It would be understandable if Ashley Benson drove around with a bumper sticker that denounced mean people, because they do, after all, suck. But she should also be somewhat grateful they existed when she was a kid, because they helped form the confident young adult she has become. “It made me a stronger person,” says Benson of being bullied as a child. 

The beautiful actress is one of the stars of the hit ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars, which will air new episodes in January. To witness the enchanting Benson these days is to wonder if her antagonists were not only mean but also insane. Yet perhaps they unintentionally prepared the Anaheim Hills native to play the breakout role of Hanna on Liars, someone who knows a little bit about meanies. 

“In the show, in flashbacks, she gets made fun of and is left out,” says Benson. “In real life, I was made fun of in elementary school. I started in the industry when I was nine, doing commercials and modeling. It was all jealousy.” 

Chances are they’re all a much deeper shade of green today, because Benson, who turns 21 this month, is enjoying a hot career ride that included a three-year stint on the soap Days of Our Lives and a star turn in Ex-Mas Carol, a TV holiday movie airing this month, also on ABC Family. Guess the nice guy—or, in this case, girl—sometimes does win. 

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