Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart on Mental Health and Betty Cooper’s Future

Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart on Mental Health and Betty Cooper’s Future

Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart on Mental Health and Betty Cooper’s Future

One of the breakout stars from 'Riverdale' talks to V about playing "Dark Betty," keeping her private life private, and the importance of mental health education.

One of the breakout stars from 'Riverdale' talks to V about playing "Dark Betty," keeping her private life private, and the importance of mental health education.

Text: Ilana Kaplan

Upon meeting Lili Reinhart in her hotel room at The London Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, it’s easy to forget she’s the star of CW’s teen soap Riverdale and not a college student. The 21-year-old actress has just changed out of her glam outfit and into cozy sweats. Talking to Lili is like talking to your best friend. She hasn’t been jaded by Hollywood even with the success of Riverdale. “I booked this amazing gig, and I’m a small town girl from Ohio,” she says.

From Instagram stories of her spending time at her family home to sharing which skincare products that have helped her acne, Lili is as down-to-earth as she seems on social media. Lili has also opened up candidly about struggling with her mental health and how it affected her life — something she’s dealt with since the seventh grade. “It’s so fucked up to me that they don’t talk about mental health in school,” she says passionately. “I didn’t learn about depression or anxiety at school. So when I had to go to my parents to say 'I need help, I need to go to therapy,' I felt like this weird, messed up kid. And I wasn’t, but I felt that way.” Lili’s candor about her health and her history is what makes her a great role model for teen girls today — and someone you just want to root for.

Apart from spreading awareness, Lili is in the midst of shooting the second season of Riverdale, where she is the uniting force between the core four characters on the show: Betty, Veronica, Archie and Jughead. She plays Archie Andrews’ (KJ Apa) best friend Betty Cooper, who is always helping to save the town of Riverdale — plus her romance with Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) has fans shipping the couple like Seth and Summer from The O.C. Below, Lili discusses battling anxiety and depression, what fans can expect from Betty Cooper in the future and the importance of having a personal life.

Do you live in LA when you’re not in Vancouver?

Yeah, but I feel like I live in Vancouver and that’s it, and I never leave.

Do you like it there?

It’s a good place to work.

Would you consider Riverdale your big break?

Of course. Definitely. No one knew who I was before.

How long have you been acting?

I think I was 10 when I did my first community play, and then I started booking bigger roles in these plays, and people were telling me and my parents that I was talented. And I was like, well, this is something I wanna do. I was always a performer kid, like annoyingly so. I would put on shows for my family and direct my friends in little plays, and my little sister, I’d make up dances with her. But when I was 12, that was when I started taking it seriously, and my mom, for some reason, believed in me and helped me find an agent in Cleveland, which did nothing for me. But my mom would actually drive me from Ohio to New York for auditions: it’s like an eight-hour drive. And we would use my dad’s hotel points to stay in hotels. It definitely didn’t happen overnight. They kind of make it seem like like, “And just like that, she got her big break.” I’ve been working at this since I was 12.,  so it’s been a journey.

Do you have more fun playing “Dark Betty” or regular Betty?

God, I can’t choose, because I love Betty as who she is, but her dark side is fun to play because I know fans love it. They only see glimpses of it, so they want more. And so it’s fun to give in to that, show the dark sides, go a little off the rails and have her act. I guess it is more fun than the typical, everyday Betty that I play four out of five days a week. And there’s so much “Dark Betty” in this season. Well, not even just “Dark Betty,” but “Tormented Betty.”

Yeah, I feel like “dark” and “tortured” are synonymous.

Yeah, she’s tortured this season. And we’re only halfway through filming, and only six episodes have aired, but there’s so much more coming. The audience has no idea what’s coming, and I just feel like I know Betty’s secrets. I wish I could share them with the world already, but I can’t yet.

Will we understand why there’s a “Dark Betty” at some point?

