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Zaria

1883 Magazine catches up with Zaria to discuss the new season of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, real-life terrors, living a happy life and her love of writing and directing.

Zaria has a name that evokes star power, warmth and wisdom beyond her years. 

Combined with her joie de vivre and organic drive, it makes sense that she filmed, wrote and directed her first short film two days after wrapping season 1 of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. She is an artist who hopes to make a positive mark on the world in all she does, whether it’s through her acting, writing or directing or music.

In the new season of the hit HBO Max spinoff, Zaria portrays the intense teen ballerina Faran Bryant who is brought closer to her new friends when they are targeted by a murderous stalker called A.

In the new season, Faran and the Liars are now in Summer School and face a new villain in the terrifying Bloody Rose who is intent on ending the girls’ summer fun – and their lives. 

You can see the similarities between Zaria and Faran Bryant, the poised, intense ballerina who not only has to deal with a serial killer but the microaggressions that come with the worlds of ballet and high school. Much like her character, Zaria has an innate sense of purpose yet is incredibly introspective and in tune with herself and those around her.

1883 Magazine catches up with Zaria to discuss the new season of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, real-life terrors, living a happy life and her love of poetry, writing and directing. 

Let’s talk about you and how amazing you are. First, Zaria, I love your name. Why the one name? Was it like giving a, like a Madonna, did you have a Madonna moment?

You know, you know, it was honestly a Beyonce moment. I always wanted to just go by Zaria. I, I don’t even really, it’s kind of one of those things when you’re a kid and you decide for yourself and you’re like ‘well, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It just makes sense to me.’ So yeah, I just, I’ve always wanted to be Zaria.

 And it’s a beautiful, very distinctive name. A star power name. Do you think your parents were like, we’ve got a star in our hands the moment you were born?

I think, well, I was going to have a different name and my dad actually was in the room and he looked up at the TV and he saw the credits roll to some show and he saw the name Zaria and he said, that’s my daughter’s name. And my poor mom in the hospital bed was like, ‘Ugh fine!” I’m kidding, she liked the name too! 

But yeah, it’s, it’s funny because I always, I always think that there’s some beautiful poetry in there that he looked up to a TV and like saw my name and now I’m on TV and so yeah it’s a beautiful full circle moment. 

Now he can watch Pretty Little Liars and then he’s like oh my gosh, Zaria, her name.

Yeah. He’s like I did, he’s like I did that shit. I did. All me!

 But let’s of course talk about Pretty Little Liars getting its second season in summer school. How exciting was it when you found out it had been renewed?

Oh my goodness, it’s such a blessing to get renewed, especially in this day and age where, you know, people will do the whole movie, they’ll film the whole thing, it’ll be edited, it’ll be on a network, and it’ll get taken down, and it’s just You know, there’s nothing like the feeling of being able to step back into a character that you really know. And yeah, so I’m, I’m really grateful. Thanks HBO. Thanks, Warner Brothers. Thanks. Gotta thank all my, all my godparents.

And, of course, with Pretty LL being a spinoff from the original, and then we now also, I feel like it’s almost like a mini spin off because we’re continuing the same universe, but now the girls have to be at summer school because it makes more sense. After all, in the first one, they’d be missing all these classes, and I’m like, you lot are still graduating, mad one, but in this one, you have them like, you had a lot of time taken away from me, because of course, the whole serial killer chasing you down thing.

So yeah, what’s it like to get into the fun of summer school?

You know, it was so fun to step into summer school because I love summer in general. Lindsay is one of the show’s creators. And when she initially told me that it was going to be summer, I was like, I almost broke down in tears.

You know, the indescribable feeling when you get renewed? It also feels indescribable to hear, “Oh, and by the way, you’re going to shoot in the sunny sun and you know, no more ice storms” and all that. Yeah. It was a great feeling. And also it’s just, it fits so well with, you know, who the characters are, and I think what the audience likes to see! Like what better thing than to see some summer lovin’ so yeah.

