Growing up in the quiet suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, Lili Reinhart had always dreamed of escaping her hometown to pursue her acting ambitions in Los Angeles. Performing came naturally to her and she decided from an early age that she wanted to pursue it—she wouldn’t settle for anything less. After struggling with anxiety while auditioning and enduring some of the lowest moments of her life, Lili finally landed her breakout role as Betty Cooper in The CW’s hit teen drama TV series, Riverdale. The 21-year-old actress has since adapted to her newfound fame following the overwhelming popularity of the show. She takes the original character of Betty and molds her into someone darker, more modern and complex—an outsider whose feelings of loneliness and depression resonate with Lili deeply. Despite her sudden stardom, Lili remains grounded, honest, and unapologetically herself through it all. Her social media profiles on Twitter and Instagram reveal her candid, unfiltered anecdotes and musings. She isn’t afraid to share her opinions and passions or utilize her celebrity platform to give voice to topics that matter to her—from advocating mental health and suicide prevention awareness to promoting healthy, positive female friendships. Preceding the highly anticipated premiere of season two of Riverdale, Lili spoke to The Laterals about her experience filming the television series, the inspiration behind her acting career, and her dreams for the future.
Tell us about one of your most memorable moments on set.
Filming episode 10 was really memorable, for all of us. It was a stand-alone episode for the most part, which means that it wasn’t super plot-heavy when it came to solving the Jason Blossom murder. Our characters were able to cut loose a little bit and we saw a different side of them. We shot party scenes where we were jumping on a couch with popcorn flying everywhere and music was blasting. It was really fun and out of the ordinary for us and what our average day on set looks like.
How did you prepare for your role as Betty Cooper? What aspects of her character did you find difficult to portray?
Preparing for Betty Cooper was definitely a process. I felt lucky and strange that my new job research involved reading comic books. That doesn’t happen everyday. Betty Cooper was a character that a lot of people were already familiar with so there was some pressure there. But I wanted to create a modern, grounded version of her that wasn’t a goody-two-shoes or desperate for Archie’s love. So although I pulled a little bit from the comics, I mostly tried to craft our version of Betty based on conversations with our director of the pilot, Lee Kreiger, and with our show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Honestly, for me it’s difficult to play the always optimistic, peppy version of Betty. Because that’s kind of the opposite of me in a way. I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist. And I’m definitely not peppy. So mustering up a lot of energy when Betty is in her “perfect girl preppy bright optimistic positive” mood is sometimes challenging.
You've been open about your struggles with anxiety and depression and shared that you're able to relate to Betty's mental health issues. How has portraying her character and that vulnerability magnified those struggles or helped you cope with them?
I’m happy that we touch upon Betty’s mental health in the show. I think it’s important and I wish we focused more on it, to be honest, but you know we have murders to solve and stuff like that. In a way, portraying Betty’s mental health problems has made me feel content with how I handle my own mental health. I’m very proactive about it. When I’m struggling, I reach out to my friends and family for support. I don’t hide my feelings away or ignore them and I think Betty definitely does that. I believe she thinks that talking about her mental health makes her a burden to others, so she just doesn’t. She keeps it to herself. I think that’s an unhealthy approach to coping with depression and anxiety. So again, it just makes me feel confident in how I actively try to make myself feel better when I’m struggling.
Riverdale highlights and honors the strong, complex friendship between Betty and Veronica. Could you tell us more about some of the close female friendships you have in your life?
My best friend, Austyn, has been like a sister to me since I was in 6th grade. She’s my soulmate. The Veronica to my Betty, though she’s much more down-to-earth. I’m not sure what I did to deserve the loving friendship I have with her, but I don’t take it for granted. And I think Betty and Veronica have that same kind of bond, where they just know that they have each other’s backs, always, through thick and thin.
What can fans expect from season two of Riverdale that's coming out in October? What were some of the differences you experienced between filming seasons one and two of the show?
Season two really puts the core four at the heart of the mystery. We’ve kept the mystery and most of the plot for season 2 under wraps which I think makes it exciting for us and for fans. They don’t know what’s coming for them. They aren’t exactly sure what we have in store for this season and the vagueness of that is intriguing in itself. We keep teasing that it’s darker and scarier… more intense and dramatic. Which it definitely is, but it’s also very relationship-heavy. The core four are going through so much and being pulled in so many different directions; our season two really showcases how the gang is dealing with these intense circumstances and the toll it takes on their relationships.
Tell us more about your role as Tiffany in the upcoming film, Galveston.
