The CW is home to a plethora of comic book-based shows, from “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Supergirl” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” to “iZombie.” It should be no surprise, then, that this ambitious network has developed a live-action series inspired by the institution that is “Archie” comics. However, Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa isn’t giving fans sunny shenanigans and playful romantic rivalries. Instead, he’ll give us the edgy teen drama “Riverdale,” which is being described as “Archie” meets “Twin Peaks.”
Compelled, CBR sat down with Aguirre-Sacasa and his cast in a series of roundtable interviews at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Speaking with K.J. Apa (Archie), Cole Sprouse (Jughead), Camila Mendes (Veronica), Lili Reinhart (Betty), Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl), Ashleigh Murray (Josie) and Luke Perry (Fred, Archie’s Dad), we’ve sussed out how this new noir-twist on “Archie’s” classic characters will take shape when the show hits TV early next year.
Be warned: this isn’t your dad’s Archie. Giving an edge to Riverdale, the new series folds in illicit romances, pill-popping, family scandals and murder.
10. Archie Andrews
Half-Samoan ingendude K.J. Apa makes the leap from kiwi TV to playing America’s most iconic teen, and it’s not a responsibility the actor takes lightly. “It was tricky for me in the beginning,” Apa said, “Coming from New Zealand and playing such a classic American character, I was nervous. The fans are so aggressive. And I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope I don’t get too much stick from these guys.’ But the feedback has been really good, so I’m really pleased with it.”
Though he never read “Archie” comics as a kid, Apa got a crash course from his dad, a long-time devotee of the Riverdale gang. With a solid American accent (he gave us a convincing preview) and freshly-dyed red hair, Apa dove into “Riverdale,” which he says goes “deeper into the lives of each of these characters.” But what does that mean when it comes to Archie Andrews?
“Archie discovers his passion for music,” Apa began, “which collides with his dad’s vision for him to play football. So that creates tension between me and Fred, played by Luke Perry, who is the man. So Archie creates his own band. And then Josie in the Pussycats, there’s a bit of conflict between those two… [Archie’s music is] going to be like singer-songwriter, kind of John Mayer-ish kind of stuff. We actually recorded an original song for the pilot as well… The song is inspired by his romance with — I can’t say. But, yeah. It’s the inappropriate romance he has in the first episode. Yeah, that’s what the song is inspired by.”
More on Archie’s conflict with his dad, his rivalry with Josie and that “inappropriate” love interest ahead.
9. Fred Andrews
Luke Perry, who launched countless crushes as bad boy Dylan in the iconic ’90s series “Beverly Hills 90210,” returns to teen drama as Archie’s dedicated dad. Asked to describe Fred, Perry shared, “He’s Archie’s dad, blue-collar guy, owns his own construction company, loves Riverdale. Has no ambitions of leaving Riverdale. Wants to stay there. It’s always been his home. I think that’s neat, for me. I’ve always played characters who wanted to do something, or were trying or aspiring. This is a guy who is absolutely happy where he’s at, living his blue-collar life. He has this thing he wants to share with his son. And he runs right into the naked ambition of a kid who wants to do other stuff. And he just can’t figure out why that is. He’s that guy. Just an average, regular guy.”
While Apa presented the father-and-son feud as music versus football, Perry offered a more nuanced perspective, saying, “Well, it’s not that [Fred] wants him to be a football player. I think him playing football is his best shot of [Archie] getting into college. And with a college education, he’d have more opportunities.”
Still, Perry can relate to Archie’s big dreams, smiling, “He’s got stars in his eyes and Jimi Hendrix in his hand. So, the kid’s gonna’ do something. It’s funny. I don’t exactly remember how it went down. I always told my parents I wanted to be an actor and, ‘I’m going to Hollywood.’ I don’t think they believed me. But one I just picked up and left. And then you realize your kid’s not playing. This is what they want to do. So, as Archie’s dad went through this, I think it’s going to be interesting to see how this goes down.”
Pressed to reveal if his Fred will look much like the one in the comics, Perry laughed and said, “I’m going to roll about like this here,” gesturing towards his jeans, white T-shirt, open plaid flannel shirt, two-week beard/mustache and longish hair.
“I’m going to cut my hair though,” he added, running his hands through it to show us. “My hair’s too long — but I like the beard. I like him not being a well-kempt guy, because guys who work in construction, if my clothes fit, that’s all I care about, if they’re comfortable. I like a guy’s who is going for substance over anything else. And that often times is represented as sort of a [dumb] kind of a character, and I didn’t sign up to play that. I hope you know that’s not how I’m going to be bringing it. Fred Andrews is getting an upgrade. This is Fred 2.0.”
8. The Love Triangle
“Riverdale’s” Betty and Veronica, “Surviving Jack’s” Lili Reinhart and newcomer Camila Mendes, joined us for a joint interview. No sooner had Reinhart settled into her folding chair did she share with an earnest grin, “We’ll start off by saying that our ‘Archie’ is a lot less misogynistic than the comics.”
