Lili Reinhart Almost Gave Up Acting Before Being Cast in Riverdale
The actress opens up about struggling with depression, the craziness of Riverdale's season two, and the one thing you might not know about her.
Finishing season one of Riverdale felt a little like buying myself an ice cream cone...and immediately dropping it on the ground. I had unfortunately binged my way to the last episode too quickly, and [insert the sound of me weeping here] didn’t even realize it until that devastating final scene. I was 100 percent invested, and ready for more—a far cry from the skeptical person I was when Coveteur’s co-founder, Stephanie Mark, suggested I watch.
Part of the reason Riverdale is so good and has garnered a fan base full of strange nicknames (Daddy), obsessive “shipping” (Bughead), and Instagram feuds (a new character even received death threats), is Lili Reinhart. The actress plays Betty Cooper on the show, aka the sweet girl-next-door type with a mysterious dark side. But as it turns out, Lili’s *quite* different from her on-screen persona. After striking a few sultry poses at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills, she spoke with me about Riverdale season two—which premieres Wednesday night at 8/7c on the CW—along with living up to expectations and why she almost gave up on acting.
Will we be seeing some crazy stuff in season two? I feel like you guys are always filming at night:
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s daytime or nighttime, crazy shit happens in Riverdale. We were doing a lot of night shoots right off the bat, which is something we did in season one, but definitely not as much. To be honest, season two is quite different from season one. I feel like we got our footing at the end of season one, and [now we] know what we are as a show, what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to highlight, and we know our characters. Now it’s basically full steam ahead. We’re treating it as a thriller. The stakes are even higher at this point, and there’s a lot more tension on every single character, although there [are] moments of fun and breaks from reality. The pace of season two is fast, and [it’s all] high stakes, tension, and these characters are going through so much stress. You definitely see the wear and tear on them in season two. It’s like, buckle your seat belts.”
It seems like fans of the show just love it so much and are beyond obsessed:
“We’re so lucky. In Vancouver, we’re recognized everywhere we go. I don’t know why—maybe it’s because people are on the lookout because they know that we film here? Or maybe it’s because in New York or L.A., people are used to it or they don’t care. In Vancouver, it’s a completely different story, which can be overwhelming at times. Yesterday, Cami [Mendes] and I went out to try to go shopping and had to cut our trip a little short because people were lining up to take photos. It’s the best thing in the world to see people respond and look at us in the face and say, ‘Oh my God! I love your show!’ But it is still very strange to me, Camila, and KJ [Apa]. Cole [Sprouse] has obviously been dealing with this for a long time, but we don’t necessarily feel famous or well-known or popular. We only ever feel that way when we go to Comic Con or special events. So to start getting that on a daily basis is very strange and kind of something we’re still getting acclimated to. But I don’t really know how you can become acclimated to someone screaming in your face.”
I spoke to Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer about this, and she was like, “It’s so weird because people come up to you and act like they know you already, but they don’t.”:
“They definitely do, because they’re watching you in your living room, so they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I was just watching you all night.’ Sometimes, if I’m in a bad mood or not having a good day, and I’m not super friendly and outgoing toward a fan, I do [think], after walking away from the situation, ‘I hope that wasn’t a disappointing experience for them.’ I play a character that’s incredibly upbeat, super innocent, high-energy, super sweet, [and a] girl next door. I’m really not like that, to be honest. I’m very low-key, very chill, not super high-energy. So sometimes, I feel like fans might walk away a little disappointed thinking that I’m not what they expected me to be. But it’s also like, that’s just me; I am not Betty Cooper. I guess I have to remind myself that I’m an actor, and these people that come up to me are fans of the show—which is great—but that I am not Betty Cooper and I shouldn’t be trying to live up to that expectation. Because then I’m just going to be miserable all the time, worrying about how I am being perceived when I am in line at Chipotle and someone is asking to take a photo of me.”
Is there a character on the show that you feel like you relate to the most?
“You know, I just talked about how I wasn’t like Betty Cooper, but I am the most like Betty Cooper out of all of the characters. I think we’re all like our characters; Camila is very much like Veronica, and KJ’s a lot like Archie. I really relate to Betty’s leadership. I was always the one in school who wanted to be the leader of the group and in charge of all the group projects, and I feel like that is the epitome of Betty. I also relate to how much love she has. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m very loving, a romantic, and I think Betty is very much that as well. That’s how I relate to her the most—in the sense that I have a big heart and I know that Betty does, too.”
