6 April 2017   by

LATINA — You would never be able to tell that Camila Mendes (no relation to Shawn Mendes) is a Hollywood newbie. The poised and brilliant Brazilian American beauty is starring on The CW’s new series, Riverdale, playing complex character Veronica Lodge — and her acting chops are superb.

Riverdale has quickly become one of our guilty (or perhaps not so guilty) pleasures, and Mendes has surely won over our hearts with her portrayal of Veronica and her backstory.

Though based on characters from the classic Archie Comics we all grew up knowing to love, the tone of Riverdale is completely different, much darker. The series centers on the small town of Riverdale as its people are reeling from the recent murder of the local high school’s golden boy Jason Blossom, which causes everything in, what appears to be their picture perfect world, to change. Riverdale follows all-American teen Archie Andrews (played by KJ Apa) and his dad Fred Andrews (played by Luke Perry) , Betty Cooper (played by Lili Reinhart), Veronica Lodge (played by Mendes) and her mother Hermoine (played by Marisol Nichols), Jughead Jones (played by Cole Sprouse), Cheryl Blossom (played by Madelaine Petsch), and leader of Josie and the Pussycats, Josie McCoy (played by Ashleigh Murray), as they each navigate through the nightmare and secrets that make Riverdale a quiet, sleepy town, filled with dangers in the shadows.

We spoke to Mendes all about Riverdale, playing the iconic character of Veronica, her upbringing, her gripe with Hollywood’s treatment of Latinos and lots more.

Get to know and love the Brasilera in our exclusive interview below:

This is your first role ever, which is amazing! How did you prepare for this moment?

It’s crazy, I feel honored! It’s this epic role that I would’ve never imagined would be my first. You always assume that you’re just going to have a gradual start, book your featured role in something, and then kind of work your way up from there. So to start with a role like this, it was incredible and very unexpected. It‘s one of those things that just happened so fast. I mean it didn’t happen fast, actually — the casting process took place over months and months but because it was so go, go, go. It was more like ‘ you have a call back here, call back there, flying to LA to do a network test,’ there was so much going on. You can’t think twice about it when you’re in the moment. Just keep going. Otherwise, you lose focus when you have to keep your eye on the prize.

What would you say you were most afraid going into all this?

Honestly, at the time I was more afraid of getting very close to something and losing the opportunity. To be at the very end and just have them say no, and just be like, ‘Okay wow, this could’ve changed my life,’ and then watch it change someone else’s life, that would’ve been very sad. It’s one of those things where at that level, if you’re testing for something, you’re just as good for the role as anyone else testing for it. At that point, anyone can play the role. It’s just a matter of who’s a better fit. There are so many small things that play a part in the end that you can’t take it personally. It’s removed from who you are. It’s more about the larger picture. Now, I feel like, I don’t know what my fears are now. It’s definitely scary playing such an iconic role because you feel like you don’t want to let anyone down. So far, people have been responding very well. You just have to accept that not everyone is going to love it, and that’s okay. They don’t have to love it.

How did you get into acting? Was it something you wanted to do your whole life?

Yeah, I pretty much did. I think when I was around 8, I was doing a lot of little plays for my class, and my mom kind of picked up on how much I enjoyed it. I was also just a very hyper, goofy, attention-seeking child. My sister would put on plays — she would write skits and stuff, and I would act in them. I think my mom just noticed that there was something going on there. Eventually, when we moved to South Florida, she put me in a school that had a very strong arts program. The owner of the school, he invested a lot in the arts. We had a theater and a program that was very professional, and it was kind of inspiring, you know? There were kids that were paid to go to our school, got scholarships. So everyone there had a lot of talent, so I was like ‘Oh, shit. This is awesome.’ I think I started to take it seriously then and started to consider it like a possible career. Then everything just kind of fell into place — I auditioned for NYU, I got in and spent the next four years of my life in acting school. Right as I finished, I started auditioning for this role, so it was like perfect timing.

Did you have any sort of a backup plan if it didn’t happen?

Never. I never had a backup plan because I didn’t want to give myself one because honestly, I don’t think I’m good at anything else. I’m like — it has to be acting. It really does.

That’s amazing! Let’s talk a bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in Miami?

