They share girl-next-door charisma, a secret dark side and (quite possibly) a smoking-hot boyfriend. Still, Lili Reinhart has no problem knowing where her Riverdale character ends and she begins.
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Actress Lili Reinhart isn't scared of salacious storylines, as she proved on the second season of The CW’s hit show Riverdale, where she gives dark life to the formerly two-dimensional Archie comic book sweetheart, Betty Cooper. In one episode that lit up social media, her 16-year-old character performed a seductive pole dance as part of a gang initiation ritual. So what’s the wildest thing Reinhart hopes Betty does next?
“It’s time for her to swipe her V-card,” says the actress over the phone from Los Angeles, where she is based when not filming the show in Vancouver, British Columbia. Does she mean with Jughead, who in this iteration is more bad boy than goofball and played by her rumored real-life boyfriend, actor Cole Sprouse? Or maybe with her character’s best friend and sometime love interest, franchise protagonist Archie? “It could be anyone at this point,” says the 21-year-old in a way that speaks both to Betty’s complexity and also to Reinhart’s wicked sense of humor.
Raised in Cleveland, Reinhart skipped college to pursue acting, and until Riverdale, the Teen Choice Breakout Star winner had only minor TV roles. She is seemingly as famous for her jokes as she is for her nuanced take on Betty—in a 27-point listicle, Buzzfeed anointed her brand of “low key” funny the best on Twitter.
Like her TV character, Reinhart is many-layered: “I have a little darkness to me that people who know me can see.” Others see at least some of that side too thanks to Reinhart’s openness online about her depression, among other sensitive topics, including a #MeToo moment and her opinion of President Trump. With the second successful season of Riverdale wrapping up (its October 2017 debut drew 3.74 million viewers) and a role in drama Galveston co-starring Elle Fanning and Ben Foster due out this year, the actress spoke about making the personal public, Hollywood in the post-Harvey Weinstein era and landing the comic book role of a lifetime.
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Your career went from 0 to 60 in 2017. Any pinch-me moments?
Going to Comic-Con was mind-blowing, seeing all these fans and all these people who know my name. I’m like, ‘Are you sure you know who I am?’ I still don’t even really believe it quite yet.
Your friend and co-star Cole Sprouse has been dealing with fame since he was a kid. Does he give you pointers on how to process this new world?
Totally. He really brings us down to earth if we’re feeling like something we’ve said is being taken out of context. He’s always the one to be like, ‘Just ignore it. It will blow over.’ It’s a nice, calming energy he has because you know that he’s been through it.
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What do you enjoy about playing Betty?
Betty is the girl next door but there’s a dark side—a side riddled with anxiety and a dark alter ego. But she’s optimistic even when she is going through the hardest things. There’s always a light inside her that can’t go out, and that’s beautiful.
How do you relate to the character?
I relate most with her darkness. What I bring to Betty is her real anxiety about things and the stress she’s under because I get easily overwhelmed and stressed out. I have anxiety.
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You are superopen about your mental health journey. Why?
Because I struggled with it so much and for so long. And I know so many other young people have, and I didn’t have someone who was talking about it. I remember being in middle and high school and hearing Demi Lovato speak up about her mental illness and that was comforting. But I wanted more people to stand up. I needed more people to relate to. I was like, all these people can’t be so happy, can they? It was kind of like this unrealistic picture that was painted in front of me of all these happy, happy people, successful people, beautiful people. And even now I’m on this wonderful show. I have money in my bank account. I have my own apartment. I have friends. I still go through and experience depression. You don’t have to be ashamed of it. You don’t need to ever justify the way you feel.
How have fans reacted to your openness?
I did a signing [at a] convention in Philadelphia and a couple of girls came up to me and told me with tears in their eyes: ‘You really helped me.’ One girl told me she had tried to commit suicide and reading what I had to say about mental health helped her get out of the hospital. I had no idea that the words I’m putting out there in the world were connecting with these young people, beautiful people. I felt so honored and also so unworthy of their love.
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You’ve talked about falling into a depression the first time you moved to Los Angeles at 18 and having to move back home. How did you find the strength to return to Hollywood and keep trying?
I had to build myself from the ground up. I had to find my passion again because it had dwindled like all the money in my bank account from being in L.A. for five months, and booking two things and not seeing any money coming my way, and struggling to get out of the house and get out of bed, and struggling to make friends. It was a really rough, rough point in my life. Back home, I saw a therapist for six months, which helped me immensely. I came to the realization: What the hell else am I going to do? And that’s what it came down to. I don’t want to do anything else. So if I have to try again, then I will try again. I’m not going to sit here and go to college for something that I don’t care about. The first night back in L.A., I had a huge panic attack and was sobbing on my friend’s floor. I called my mom, and she reminded me that I could always come back home again, which was comforting. They were always going to be there if I needed them.
The last year has seen some of Hollywood’s sexual predators exposed. What has that been like for you, a young actress living in that world?
It’s disturbing how seemingly commonplace this has been for this long. It’s disgusting that there are so many women and men who have stories about being sexually harassed in their workplace. I think that the men and women who are harassing—Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey—are getting exactly what they deserve, and they brought it upon themselves. By all means, strip these people of their careers because they don’t deserve it. It's justice at its finest.
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