I read you had moved to L.A. to pursue acting at one point, but moved back home before giving it another shot. Is that true?
“I’ve been acting since I was 12, but Riverdale is my big break. I moved to L.A. when I was 18. I already had an agent and a manager—I wasn’t starting off with nothing—[but] I was by myself and didn’t have friends in L.A. I’m not sure how I expected to meet people. I wasn’t going to school, so I didn’t make friends. I was miserable. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I kind of just walled up in a little hole in this place that I was staying in. I didn’t have a car, so I couldn’t get anywhere. It was just the worst. Honestly, it made my depression skyrocket to the point where, after five months of living there, I had to go home because not only was it affecting my mental health, it was really affecting my physical health as well. I was physically ill from how depressed I was, which is insane how the body can do that. So I bit the bullet and told my parents, ‘I can’t do this right now. I can’t handle this, and I need to come home.’ And they were totally ok with it. I mean, I was 18 years old. I was still quite young. I went back home for a few months and had to reevaluate my life and [see] if this is what I wanted to do. It was taking so much out of me, absorbing my energy, absorbing my thoughts, absorbing all my money, which was kind of the most important thing at the time because I needed to be able to survive in L.A., and I wasn’t. I couldn’t afford a car, so I was spending so much money Ubering to, like, the grocery store. I was completely broke. For the rest of that year, I went back to a sales job that I had and tried to save up as much money as I could, but I was also dealing with incredible depression and social anxiety, so it was really difficult for me to work at the time. There came a point where I was like, I need to go back there and try again, because first of all, there’s nothing else I want to do, so it’s kind of the only option. Second of all, if I don’t go back out there and try to make it work, I am going to regret it because this is something I’ve been working toward for my entire life. I needed to try again, and that was what was necessary because when I went out there the second time, things worked out and clicked. I had no idea that it was going to happen as rapidly as it did, but I am incredibly lucky that Riverdale found me very shortly after I moved back to L.A. From there, I was filming the pilot, and then we were getting picked up and I had to worry about moving to Canada, and then I was filming season one. It was very much like, once it happens, it happens, and it happened fast and hard. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
That’s an amazing story. I think everyone has those times where they’re struggling and thinking maybe this isn’t meant to be my thing. It’s great that you tried again.:
“I was ready to give up and think about what other career options I could choose. Ones that had a specific path, and that was a steady job where I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I could afford food or groceries, or whether I could have a car or not. Being a TV actor is a blessing because you know that you have a job for a couple months at time. You’re not having to leap from film to film. So I’m very lucky in that case. I don’t have to worry about money and paying for my car anymore, which is the best feeling in the world as a 21-year-old. I have to pinch myself sometimes. But also, it did not fall into my lap, and I don’t want anyone to think that. We all worked our asses off, and it was a nationwide search that took months and months of casting. I was lucky enough to be cast as one of them. I was told no at first, and so was Camila, and so was KJ.”
It seems like everyone in the cast is really close. Do you feel like this is a friends-for-life situation?
“One hundred percent, and I would be devastated if it wasn’t. There’s no telling what’s going to happen in the future, but I was just talking to Cole and Cami, who were over watching Game of Thrones, [about how] we’re incredibly blessed. That’s how I feel about the entire situation and this show being in my life. I booked this role without knowing that I was going to make 10 new best friends. That’s insane, coming from someone who never really had too many best friends to begin with, because of my social anxiety and just the way that I am. This was like a golden ticket. I got a job, and I also got these incredible people in my life.”
That’s so great. Is there a show that you’re super obsessed with, like how people are obsessed with Riverdale?
“Yes, American Horror Story, to be honest. I’m such a big Ryan Murphy fan. I grew up watching/being obsessed with Glee, which is funny because Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], our showrunner, worked on Glee. I’m kind of the same way now about Game of Thrones—obsessed. Such a big fan of Game of Thrones, and happy that I can watch it with my cast mates when we’re all in Vancouver together. But basically American Horror Story ignited the fandom girl inside me.”
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