I grew up in a lot of places. I moved around a whole lot when I was younger. I was born in Virginia then I moved to Atlanta, then back to Virginia and back to Atlanta. Then I moved to Orlando, when my parents divorced. Then my mom and I, with my sister, moved to Brazil for a year. My grandpa was sick, and my mom just wanted to kind of deal with the divorce there. I don’t know. She took off to Brazil, and we were kind of dragged into the whirlwind of her life. From there, she was like okay no, I don’t want to live in Brazil anymore. So we went back to Florida, except this time we went to South Florida. From there, it was Coral Springs, Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and then I moved to New York. We were like ping-ponging everywhere. Even within cities, we would move from different houses and stuff. It was kind of crazy.

At the time, I despised it. I would have a break down every time my mom said we were moving. As a child, you get so tired of saying bye to everyone and letting go of things. You start being scared of forming attachments because you’re scared you’ll have to leave soon. But in the end, honestly, I’m very glad to have had that experience because I feel like it made me who I am. Now I feel like I’m a very flexible person. I can kind of go with the flow and make friends and I’m good at letting things go. Which I feel, I don’t know. As you become an adult, you notice qualities in yourself, and you’re like now I know why I am the way I am, you know? And that’s a good thing.

Great to see you took such a positive approach to it! Being that there was little stability, it could have really frazzled you.

Moving has been a huge part of my life. But it’s not all good things. You start to notice what kind of messed you up about it. Everyone kind of has this moment in college, when they feel like they don’t really know themselves, or they feel a little unstable or a little unsure. I went through this whole thing and I realized that you can only establish a sense of self within yourself because everything else around you is going to change no matter what. So all you can control is who you are and as long as you stay true to that, then you’re home. I created this idea in my head that no matter where I go I’m home because I am — my body is my home. I got a tattoo below my right breast that says, “To build a home,” because that’s my goal in life — to build a home within myself.

Love that! Any other tattoos?

No, that’s the only one. It’s funny because everyone’s like once you get one, you don’t stop getting them or something. But I’ve never had the urge. I just needed to get that one tattoo because it really meant something to me and then I got it and I was like I’m good, I don’t want any others.

If you had to sum yourself up, what would you say?

Sum myself up? Oh my gosh. I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I feel like I’m still learning who that is, you know? Especially right now because of everything that’s changing around me. It’s kind of forced me to be like ‘Oh shit. I really need to know myself in this industry.’ I started to value alone time and being by myself cause that’s something I’ve kind of avoided for so long. I’ve always kind of buried in other other people or just kind of surrounded myself with friends and circles of friends. I never gave myself a chance to be. That’s kind of where I’m at right now. I don’t know if I’m able to sum myself up because I’m still gathering that, you know?

Speaking of this industry, let’s dive into Riverdale. What do you think makes your character, Veronica, different than any other character on TV at this point?

I think her down-to-earthiness isn’t really something you see associated with young teenagers. Usually when you portray this like “the Blair Waldorf of Riverdale,” some people like to say, you kind of associate that with a level of cattiness and a level of jealousy and craziness — this manipulation. You don’t really see teenagers who are very sure of themselves. I think that’s an inspiring way to be that Veronica eludes. I’d say in that way she’s different.

You did say they do compare her to Blair Waldorf. I personally don’t see her that way.

I don’t either, that’s the funny thing. I think if anything, Cheryl is the Blair Waldorf of Riverdale. I feel like they compared her to Blair Waldorf because she has a lot of money and she wears pearls, I don’t know — The New York rich girl. I think the idea is like probably back in New York Veronica was the Blair Waldorf because she has this dark past where she was probably more of a bully or a mean girl. Now she’s changed, and it’s kind of like the reformed Veronica.

Peeling away Veronica’s layers, can you give us any hints as to what’s going on deep down with her? Is she harboring a dark past?

She definitely has a dark past. I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be exploring that in full detail this season, but we do touch a little bit on her bullying past. I think what she’s dealing with more is her parents and her heritage. Or not her heritage but like her roots and the idea that her family – they’re rooted in this corruption. That’s making Veronica question her own identity and re-evaluate her life and re-consider who she thinks her parents are and stuff like that. I feel like she’s so focused on that right now that we’re not really exploring this darker past, we’re focusing on the darkness of her family and how that effects Veronica.

Speaking of her family, her relationship with her mom seems to be pretty solid. Is it anything like your relationship with your mom you would say?

Yeah, I definitely think so. I think you’ll start to see that, and I don’t think they’ve showed that to the full extent yet. Veronica and Hermione’s relationship starts to get a little rocky. Then Veronica rebels against her mother and they kind of play this game to get each other to do what they want to do because that’s how they are. They’re very manipulative. They have tactics. So you do see them start to falter, but their relationship, nonetheless, is very strong.