I play the older version of Tiffany—she’s portrayed by a little girl for 90% of the film and I just come in at the end for a future sequence in which we see her grown up. Tiffany is a southern, small town girl. She leads a pretty simple life—pursuing a career in graphic design and she has a long-term boyfriend. But she’s trying to put the pieces of her past together and get to the bottom of who her mother really was and where she truly came from. I was lucky enough to work with Ben Foster, who is absolutely incredible. Watching him work and being on set with him made me feel blessed to be a part of that film. Also the director, Melanie, is a badass. Working with a female director who was so on top of her game and so strong was really inspiring.
What other acting roles or projects do you hope to take on in the future? Are there any actors, actresses, or directors you hope to work with?
I’m fortunate enough to have started acting when I was pretty young. I’m only 21. I have my whole life ahead of me, so many opportunities and so many roles that I could play. I want to try everything. Comedy, period pieces, action-thrillers, horror, etc. All of it. In both television and film. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, a big Tim Burton fan, Martin Scorsese… then again, I think everyone is. Their films have made huge impressions on me as a performer; it would be incredible to work with any of those directors. Natalie Portman is one of my favorite performers. I remember seeing Black Swan when I was 14 and being breathless after the movie ended. I saw it in the theater with my mom and I didn’t get out of my chair until the credits were over. It truly stunned me and her performance was the most mesmerizing thing I’d ever seen.
Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?
Natalie Portman and Nicole Kidman are my acting role models. I fell in love with Nicole Kidman when I saw Moulin Rouge at a young age. Currently, my role model is Ashley Graham. I find her to be not only drop-dead gorgeous, but she also inspires me more than anyone ever has, truly. Her acceptance of her curvy figure and imperfections has encouraged me to do the same. I’m not as vivacious as she, but I am not a size 00. And I never will be. I don’t have that body type and I never will. The way she encourages women of all shapes and sizes to accept themselves how they are is something I hope to do as well.
What inspired you to pursue acting when you were young? How were you so sure it was what you wanted to do in life—to the point that you didn't want to have a plan B to fall back on?
I always wanted to be an actress. I started performing dances and skits for my family when I was 4 years old. It felt like the only thing that came naturally to me. Just performing. And I followed my instincts and my heart when it told me that this is what I needed to pursue in order to feel fulfilled and happy. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.
So much has changed for you in the last year and a half—where do you hope to see yourself a year from now? What are your long-term goals for the future?
It’s pretty impossible to predict where I’ll be in a year from now. Who the hell knows. I hope I’m working! And that I’m happy. My biggest dream and hope is just to be a happy person and enjoy my life—no matter what that may end up looking like. What makes me happy now may not make me happy in a year or in 5 years from now. I plan on following my instincts and my gut because I know it won’t lead me astray. Ever.
What are some of your quirky habits or hobbies?
After 21 years, I still don’t really know how to answer this question. What are my hobbies? I go out to breakfast a lot, is that a hobby? Trying Eggs Benedict in breakfast cafes everywhere I go? I go out to eat a lot in general. I don’t cook. I like to write. Poetry mostly, which I post sometimes on my Tumblr. I find it therapeutic to read as well—I use it for inspiration when I’m acting sometimes.
Do you ever watch yourself in the TV shows and films you acted in after they get released? What is that experience of watching yourself on the screen like?
I always watch my own performances. I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t watch their own work. I get that it can be hard to stomach sometimes and “cringey,” but watching yourself can only improve your skills. I learn a lot from watching old work that I’ve done. I see what works and what doesn’t… how my facial expressions read differently than I think or how my mannerisms may or may not be reflecting the right emotion or feeling.
What are your favorite things about your new life in LA? Is there anything you miss from your small-town life in Ohio?
I feel like I don’t really have a new life in LA. I have lived in LA for only about a year in total, when I wasn’t filming or moving back home. When I’m not working, my life isn’t very exciting. It’s fun when I have press trips and go to Coachella and stuff like that, but my day-to-day life in LA is very ordinary. I go to Target a lot because it’s my favorite place ever. I do a lot of DIY crafts to entertain myself—I paint and write. I drive to the beach when the weather is nice or if I need to get away from the buzz of the city. Mostly, I go out to eat with my friends and spend way too much money on food. I miss Ohio. I haven’t been back in over a year. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my hometown. I miss the feeling of being in that small community. I miss going to football games and supporting my high school. The local food joints also—my favorite Chinese place and ice cream parlour. I’m not sure when I’ll go back and visit but I think I have a deeper appreciation for it now than I ever had before. The quiet, suburban life. Lake Erie and the metro parks… I miss it a lot.
Special thanks to Bloomingdales Beverly Center
Season two of Riverdale officially premieres on Wednesday, October 11, 2017