Ashley Benson talks wrapping 'Pretty Little Liars,' giving back and what she plans on doing next

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By: Gibson Johns

Ashley Benson of 'Pretty Little Liars' talks about wrapping the show for good, giving back during the holidays and what she has planned for the future.

Ashley Benson had been playing Hanna Marin on "Pretty Little Liars" for seven years until the experience came to a close when filming on the show wrapped last month. And, though she told me that those final days of shooting felt like an "emotional rollercoaster," she recognizes that it was probably a good time for the show to end.

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As she waits for the right project to come along to follow her long run on the beloved Freeform series, Benson is focusing her efforts on giving back for the time being. After all, it is the holidays -- and that's what the holidays are all about for her.

I caught up with Ashley Benson over the phone this week to talk about why charity is so important, whether or not she's changed over the course of the seven-year "Pretty Little Liars" run and the big move she made just after wrapping filming.

See photos of Ashley Benson throughout her career:

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Ashley Benson through the years
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Ashley Benson through the years
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 29: Ashley Benson attends the celebration for 'Pretty Little Liars' final season at Siren Studios on October 29, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 24: Ashley Benson arrives at the 23rd Annual ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - USA Olympic gold medal gymnast Simone Biles visits the set of 'Pretty Little Liars.'' (Byron Cohen/Freeform via Getty Images) BACK ROW: TYLER BLACKBURN, ASHLEY BENSON, KEEGAN ALLEN; FRONT ROW: TROIAN BELLISARIO, SHAY MITCHELL, SIMONE BILES, JANEL PARRISH, SASHA PIETERSE
INGLEWOOD, CA - JULY 31: Actress Ashley Benson arrives at the Teen Choice Awards 2016 at The Forum on July 31, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
INGLEWOOD, CA - JULY 31: (L-R) Actors Sasha Pieterse, Janel Parrish, Lucy Hale, Ian Harding, Tyler Blackburn, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell and Troian Bellisario pose with the award for Choice TV Show: Drama for 'Pretty Little Liars' in the press room during Teen Choice Awards 2016 at The Forum on July 31, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 21: Actresses Sasha Lane (L) and Ashley Benson attend Marc Jacobs celebrates Divine Decadence at on July 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0495 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Ashley Benson during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on June 23, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 19: Ashley Benson arrives at the 2016 iHeartRADIO MuchMusic Video Awards at MuchMusic HQ on June 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 19: Shay Mitchell (L) and Ashley Benson arrive at the 2016 iHeartRADIO MuchMusic Video Awards at MuchMusic HQ on June 19th, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' - As the police gain new leads in Rollins' disappearance, the Liars wonder if he really is dead while someone else meets his/her end, in 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,' an all-new episode of Freeform's hit original series 'Pretty Little Liars,' airing TUESDAY, AUGUST 2 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EDT). (Photo by Eric McCandless/Freeform via Getty Images) ASHLEY BENSON
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - 'Hit and Run, Run, Run' - After making the biggest mistake of their lives, the girls must deal with the repercussions of what they've done in 'Hit and Run, Run, Run,' an all-new episode of Freeform's hit original series 'Pretty Little Liars,' airing TUESDAY, JULY 12 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EDT). (Photo by Byron Cohen/Freeform via Getty Images) JANEL PARRISH, ASHLEY BENSON
THERMAL, CA - APRIL 17: Actress Ashley Benson attends REVOLVE Desert House on April 17, 2016 in Thermal, California. (Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for A-OK Collective, LLC.)
***USA OUT***CANADA OK*** NEW YORK - APRIL 07: Ashley Benson seen at the 2016 Freeform Upfront held at Spring Studios on April 07, 2016 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Photo Image Press / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Photo Image Press / Barcroft Med / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Actress Ashley Benson attends the I Love Coco Backstage Beauty Lounge at Chateau Marmont's Bar Marmont on February 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 18: Ashley Benson seen out in Manhattan on February 18, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 28: Ashley Benson attends the Ocean Drive Magazine Hosts 23rd Anniversary with Ashley Benson on January 28, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
THE VIEW - The cast of 'Pretty Little Liars' on Freeform visits 'THE VIEW,' 1/12/16 (11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon, ET) airing on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) RAVEN-SYMONE´, SHAY MITCHELL, ASHLEY BENSON, CANDACE CAMERON BURE, TROIAN BELLISARIO, LUCY HALE, SASHA PIETERSE
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: Ashley Benson and Shay Mitchell take a selfie at SiriusXM Studios on January 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: Actress Ashley Benson is seen walking in Midtown on January 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: Lucy Hale, Troian Bellisario, Sasha Pieterse, Shay Mitchell, and Ashley Benson of 'Pretty Little Liars' visit SiriusXM Studios on January 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Ashley Benson attends the W Magazine celebration of the 'Best Performances' Portfolio and The Golden Globes with Audi and Dom Perignon at Chateau Marmont on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for W Magazine)
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Check out my full conversation with Ashley Benson below:

