Published on A.V. Club — January 25, 2017 | Written by Danette Chavez

Even if you’re not an avid Archie follower, there’s no denying that the comics are practically Americana. So when The CW released the first trailer for Riverdale, the teen-drama adaptation from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, it looked like the Archie Comics’ chief creative officer had lost his damn mind. The extent of the sacrilege went beyond tarnishing the town’s idyllic image to sexing up the most famous, unaccountably lovable dork. It seemed this purportedly gritty reboot of John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana’s creation could, at best, be a poor imitation of Twin Peaks.

But it turns out Aguirre-Sacasa knows what he’s doing, putting a new twist on adolescence. And cast members KJ Apa and Camila Mendes—who play Archie and Veronica, respectively—are game for all the subversion. The A.V. Club spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa, Apa, and Mendes at the Television Critics Association winter press tour about the dark side of small towns and a history of kids behaving badly.

Camila Mendes

The A.V. Club: Your character, Veronica, has been tweaked from the original, but you’re coming into this with no real preconceptions about her. Was that more challenging, or would it have been easier if you had a longer history with the character?

Camila Mendes: I find it to be a huge responsibility. But I don’t think it’s necessarily challenging. Once you start diving into the Archie comics world, it’s in your face. These characters are on the surface. They’re very easy to understand immediately. I feel like within the first five pages, I was like, “I get who Veronica is.” Once you get the gist of it, then you’re like, “Okay, what other variations of her have we seen? What other moments?” And then you see her in the more recent comics and all the spin-offs that they’ve done, and that’s important to absorb as well. But I think at the end of the day, we know we’re making a new show—we’re making something new. All we can really do is take the essence of who those characters were back in the day and bring them to life in this modern world.

AVC: Are there any other queen bee teenager roles that you drew inspiration from for this? Were you able to draw on your own high school experiences?

CM: I had a lot of influences. One of them was Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl. Even when I auditioned, I remember when I first went in, I was dressed really dark, more like an edgy rocker girl from New York. They’re like, “No, no, no, this girl is preppy.” So the next day at the audition, I went with the little skirt thing, and they’re like, “Wherever you can wear pearls, wear them.” I was like, “Oh, I see.” They’re like, “Think Blair Waldorf.” So then I came up the next day looking more like Blair Waldorf. And I was like, “Okay, now I understand who she is and in the context of the characters we’ve already grown up with.” But I also, I was a big O.C. fan myself, and Rachel Bilson was one of my idols. I loved her character of Summer Roberts. In terms of Veronica’s humor, I channel Summer Roberts a lot.

AVC: Your Veronica is very different for so many reasons, one of them being that she’s not necessarily relying on money. In the comic books, you’ve got someone throwing money at all her problems, but that’s not who you play here.

CM: She’s definitely being challenged to own her strengths as a person rather than her assets, her wealth. The whole experience with Veronica having to adjust to a new life is huge. That’s how we can get away with making her a humbler character and making her more grounded in real life, more driven in that way, because she wants to prove everyone wrong about who she is, that she’s not just the spoiled girl from New York. She’s a smart girl. She’s constantly making literary references and impressing people with her wit. In that way, she’s still the same Veronica. But now she’s humble.

AVC: In the comics, Betty and Veronica are supposed to represent two very different kinds of women. Early on, those niches were reductive, but that’s not what’s going on here. Was that change important to you when signing on?

CM: Throughout all of time, people have always asked questions of, are you Blair or Serena? Are you Charlotte or Samantha? You never do that to men. Are you a Jackie or Marilyn? There’s this instinct our society has to categorize women as certain things. “Oh, tonight your look is bad girl.” There’s only so many. There’s bad girl, good girl, what else? Where do the other ones exist? I think we’re blurring those lines a little bit. Veronica’s trying to be a good girl, Betty’s not necessarily trying to be a bad girl, but she has this urge to let loose and break away from the perfect mold. We’re taking the parts that the other one has; we’re complementing each other. I’m taking from Betty what I don’t have myself, and she’s doing the same to me.

AVC: Lili Reinhart [who plays Betty Cooper] touched on that during the panel, that the friendship is way more developed in this show than the rivalry.

CM: Oh, of course. The rivalry, it never necessarily becomes a rivalry. In the beginning, it’s like this hesitance to get to know each other because of Archie, but as soon as that’s out of the way, as soon as I’m like, “Oh, she’s end game with Archie, okay, that’s not my deal.” And again, I make that mistake at the end.

AVC: But you’re teenagers, after all.

CM: But I’m a teenager. By the end of that, in episode two, it’s all about making up. It’s all about us bringing that friendship back to life and me needing to prove to her that I am a good friend. I think that’s where the friendship can really be a friendship. It’s not a rivalry. It’s like, “You hurt me.” That’s not what rivalry is. Rivalry is two people hating each other. That moment occurred, Betty was upset with Veronica because she cares about—she was starting to care about Veronica, and was starting to enjoy her company, and then Veronica did that to her. They actually want to be friends in this one. In any other relationship where you’re trying to be friends with someone but there’s conflict, at least you both know that you want the same thing. And I think that’s what is prioritized in this season.

AVC: An upcoming episode is about slut-shaming. There’s no avoiding those kinds of timely references on a teen drama, but is that important to you? Will you guys be addressing other issues?

CM: Yes, 100 percent. Just the fact that it happens is addressing it to an extent. I grew up with that stuff, too. I’ve seen those things happen firsthand. High school wasn’t that long ago for me. I remember how awful the things that happen were, the things that girls would get shamed for. It’s humiliating. Especially in a high school world, even when those things happen, it’s not like the girls all stick together and they’re like, “Oh, you shouldn’t say that about other women.” Some girls will get down on the other girl, too: “Yeah, she’s such a slut!” People in high school are so young, and they all just want to be accepted, so they all run with whatever’s going on—the common opinion. I think what was important about this episode is that instead of the high school jumping on board with it, Betty and I gather a bunch of girls, and we’re like, “Let’s get back at them. They shouldn’t do this to us.” We’re teaming together, not just me and Betty, but all of the girls. We all have a common goal.

AVC: So does The CW feel like the right place for Riverdale?

CM: This definitely feels like the right place for it, 100 percent. It’s really funny, because in college, my people would always say—people who didn’t even know each other—separately would be like, “I can just see you on the CW.” People would say that to me. In college, me and one of my good friends had an inside joke where I’m like, “You’re the HBO to my CW.” We would always say that to each other. And eventually, I booked a CW show not too long after that, and everyone died, because they were like, “We literally have been telling you all year that you belong on The CW. We could see you playing the popular pretty girl on a CW show.” And then I’m playing Veronica.