And you’re right, Faran did go through a lot of changes as well, you know. It was not only her changes in dance and what she wanted to do but also her change in dress and what she was excited to put on her body, which I feel is a very big change. It’s a very big character aspect of who Faran is, is what she’s wearing and how she presents herself.

Yeah, because I’d say that she was, like, in the first season we see the very typical uptight ballerina. I did ballet as a kid, so  I related to her way too much! (both laugh) And then, like in the episodes that I’ve managed to watch, I, like, I think I watched, the first two episodes of the new season where she’s very relaxed, she’s kind of loosened up a bit, which is un-Faran, but then I’m like, it kind of suits her.

That’s funny because, you know, I talk about this a lot, but it’s so true. When I read what I call the ‘new Faran’ or like ‘season two Faran’, I was terrified, not because of what was on the page, but because, there were so many different aspects that were my anchors as her, her back pain, her ballerina, her, how she even like wore her hair, you know, everything had changed.

Zaria: And I would have a character crisis. now and again and be like, am I even Faran? So it was funny because it was almost like that’s what Faran was going through as well, you know. She had to rediscover herself and she is still in that process, I believe, of rediscovering herself and figuring out who she wants to be.

So, yeah, I felt that too. And, you know, it’s funny, one of my favourite lines this season is like, I’m so fun because I feel like that, sometimes I am such an, I am an intense person myself, me and Faran share that. And when I want to get something done, I want to get something done. And I am like a dog with a bone.

And so is Faran. And so I was blessed to still have that to cling on to but yeah. Uptight is a great word for her. She would hate that. I mean, well, she is. She’s very, yeah. And I think that is just something that goes with being a ballerina. And also, again, they did go through it.

I will just say, I love the first season because it’s just like all the horror girl things I like and love. And Faran went through a lot! Being a ballerina – a black one at that – is an interesting part of her arc and it was 

Is she still going through that transition because her relationship with Henry is also reliant on ballet? Part of her like, again, proving that point as a black ballerina.

It’s part of her growth. Her life was so tied to ballet and then she’s like, I’m not going to do that anymore. I just want to, you know, relax. Yeah. She’s like, I just want to boss boys around all day!

How would you describe this season like season two compared to season one? Aside from being summery and nice?

It is almost like anything that we had in season one, we just kind of multiplied on itself, which was really nice. The love stories are multiplied. The gore is multiplied, you know like I’m really proud of the season because I feel as though everyone really banded together to create something amid really big changes in our industry.

And so I feel like it almost reflects that in the product that we were able to, you know, garner. And yeah,  it’s so hard for me not to use the word summary and summer school because it is so that it’s glowy. Everyone has a summer job. Maybe there’s a summer killer, but we’re too focused on summer boyfriends. It is like, it’s impossible to not say summer.

Yeah. But of course, like we have the summer killer, which it’s really funny because why: I’m just like, can we not take a break? Can the serial killers not even take a summer break? But the villain of Bloody Rose is spooky!  Again, a lot more jump-scare moments than in season one. I remember in episode one of season one where at the window you just have the killer just standing there. It scared me and then we have that again, but then do you think it’s like a scarier villain?

 Personally, Bloody Rose scares me more as Zaria than Faran. She scares me more because, one, and as Faran she scares me more because she really knows where to attack the girls. Bloody Rose is so particular about how she gets to the girls. And ‌ we just saw Mouse’s episode where she’s basically smoking her out and treating her as a quote-unquote, rodent. And it’s twisted and sick.

And I also think her outfit is just so involved. Like, do you know the level of unhinged you have to be to like, do the whole ritual of dipping the blood and wrapping it around your face? That is. That is real-life crazy!

Like you said, it’s a very particular villain. And I saw comparisons to the original A and the original Pretty Little Liars. Do you think they are very similar in how they attack?

Again, it’s time and dedication. I could never be a serial killer. I don’t have that sort of time.

Yes, exactly. It’s like they’re taking notes. I’m like, wow, they were really involved!  You know, Pretty Little Liars is such a rich universe that we get to pull from and, you know, play with. So it’s nice to see when when people are like, “Oh my gosh if we could see Troian in this scene!” That’s the best feeling in the world.

