Riverdale’s Cast Spills the Details on the Show’s Friendships, Rivalries and Dark Secrets [SDCC 2016]
Since it was announced, we've been keeping a close eye on Riverdale, the CW's updated take on Archie comics. Different from the modernization of the characters over in the main series from creators like Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Chip Zdarsky, Veronica Fish and Derek Charm, Riverdale is going for high drama with lots of stakes under the guidance of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The characters you know and love from the books are all still there, but this Riverdale has a somber undercurrent, as the first season will play host to a murder mystery, secret romances, and tense friendships. The intrigue doesn't stop there though, as the cast of the show can attest.
We caught up with KJ Apa (Archie), Cole Sprouse (Jughead), Lili Reinhart (Betty), Camila Mendes (Veronica), Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl) and Ashleigh Murray (Josie) at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about Riverdale's first season, and what makes this version of America's icon so fascinating.
"We knew when we were spending all that budget on atmospheric fog it was going to be a moody time," Cole Sprouse joked. The Jughead actor had plenty to say about what makes the world of Archie such a strong candidate for this kind of darker narrative. "Archie is one of these universes that is so multiplicitous, you can just have a different iteration of the comics and the audience is already primed for it," Sprouse said. "We have Afterlife with Archie, and the Punisher and Predator came in, so it’s not like there’s a single version of any of these characters that really exists. We’re giving the fans something new and unique that’s fundamentally similar to the way they once were, but with a cool film noir tweak."
While we didn't get to see the pilot while we were at the convention, there was a definite buzz about the show in San Diego. Plenty of elevator pitches this past weekend recalled shows like Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars as inspirations. Whether or not that ends up being true for the entire season remains to be seen, but Lili Reinhart didn't shy away from the comparisons.
"We’re showing the darker side, and we want to make these characters real," Reinhart said. "Real people have sadness and darkness and secrets, and that’s what our show is focused on more than the bright happiness and comedic side of the comics. There is comedy in our show. It’s very quippy and smart, but the main focus is this brooding murder mystery."
Archie himself agreed, with actor KJ Apa explaining that the show is called Riverdale for a reason. While Archie is at the center, this mystery intertwines everyone's lives. "It’s not about Archie really," Apa said. "We’re getting into the lives of all these guys. It’s 100% exactly like the comics. We get the classic love triangle, Ms. Grundy, Archie’s dad --- but it’s a lot darker now. It’s more subversive, as opposed to the comics being more light and humorous. There are some funny moments as well though."
Despite the focus on being an atmospheric take on the world of Archie, it's hard to believe the bright light of Ashleigh Murray, who plays Archie's musical rival Josie, being dimmed by all that shadow and fog. Murray was crackling with energy and excitement over her role --- and her hair.
"I’m a longtime Archie Comics lover, and with all the different shows that are coming with superheroes, I feel like we’re running out of people for me to be able to play," said Murray. "When this opportunity came up, I jumped at it because I knew these people, I knew this town. When they gave me the three simple adjectives to describe Josie, which I wouldn’t have originally characterized her with, it started to fill it out. She’s snobbish, but she doesn’t put people out too much because she needs that fanbase. She probably only wears really nice shoes, never sneakers, and has lip gloss. It wasn’t that hard for me to latch onto it. Oh, and so much hair. You are not even ready for the hair game. It’s going to be so great."
Murray also detailed how Josie (and the Pussycats) are at the top of their game, and don't have time for upstarts in the music scene like Archie. While the ginger-haired everyman is often at the center of every romance in Riverdale, his relationship with Josie is much different. And Josie does not have the inclination to let Archie shine.
"I overshadow Archie, when he’s with me anyway," Murray explained. "When he’s in other situations, it’s a very different dynamic with the relationships he has with the other female characters. Because I’m in direct conflict for what he wants, and I am the alpha and the omega, he has to come for that respect. It’s going to be really hard for him to find it because I am on the top of the pedestal at Riverdale when it comes to music and fame. I ain’t worried about Archie."
Though Josie might not be too concerned with our letterman-jacketed hero, Archie still has plenty of friends in town that do care about him. He'll even have some new ones, as Veronica Lodge moves in to Riverdale from New York, and becomes fast friends with Betty Cooper.
