Madelaine Petsch: A Hardly Known Archie Character is Making Her a Riverdale Star
The Grove in Los Angeles can be classified one of two ways: a watered down Disneyland or a capitalist bodega on steroids. It’s a flashy and colossal plaza that perpetually makes shoppers feel both underdressed and first-class. There—amid its winding cobble-stoned paths and its glittering whimsical fountain—Madelaine Petsch was on a second date. And it was there, on this second date, that she heard it first.
“Cheryl Blossom!,” shrieks a girl (probably around ten years old, Petsch thinks). As the young fanatic begins running towards her (“like, army running at me,” Petsch says), her date turns toward her, dumbfounded. Three things flash through Petsch’s mind: “What do I do? Do I catch you? Do I run?” In the end the precocious admirer hits Petsch’s legs and falls over. A fittingly portentous signal that a rush of recognition was coming her way.
“This was before the show had even come out” Petsch tells me, laughingly recalling her first encounter with a fan who recognized her from the CW’s Riverdale. On the show, which is based out the comic book classic Archie, she plays antagonist Cheryl Blossom, a bona fide bad girl whose mean streak is rooted in tragedy. It may have been a surprise, that first impact with the little foot soldier, the vanguard of her fandom, but Petsch has adjusted to the rising tide. “I feel like I’m living the life I’m supposed to live,” says Petsch of her newfound stardom—and the Cheryl Blossom fanatics that inevitably come with it. “It hasn’t changed me too much.”
Riverdale is unique in the fact that its very premise—a new take on the Archie comic universe—is supported by the immortality of Archie’s sheer cultural pervasiveness. Petsch’s character Cheryl Blossom is also unique in the fact that, despite this cultural pressure to get the iconic characters ‘right,’ she simply wasn’t as prevalent in the comics, leaving room for experimentation. “There’s so much to learn about her, but it’s also so great because I felt like my shoes weren’t as big to fill,” Petsch, who read the comics as a kid, confides. “I felt like I could kinda create my own character. Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Archie are very iconic characters. They had a lot of people who really didn’t want them to change them too much—whereas nobody really cared about Cheryl before.”
People care now. Bumping into ardent fans who recognize her unignorable red mane as Cheryl Blossom’s has become just another of many changes in Petsch’s new life in the spotlight. Gone are the 5 a.m. to midnight work days for three different jobs, but that doesn’t mean Petsch’s workload has lightened. As I speak with her, we have only so much time until she must be whisked off to a photoshoot, followed by an event with Variety later that night, before boarding a flight to Vancouver to start shooting episode 5 of Riverdale the next morning. Busy, it seems, has always described her.
“I used to write down every audition I had and notes I’d gotten and stuff,” Petsch says of her pre-Riverdale days. “I’d gone on a hundred and seventy auditions or something crazy like that. A couple of them worked out but not most of them. It’s interesting how much rejection you go through in this industry before you really get something.”
Petsch speaks quickly, new sentences starting before the last one ends, ideas and dreams pushing at the backs of others on the tip of her tongue. She expresses her desire to work with Meryl Streep, her plans to someday venture into comedy and her hopes to have a film showcased at the Sundance Film Festival. With roles as iconic as those in Riverdale, people tend to remember actors solely by that one gig, tethering them to a televised one-hit-wonder. But, with Petsch, it is impossible to imagine her remaining Cheryl Blossom forever. Her ambitions are uninhibited. She is hungry for more. That ten-year-old girl definitely knew who she was running into.
Written by Chelsey Sanchez
Photographed by Daria Kobayashi Ritch at Jones Mgmt
Styled by Mui-Hai Chu
Hair by Amber Duarte using Bumble and Bumble at Walter Schupfer Management
Makeup by Tsipporah Liebman using Mac Cosmetics