Jack Rowand/The CW
Samantha Highfill
March 06, 2018 AT 04:00 PM EST

After seven seasons of threatening texts and black hoodies, Pretty Little Liars‘ Lucy Hale was ready for something new: A break. “My whole plan was to take some time off and be a human for a little bit,” Hale tells EW. But as she started looking into potential future projects, there was one that stuck out: The story of Stella, a 23-year-old who’s lived much of her life like she’s dying — because she was — until she finds out her cancer is cured. “When you’re on a show for eight years, you get typecast, so a lot of the stuff that was coming my way was tonally the same [as Pretty Little Liars]. I didn’t want to do another show like that,” Hale says. “I read [Life Sentence], and it was a no-brainer.”

In fact, Hale was still standing in Rosewood, wearing Aria’s (incredibly stylish) shoes when she said yes to Life. So much for that break. “I loved the whole idea of taking the story that we’ve all heard of someone living like they’re dying and turning it on its head and giving this girl a second chance at life,” Hale says. “To me, it was really interesting that a 23-year-old almost has to be reborn and figure out who she is.”

The news of Stella’s health will come as a shock to her family, who are then forced to face all of the lies they told in order to “protect” Stella over the years. “It’s the best news they could’ve hoped for, but it turns the whole family’s world upside down,” Hale says. “They finally have to deal with the issues they’ve been repressing.” But the way they do it will have a comedic twist — a new kind of twist for Hale. (Translation: This one didn’t involve attempted murder or a mask.) “I hadn’t done a lot of comedy, and I really liked the pace of the show,” she says. “There were so many aspects that appealed to me. It’s a feel-good show.”

And make no mistake: Hale didn’t choose Life lightly. She knew all eyes would be on her first post-PLL project. When asked about the pressure, she responds: “Oh my god, you have no idea. It’s horrifying yet so exciting at the same time. PLL was such a huge thing in my life, and I will always carry that wherever I go, but at the same time, that chapter is closed, and it’s really exciting to open a new book and create whatever world I want to.”

The new world Hale helped create hits the CW on Wednesday, March 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

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