To say that Riverdale is successful is underselling it. The CW drama is a massive hit with younger viewers nowadays; the second season premiere, which drew 2.3 million same-day viewers, saw a 500-percent increase in teenage viewers over its first-season finale audience. It’s also incredibly popular on Netflix, and it seems built for binge-watching. Who’d have thought that a show based on Archie comics would reach those heights?
As Riverdale fans know, the show’s success stems from its dark tone, talented cast, melodramatic plot twists, and constant experimentation with its own formula. Just when you think you know what’s next for Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the gang, the writers change course—and that makes for some great television.
Even so, the stories behind the show are almost as interesting as the onscreen product. Here are a few remarkable tidbits about the cast to keep you satisfied until the next explosive season—or until you ace our expansive trivia quiz with your newfound Riverdale knowledge.
At one point, showrunner Roberto Aguierre-Sacasa wanted to make Riverdale a movie.
That movie would have been…well, completely insane. Riverdale executive producer Sarah Schechter was part of that project.
“It just got crazy,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “There were, like, time portals. At one point, one of my bosses said, ‘What about Louis C.K. for Archie?’ I called Roberto and said, ‘Don’t close the deal. Run away.’”
That was probably a good move, since a time-traveling, middle-aged Archie doesn’t sound like a great idea. Fortunately, Schechter left her movie studio job to run Berlanti Productions.
Sarah Schechter says if you’re a Josie McCoy fan, you will be happy this season and you’ll hear her sing more too! #Riverdale #SDCC pic.twitter.com/gQsT2W65oA
— With An Accent (@withanaccent) July 21, 2018
“One of the first calls [I made] was to Roberto to say, ‘Why don’t we do this as a TV show?’”
Early in the production process, Aguirre-Sacasa decided to give his Archie universe a darker tone—a decision that resonated with audiences.
“When we added the murder-mystery element to season one, the show unlocked creatively for me,” he said.
Cole Sprouse was originally picked for the role of Archie.
Sprouse rose to fame with his brother, Dylan, on Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. When that show wrapped, he put his acting career on hold in order to attend college and step out of the public eye. He was working for an archaeology laboratory when his manager sent him an early Riverdale script.
But while Cole was asked to audition for the part of Archie, he decided to pursue the Jughead role. Why?
“[Jughead]’s very much an outsider,” Sprouse told WWD. “He has a pretty unique perspective because he’s seeing the town and the friendship and the friendships that are forming from a more objective point of view. He eavesdrops, he listens, he’s the guy with the camera, snooping, sleuthing, and in that way, he’s distanced himself from a lot of the people in the town, through his own fear of being vulnerable and his inability to cope with people.”
Sprouse thought that Jughead was a more challenging character—and a more appropriate character for him, given his past.
“I lived a kind of Truman Show, after [The Suite Life of Zack and Cody],” he said, “and going back into it just brought back a lot of emotions and childhood memories that I did not realize I was still capable of accessing. But it feels good—this is a little more on my pace. It feels brand new again.”
In an interview with Collider, Sprouse admitted he found another reason to play Jughead.
“He’ll be the narrator for every episode, throughout every season,” he said. “That’s how you know I can’t get [killed].”
The musical episode almost centered around a much more well-known musical.
Slight spoilers: In the episode “Chapter Thirty-One: A Night To Remember,” the cast of Riverdale performs songs from Carrie: The Musical. That’s actually a real-life musical based on the Stephen King horror masterpiece.
However, as Aguirre-Sacasa told Variety, he originally wanted to base the episode around Sweeney Todd.
“The inspiration for the musical episode, on some level, was [that] there was a high school production of Sweeney Todd in Australia, maybe two years ago, that we read about … A kid that was playing Sweeney Todd used the wrong prop razor and used a real razor and slit a kid’s throat.”
Ouch. That actually occurred in New Zealand, by the way. The performers suffered moderate injuries, but the show resumed several nights after the incident.
“The kid survived, but it felt like such a Riverdale story!” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “So originally we were like, ‘Let’s do Sweeney Todd and let’s do that,’ but then it evolved from there. Early on, Little Shop of Horrors was [also in contention]. Carrie felt right because it was a little less well-known, it was a little more off-kilter the way Riverdale is, and it was about high school kids—the way Riverdale is—dealing with dark themes.”
KJ Apa dyes his hair.
