Sydney Park has returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak. It's early on a Thursday morning, a mere 13 hours after the highly anticipated debut of her new series, Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, and we're meeting in a corner alcove at Manhattan's NoMad Hotel—sitting in the same seats, no less—where hours before Park and her cast-mates had been celebrating the premiere. Park points this out excitedly, with, remarkably, nary a hint of exhaustion on her face. "Honestly, I’m kind of running on adrenaline at this point," she said. "It’s been so fun, and I’m just taking everything in. It’s a whirlwind."
Coming less than two years after Pretty Little Liars wrapped the show's seven-season run in 2017, The Perfectionists focuses on a new group of beautiful people haunted by a mysterious crime. Like its predecessor, the series has already amassed a devoted fanbase: the premiere on Freeform was cable's strongest drama debut since September 2018 for women aged 18 to 34. It also marks Park's first major lead role.
Born in the Bay Area, and raised primarily in Los Angeles, Park has a surprising origin story, albeit one that clicks once you meet her in person: she's been doing stand-up comedy since she was six years old, specifically at the famed Hollywood Improv, where her mother worked. "I had been doing pre-shows in the dining room," she said. "I was talking about how little boys can’t pay my rent—they still can’t—and how they smell like cooties and dirt. I was going on and on about how it was to be a six year old. That was my life for about seven years."
Armed with a natural charm, Park, now 21, was scouted by Mark Warren, the then executive producer of Disney Channel's That's So Raven. " I did a monologue and original characters," Park recalled. "They wrote me in as Sydney, the comedian, that Raven takes in under her wing. I did three episodes, and it took off from there." After guest stints on such shows as Hannah Montana, CSI, and Entourage, Park eventually landed a reoccurring role on The Walking Dead in 2016, playing the role of Cyndie, which she will resume once again this summer when the show begins filming its next season. "The Waking Dead is amazing," she said. "Everyone is so close knit. It almost feels like summer camp, because you’re going in the woods in Savannah, Georgia, with no make-up, just sweating our balls off all day. So you just bond." It was also a chance for the actress to flex her more dramatic skills. "It’s hard," she said. "It’s really heavy. But I will say, everyone on the show is super funny and most actors have comedic backgrounds."
The Perfectionists also sees Park trying out a more serious role, as Caitlin Park-Lewis, an overachieving college student who comes from a politically important family. The show is based on the novel also titled The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars series. Like many before her, Park was already a major fan of the series before landing the role. "I read eight of the books," she said. "Huge fan of Sarah Shepard. I fangirled when I met her; I was so obsessed. And I actually got the audition at a time when my mom and I were binging the series on Netflix." (For the record, her favorite OG Liar is "a tie between Emily and Spencer." And yes, she's heard that she looks like Shay Mitchell before.)
Filming began last fall in Portland, Oregon, and wrapped shooting the first season earlier this year. The show follows the same tongue-in-cheek murder mystery format as the original, but is, as Park said, "darker and sexier." And what's more, as the numbers show, it's kept its massive audience. "I knew people were going to love it," Park said. "While we were live-tweeting [the premiere], we were so happy to find that it was nothing but positive feedback, straight up. A few people were even like, ‘I didn’t want to like this new show, but i do.'"
The series sees Park teamed with fellow Disney alum Sofia Carson, although the pair had not met before filming this show, as well as original cast members Sasha Pieterse and Janel Parrish, whom Park refers to as "my girls." "It’s a sisterhood, honestly.," she said. "They create such a great environment for us and took us under our wing." As alums of the immensely popular first go around, they were also able to help Park, the newcomer, prepare for the intense fandom. "We’ve had so many talks about dealing with the popularity of the show and fans who can get a little fanatical," she said. "Just keeping it fun, but making sure you’re taking care of yourself."
And one benefit of this wild new world? Plenty of future stand-up material. "Are you kidding?" she said . "I’ve got loads."