Because as actors, you have really –  I wouldn’t say heavy shoes to fill because I think those are their shoes. We have our shoes and they have their shoes, but we’ve constantly been lifted by them in such a special way and so, we really want to lift them up in our art too. So yeah, we can only hope we’re doing the franchise justice.

I see reactions online and it’s like, this is like a very different PLL. It’s a very current Pretty Little Liars compared to the original series. I don’t know if you’ve seen this discussion. In episode one, Imogen played by a wonderful Bailee Madison. She references Aria and Ezra and she says that she got a weird vibe from the Ezra dude. And it kicked off discourse, of course. I just want to ask you what you think about the change in how relationships are portrayed in the show, especially between adults and teenagers.

I think it speaks to the growth of the world. I think that. As a species, we’re just constantly learning. We’re constantly learning what’s okay and what’s not okay. And I feel as though with the booming industry of social media, we’ve really had our eyes peeled, you know, we’ve been forced to look at the world from different angles, from different perspectives, and I think that’s grown us as a community, as a society. And that can only be reflected in our art, you know?

Definitely! And it’s just the internet discourse is so fun over this show because on the one hand, you have serious discussions and you also have the memes. I saw one actually relating to Faran’s mother who would not take any nonsense from Bloody Rose like turning up.

(laughs) She would not! She would not take it.

 And again, that cultural thing of, you know, having a more diverse set of liars, Faran – she’s a loved character in that, you know, we don’t get to see a black girl with so many complexities. Was that something that drew you to the role as well?

Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I am so grateful to play Faran because she’s so many things, you know. And I feel as though, Especially in this episode coming up and the season in general, she’s been able to show her different layers and show her different sides and her strengths.

And It’s a beautiful thing when black women get representation that isn’t monolithic you know it’s beautiful that I get to look at my co-star Chandler Kinney and be in awe of her work and see that her character is completely different than my character and that is all within with specific intent both through you know, us as actors, but also from the writers. I’m so grateful for that. I love playing Faran because she’s not just a pretty girl. She’s not just a ballerina. She’s not just one thing – she has so many things. So yeah, it’s nice to play complex female characters.

It is, and I remember Malia echoing that same sentiment And speaking of like your wonderful co-stars, you’re filming such an intense show Even though it’s fun and it’s summer, we’re still dealing with a serial killer (both laughing) Do you have any really fun memories from set?

Oh man, yeah, so many fun memories. Let’s think, oh my gosh, I have a funny one. I think it’s hilarious. Let me just start by saying it’s me. I am a clumsy person. Okay. And we were filming a scene and it was the scene where I and the other girls just watched Tabby’s movie and we were coming down the stairs. I don’t know what happened, but I think my shoes were squeaky and sometimes when you wear patent leather boots, they get stuck together.

Girl, I fell. I fell down the stairs. I fell. I fell so hard that I flipped around. For me, it was so embarrassing that I remember closing my eyes and I remember my brain being like, It’s a dream, girl. It’s just a dream. And then the other part of my dream was like, “It’s not a dream! Open your eyes!” And everyone crowded around me, and everyone was like, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” And I was like, that’s fine, let’s do another take! And everyone was so concerned, and I was like, I cannot believe that happened in real life.

So, yeah, that was a funny moment. The worst part about falling on set because. It’s not my first rodeo, but the worst part about falling on set is knowing that there’s like the people in the room There’s a video village and then there’s also whoever’s going to watch it later.  So it’s just like an echo of embarrassment, but it’s fun. laugh at myself in those moments because I just think it’s so silly But I could understand that everyone’s worried about my safety.

But I do love that the other girls were just like, is she, is she okay? Or are they used to it now? Are they just like, if we’re going to walk somewhere, Zaria’s going to fall, we can’t panic?

I’m not like an imbalanced tripod, like I’m not that bad (both laugh) But, you know, they, I remember when I came to, I didn’t faint, but it was really like my brain was like, just go to sleep. It’s too embarrassing. So when I opened my eyes, they were all surrounding me, but I popped up so quickly that they laughed with me, which is exactly what I needed.