As your platform has continuously expanded over the course of your "Pretty Little Liars" run, has using it for good become increasingly important to you?

100 percent! Here's the thing, especially with our show, my audience and my fans are younger -- in their mid-teens and 20s. They spend most of their time on social media, so I love when I'm able to use my platform with Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to talk about charities that I'm involved with or how [my fans] can help during the holiday season by getting involved with soup kitchens or children's hospitals or whatever makes them feel good and feel happy.

So many kids these days get distracted by the life that they think celebrities are living, like going on vacations and spending thousands of dollars on clothes, which really takes away from what the holidays are all about. I like to drive my traffic towards making a difference in the world, instead of pointless stuff on Instagram and all of that. I'm happy that I can do that.

You're partnering with PayPal for #GivingTuesday to spread the word about how PayPal is matching all donations by 1 percent throughout the holiday season. How did you get involved?

I've been really into charity this time of year, and I found out that PayPal has been a lead supporter of the Giving Tuesday movement for five years. Last year, PayPal users raised $45 million in a 24-hour period all for charity. So, when I heard that, I got involved and partnered with them.

The main charity that I work with is Wags and Walks, which my friend Lesley started, so I got involved through her. My friend Remy rescued a pit bull through her. I'm a huge animal lover, and I have two dogs of my own, so rescuing dogs is very, very true to my heart. I'm really glad that I was able to get involved with the charity through my friends, because it's been really cool, and we've been rescuing a ton of dogs.

How do your friends respond when you post about your charitable efforts on social media? Do you get good feedback?

Oh, yeah! I actually just did a Share A Meal program a few weeks ago, where we're trying to end child hunger. At the beginning of this holiday season, I started telling all of my fans to share throwback photos of them with their families at the dinner table, and every time they used the hashtag #ShareAMeal, they donated a meal to a child. A lot of my fans across social media were using the hashtag, got involved and really made a difference. They were happy to see something that I was really passionate about and responded really well to it.

Let's switch gears a bit and talk about "Pretty Little Liars," which just wrapped filming forever a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, people must've expected it to get emotional -- and it did -- but did you expect the emotions to be as strong as they were?

I mean, yeah -- seven years is a really long time. I think a lot of us feel like we're just on hiatus right now, because we're normally off at this time anyway. But, you know, it was sad! I'm leaving my family that I've been with for seven years.

It was definitely hard, and I feel like the last two days [of shooting] felt like two months. The emotions were out of control: One second you were happy, one second you were sad. It was like an emotional rollercoaster, but all good things come to an end. I think we ended at the right time, and I'm really excited to see what everyone else does in their future.

Do you even remember what life was like before the show started? You must feel like you were a different person back then!

Before this show, I'd always wanted to be on a successful show, but I would never let it change me. I'm still pretty much the same person, and I've never really changed. I'm always going to be a weird, not-really-fitting-in person. I hate to see when work changes people, so I'm going to make sure that never happens [to me].

What about in terms of just growing up over the years? Have you learned a lot from the experience?

Yeah, I've definitely matured a lot! I started that show at 19, so I'm definitely going to be different at 26. I learned a lot of lessons -- I've been working consistently for seven years for 16 hours a day, so it taught me self-discipline and that kind of thing. But yeah, I think I definitely have matured.

After you take a break for the holidays, do you have anything coming up work-wise?

I moved to New York, and that was the one thing that I really wanted to do. I'm just taking a break, and I really just want to wait for the right project to come around. I'm reading scripts and stuff, but I'm really taking my time and being picky about what project I do next. In the meantime, I'm just traveling and hanging in New York and seeing plays!

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