Don’t worry, die-hards: This doesn’t mean the canonical love triangle is dead. In a separate interview, Cole Sprouse, “Riverdale’s” Jughead, made clear: “The love triangle is definitely one of the fundamental points.” But Reinhart proudly declared, “There isn’t a constant rivalry between the two girls, especially not over a guy. They have more to their lives than Archie.”
Mendes concurred, adding, “And their friendship in the ’40s is obviously going to be different than their friendship now… There’s more kindness between them [than in the comics], but that’s not to say there isn’t going to be rivalry as well. ”
Reinhart picked up this point and ran with it, clarifying, “It’s been 75 years. Things have changed. The world has evolved, and so we’re putting the more modern version of Archie and Betty and Veronica into this world.”
But what will these modern takes mean for Betty and Veronica?
7. Veronica Lodge
“Regarding Veronica’s life, she’s the new girl coming to Riverdale,” Mendes shared. “Her dad just got arrested for fraud and embezzlement. He’s involved in this huge scandal, kind of like a Bernie Madoff. She’s dealing with the shame that has brought to her family. So, she moves to Riverdale with her mother to start a new life. And she’s really interested in being a better person, taking this as an opportunity and running with it, being positive about it. But then she starts to see that all that shady stuff that was going on is still kind of going on. And so, with her there’s going to be a lot of family problems.”
The raven-haired stunner Veronica has had a lot of looks in the past 75 years, many of them involving Bettie Page-styled bangs, but the Latina actress says there’ll be no bangs on her Veronica. “I am more going to look like the reboot ‘Archie’ comics,” she explained, “The Mark Waid ones. So I have blue-black hair with like a side-swang going on.” She also promised designer duds, slimming, sexy styles, ’40s silhouettes, “and a cape!”
6. Betty Cooper
Betty won’t boast bangs either, Reinhart warned. “My hair is naturally super wavy, so people would be upset with my bangs. It would not be good, like terrible bangs.” In contrast to glamor girl Veronica, this girl-next-door favors Keds to Louis Vuittons, light colors to dark jewel tones, and Goodwill gear to designer duds. But beyond the superficial, Betty’s got a lot going on.
“Coming into the show, Betty and Archie are lifelong best friends,” Reinhart divulged. “They both come back [to school] from the summer, and Betty realized, ‘Okay, I’m finally ready to tell Archie that I love him, and I’ve always loved him.’ And Archie doesn’t look at Betty that way. He doesn’t look at her as a woman yet.”
As if that weren’t crushing enough, “Riverdale’s” good girl also has some big troubles at home. “Betty is dealing a lot of pressure from her mom, Alice,” Reinhart admitted. “Betty has a sister, Polly, whom is the troublemaker. So, Betty’s mom is really trying to make Betty the perfect kid, everything Polly wasn’t. So Betty has a lot of pressure on her. Her mom hands her a bottle of Adderall and says, ‘Stay focused! Stay focused, girl. We’ve got to refill your prescription!’ So Betty is starting to crack. Which is a good thing, because she needs to breakdown to find confidence.”
Mendes interjected, “That’s a big part of their friendship. [Veronica] is trying to get Betty out of her shell,” adding, “Betty is this smart, talented young woman, and [Veronica] is like, ‘Why aren’t you running this shit? Why aren’t you in charge? You should be strong!'”
The pressures both girls face has a purpose. Mendes and Reinhart concluded our brief interview with a collaborative thought, with Reinhart saying, “It’s shining a light on how much pressure women are under. And how we don’t have to conform to these [standards]–”
“To be all things at once,” Mendes pitched in.
“Yeah. We can be anything. We can be whatever the hell we want to be!” Reinhart concluded, pounding a fist on the table playfully to emphasize her point.
5. Josie McCoy
After a string of short films, bubbly ingenue Ashleigh Murray is taking stage in the CW’s line-up as “Riverdale’s” resident rocker. “I play Josie McCoy,” she began, “and I’m the frontwoman of Josie and the Pussycats. And my take on Josie is she’s kind of like the reincarnation of Josie and the Pussycats, but dealing with same kind of things we deal with now in 2016, and how far we’ve come as women. And how we don’t have space and time to be ditzy. Everything that I do and want is very purposeful. And 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 is not necessarily the same sentiment that my Pussycats share,” Murray confessed. “We’ll discover why Josie is so driven, and why she needs to succeed and why she can’t have a man specifically get in her way. So when Archie comes into play, we’re gonna’ bump heads, because I am Beyonce. And Archie is Justin Gingerlake. So when he comes asking for my help, I’m like, ‘Nah, dude.’ And then he goes to create his own band. So we’re going to have a battle of the bands. And I’m going to have some crumbling in the Empire, because Archie’s really cute. And whatever. My girls are going to see that. So that’s going to be her strongest point, and how she evolves as a character in season one,” adding, “She’s going to be kind of raucous. She likes to keep the party going.”
