How ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Kept Transgender ‘A’ Shocker a Secret

Showrunner I. Marlene King tells TheWrap she worried trans storyline would cause fans to think “we were jumping on the bandwagon”

After five and a half seasons of twists and turns, ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” finally revealed the identity of “A” in Tuesday night’s summer finale.

The mysterious character who had been tormenting the girls for years was revealed to be CeCe Drake, Alison’s brother Charles post-transition.

Despite the fans’ shock at the reveal showrunner I. Marlene King had begun laying the groundwork for the big reveal years before Tuesday’s finale. They way the pieces of the mystery all came together in the episode was no coincidence.

“We always know the ending before we start a story on ‘Pretty Little Liars,’” King told TheWrap, saying the ending had been set over three years ago.

In an interview with TheWrap, King talks keeping the secret for so long, the show’s future after the five-year time jump, and planning the transgender twist long before trans issues came into the spotlight. Read the full interview below.

TheWrap: What was the reaction like and how did it compare to what your expectations?
King: It was a very big reaction and we were expecting a big reaction. I think it’s fantastic. We got our fans really engaged and plotting and talking and figuring things out. And when this show succeeds, that’s what we do best.

How long have you had this all planned out?
We always know the ending before we start a story on “Pretty Little Liars,” so we knew three and half seasons ago when “A” stole the game from Mona.

What kind of security precautions did you take to keep the reveal under wraps?
It was so hard. Vanessa Ray did not know she was “A” until a week before – actually, it was the day before we sent out the script. We didn’t want her to know because I didn’t want her to play it. Even keeping it a secret from her was a challenge. That’s one thing that I’m surprised we pulled off: Keeping it a secret, because we have very engaged fans who are always looking for ways to unearth our secrets.

We went back to an old-fashioned, manual way of delivering scripts to people. They were all watermarked. Nothing was uploaded to the internet, we went back to the old-fashioned way of delivering DVDs. And when we were filming scenes on the backlot, we made sure tours were never around.

Vanessa didn’t know until the last minute, but what about the rest of the cast?
They started to know ahead of time. I want to say it was about six months ago, when Keegan and Troian and I were filming super late at night. They wore me down and I told them the story, and that Vanessa was going to play Charlotte.

What was their reaction like?
They loved it. And when I came up with the idea, I had to start telling people to see what their reaction would be and if it was a good idea. People would always leave the conversation with their jaws on the floor. So I started to think, “Alright. Maybe this is a good idea. I think it’ll work.”

It seemed like it took a while for fans on social media to come around to the reveal, but once CeCe started telling her story, they really started to catch on. Was that the plan for the episode?
Absolutely. The episode was designed in that way. I knew that people would be like, “Wait. What?” The episode was designed in a way that you found out the identity right away, so that you could settle down and hear the story. I’ve always said that the why and the how make for a better story than the who.

Do you worry about backlash against the transgender twist?
When we came up with the idea, there wasn’t really the transgender trends [in movies and TV] that I was aware of. It was just in the last year or two that transgender issues really started to come into the spotlight. And we were worried that people were going to think that we were jumping on the bandwagon, but we were already so dedicated and far down the path to creating this “A” that there was no going back.

Well now that there is such a spotlight on transgender issues, did you feel any pressure to be extra-sensitive in how you handled the story?
No, we were always going to be sensitive. We wanted to make it clear that crazy runs in the DiLaurentis family, and that this person was crazy because it runs in her heritage, unfortunately. And the way that she was raised. We also wanted to show that the neglect was also part of her tragic story.

Will the time jump be a complete reset on the series or will some of the threads be picked back up?
There are a few threads that are still dangling out there, but I feel that 90 percent of them were wrapped up [in the finale]. It’ll feel like “Pretty Little Liars,” but a more grown-up version … The girls will be 23 years old, so some of the storylines will be more mature and edgy than some of the things we’ve tackled in the past.

How many more seasons do you envision the show going?
We’re definitely going to the end of Season 7, and that’s all we know at this point.

Is there going to be another big mystery?
There’s definitely a big mystery that will begin after the five-year time jump, and that one big mystery will take us to the end of Season 7 … We’re already filming our sixth episode, so we definitely know what the end of Season 6 and Season 7 look like.