I needed them to laugh. That’s so fun. 

I love the idea of you popping back up. Cause I would actually jump back. I’m like ‘Did she just die?’

 Michaela, it was as if I powered down and someone just like powered me back up.

 I love that. I just love that image. They should keep that in the show, to be honest.

It’s on the blooper reel, I know it!

This season’s blooper reel. It’ll be, it’ll just be you falling on places.  And of course, being in a horror-like franchise, do you have any favourite horror girls or horror films that you take inspiration from when getting into the mindset?

You know, it’s so funny because I feel as though At this point, I should either start lying or watching horror movies, but I am such a scaredy cat. I can’t watch horror movies. I can’t do that. I respect the movies. I respect the art. I can watch some horror movies, but when it comes to things like insidious, okay, let me give you an example.

I was in the other room today and my boyfriend walked in behind me. I didn’t hear him. I knew he was at home. You know what I turned around and did I went, okay, so like, I live, I live every day in my own specific horror jump scare movie in my head. So, I just feel I can’t do it on screen too.

I can act in it. I can live it in real life, but watching it is just too much. I do watch like, I like watching Scream or The Scary Movie franchise, which is technically a comedy, but hilarious. And I also love Get Out. And I watched Candy Man and Us, so I can watch some, but (laughs) my life is scary enough.

Yeah, you’re not, you’re not a ghost person, you’re a gore person, which makes sense given the show you’re on because it is very much like Scream, but like, you know, mixed with Gossip Girl.

Exactly

Are you okay with the fact that you just live scared? Are you good? Are you okay? 

Not the mental health check-in! That’s sweet. You know what? We’re, we’re all getting somewhere, Michaela. Also, I wanted to say this, this is actually another funny thing that I think is, well, I think I believe in ghosts, so let’s just get that out there.

And my dog –  I was home alone –  and my dog was just staring down the hallway. Why are you staring down the hallway? There’s nothing there. There’s nothing supposed to be there. So yeah, I can’t add, I can’t add extra stuff – I don’t need to be scared all the time! 

 You’re paranoid like you’re, you’re like, no, not about to get haunted to death. I think you might need to burn some sage just in case!  Good luck to you with that.  I want to get to your other work because you’ve had some pretty fun work.

I know you started on Black-ish, and so you got, like, that cast is, amazing. And you just also made your own, you made your indie film, like, you wrote, directed, and starred in your own film, like, that’s amazing! 

Yeah, thank you! 

What was that like?

Irish Exit was tough. You know, I think the beauty of indie filmmaking is that you get to work with people who want to make art and believe in the vision. And I really, really enjoyed that. I produced it, I wrote it, I directed it, I acted in it. I’m so proud of it. We went to a festival; an Oscar-qualifying festival with it. And it was nice that it was my first stab at the apple. I love writing.

I love directing. So, I’m really excited to delve more into that. It’s a different beast, and I noticed it made me a better actor.  I know Faran, and I know what Faran would think of the other characters, what she thinks the other characters think of her. So you delve into the other character’s mind enough, but as a director, you have to know the entire world. You have to know everyone’s perspective and everyone’s perspective on everyone else’s perspective. It was a very interesting job. And that’s really great.

And are you writing anything new? Do you mind me asking if you’re working on anything new?

  Yes. Yes, I am. I love that you asked! Thank you for asking. I’m writing a lot of things right now. I’m songwriting, but I’m also writing this screenplay that I can’t give up many details with, but I’m excited about it. It’s a comedy and actually, you’re the first person I’m telling this about too.

Oh, amazing. I love that. I get the exclusive, oh my gosh. 

Yeah. So it’s really nice. I. I’m excited for the world to see it because I think it’s hilarious, but you know, I wrote it, so I’m biased.

I love that you’re almost like putting like, like all your fingers and like all these various pies and like so much by yourself. Again, Zaria is a very superstar name. Are we going to see it on an Oscar one day?

You know what? Your lips to God’s ears, Michaela, okay?

 We speak that shit into existence. Yeah. Exactly. It’s just really amazing. And also songwriting. That’s great. So, are you working on music? Like, do you want to release it? Or is it just like a hobby?

