Troian Bellisario's Life Growing Up In Hollywood

The following article references anorexia.

Got a secret, can you keep it? Troian Bellisario is a nepotism baby. Okay, it might not exactly be a secret, but it is a bit surprising, given how grounded the actor seems. Troian, who is known for her role as Spencer Hastings on "Pretty Little Liars" is now married to "Suits" actor Patrick J. Adams and has two young children of her own, Aurora and Elliot. Since "PLL" ended in 2017, she has starred in such films as "Doula," "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" and "Feed," the latter which she wrote herself. But even before she found fame on her own, Troian was living the Hollywood life, thanks to her talented parents.

Deborah Pratt and Donald Bellisario each have staggeringly impressive showbiz credentials. Pratt is an actor, writer, director, and executive producer who worked on both the original "Quantum Leap" and its 2022 reboot, among many other hit series. Donald Bellisario is also an actor, writer, director, and producer, who created television programs like "Magnum P.I.," JAG," "NCIS" and both iterations of "Quantum Leap." It was only natural that their daughter would not only follow in their footsteps, but enjoy a comfortable lifestyle growing up.

Troian is not your average nepotism baby, however. Yes, she acknowledges her privileged upbringing, but she is also incredibly down-to-earth and just as hardworking as the character that put her on the map. And while growing up in Hollywood clearly has its perks, there are pitfalls as well. 

The story behind Troian Bellisario's name

Troian Bellisario has a unique first name, one that most people have never heard before. As it turns out, the name has been around for a very long time. "It's a last name in my family, my great-grandmother was Maria Giuseppe Troian Bellisario," Bellisario shared on an episode of "Rachael Ray Show." "It means Woman of Troy." The "Pretty Little Liars" star has gotten used to having her name mispronounced, and she isn't too bothered when someone gets it wrong. However, her "PLL" castmates told Rachael Ray they wouldn't think twice about correcting anyone who might mistakenly call Bellisario anything from "Troy-Ann" to "Trojan." Regarding the latter mispronunciation, Bellisario did note that her high school classmates would joke she was named after the popular condom brand.

Another interesting piece of trivia: Bellisario's mom, Deborah Pratt, once played a character named Troian Clairidge on  "Quantum Leap." What's more, the episode, which aired in 1971, is called "A Portrait for Troian." Troian Bellisario arrived 14 years after the episode aired, and seems safe to assume her name is a nod to her parents' show as well. 

She made her acting debut at age 3

The opening credits of "Pretty Little Liars" features Troian Bellisario as Spencer Hastings, along with the show's other main characters, standing in front of a casket while dressed to the nines. A little over two decades before "PLL" premiered, Bellisario acted in a different scene that featured a casket. It's true that "PLL" was Bellisario's breakout role, but her very first acting gig arrived in "Last Rites," a 1988 thriller that was written and directed by her father. Though she was not given any lines, a 3-year-old Bellisario was cast to play the daughter of Chick Vennera's character in a funeral scene. 

Shortly after her first film role, Bellisario appeared in several episodes of her parents' show, "Quantum Leap." She told Collider that while she was grateful her mom and dad created a role for her after she expressed interest in acting, she started to wonder if this particular line of work was really her thing after all. "I was like, 'I don't know if I want to do that. It's boring and you make me say lines, over and over again,'" Bellisario said. Her parents did not pressure her to keep at it, but supported her when she eventually changed her mind and decided to give acting another go as a teenager. "I came back to them and said, 'Hey, I was a four-year-old, and now I have no problem with doing multiple takes. I really want to be an actor,'" she explained.

Troian Bellisario grew up wealthy but not spoiled

Of course, along with the successful careers of Troian Bellisario's parents came more than enough money for life's little luxuries. And while Bellisario acknowledges the privilege she grew up with, she maintains that her life was relatively normal. During a 2014 interview with Larry King, Bellisario shared that her Hollywood childhood wasn't necessarily as over the top as one might assume. "I definitely was very fortunate to be born into a wealthy family, but...there weren't lavish parties, I wasn't going out and getting, you know, messed up at a young age because I wanted to be as successful and hardworking as my father and mother," she said. The work ethic that she developed as a kid clearly stuck with her.

Bellisario seems to have always had a good head on her shoulders, and her sensible attitude has carried into adulthood. In a 2017 interview with Racked, Bellisario spoke about being thrifty and happily choosing to wear her mom's hand-me-downs over new and pricey fashion trends. "When I look at some of those price tags, they make me want to throw up," Bellisario said. "I love designer clothes, but I couldn't ever spend that kind of money; the bang for the buck just isn't there."

