if some guy was moving in on my girl.
TVGuide.com: In the midseason finale, she calls him out on what went wrong. What can you say about that?
Harding: A lot of truth is spoken, so that will affect him in a way that will spur him to action.
TVGuide.com: Do you have your own ideas about who A is?
Harding: Oh, I have many, but I just don't know and that, I guess, is the point. They're introducing new characters and extending certain storylines and extrapolating upon a small scene that was in the book and making it a whole episode. It's anybody's guess.
TVGuide.com: What's it like to be seen as a heartthrob now and be up for a Teen Choice Award [which he won — summer TV star, male]?
Harding: Pretty surreal. I don't even know what I think about it because everything's happened very quickly and grateful is all you can really be. Growing up, most of my friends were really muscular and athletic, I was athletic, but not compared to these guys. They were the ones getting female attention, I could talk and maybe make people laugh, but that was it.