I think it’s the fact that there’s darkness in everyone. Her’s just manifests itself in a little bit more of an exaggerated way, like an alter ego. Even appearance-wise, she changes her look when she’s “Dark Betty,” whether she lets her hair down or she wears a black wig and lingerie. We all have a dark side; hers is just a little bit more visibly apparent.

In the comics it’s all about Archie, but in the show, it’s not.

I think that women definitely are a huge driving force for the show, but the male characters are obviously important and strong as well. I think it’s refreshing that it’s not called “The Archie Show.” It’s called Riverdale, not “Archie,” which is good. I hope that throughout the season and the show’s lifespan, we get to see more of each character that isn’t the core four. I hope that we get to see more of Cheryl and her background and her life, and more of Kevin and what goes on in Kevin’s head. I just want to see that explored, because I think people love all of these characters, and it’s very core four-heavy.

Alice’s character almost seems emotionally abusive at times. Is that just me?

No, it definitely can be, I think more so in season one. Alice was sometimes written a lot harsher than she actually ends up being. We’ve had lines taken out in scripts where Alice has commented on Betty’s weight, hinted that Betty’s not in shape and that Betty’s not popular, Betty’s not wearing enough makeup or she’s not dressing well. But we’ve toned that down a little bit, because I think that’s a little too stereotypical. I like Alice. I think that she’s so interesting in the way that Madchen [plays her]. You laugh at Alice and what she says because it’s so ridiculous, but it’s still grounded in a way.

Will we find out why she’s this way toward Betty?

Well, I think in season one, a layer was revealed. You found out that she’s overbearing because she lost control of Polly. Polly got pregnant and went off the rails a little bit. So I think she feels like she has to hold the reins tight on Betty, because she lost hold of her other daughter. In season two,  you see that Polly left again, and you found out in season one that Alice has a baby that she gave up, which we explore in season two. I think the more you get to know Alice, the more you sympathize with her, and Madchen just brings her to life so well. I love Madchen.

You’ve said that you suffer from depression and anxiety. How did that affect you when you were trying to make it in acting, and what motivated you to keep going?

It affected me in every way, ever. I moved to LA when I was 18, and I lived in three different apartments. I had a horrible roommate situation at first. I lived in Burbank, and then I moved to Hollywood Hills and lived in a shared house with seven other people. I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t have any friends there. I didn’t have any family there. So when I moved there, it was just me. And I wasn’t going to school, so I didn’t have any way to really meet people, necessarily, or be social. I was just kind of waiting around for my auditions. I spent most of my days literally doing nothing, sitting in my room watching Netflix and waiting for an audition to come in. And it was miserable. And I didn’t want to get a job, because I didn’t want to quit right away if I booked something. It was just my wishful thinking in a way. The first time I moved to LA, I was there for five months, and my health got so bad because of how depressed I was. I was throwing up every day, [having] panic attacks, night sweats, and I was just sad. There came a point when I called my mom, and I was like, “I need to come home. I’m not OK. I’m not good right now. My mental health isn’t good.” My mental health has always been such a priority to me that I knew when it was affecting my physical health.

Was it the first time it happened, or had it happened before?

I’ve experienced depression since I was in seventh grade, but this was extreme. I felt so isolated in this little world in LA. So, I moved back home and worked in regular jobs, saved up money — the tiniest bit of money. Because I had such bad anxiety, it was really hard for me to work. I had to quit two jobs on my first day for both of them because I had such bad anxiety. It was really hard. I saw a therapist for six months and had to build myself back up again. Then I moved back out and booked Riverdale, which is wonderful. But like I said, it definitely didn’t happen overnight, and it was hard. 

Did therapy, medication, and other holistic things help you?

I definitely credit therapy. I still see a therapist in Canada now. I’ve seen a therapist at different points in my life for different reasons. I’m not very good at stress management, and I have a very high-stress job, so it’s definitely convenient for me to see a therapist right now at this point in my life. I am on medication—I’ve talked about that before—just to help my anxiety, so I’m not depressed all the time.

