Shay Mitchell is swamped. For the umpteenth time on this Saturday morning, a dozen women in their early 20s crowd around her to shoot selfies. Over 500 of them have packed a Hollywood warehouse for a promotional fitness event that includes an hour of hip thrusts, sit-ups and lunges with a celebrity trainer and the 30-year-old actress who shot to fame in "Pretty Little Liars."
But Mitchell, who will appear in the horror film "Cadaver" later this year, is a big draw for another reason: She's an influencer. Her 19.3 million followers on Instagram watch where she "Shaycations," what she eats and how she obsessively works out — boxing, spinning, running, ropes, Pilates, weights, yoga, you name it. Here, she talks about her lifelong love of fitness, responsibility to her loyal legions and her new projects, including co-founding a subscription app, the Off the Menu Eating Club, which gives users exclusive off-the-menu meals at restaurants in and around L.A., while also giving meals to kids in need.
1. You've got a huge following that you keep motivated. Do they ever motivate you?
Absolutely. That's why I am so active on social media. It's work in itself, believe me. That's why I put time into it. Some days I say, "Oh, I'm so exhausted, I don't feel like going to the gym," then I'll read, "'Thank you so much. I'm so much healthier than I used to be,'" and then I think, "Gosh, how can I NOT go!" We all inspire each other. Even if I can inspire them to take a five-minute walk after a meal, great, I did my job.
2. How much of your workouts are real and how much are acting?
It's no act. I actually enjoy working out and have since I was a kid. I played volleyball and basketball in high school, and was in the pool at 1 or 2 and a competitive swimmer until age 15. I was in dance every year. We were always very health-conscious in my house, due to my dad. He's always been a health freak. Even growing up, we never had apple juice, never had sugary cereals, if we did only special occasions. My dad was also very active – hiking or biking, and always trying to get my brother and I active. He's still very active now. He wants to be fit until he's 100 and I feel the same way.
3. When you auditioned for "Pretty Little Liars," how big a factor did your athleticism play? Were you super fit at 22?
Yeah, I was fit and I think it helped me get the role of Emily; she was certainly the most athletic out of the bunch, and an avid swimmer, so it kinda helped I had that in my past. There were shoot days when we'd be in the pool and I didn't need any training.
Ironically, although I was fit then, now, at 30, I think I'm better — and it feels pretty great to say that. I'm stronger and healthier; I eat better. I do a lot of boxing – [at a boxing club] in Hollywood. I love spinning — I'll do a couple classes in a row on Saturday. In my garage, I have a little gym — with a speed bag, weights, treadmill. When I go on the road, I always pack a jump rope. Just three minutes of that ... I'm telling you! I also bring furniture sliders, so I can do a bunch of different slides.
4. Hollywood is embracing strong, powerful women. I assume you saw "Wonder Woman." What went on in your mind?
Actually, I saw it a couple times — and thought, "I wish I could do that." When they come out with the sequel, I hope I can play her stepsister or something. It was such an incredible, empowering movie. I want to see more strong, independent female characters out there. That's why I want to do more action roles. If they said, "Shay, you have to train for six weeks for this," I'd be totally happy.
5. What about your diet?
I'm more plant-based these days, and limit the sugars, although I'm not a zealot. If there's an amazing pizza, I'll have a bite or two. I don't work to burn off my food. I love eating and love working out. They go hand in hand.