“I went the first time, for the audition for the part, and I didn’t hear back for about four weeks, and then I was asked to go back again, and it kind of went from there,” Apa told KTLA 5. “And then, yeah, the eyebrows and the hair …”
“I was in that hair salon for about eight hours for the first time. It was a whole thing—they had to get the color right, the tone right, the eyebrows had to match the hair, all that kind of stuff.”
“I remember being really angry because I was so hungry. And then I was thinking about it, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how women do it! Like … it’s so gnarly!’”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only downside of the dye job.
“It was really painful the first and the second time I got it done, because they do my eyebrows as well,” he told Vulture. “They ended up bleaching my eyebrows, and I had two holes—they burnt into my skin. I was like, ‘Oh, my, we’ve got to sort this out.’ Luckily, I haven’t had that again, but yeah, it was pretty gnarly.”
As the video above might’ve let you know, he also doesn’t have an American accent.
Apa’s from New Zealand, but he says that he didn’t have any trouble learning to speak like an authentic American.
“I never actively went out and studied the American accent,” he said. “I just came over here to the States and it was something I was able to do. Like, I never struggled with it. I used to talk to myself as a kid in an American accent. Other than that, I don’t actually know why I can do it.”
“It’s an easy accent to do, I think, in terms of accents. It’s harder for Americans to do a New Zealand accent than it is for a New Zealander to do an American accent. I think that’s also because of how popular and how just broad all American culture is around the globe. I think my musical side has always helped as well. I’ve always played by ear with guitar and piano, so I think that can also play into it as well. I’m able to hear and then mimic it or something.”
While Apa hasn’t spent much time in New Zealand since Riverdale started, he told KTLA 5 that the show is well-received in his homeland thanks to Netflix.
“I was always wondering inside if anyone in New Zealand would be able to watch it,” he said. “But yeah, they’re enjoying it.”
Apa and Sprouse agree on one thing: Shipping Archie and Betty.
“Before I became involved with it, I wasn’t familiar with Archie at all, but I think, because of how famous the Betty and Archie thing is, I would love to see Betty and Archie get together,” Apa told Vulture. “I think it’s so iconic and everyone kind of wants that. If there was any relationship that I would ship for, it would be Archie and Betty, which is kind of a classic, iconic relationship.”
He’s not alone in that assessment. While Sprouse tries to avoid shipping characters on the show, he told Elite that he makes one exception.
“I actually really ship Betty and Archie,” Sprouse admitted. “When I would read the Archie comics when I was younger I was rooting for Betty and Archie way over any alternative. [I think I would have seen] that long-lived, childlike romance from two people knowing each other since youth as probably quite romantic. I am a sucker for that childhood romance narrative.”
Even so, he’s careful to keep most of his opinions to himself.
“I know our fans take very specific camps with who they ship and who they want and all those camps are at huge war with one another,” he said. “Riverdale is about to ignite into flames considering how the camps are at war with each other. I try not to involve myself too much.”
There’s another reason that Sprouse avoids shipping.
He’s adamant that Jughead is, for the most part, asexual. Sprouse actually insisted on that interpretation of the character during early writing sessions.
“I had argued for a super faithful representation of Jughead as he lives in the comics, which inherently was also me arguing for the aromantic, asexual Jughead,” he told Elite. “But [they] are two very different versions of the same character in two very different universes.”
With that said, Sprouse recognizes that his job is to portray Jughead as written—not to insist on a certain character arc.
“[Asexuality is] one of those things that needs representation but has not been properly represented. It’s something I still fight for and it’s something I fought for about the second season, but ultimately it’s not in my court. I guess we will see where the narrative takes us.”
Spoiler warning: Jughead doesn’t remain totally asexual, as he eventually strikes up a romance with Betty. Still, it’s cool to see someone fighting for representation on a show like Riverdale.
Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty Cooper, also sent a request to the show’s writers.
That request: No more “Dark Betty.”
That’s the fan-given name to the weird alter-ego that Betty Cooper adopts in season one. In a shocking scene, Betty wears lingerie and a black wig to give a cruel jock a taste of his own medicine.
“I think it kind of became a mockery of itself,” Reinhart said of Dark Betty in an interview with Teen Vogue. “It was supposed to be this dark side of her that she wasn’t able to express otherwise, and it just became this weird sexual thing that people didn’t really understand.”
