Meet Camila Mendes, Breakout Star of 'Riverdale'

Meet Camila Mendes, Breakout Star of 'Riverdale'

With the show's midseason return tonight, we caught up with the actress about breaking the mold of Veronica.

With the show's midseason return tonight, we caught up with the actress about breaking the mold of Veronica.

Photography: Robin Harper

Styling: Kenny Paul

Text: Ilana Kaplan

For people who grew up following the lives of Blair and Serena or Seth and Summer, the creation of Riverdale was a welcome TV show in the realm of teen soaps. Because of the hit series, Betty and Veronica can now be added to that list.

At only 22-years-old, Camila Mendes landed a dream role on Riverdale as Veronica Lodge, the affluent brunette who is one of the apples of Archie Andrews’s eye. But the Veronica on Riverdale isn’t the same as the character that you grew up with in the comics; she’s essentially a reformed Blair Waldorf, who still sports her wardrobe (with a little-added sexiness), is truly friends with Betty (not frenemies), and winning Archie’s heart is definitely not her main focus.

Right after graduating from NYU, Mendes landed her first role, which just happened to be as a lead on the CW’s latest hit. Though it’s only the beginning of her career, things are looking bright for Mendes as Riverdale has already been picked up for another season.

On the rise and definitely on our radar, we caught up with Mendes about shattering Latina stereotypes, Betty and Veronica’s friendship, and Jughead’s sexuality.

Did you think that Riverdale was going to get the hype that it has received?

I definitely had my hopes. It’s one of those shows  that’s like, “How could people not love it?” Even so, it’s always a risk. You have to hope that everyone sees what you see in it, and I think that’s kind of the case now.

How did you first become interested in acting?

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My sister would write plays, and I would act in them and perform them for my parents. They were on the comedy side, very much inspired by The Amanda Show. I think that’s where I found my passion for it -- being goofy as a child. Then it transitioned into me performing plays in elementary schools, and then it turned into my mom putting me in a school that had a strong acting program. I was surrounded by a ton of people who were already set for Broadway, and that inspired me to take school seriously, so I could get into a good acting program. I got into NYU, and then I booked this show. It was a very lucky path.

Which actresses did you look up to growing up?

I’ve always looked up to Nicole Kidman. I think she’s an elegant and talented actress. You can tell how much she commits to her characters, and I admire that.

You went to NYU and study acting, but were you involved in any other products before Riverdale? Or was this your first big role?

No. This is my first big role...or first role ever. I finished school in December 2015, but I didn’t actually graduate until May 2016. Right when I was finishing school, I started auditioning for the show.

What did you grow up watching on TV?

I grew up watching The O.C., Gossip Girl, and Weeds.

Tell me about Veronica’s style. Does it come close to your own real life style vastly different?

No, I’m vastly different from Veronica’s style. Her style is sexy preppy and she wears a lot of pearls. She’s always looking very collegiate -- like a sexy First Lady. I’m much more casual—I wear ripped jeans, a t-shirt and not much jewelry at all. The more comfortable, the better.

I think people have been seeing characteristics similar to Blair Waldorf in some ways. How similar do you think they are?

I don’t think they’re very much alike at all. I get the comparison, but it’s really just because she’s from New York and she’s rich. I feel like in her past life she was the “Blair Waldorf” of her high school, but in Riverdale she’s different. In terms of personality, I think Veronica is more humbled and grounded than Blair Waldorf was, but I get the comparison.

Do you think Betty and Veronica’s relationship on Riverdale different than theirs in the comic books?

Yes, definitely. I think Betty and Veronica in the comics were always fighting over Archie, but I think that came out of comedy and that slapstick style they use. It’s a different world: it’s a different tone entirely [on the show]. The Betty and Veronica in this show aren’t fighting over a man: they’re more mature and grounded in themselves. Even if there is a love triangle being played at, it’s coming from a very reasonable place.

That leads to my next question: will we see a love triangle develop between Betty, Veronica and Archie like the premiere alludes to, or will their friendship be the heart of the show?

Their friendship will be the heart of the show. We constantly hint at the love triangle, but we want the longevity of the love triangle to exist, and we can’t go too extreme with it if we want to be in it for the long haul. There are going to be pairings [with love interests] for sure during the first season. I think the fans want Betty and Veronica to be in love, but unfortunately, that’s not the direction we’re taking.

In the comic book series, Jughead is asexual. Is that something we’ll see play out on the show?

Jughead isn’t asexual. In episode six we see that for the first time.

Being a Latina yourself and playing Veronica as a Latina character, how do you feel like you’re defying stereotypes?

I think it’s the idea that they’re not forcing the Latina stereotype on her—they’re just letting her be who she is and letting her personality prevail. The Latina [label] is just an added part to her, but it isn’t everything she is and that’s what I resonated with. I was born in the U.S., and raised here, but I very much still identify with my Brazilian culture. I’m not more Brazilian than I am American or vice-versa—I’m very much a combination of all of those things. Veronica is very much the same way. I think [Riverdale] is doing a good job with seeing beyond her ethnicity.

Do you consider yourself a role model for up-and-coming actors and actresses?

I don’t feel comfortable saying I’m a role model. The way I eased into this industry isn’t the way most people do. This role came at a perfect time in my life when I was graduating, and it’s a role I felt very right for. It doesn’t always happen that way and I’m very aware of that. If this role didn’t exist, I would probably still be auditioning and struggling. It was the luck of this role coming at the right time and me putting in that extra work to secure it. If I were to be a role model, it would just come out of going the college route, getting training and trusting that’s the most secure path you can take—a path where a degree is involved. You know you went to college and you have that under your belt.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I’m just taking it as I go, day-by-day. I’m interested in seeing what opportunities I stumble upon in my career. I definitely see the show running for a good amount of time. I’d love to do some projects in-between—something that will spice up my creativity, playing a character that’s not like Veronica. I see myself in film, and I know that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, coming out of TV. Especially actors who play these characters that are very extreme on a TV show that may or may not run for a while...you’re playing these characters for a long time, so you take that liberty in playing different roles for a shorter amount of time and experimenting.

See more of Camila Mendes in the slideshow below.

Bathing Suit Tommy Hilfiger
Credits: Makeup Kayleen McAdams using Hourglass Cosmetics at Starworks Artists Hair Bridget Brager using Sachajuan at The Wall Group Production Hannah Huffman Production Assistant Olivia Huffman

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