"I think what makes Veronica very different from the comics is that she’s the new girl," Camila Mendes said. "She hasn’t established any friends and doesn't know her way around. She’s used to be being the popular girl in New York, and having everyone follow her around. She was the Blair Waldorf in her school. Coming here, she’s taken aback, and the fact the she’s trying to become a new person is helping her make new friends."
Betty being the good girl next door that she is, she takes Veronica under her wing, and helps her adjust to life outside the big city. "The friendship between Betty and Veronica is a big thing for us," Reinhart said. "Unfortunately we can’t fulfill the fantasy of being full-on rivals because there is friendship there between them. They like each other."
As for that romantic rivalry? Veronica is all about helping Betty finally land the man she's been pining for... at least for now. "In half the first episode, Veronica is encouraging Betty to go and tell Archie how she feels," Mendes stated. "She really wants her to come out of her shell and be a stronger person. Veronica being who she is, she has the strength to give it to her."
Though Jughead and Archie may be at odds over mysterious circumstances at the start of Riverdale's season, both Sprouse and Apa can't wait to let their real life friendship shine through on the show as the season progresses.
"KJ and I are legitimately best friends," Sprouse said. "When you get onto a set, it can be really nerve-wracking that you won’t get along with the cast. Successful shows rise and fall because of ill relationships among the cast, and I didn’t expect KJ to be such a cool guy. I thought he was going to be a super bro-y dude. I saw a picture on his Twitter where he had a Red Bull in each hand and was flexing, and I was like, 'Here we go, okay.' But it’s uncanny. We’re two peas in a pod. Our friendship on the show is a little tenuous at the start, but I hope the way we interact in real life shines through when we start repairing that friendship during the course of the season."
Apa agreed, adding that he too couldn't wait to spend more time with his fictional best bud. "I’m really excited to explore the relationship with Cole, who plays Jughead. I think the dynamic between those two is going to be really interesting. We don’t get to work together much in the pilot. We only have one really cool scene at Pop’s, which was probably my favorite when I read the script. There’s a bit of dialogue and discussion there that makes a cool scene. I’m excited to explore that."
Not to be lost in all the good times however is the show's villain, Cheryl Blossom. Madelaine Petsch couldn't wait to dig into being the bad guy, and was eager to be the divining rod at the center of Riverdale's troubles.
"I’ve always wanted to play the villain, so when I got this role, it said Cheryl Blossom: villain. I was like, done," Petsch said. "Then I read the script, which was such a page-turner, and then I met Roberto during the producer sessions and he spoke to me. He took 25 minutes with me at this session, which you almost never get, telling me what he wanted to see, not only with my character but with the show. Then I met Lee Krieger who did our pilot, and they were so uplifting and passionate. When you get a team like this you hold onto them and never let go."
Petsch seems totally capable of carrying the villainous aura for an entire season as well. It's a bit more challenging to stay motivated for 13 hours of a television show set in a noirish world than it is a film in that same genre. Still, the loss of Cheryl's brother gives her more than enough impetus to keep causing chaos for Archie and his friends.
"The beautiful thing about the way Roberto has crafted Cheryl is that she has these cracks that you see behind the curtains, and she has the reasoning," Petsch explained. "I fully understand why Cheryl is the way she is, because of the things I’ve learned about her. That’s what makes it so easy to maintain that villainous aura. I get it. I’m right there with her. Obviously the loss of her brother, who was her only ally, takes her on this trajectory in becoming a chaotic mess though the season."
Riverdale is definitely a different kind of Archie tale, but after talking with the cast, it's no stranger than any of the comics that have been published over the past 70+ years. It might take a bit of getting used to for some of the events unfolding in the show, like Archie's illicit affair with Miss Grundy, and the terrible murder at the heart of it all, but the core of these characters appears to be intact.
"I think of it like the cast of Archie is just like a theater troupe that’s going around to different worlds," Sprouse said. "If we can accept that zombies can come to Riverdale, I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to accept that it can be a little bit more film noir. Having all the characters like us and Moose and Midge and Pops, makes it Archie, and we’re just inserting them into a Brick-like film noir teen drama."
Riverdale will air on The CW sometime in 2017.