The Olsen twins were her neighbors

Growing up in Hollywood, Troian Bellisario was bound to cross paths with some major stars. In fact, she barely had to leave the house to make friends with the Olsen twins who happened to live right across the street. "I grew up with Mary-Kate and Ashley. I was very, very close with Mary-Kate," Bellisario told Teen Vogue. The girls were little when their friendship began but Bellisario picked up on the fact that the twins' lives in the spotlight were different from her own. "I remember the first time I was playing with them and something happened and I realized these aren't normal kids. They're treated differently," she said to Seventeen.

The girls eventually grew apart, but were reunited in 1998 when Bellisario landed a small role in "Billboard Dad," a straight-to-video movie starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Bellisario says she didn't even realize it was an Olsen twins movie until it was time to film. "I showed up on set and I came out of my trailer, and they came out of their trailer and it was just like, 'What are you doing here!?' It was really weird," Bellisario recalled to BuzzFeed in 2012.

High expectations in high school

Troian Bellisario was able to fully embody the role of Spencer Hastings because she could relate to the perfectionism and overachiever attitude of the character. However, Rosewood High was nothing compared to Bellisario's real life high school. "My high school was a private school where you went to an Ivy League. That's just what was expected of you and nothing less," Bellisario told Seventeen about attending Campbell Hall.

The school is located in the upscale neighborhood of Studio City, California, and boasts some impressive alumni. All that said, Bellisario maintains that the pressure she was under while in school was largely self-imposed. "I was so concerned with being perfect and getting every good grade and being the best at everything and being well-liked," she told Flaunt. Her mother and father encouraged her to lighten up a little, but Bellisario wasn't having it. "My parents told me to 'put down the books, go outside, you look like death,'" she said in Seventeen. "They were always very supportive of me. But I think it was the school I went to and the world I was born into."

Troian Bellisario's parents gave her guidance

It's clear that Troian Bellisario's parents were a big influence on her, instilling her with a strong work ethic and always being supportive of her goals. But there were some valuable things Bellisario learned just by watching her parents do their jobs. "[The film and television business] was a world that I knew and that I saw both my mother and father so deeply in love with and engaged with," she told Interview.

Since both of Bellisario's parents are writers, they had some solid advice for her when it came to creating the kinds of roles she really wanted to play. In 2017, Bellisario wrote and starred in the movie "Feed," which was based on her own struggles with anorexia as a teenager. Because the subject matter was so personal for Bellisario, she was able to write the film with both empathy and authority. As she said in Interview, "I think it really stems from my parents telling me that if there is a story you feel compelled to share, then you are responsible for doing that."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Striving for perfection came at a cost

While some similarities between Troian Bellisario and her "Pretty Little Liars" character are uncanny and fun to point out, Bellisario's real-life ambition and perfectionism led to some serious health issues. The actor began to self-harm as a high school junior, engaging in behaviors that ultimately led to an eating disorder. "I would withhold food or withhold going out with my friends, based on how well I did that day in school," Bellisario told Seventeen in 2014. "I didn't know what was right and what was wrong, so I think I created this bizarre system of checks and balances to create order in my world." She worked hard enough in high school to become valedictorian of her class, but it clearly came at a price.

Bellisario's eating disorder was the inspiration for her film "Feed." While the main character in "Feed" had a much different life than Bellisario, the film reflected many of Bellisario's own experiences. "Definitely the perfectionistic qualities. I felt a lot of pressure in high school to perform at really high levels. I pushed myself in order to do that, which was a huge part of my illness," she shared with Glamour.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

She was a nerd but she made her classmates laugh

Though she was a star student, Troian Bellisario didn't feel like a cool kid when she was in high school. "I was a huge nerd. I had giant curly hair—like if I was a cartoon character, I probably would have a huge triangle drawn for my head," she quipped to Flaunt. "I was painfully awkward." She was able to win her classmates over with her sense of humor. "I was valedictorian but I was also voted funniest girl because I think I just ingratiated myself into every group by being funny," she said. Despite the inner turmoil she was feeling, she could turn on her personality. "I was—and I think I still am, in my heart—a very dark person... I just try to make everyone laugh as much as possible."

Once Bellisario graduated high school, she entered USC's theater program and felt like everything clicked. "I was being the person I really always wanted to be instead of being who everyone else wanted me to be," she explained to Flaunt. In 2009, she graduated from college and has stayed busy ever since. Clearly, she's made her school proud: In 2014, she was invited to speak at her alma mater's commencement ceremony. 

Though she's found success as an actor and writer, Bellisario is not one to rest on her laurels. As she told Interview in 2017, "I think it's up to me to continue to create my own opportunities." A spoiled Hollywood rich kid, she is not.