Over the last decade or so, the previously clean-cut Archie Andrews has gone through quite a metamorphosis on the comic book page, as the writers have taken a decidedly more adult approach to storytelling. Some of it has gotten pretty out there, including a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale, Archie going up against the Predator and Punisher, and the character actually dying. In essence, this was no longer the guy he had been for decades.
Now the television series Riverdale promises to take things to the next level. Produced by Greg Berlanti, it reportedly has an almost Lynchian approach with its look at small town life. Premiering later this month, the series’ cast includes K.J. Apa as Archie, Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy (as in the band Josie and the Pussycats), and Beverly Hills 90210 alumni Luke Perry as Archie’s father, Fred. Empire caught up with each of them to get a sense of the show and their characters.
K.J. APA (ARCHIE ANDREWS)
What would you say makes your take on Archie distinctive?
One of the main things, and this goes for Archie and everyone else, is that we’re getting deeper into the lives of each of these characters. It’s the classic Archie characters, but we really go deeper into their lives and discover who they are as people. I think that makes it more appealing, more relatable.
How is it bringing this character to life given his long history in comic books?
It was tricky for me at the beginning, coming from New Zealand and playing such an iconic American character. The fans are so passionate and I was thinking, “Man, I hope I don’t get too much stick from these guys,” but the feedback has been really good, which I’m pleased by.
Were you aware of the comics before?
I wasn’t familiar with the comics before I actually started working on the project, but my dad was really familiar with it. So I gave him a call from L.A. and he filled me in. He read them when he was a kid, so that was good.
Was it tough to develop an American accent?
I don’t know. I just can kind of do it, I guess. I used to talk to myself as a kid; I was one of those weird little kids, but it was always in an American accent. Maybe that’s why?
What was it like the first time you saw yourself with Archie’s red hair?
It was, honestly, scary at the start, because they had to dye it once a week and I’m shooting for six months. They had to bleach it...I’m probably going to be bald by the end of the series.
These days, in America, the CW mostly does superhero shows. What’s it like being in this drama now?
It’s awesome. We’re getting so much feedback that’s positive. I think our show is so different compared to all the other CW shows. It’s really different to everything on TV at the moment. I’ve never seen anything like it. Everyone’s comparing it to Gossip Girl and Twin Peaks, but to be honest, I think we stand on our own, which is exciting. It’s a big risk for us as well to create this. When I first heard the idea, I wondered, can we do it? And if we’re going to do it, it’s going to have to be really good. I think we managed to kill it. In a good way.
In the show, Archie wants to be a musician. What kind of music?
After the summer, Archie discovers his passion for music, which kind of collides with his dad’s vision for him to play football. So that creates a bit of tension between me and Fred, who is played by Luke Perry. Archie creates his own band, which creates a bit of conflict between him and Josie and the Pussycats. His music is kind of John Mayerish; we actually recorded a song for the pilot.
Had you sung before?
I actually didn’t. I’m actually not confident to be singing, being completely honest, but I just had to do it. We went into the studio, smashed it out, and there was probably a bit of voice tweaking, which is alright. The song is inspired by an appropriate romance he has in the first episode.
LILI REINHART AND CAMILA MENDES (BETTY COOPER AND VERONICA LODGE)
So what are your feelings about these characters?
Lili Reinhart: I guess we’ll start off by saying that our Archie is a lot less misogynistic than the comics. There isn’t a constant rivalry between the two girls, especially over the guy. They have more to their lives than Archie.
Camila Mendes: That’s the thing, there’s more going on in their individual lives than just the obsession with Archie and who he’s interested in that week. Their friendship in the ‘40s is obviously going to be different from their friendship now. There’s more kindess between them, but that’s not to say that there isn’t going to be rivalry as well.
Reinhart: It’s been seventy-five years and things have changed. The world has evolved. We’re putting the more modern version of Archie and Betty and Veronica into this world.
Were you fans of the comics growing up?
Mendes: Not fans, no. I was familiar with it, but I have Brazilian parents and I don’t think it’s a big thing there.
Reinhart: I grew up one of three girls, and none of them were into comic books, so I wasn’t exposed to that world. I was Skyping with my friend when I got the audition and I was, like, “Oh, Archie Comics.” My friend was, like, “Oh my God, Archie! I love Archie. They’re making a TV show?” I was, like, “Yeah.”
Mendes: My agent at the time was, like, “Oh my God, I want you to play Veronica so bad.” She looked up all these pictures and sent them. There are so many people around us that do follow the comics that they were able to prep us for everything. My friend cried when I got the role. She was so obsessed. She’s, like, “My haircut is because of Veronica.”
Describe, if you can, the lives of these characters.
