Playing one-part saboteur and two-parts mourning star, MADELAINE PETSCH sparks life into the fiery Cheryl Blossom in The CW hit Riverdale.
A vision in a white dress, with red high heels matching her flaming locks, floating across the water is what greets the first scene of Riverdale, and simultaneously, introduces Cheryl Blossom. The beloved River Vixen in The CW’s teen drama proves to be every bit as fiery as her comic counterpart in the Archie Comics realm, with none other than actress Madelaine Petsch to credit for. And just like her character, she knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it. “I’ve always known what I was meant to do in life, and I feel very lucky to have found my passion early on,” she recalls. “I grew up and lived between South Africa and Washington and have been dancing, acting, and singing since I was a wee young thing. I started in local musical theater and worked my way up the ladder. I then went on to an arts high school, and after graduation, I moved to Los Angeles.” Gaining her acting chops watching the works of Baz Luhrmann, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, and Meryl Streep, Madelaine sparked a few small roles in sitcom Instant Mom and indie fantasy horror The Curse of Sleeping Beauty. But she unexpectedly fanned the flame walking into a guest star role on Legends of Tomorrow in October 2015. “While in the room, David Rapaport–who was the same casting director for Riverdale–told me that he had a pilot I’d be perfect for. The next day, I received an email for the role of Betty, but when I went in that evening, everyone was murmuring ‘Cheryl Blossom.’ I was being pinned for a role I hadn’t read for yet, and after a couple of months, I got the role of Cheryl and the rest is history.”
“With Riverdale, I hope we instill a completely different notion in our youth; you don’t need a relationship to be happy, and that being a strong, independent woman is powerful.”
Stirring up some trouble and giving a stare down or two are just a few things the reborn Cheryl nails, but a different storyboard is what sets the adaptation apart. Straying away from the famed love triangle on a pedestal, the series follows the mystery behind the murder of Cheryl’s twin brother, setting the tone of the show as well as layering on a whole new dimension to the queen bee. “I was a fan of the comics–my dad used to clip the Sunday strips in the newspaper and hand them to me at breakfast, [but] taking a character off a page and turning them into a human being is such a fun process. Our mastermind Robert Aguirre-Sacasa really allowed us to find who our characters were ourselves and develop them with no boundaries. I really had to dig deeper than the villainous surface and discover the reasoning behind the cold-hearted façade.” Balancing between the dichotomy of the raging bitch and mourning sister, the actress breaks her character down for us. “Cheryl is a broken and lonely young woman trying to find herself. She lashes out and manipulates everyone as a defense mechanism, because she’s been hurt so much in the past. But apart from that, she’s very sassy, and I definitely relate to her on that level. She’s fearless and not afraid to speak her mind.”
“Growing up, I always had this idea that I needed to be dating someone in order to feel valid–and a lot of that had to do with the representation of teenagers on TV.”
Another apparent direction the show has chosen to take that definitely speaks of the higher ground is its underlying theme of women empowerment. “Looking back on the comics in the ’50s, the women always loved Archie, or whatever love interest they had. They could fight over men with the other women all the time. [In the series], the women are coming together and putting their friendship first. A great example of that is in the episode ‘Body Double,’ when three different sides of the spectrum–Betty and Veronica, Cheryl, and Ethel–come together to fight against sexual harassment in Riverdale.” Adding another layer to this, the statement for representation of female characters lands a point in its progressiveness. “Growing up, I always had this idea that I needed to be dating someone in order to feel valid–and a lot of that had to do with the representation of teenagers on TV,” the actress recalls. “You almost never saw a high school girl that wasn’t either in a relationship or pining over one. With Riverdale, I hope we instill a completely different notion in our youth; you don’t need a relationship to be happy, and that being a strong, independent woman is powerful. I really love that about this show.” With her current series being renewed for a second season, an upcoming horror film called Polaroid, and her headstrong pace at standing up for women’s rights, sexual abuse, as well as environmental issues, Madelaine Petsch is ready to start a fire with her flair.
By Janroe Cabiles
Photographed by Shanna Fisher
Styled by Adena Rohatiner
Hair Michael Kanyon
Makeup Grace Phillips