In the same interview, Reinhart also shared her approach to social media, which sounds fairly healthy for an actor on an incredibly popular show.
“I’m mostly just trying to show the goofy and happy side of myself. Even if I’m feeling sad, I try to keep everything positive.”
The show’s actors agree that the audition process was rough.
Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica Lodge, had an especially difficult time.
“I had the most harrowing audition process,” she told W Magazine. “They were like, ‘You’re our top choice, but we want to open up a new search, and we want someone that can compete with you.’ I lost sleep, I was crying every night because it felt like I was so close to something that could be big, and like my life and career changing, but in the end it all worked out.”
One factor in her strong reaction: She was still in college at the time, completing her final semester at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She’d never had a professional acting gig.
going thru old pics & found these mirror selfies I sent to my agent while shopping for my Veronica audition outfit….I chose the skirt 😌 pic.twitter.com/07AjAxPuFw
— camila mendes (@camilamendes) April 28, 2017
“Some teachers were really cool about it, and some teachers… weren’t,” Mendes told EW. “The goal [was] for me to be able to pay my loans. I was frustrated that they would get mad when someone’s trying to pursue the career that you’re teaching us.”
Fortunately, Mendes was able to bond with one of her future co-stars during the audition, which helped to temper her anxiety.
“Just small talk before the audition. I remember talking with Cole,” she told Nylon. “We bonded over the fact that we both sweat a lot before auditions. I was literally in the room with paper towels. I would keep them under my arms and right before they called my name I would just put them away.”
Those aren’t the only two actors on the show with a strong bond.
Lili Reinhart and Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl Blossom) are real-life roommates.
“I remember meeting Lili Reinhart at the airport,” Petsch told Glamour. “I met her once before, but now she’s my best friend.”
“I was in line in front of her and was walking past her, and I was like, ‘I don’t really want to say hi because is that weird?’ Which is so stupid now [because] I knew we were on the same flight. So, I walk past her, and she was like, ‘Madelaine!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn’t see you there.’ She’s like, ‘You looked right at me!’ I was like, ‘Whoops!’ We ended up talking then and kind of bonding over that moment, but it was so silly.”
madelaine petsch and lili reinhart on the set of riverdale. pic.twitter.com/TmQ0uL4347
— best of madelaine petsch (@madelainefiles) November 10, 2018
Petsch says that the show’s main cast members—Sprouse, Reinhart, Ashleigh Murray (Josie McCoy), and Mendes—get along incredibly well.
“We’re the closest family unit,” she said. “We talk every single day. It’s just funny to look back because you never know what’s going to happen. We could’ve all easily hated each other, but it was such a good blend of personalities.”
Petsch, by the way, had to confront a phobia in her first Riverdale scene.
She’s terrified of open water. That was a problem, since she starts the show on a boat.
“I’m afraid of open bodies of water,” she admitted to Glamour. “I was in a glass-bottomed boat that broke a long time ago, so I’ve always been kind of freaked out. I took a 16-hour trip to Norway on a boat that freaked me out, all of that. When I read the script for that scene in Riverdale, I assumed they’d use a stunt double in the boat. When I got to set, they were like, ‘So, we’re gonna put you in a wetsuit.’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me? A what?’”
“I was like, ‘You know what? I can handle this. It’s gonna be OK.’ Then I found out the person rowing the boat was no one who’d ever rowed a boat before—it’s the guy who plays my brother, Trevor Stines.”
Jason and Cheryl Blossom drove down to Sweetwater river for an early morning boat ride… pic.twitter.com/dbwBU1yGSZ
— Yiyi. (@zaynftBieba) July 5, 2018
“They were like, ‘It’s okay, we gave him a quick five-minute course on how to row a boat. We’ll have a giant buoy about a hundred yards away from you. Everything will be fine.’ But me being me, I was having a panic attack.”
She managed to keep her feelings in check…but that didn’t make the scene any easier.
“No one knew I was freaking out,” Petsch said. “I had to wear these beautiful Valentinos in the boat when I got in. So, I was terrified of stepping in the boat, but then I got in and Trevor was amazing. It was great therapy, but I was still terrified. Once we started shooting, I was fine. I was like, ‘It’s fun. It’s Cheryl. It’s not me.’ But getting into it, I was terrified. You can ask Trevor. I thought I was going to die.”
It’s freeing to be a Riverdale character. Which one are you? Take this quiz to find out.