It’s really nice to hear you speaking out about that. I think it’s important for younger girls.

I think it is important, and it’s so fucked up to me that they don’t talk about mental health in school. I didn’t learn about depression or anxiety at school. So when I had to go to my parents to say "I need help, I need to go to therapy," I felt like this weird, messed up kid. And I wasn’t, but I felt that way.

There have been a lot of news stories about sexual harassment. How has that affected your mental health, and has that ever affected your career?

It hasn’t affected my mental health, per se. It’s good that people are coming forward about it so rapidly. It’s kind of astounding, it was like an avalanche. First it was Harvey Weinstein, and then it was literally everyone else. And it’s horrifying, because people that you looked up to or were a fan of are ruined now, which is unfortunate, but it’s also like they got what’s coming to them. I commend the women who came forward and were brave enough to point out the men and women who did that to them. I’ve dealt with sexual assault, but it never really affected my career too much. We all have in one way or another.

Being in the spotlight, there are always dating rumors. How have you dealt with that?

It’s the story of my life every time I’m on Twitter. I feel like every time I tweeted something that was a little opinionated, or every time I posted something on Tumblr that seemed a little private, it’s all of a sudden making news relationship-wise. People are just dying to know information about if I’m in a relationship or not. I understand the interest, but it’s called a private life for a reason. And it’s not something that I owe the world. People are going to say anything and everything. They’re going to say that I love KJ, they’re gonna say that I love Cami, and they’re gonna say that I love Cole: it’s inevitable. But I’m not at a point in my life where I’m ready to openly confirm, deny, or talk about a relationship that I’m in, because I think it’s brutal to have a relationship in the spotlight where I can be scrutinized by anyone and everyone. Being in a relationship with someone, it’s a relationship between those two people, and I feel like when you let enough people in, it’s not about those two people anymore. It’s about everyone.

What are your career aspirations? TV, film, music?

When I first got into the industry, I had an idea of what my career looked like, and I remember talking to my manager about it when I was 14. She was like, “Whatever you’re picturing for your career right now, it’s not going to look like that because you never know what it’s going to look like.” And it’s totally true, because I thought I was going to be doing films, just film after film after film, and that’s obviously not the case right now. But TV is so revolutionary right now. It’s the day and age of television, and the quality of television is so amazing right now. I aspire to do films because there’s something so beautiful and artistic about seeing someone’s whole story within 90 minutes and getting to play so many different characters that you don’t have to hold onto for years and years like you do with television. I love Betty, and this role has had such an impact on my life and forever will be my big break. But I’m also so excited to show people other sides of me and how our show is a little over the top and exaggerated, whereas I like to act more subtle. And that’s funny to say, because everyone always points out my crazy facial expressions that I make. But really, that’s kind of for the show, whereas in film acting for me, I play a lot with my eyes, and I take my time.

You post a lot of stories on Instagram about skin care. How did you get into that?

Well, because I had cystic acne. It’s the worst.

Your skin looks amazing.

Thank you. I have makeup on right now. But I had the worst breakout over this break. I had three cysts on my forehead, one on my chin, and then two little spots on my cheeks. It was god-awful. And when that happens, it sparks up body dysmorphic disorder inside me. I’ve done a little research. There’s a specific body dysmorphic disorder related to acne. And I feel like that’s pretty spot-on with how it makes me feel. I don’t even like to go outside or look in the mirror when I have a breakout because I’m so paranoid about it. But then I have to be on camera when I have a breakout. It’s like my worst nightmare. I remember filming episode six and being so paranoid and in the worst mood because I had a breakout on my forehead during some scenes, and I could barely look anyone in the eye. That’s something that I’m still battling with, obviously. I think I talk about skincare a lot because I want to learn more about it. I feel like I’d be an aesthetician in a different life because I’m super into skincare.


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