For the past six years, Keegan Allen has starred in his breakout role of Toby Cavanaugh on the Freeform television show Pretty Little Liars, but his career is not limited to television acting. Cavanaugh, 27, has also had a lifelong interest in photography, an art form he explores in his new book, life. love. beauty. Allen will be signing copies of the book at the Southern Women’s Show, which will come to Raleigh April 21-23. Raleigh & Company recently caught up with him for a Q&A before his trip to the Triangle.
Q: Have you been to the Southern Women’s Show before?
A: I think I’ve been to a handful of them with the Southern Women’s Show, and I very much had a great time every single experience with them. What I love about them is, they’re not only premier shopping and lifestyle events for women and men alike, but it’s also a great experience for me and very rewarding for me to meet fans of the show and my book. Of course we all have social media and connect with that, but it’s very rewarding to go and speak to people face-to-face, meet them, talk to the audience, talk to the people. This gives me an opportunity to do that.
Q: What motivated you to want to publish a photography book?
A: It came out February 2016, and it’s a photo journal. It explores the ideas of life, because we all live our own lives in a certain way; love, because we all feel love in certain ways, whether it’s the absence of or feeling of love; and what our perception is of beauty. I wanted to create a sort of esoteric book that we could all as human beings pick up at any point in our lives and somehow relate to the images. I didn’t want to do it in a way that would tell them how to feel, but more give readers something to relate to with my own experiences in life with a camera.
Q: Being that you’re a public figure, were you excited about getting to relate to fans on a personal level through the book?
A: Yeah, I mean, of course it can be as simple as I bleed the same blood, I breathe the same air, and I’m very much a human just like everybody else is. TV has put a lot of actors and celebrities on pedestals, and it’s very, very difficult sometimes, even for me when I was growing up, to see a celebrity as a regular, everyday person, because they’re life was so vastly different than mine. Being in my shoes at this point in my life, I thought it was important to evaluate that in a realistic way, for anybody to pick up the book and read through it and be like, ‘Oh wow, maybe I’ve felt this way before,’ or ‘I don’t know anything about this, let me see what this feels like.’ But without any direction in it. That was really the idea for my book.
Q: Have you always been interested in photography?
A: Since I was nine years old, my dad gave me a (camera) — well, he didn’t give it to me, I pretty much took it from him — and he was like ‘Oh, you know, you better give that back someday.’ And I was like, ‘Nope.’ It was an interesting thing because when my dad would take photos when I was a kid. I was there when they were taken. I’d see them after they were developed, and back when I was a child, there was no such thing as digital photography. So it was a long process. … Then when I’d see the photos, I’d be like, ‘Wait a minute, I was there. I don’t remember it being that beautiful, and gorgeous and the light is golden and the shadows are hard.’ I was always so stunned about it. it was really just another person’s point of view of a really average moment. That really struck me in a way, because then I could really manipulate my experiences through life to be more beautiful than they actually maybe felt while other people were living them around me. I felt a certain way, and I was able to translate that through imagery. Because without a camera, our memories are always going to be whispers in the dark. We don’t have any other way of translating the images to people without vocalizing it. It impacts people when we see images. We’re almost able to feel those images, so that was kind of how i got started within photography. I still feel like it’s a hobby. I always like to keep it that way. When people are like, ‘Oh you’re a professional photographer?’ and I’m like ‘oh, no, no, no, no. Because then i’ll hate it.” I like that it’s a hobby and something I constantly find peace within.
Q: At what age did you start getting into acting?
A: My father was an actor, and I grew up around him at the dinner table doing Shakespeare and all that stuff. I was very much obsessed with Shakespeare at a young age, and then I was like, ‘Oh wow, I can go on stage and do this?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh wow, I can make a career out of this?’ I very much was interested in being behind the camera for most of the beginning of my life. Then in grade school, I did Bye Bye Birdie, and that definitely changed my outlook on being on stage. Pretty much grammar school was when I was like, ‘Oh, I think I want to be an actor.’ But then as all actors, we begin to find out in the beginning of our careers, it’s not just like ‘Oh, go on stage and your grandma thinks you’re great and you’re going to be an actor.’ The technical side is all just you and your body, and you have to train your instrument, and train your voice, and your breathing and your diaphragm and your emotions have to be in check. So I went to school for that and got my bachelor’s in fine arts and continued the process of the craft.
Q: When you started on Pretty Little Liars, did you expect it to become the success that it’s been?
A: I had an idea that it would have some sort of weight in television, mainly because of the book series. I remember when I got the job, I immediately started reading the books as fast as I could. Sara Shepard had already kind of mapped out a universe in which we were all going to be traversing. I was very impressed with it. I was also impressed that when it was coming out, people would come up to me and freak out over this character, that to me was still on paper. I had no idea that it’d be as big of a hit as it was, but I definitely had an idea that people would know about it, based on the book series.
Q: What’s been your favorite part about playing Toby?
A: As an actor you dream of roles like this where you can grow and evolve as a character, but you’re also given a variety of ways around to navigate within the storylines, and the writers did an amazing job with the character. Most of that has to do with the idea of the show, because as we all know, Sara Shepard’s books do not run parallel with the show as most people thought it would. I’m grateful for that, because my character dies in the second book. Because of social media coming out right at the height of our show, and that was the beginning of what is now a normal social media commentary from everybody in the world, we were taking that commentary and applying it to the show in a way that no other show has done before. ‘Oh you guys like the show and you want to see more of ths? Okay we’ll do that.’ One of those things happened to be the character of Tobias Cavenaugh, because apparently he died in the book series and people didn’t want that. Because of the fans and because of the show kind of finding its own path, that’s been great.
Q: Does it feel strange to get noticed in public by fans, as I’m sure you do frequently?
A: It will always forever be odd. Some people know me better than I know myself. Sometimes I’ll follow fan pages because they know more about my life than I know about my life. I’ll be like, ‘Oh wait, where was I yesterday?’ Then I’ll follow a fan page and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I was at Home Depot.’ It’s interesting that so many people are supportive and caring. And of course there are a couple of crazy instances that have happened, but for the most part, everybody is very, very respectful. It’s always nice, which I appreciate, and I hope that it stays that way.
Q: So what’s next for you?
A: I’m working on another book right now, which will be out next year in the beginning of the year. But first and foremost, I’m an actor. There are a lot of projects. I can’t say too much about anything because the actor always just gets destroyed if we say anything about what’s happening. But I’m very much focusing on my next project to be something I’m very passionate about, and I’m looking into working on a lot of writing to maintain that trajectory. But as far as acting goes, I love it. It’s very much a part of my life and my career, first and foremost. I’m taking a little bit of a breather after Pretty Little Liars, and doing these shows has been really great. I just did Richmond, Va., last weekend. It’s fun to consistently go around the country and meet everybody.