Sara Shepard, whose hit book series inspired the show, made a cameo as a court reporter who revealed devastating news: A surprise witness from Mona’s (Janel Parrish) past had evidence that helped seal Alison’s (Sasha Pieterse) fate. (Spoiler alert: She’s still rocking an orange jumpsuit after the trial.)
“To come back and have a role was really fun,” Shepard tells PEOPLE. “It’s the same crew and the same writers and kind of the same team that was working on the show from the very beginning, and they’re all still just as nice as when it started, when it was just this little show that nobody knew what was going to happen with it.”
So who does make the author star-struck? Jay Jackson – better known as the lovably dense journalist Perd Hapley on Parks and Recreation – who also played a news anchor in Tuesday night’s scene.
“When he came out of the trailer, I was like, ‘I love you!’ He was so sweet and really cool and made me feel very at ease, and we practiced our lines together,” says Shepard, who also appeared as a substitute teacher in the first season. “He has daughters, and they read Pretty Little Liars, so that was a lot of fun.”
Shepard, 37, shared behind-the-scenes photos from the PLL set exclusively with PEOPLE, and we picked her brain about the explosive upcoming finale, who she thinks “A” could be and how the TV series is different from her novels.
Back in January, you said you didn’t know who Big A is. Do you know now?
No! I still don’t know, I still have no idea. I have guesses, but they’re not because anybody has told me anything, they’re just, I feel like we’ve gotten some more clues, but no, I don’t have any idea, and I like not knowing, it’s fun to kind of be surprised.
What’s your theory? I know I’d love the twin twist to factor into the show.
I love the twin twist too, and I’ve been saying that for a while, I would love it if there were twins, that was so much fun to write about, the one twin was crazier than the next. I don’t think it’s an Alison twin, but it’s got to be a secret DiLaurentis of some sort. Mrs. DiLaurentis (Andrea Parker) buried her daughter to cover up something else, and who would you do that for? You would have to do that for a secret sibling of some sort. I don’t know! In the book, Courtney is hidden away in the, it’s called the Preserve in the book, in the mental hospital, and that’s an interesting idea. I don’t know why exactly, I’m not sure we’ve been given that yet.
I also have – and I’ve told people this and they’re like, “What?” – I also think Agent Tanner (Roma Maffia) is really suspicious, and I feel like there’s something going on with her. I don’t know if it’s being part of A, I don’t know, I think that would a little strange, but I think there’s some sketchiness going on with her.
Then again, a lot of the characters are pretty sketchy. I mean, right now Andrew (Brandon W. Jones) looks really sketchy. Lucas (Brendan Robinson) has looked really sketchy. Ezra (Ian Harding) has looked really sketchy. There are tons of girls who are super sketchy. I don’t know! But yeah, I like the twins, I think that would a lot of fun, but I wonder if they have a big surprise in for us, too. They have a lot of twists and turns on the show, so we’ll see.
Who was your favorite character to write in the books, and who is your favorite to watch on screen now?
I love Mona on screen. Mona was fun in the books, but it’s almost like they took Courtney’s character and combined her with Mona. She’s also good in some instances, I don’t know. I love her in the show.
I loved writing a lot of guys in the books. Mike’s (Cody Christian) character is very different in the books. He’s kind of snarky and obsessed with Hooters. He’s the comic relief sort of, but he’s really sweet, so protective of his sister. So he’s different.
I love how they fleshed out Jenna (Tammin Sursok). Jenna was such a shadowy figure in the books, and I never really developed her. I have all these ideas of doing these spin-off novellas of these other characters. Jenna dies in the books, but her life was like or some sort of story about her, some sort of story about Toby (Keegan Allen) – all the characters I killed, it would be fun to write about them.
It’s interesting to see Andrew now, he’s kind of getting some attention, and he was in the books for a while. And even Ezra – Ezra is a huge character that was prominent in the first book but then I kind of did away with him. He’s such a big character in the show, and I like him in the show. He’s interesting, I’m glad they kept him on. I think all the decisions that they’ve made are great. I think they all really work.
Did you ever imagine that Mona would become a beloved character? She dies in the books after it’s revealed that she’s A, but on the show she redeems herself to the point that everyone was devastated when she died.
I love that everybody was devastated. I was like, “Wait a minute, she was actually A!” No, I mean, she never was redeemed in the books. There never was a point of being like “Oh, Mona was a poor, tortured soul” – even though she was, actually, in the books, she was teased a lot and bullied, and she twisted it around and took it too far. But no, I love how fans see her. I think it’s really fun.
A lot of couples are also really different on the show. Hanna (Ashley Benson) and Mike were together in the books, Ezra is gone, Toby dies, Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) isn’t even in the books. Who is your favorite couple on the show?
I, until recently, loved Spencer (Troian Bellisario) and Toby. I’m sure they’ll get back together, but I do really love them. I love Hanna and Caleb, and for a while I really didn’t like Alison, but I am sort of moving into the Emison [fan group]. I think that’s interesting. I don’t know if they’ll do it, I don’t know if they’ll pursue that, but now that Ali is not looking so evil, why not? And the fans would lose their minds.
Aria and Ezra – Ezria – I could take them or leave them. I have not found Aria’s perfect match on the show, and maybe that’s because I really liked Noel (Brant Daugherty) as he was in the books: sporty, kind of her total opposite, and she would have never given him the time of day. I like that. But Aria’s not quite that character, I think she’s a lot less judgmental on the show. Like, “I lived in Iceland, and I’m cool. You people play lacrosse, so typical.”
What do you think about the theory that Aria is A?
I have read up on it, and it’s interesting. I feel like if you’re looking for anything in Pretty Little Liars, if you have a theory, you can find something to prove it. I don’t think Aria is A, and I’m only saying that from a storytelling perspective. I think that we have really invested in Aria for all these seasons and love her, and to have a main character turn on you would be really disappointing. I wouldn’t do it as a writer of books, and it’s really all the same, but her name does start with A.
She writes it the same way
She does. I think they’re putting those little things in. It’s very interesting, Pretty Little Liars, and how social media must influence, in some small way, how they write new episodes and what kind of hints they put in and how they make fans crazy, like, “There’s an Aria clue!” It’s even happened to me. In a later book, after the popularity of Aria and Ezra on the show, I brought Ezra back just because people love him so much. And if I were still writing the books, I probably would have done more Emison stuff because people love them so much. I don’t want to say for sure, because I don’t know what they’re doing in the writing room and if they listen to fans, but I bet they do. It seems like the fans are influencing the writers, and vice versa.
For more of Sara Shepard’s behind-the-scenes secrets, head over to PrettyLittleLiars.com.
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC Family.