 Yeah, I’m working on music. I work with this amazing producer. He’s a Grammy nominee. His name is Benny Cassette. And he found me through my poetry. And we’ve been working together for, oh my goodness, it’s six years now. So just writing for different artists and now starting to write for myself. It has been a really therapeutic process. 

And also it’s just so funny because you know, singing is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I was always a little afraid to do. And I saw this tweet, this other, oh my gosh, can I pull it up? Because it’s so beautiful. I don’t want to butcher it. I saw this tweet yesterday and I was like, wow, this is exactly what I needed to hear.

It says creating is cringe. You don’t get to start off good. You start off shit and we’re still exposed your whole life. And your whole self is on display, whether it’s dancing, writing, singing, whatever. Before you get good, there’s just an earnest person trying, and that’s fine. Feed that person. And I was like, Oh! Take me to church! Yeah, I’m an earnest person trying right now. 

Yeah, oh yeah., I love to paint and stuff in my spare time. I cannot crochet for shit, but I’m trying. I got a line. But I am trying. 

 That’s awesome! Everyone starts with the line though, you know, like one thing that I like to say is like no castle was built without first having only one brick, you know, so like everyone has to start from the ground. You’re just out here dropping like the most philosophical shit. Honestly, write a book, write, write a book of things.

Please, write a book. I need you to write a book. You have such a beautiful outlook on life. Where did that come from? Did it come from your parents or are you just a very sunny person?

 You know, sometimes I have a cloudy day, but you know, yeah, I, I think I’m, well, first of all, it’s really beautiful to sit and talk to you. It’s like, I really don’t take this for granted. I know it’s an interview but still, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to connect with someone in England and you have the best accent in the world! And I’m just, I’m just feeding off of what you’re giving me, which is beautiful. 

I also think it’s an act of rebellion as a Black woman to come into the world and come into rooms and share some sunshine. It’s the only way we’ve survived, especially with everything we’ve had to go through. So, yeah, there are days that I allow myself the time to be sad and to connect with that emotion because I think it’s just as important as happiness. 

 I’ve always been this introspective kid who, you know, writes little notes and poems. And I started writing poetry when I was in high school when my best friend told me that it was her outlet to kind of, you know, get the things off of her chest. And I’ve always used it. that to bounce my ideas off of. And there are some things that I still look back on and I’m like, ‘Oh, that was a pretty good one for a high school student.’  I think it’s holding on to the pieces of you in childhood that deserve to grow with you.

Again, you just sit out here dropping the nicest advice. I don’t even want to write up this interview I just want to sit here and listen to you like you drop your profundities on life. That’s just like beyond your years. I’m like, I want to be you when I grow up I want to be you, my girl. 

Oh, stop, that’s crazy. Right back at you. I want to be you.

 No, you don’t want to be me. I nearly walked into my own bedroom door this morning. 

It’s okay, I do that too! 

Aside from the exciting season of Pretty Little Liars, do you have any other, like, work in the pipeline that we should all be excited about? 

I do, but nothing I can quite speak on quite yet. But I’m excited. That’s what I can say, there are many exciting things. I just can’t say yet!

What helps you unwind from the world?

 Oh, that’s a great question.  I love the book, The Body Keeps Score. Right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Bill Withers. I can just put on that radio and just tune out the world. Also, I’ve been watching something I have all seen – Baby Reindeer. Let’s be real now! I love that. I love Ayo Edebiri, whatever she’s in, I love. Let’s see. What else? You know what I watched recently?  It was a crazy watch because I didn’t know how many hitters were there, but I’m A Cheerleader. That was amazing. Natasha Lyonne; she has been working forever! And also what I just started watching again was Kill Bill. You got to re-watch Kill Bill.

 I feel like that really fits with Summer School – it should be a double feature.

That’s your next watch, after the new episode!

Watch Pretty Little Liars: Summer School now.

Follow Zaria by clicking here.

Interview Michaela Makusha

Photography Lacey Free

Stylist Izzy Bellak

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