Mendes: Right now in Veronica’s life,she’s the new girl coming to Riverdale. Her dad just got arrested for fraud and embezzlement, and was involved in this huge scandal. It was kind of like Bernie Madoff. She’s dealing with the shame that that has brought to her family, the publicity because of it. She moves to Riverdale with her mother to start a new life. She’s really interested in trying to be a better person, taking it as an opportunity and running with it. Being positive about it. Then she starts to see that all of that shady stuff that was going on is still going on. With her, there’s going to be a lot of family problems.
Reinhart: Coming into the show, Betty and Archie are lifelong best friends. They both come back from the summer and Betty realizes, “Okay, I’m finally ready to tell Archie that I love him and I’ve always loved him.” But Archie doesn’t look at Betty that way. He doesn’t look at her as a woman yet. Betty is dealing with a lot of pressure from her mom, Alice. Betty has a sister, Polly, who is the troublemaker.
Mendes: The bad seed.
Reinhart: Betty’s mom is really trying to make Betty perfect. The perfect kid. Everything that Polly wasn’t, and so Betty has a lot of pressure on her shoulders. Betty is starting to crack, which is a good thing, because she needs to break down in order to get confience
Mendes: That’s part of their friendship, too. I’m trying to get her out of her shell. Seeing that Betty’s this talented, smart, beautiful woman, I’m, like, “Why aren’t you running things right now? Why aren’t you in charge? You should be strong, you should own up to it.
Reinhart: It’s shining a light on how much pressure women are under, and how we don’t have to conform to these things. We can be anything we want to be.
LUKE PERRY (FRED ANDREWS)
Let’s talk Fred!
He’s Archie’s dad, blue collar guy, owns his own construction company, loves Riverdale. No ambition of leaving Riverdale, just wants to stay there, because it’s always been his home. I think that’s neat, for me. I’ve always played characters who wanted to do something and were aspiring. This is a guy who’s absolutely happy where he’s at. Living his blue collar life, he wants to share it with his son and he runs into the naked ambition of a kid who wants to other stuff. And he can’t quite figure out why that is.
Apparently he wants to be a rockstar and you want him to play football?
It’s not that I want him to be a football player, but I think him playing football is his best shot at getting in college. With a college education I think he’d have more opportunities. He’s got stars in his eyes, like Jimi Hendrix. So the kid’s going to do something. It’s funny, I don’t exactly remember how it went down, because I had always told my parents I wanted to be an actor. “I’m going to Hollywood.” I don’t think they believed me. One day I just picked up and left and you realize your kid’s not playing. That this is what they want to do. As Archie’s dad weighs through this, I think it's going to be interesting to see how that goes down.
Were you a fan of the comics?
I read the Archie comics. Was I, like, “Can’t wait to get my next Archie” kind of thing? Wasn’t quite that, but when I was a kid buying comic books, I’d buy three of them in a package and it would be Green Lantern or something on the front, Superman in the back and they’d slip an Archie in the middle. They’d always slip an Archie there, or sometimes even inside the book there would be a pull-out three-page Archie. You could not escape Archie. Don’t try! Resistance is futile.
Like everybody else, when I first heard that this was gong down, I was, like, “I don’t know. Really?” And I was told that I had to read the script, which was fair enough. You’ve always got to read them, so I kick it open and start reading it. By page five, I’m in. I’m just, like, “Wow, wow, wow.” It’s so good for me to truly be here, because I loved the script. Loved the writing. So it was easy for me to jump in. The best stuff happens when you take a chance. When you risk something and do the thing that they’re taking a chance on, on a network kind of level, they will be rewarded. You know, risk-reward.
The CW loves crossovers. Any buzz about you guys doing crossovers with any of their other shows?
Not so much that, which I’d be happy to do, but I know characters from the Archie universe will be coming to our show. Sabrina [the Teenage Witch] is coming at some point. Cheryl Blossom is already with us, so that's fun.
ASHLEIGH MURRAY (JOSIE MCCOY)
How would you describe your character?
I play Josie McCoy and I’m the front woman of Josie and the Pussycats. My take on Josie is she’s kind of like a reincarnation of Josie and the Pussycats from the past, but dealing with the same kind of things that we deal with now in 2016, and how far we’ve come as women. We don’t have space and time to be ditsy; everything that I do and want is very purposeful. I’ll do whatever I need to do to get there. And I’m not going to let anybody get in my way, especially boys. That’s s not necessarily the same sentiment that my Pussycats share. We’ll discover why Josie is so driven, and why she feels like she needs to succeed, and can’t have a man specifically get in her way. When Archie comes into play, we’re going to bump heads, because I am Beyonce and Archie is Justin Timberlake.
He comes asking for my help and I’m, like, “Nah, dude.” He goes to create his own band and we’re going to have a battle of the bands. I’m going to have some crumbling in the empire, because Archie is really cute. My girls are going to see that. That’s going to be her strongest point and how she evolves as a character in season one.