They’re very connected. They understand each other. They were brought together by this traumatic experience of losing their lifestyle, and having to relocate and start anew. That really brought them together. My mom and I have a similar relationship to be honest. The scenes I connect to the most are the ones with Veronica and Hermione because they remind me of the conversations that I’ve had with my mom. My mom and I lived together, just her and I at one point, and it was hard to see my mom post-divorce or post her father’s death – just these things that every family goes through, these traumatic experiences that you see your parents go through. You start to see them as a person and not just as a parent. I know what that’s like to watch my mom suffer a little bit. You, as a child, start to feel responsible for them and you feel the urge to take care of them. I think that’s what Veronica is going through. She sees that her mom is talking to the serpent, and she’s like ‘mom, you can tell me what’s going on. Why are you talking to this person? Share things with me.’ Veronica wants to be a part of it because she wants to take control and help out. She wants to be on the same team, and her mom is very much trying to separate her from that and keep her out of it because she doesn’t want Veronica to see what her family truly is.

So kind of like a shield, protecting her.

Exactly. I’ve gone through ups and downs with my mom, but we’re super close. There’s nothing I wouldn’t share with my mother. She’s an amazing woman, and whether or not we’re fighting or getting along perfectly, it’s always really honest and open with us. There’s always a strong connection there.

That’s sweet. If you had to choose, would you say you’re more a Veronica or a Betty?

Is anyone really one or the other? [Laughs] I think I’m definitely Veronica, more so Veronica than a Betty. I’ve never been a wallflower. I’ve always been very social and kind of like friends with everyone and outgoing, and I never really struggled with social anxiety or anything the way I think Betty does. I do relate to the people-pleasing thing, and I’m more so bubbly than I am sharp and quick-witted the way that Veronica is. I feel like very much in between. But that’s always changing too. There are times in my life where I feel more like Veronica and times where I feel more like Betty. It kind of flows in and out of those two.

Would you say the Riverdale characters are the definition of girl power?

For sure! Even the way they deal with the love triangle is very mature. They have open, honest conversations. What I love about the characters in Riverdale is that they’re all very mature. They’re all very confident or assured in themselves. It’s like everything around them is changing. You notice the parents are the crazy ones. The parents are the ones who are unsure and freaking out. All the kids in the show are very strong. They’re strong characters. I love that. I think that’s kind of what we need to show our youth.

Would you say that Veronica is an inspirational-type, or role model even?

Yes, I think she’s a role model. I look up to her, but I don’t think it’s just Veronica. I think a lot of these characters are role models. Archie’s a role model. Betty’s a role model. Jughead’s a role model. They all have qualities that we can admire and look up to.

What would you say is specific to Veronica?

I would say her confidence. I would say her willingness to protect the ones she cares about. I think that’s the most important thing. Her motivation I feel throughout this whole thing is to protect the people she cares about in her life, more so than herself. So I think there’s a selflessness in her, and I also think that’s a very new quality. I don’t think she used to be that way back in New York. I think she was very much a selfish person in her previous life, and now she’s kind of been resurrected. She finds her satisfaction in helping others.

We read that you were really big on not wanting to be or play a stereotype. What would you say is your biggest issue, or gripe, with Hollywood always wanting to put Latinos in a box?

It’s so complicated, this whole issue, because I feel like I spoke to one girl once and we were talking about this whole Latina in Hollywood thing. For her, it’s like she wanted to see more of the extreme Latina types. I should mention that she was Latina too, but she was like I don’t want these kind of plain Latinas who are basically not Latina, or like have been dialed down to be more appealing to a larger audience. For me, it was like I feel like that is what we see that a lot and I want to see more American Latinas. Not that that’s all I want see, but that’s just something that isn’t represented. You see these Sofia Vergara types, and it’s great, and it’s funny, and everyone loves her. There’s nothing wrong. I know Latina women like that. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s just that’s one kind of person. We need to show different personalities within the Latina community. It can’t just be this sexy firecracker. It’s that sexualization of Latina women that I don’t want to see. It’s like I want to see more. Where’s the nerdy Latina? I want to see that. But yeah, I mean it’s a very complicated situation. It’s not just with Latina women in Hollywood — it’s with every race. We just need more of everything. We need more characters. We need to just not close our minds off.

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