But what about those ears? Murray practically leaped out her seat as she told us, “Omigod! Does she wear ears? Yes, she does. And you’re not even ready for what her ears are. It’s going to be so specific and poignant because Lee Toland Kreiger, the director, and I came up with the notion ourselves. He kind of asked me the question, I was like, ‘Give me 24 hours. I’ll come back with something.’ And we did, and that’s going to be the through line of the Josie and the Pussycats trademark. Oo! Oo, it’s so fly. I can’t wait for you guys to see it.”
4. Cheryl and Jason Blossom
Here’s where we get into “Riverdale’s” noir angle. Over the summer while Betty was crushing, Veronica was moving and Archie was falling for music, Jason Blossom was killed. Season One of the series will explore exactly what went down. While the stars didn’t rush to give descriptions of the late Jason, Perry offered in character as Fred Andrews, “I never liked the Blossom kid. I’ll go on record with that. That’s all I’m going to go on record with.”
Surviving Jason is his twin sister, Cheryl Blossom, played by Madelaine Petsch. According to the red-haired beauty, “[Cheryl Blossom] is the head cheerleader, vixen and lead villain on the show, which is very juicy and fun. At the beginning of the show my brother passes away in a mysterious way, so we’re not quite sure what happens there. So that’s the arc of Season One. And that allows Cheryl to evolve as the villain with the hurt of her brother’s death and the repercussions on her of him dying, throughout the season.”
Describing the Blossom siblings’ relationship, Petsch raised eyebrows when she said with a laugh, “We’re twins. So there’s a little bit of… um… twincest in there.”
3. Jughead Jones
Rounding out the core cast is Cole Sprouse (“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”) as Jughead. While Sprouse will sport the dark hair and pointed hat, “Riverdale’s” take on the character spins his outsider tendencies into a dark place.
“Jughead is the narrator of this show,” Sprouse revealed. “He is a strange outsider character. Jughead has always been anti-authority. He’s always been on the fringes of society. He’s definitely a non-conformist type. He’s also a budding writer and amateur sleuth. So he’s trying to figure out what’s going on in Riverdale, especially with the recent murder. He’s really kind of the boots on the ground, the one who’s trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Considering the current “Archie” line of comics had its Jughead casually come out as asexual, CBR asked Sprouse if “Riverdale’s” Jughead would be too. A long-time and knowledgeable fan of all things “Archie,” Sprouse said, “First off, I’m a huge proponent of that representation. That’s my bread and butter. I think that’s really awesome. That was a comic universe of Jughead by Chip Zdarsky, our show is definitely pulling off of more the Mark Waid/Fiona Staples version of ‘Archie’ — if we’re to liken our universe to anything like that. His sexuality is not well-defined in the Mark Waid one, and in [‘Riverdale’] it hasn’t been defined either — until otherwise noted by our creative director, our EP, that Jughead has taken a stance on any form of sexuality, I wouldn’t say that he would be asexual. But I’m stoked that I can bring to life that dialogue in any way shape or form, even in a brief interview. I think that’s awesome. I think it’ll definitely be mentioned. I would definitely be surprised if it’s not.”
2. Ms. Grundy
Forget the white-haired and modestly dressed Ms. Grundy you know from the comics. The “Riverdale” pilot introduces a much younger Geraldine Grundy, played by Sarah Habel, a 33-year-old actress who has appeared on shows like “CSI: NY,” “Party Down,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Underemployed.” But more shocking than Grundy’s age-lift is the sexual relationship revealed in the pilot.
Promising to deliver an edgier “Archie,” Executive Producer and Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa teased “a very taboo slumber party that happens in Episode 7 where many of the kids will be kissing.” But that seems pretty tame compared to Grundy’s alarming May-December relationship that had Comic-Con buzzing. See, in this 2.0 take on Grundy, she’s not only Archie’s music teacher but also his ill-advised summer fling.
That’s right. Archie Andrews hooks up with Ms. Grundy in “Riverdale,” and that love song Apa mentioned was penned for her.
Sure, turning Ms. Grundy makes the romance a bit less illicit — but teacher-student trysts are normally looked down on by the PTA.
1. The Rest of Riverdale
Only the pilot of this teen-noir series has been shot so far. The rest of season one will roll into production this September and run through February, but “Riverdale” is reportedly making room for a bevvy of classic “Archie” characters.
From casting notices, we know Reggie Mantle will be around causing trouble, and Pop Tate will be running the Chok-lit Shoppe. On top of that, Aguirre-Sacasa promised Kevin Keller, “Archie” comic’s groundbreaking gay character, will be a “big” part of the show. Sprouse assured, “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.” Perry also thrilled reporters by revealing, “I know Sabrina is coming at some point.”
Now the hard part is waiting for “Riverdale.” The new series will come to The CW as a mid-season replacement, sometime in January 2017.
Are you looking forward to this very modern, very different take on Archie and the Riverdale gang? Let us know in the comments!
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