Any concern that the die-hards are going to complain about the fact that she wasn’t a woman of color in the comics?
You know, for a hot second I did. For two minutes, right before the network test. And I understand that, because I’m a big nerd. I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, so when they were trying to make a live-action movie, I was, like, “No!” So I understand that sentiment, but I think what’s really important is that I’m not trying to erase the original Josie. I grew up loving her. What’s really great about the Archie Comics as a whole is that everybody is relatable. I didn’t have to look like Jughead to have him be my favorite character. I didn’t have to look like Archie or Betty or Veronica to understand the situations that they were going through. I feel like if people can go into it with an open mind, or just be, like, “Oh, this is a girl that happened to be born with the name Josie and wanted to be a rock star, and came up with this band the Pussycats. Let’s see what she’s got.” I’m not trying to undo or erase anything that’s already happened.
Had you done any music before, or was this your first time?
It’s my first time recording original music. I mean, we didn’t write it, but it is original composed music. I did musicals. It’s funny, because I can hide behind a character and a voice, but when I have to bring myself and my own voice to it, it’s very nerve-wracking. It’s exciting, because it’s pushing me to really make Josie, this new Josie, stand out in a way. She’s going to be kind of rockish, she likes to get the party going. Whenever anybody wants to leave, I’m, like, ‘Psych, I’ve got another song!”
Most importantly, does she wear ears like she did in the comics?
Yes she does, and you’re not even ready for what the ears are. It’s going to be so specific and pointed. It’s great, because Toland Krieger, the director, and I came up with the notion ourselves. He asked me a question. I was, like, “Give me twenty-four hours and I’ll come back with something.” We did, and that’s going to be the through line of Josie and the Pussycats’ trademark. It’s so fly.
COLE SPROUSE (JUGHEAD JONES)
How would you describe Jughead on this show?
Jughead is the narrator of this show. He is a strange, outsider type of character. Jughead’s always been anti-authority, always on the fringes of society. He’s definitely a non-conformist type. He’s also a budding writer and amateur sleuth. He’s trying to figure out what’s going on in Riverdale, especially with a recent murder, and he’s really kind of the boots on the ground, trying to figure it out.
You mentioned the murder, which is supposed to be kind of central to things. Does the pilot say how the character died?
I don’t want to spoil too much, but at the end there’s a gunshot wound, but there’s a fog around exactly what went down and what happened. That’s what Jughead is trying to figure out.
How did you become attached to this show?
I took a break from acting; I didn’t actually really anticipate coming back at all, but I really liked the project. When I was given the sides to read, there was basically three pages of just solid monologue. I thought, “This would be challenging.” And I really like Jughead as a character; I think he’s really cool, especially this version of him. This show is very film noir, which is something I’m not familiar with as an actor at all. At least acting in it I haven’t done it professionally, so I wanted to try that out. He’s a weird, creepy character, and that’s also fun.
I also come from a comic book background. I used to get really angry and incendiary when people would mess with the properties I loved a lot. One of the cool things about the Archie universe is there’s so many versions of it. Like there’s Afterlife With Archie, the Predator comes to Riverdale, the Punisher comes to Archie. There’s so many universes that it removes a lot of that incendiary dialogue that takes place with most comic properties, and I think the fans are primed for a cool, new take on a modern film noir teen drama like Archie. It’s going to be solid. I’m coming at it like a fan, to be quite honest.
What do you think is key to keeping Archie true enough to the comics that fans will be pleased?
I think the love triangle with Archie, Betty and Veronica is definitely one of the fundamental points. And the Easter Egg characters that are going to exist; they’re like a theater troupe. They’re just constantly being thrown into a bunch of different environments. You know, we have Moose, we have Midge, we have Dilton — we have all the side characters that you know and love. We have all the locations. So that’s fundamentally the same, but the tone is different, and the gravity of the drama in the town is different.
It’s got to help that the guy guiding this thing, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is also the person guiding the comics.
Exactly. It’s not like we got some schmoe off the street. We came and were, like, “Do you know about Archie? Can you write this?” This is the biggest fan of the comics, who’s also responsible for Afterlife. He’s the guy. To say this would not be an Archie property would be silly, because he’s the one in charge of all the Archie properties anyhow. It can’t be divorced.
You’re obviously a fan of the comics. Are you more Team Betty or Team Veronica?
I don’t think Jughead even thinks of that.
Forget Jughead, then. What do you look for?
Me, personally, I’m seeing Betty. Cole is definitely Team Betty; the girl next door. She, to me, has always been the one that sort of redefines the classic trope of feminism within western society. She’s like the mechanic and the tomboy. Personally, I like that side, but I don’t think that’s even a thought past cheeseburgers for Jughead.