IN CONVERSATION WITH LILI REINHART
Lili Reinhart has quickly amassed an impressive resume as one of Hollywood’s most exciting young actors on screen and is quickly becoming a multi-faceted talent with projects as an executive producer and author. She is well known for playing Betty Cooper on CW’s teen drama series ‘Riverdale’. Lili starred in and executive produced Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Look Both Ways’, which premiered on Netflix this summer.
Lili, this summer we were able to see you in Netflix’s ‘Look Both Ways’ as Natalie, a college student whose life diverges into two parallel realities on the eve of her college graduation: one in which she became pregnant and must have navigated motherhood as a young adult in her Texas hometown, the other in which she moved to L.A. to pursue her career. In both journeys throughout her 20s, Natalie experienced life-changing love, devastating heartbreak and rediscovered herself. How was the experience of portraying Natalie for you, with her challenging story?
I had a really wonderful time playing Natalie. It was very satisfying to me, as someone who obviously can’t see what any of my parallel lives look like, to be able to portray that in a film and show the way that Natalie’s life would’ve ended up in two different scenarios. It was incredibly fun, I had the best time filming. I just loved Natalie and I loved working with our director creating a lovable girl that you really rooted for and you wanted her to be happy in both lives.
At the end of the movie we see Natalie waiting for the result of the pregnancy tets, but we don’t find out what it actually showed. Did you on set know what it showed?
No, it was unwritten. We wanted this movie to be very full of hope and optimism. And regardless of what the test says, you knew that Natalie was going to be okay and that she was going to live a happy life and be successful and find love. So the shot of her waiting for the pregnancy test, you don’t know, we don’t know, no one knows what the actual results said. It was just a matter of showing that either life could have played out and she would’ve been happy in either one.
In 2020 you starred and executive produced in the coming-of-age drama ‘Chemical Hearts’, based on the best-selling novel ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ written by Krystal Sutherland. This film marked your debut in an executive producer role. What do you love most about executive producing?
I really enjoy being a part of a film from start to finish. I enjoy the revisions on the script, the casting process. When it comes to finishing the movie, when you’re an actor, you finish filming and then you walk away and go and do other things. And when you’re an executive producer, you’re still very involved in everything. I saw six or seven cuts of the film before the final version. So I saw different edits of the film and was able to give my notes. And I was able to look at the trailer and give my notes. Just being involved in every aspect, I enjoy that. It makes me feel that I’m very much in the thick of things. Although acting is my number one passion and what I love the most about my projects is actually acting in them, being able to be a part of the behind the scenes is just very satisfying and makes me feel kind of even more connected to the project.
How would you describe acting and executive producing differ? What are the similarities between both?
When you’re an actor in a film, you only have to worry about your own character. And when you’re an executive producer, you’re involved in all the characters and in all aspects of things. But in both scenarios, whether I’m an executive producer or an actor, I care about the other actors. I care who I’m working with, who’s cast in those roles. Even when you aren’t an executive producer and you are an actor, it’s very important to make sure that you have chemistry with your co-stars. If you’re cast first in a project, you’re usually involved in the casting of your other co-stars to make sure the chemistry works. But you just have a proper title when you’re the executive producer.
What is the most satisfying thing about acting for you?
I love being able to portray different human emotions. I have always loved acting. I think maybe I’ve always loved being able to be dramatic, acting out scenarios that I’m not actually going through. I think it’s getting to experience things that I personally have never experienced. When you’re an actor, you kind of get to live a million different lives and that’s exciting and fun. To me, it’s genuinely so enjoyable and fun to act.
In June 2021, your production company ‘Small Victory Productions’ signed a deal with Amazon Studios. It will develop original and adapted content for both film and television with a focus on modern, young adult content that celebrates diversity and inclusivity, as well as supporting new voices. Why is diversity and inclusivity so important in the film industry?
I think the industry has looked a certain way for a very long time and we’ve become very accustomed to it and sort of just accepted it. You saw all these stereotypes of different races and different roles and you weren’t presented with different sexualities. There was such lack of diversity growing up, when I was a kid. And I think now there’s such importance on making sure that film and TV reflect what the world looks like today. There’s not just one race and there’s not just one sexuality and all aspects of race and all aspects of sexuality need to be explored in film. We want to make films that accurately represent the world and how it looks. And the world is a very diverse place, so we wanna make sure we’re telling stories that include anyone and everyone. That’s very important to us.
You are mostly known for portraying Betty Cooper on the teen drama series ‘Riverdale’. How has the role on ‘Riverdale’ changed your life and your career?
‘Riverdale’ was the catalyst for my whole career. I don’t think I’d be sitting here today if it weren’t for ‘Riverdale’. I’d like to think that obviously I would’ve still been an actress and I would’ve caught my big break somewhere else, but I’m thankful with the way that things are. And ‘Riverdale’ has given me the opportunity to be a working actress for seven years, seven seasons. To have had that consistency in my life has been a blessing for me, especially during Covid, to know that I would still have a job to come back to.
And I think I’ve also been blessed with the most incredible fan base. I think the CW breeds very passionate, loyal fans. Actors on the CW have large amazing fan bases and I’m one of them. I have incredible fans, who very much supported me when ‘Chemical Hearts’ came out, when ‘Look Both Ways’ came out. They have been so hungry for content from me outside of ‘Riverdale’ and they wanna see me play different roles and different characters. And so I think one of the biggest takeaways from ‘Riverdale’ is honestly people who support my career and who will, I hope, follow me for the rest of whatever projects come after this. But I also love who I work with on ‘Riverdale’. And I love my character, I love Betty. She means a lot to me and I feel grateful that I was able to play a role like her for so long.
‘Riverdale’ will end in 2023 with its seventh and final season. How would you like the series to end?
I don’t know exactly how I want the series to end, but I know that I would like that we end on a very optimistic note. We want fans to feel like the characters that they love are going to be happy and their lives will continue on in sort of this fake universe that will exist. That each character is finding peace in their relationships, in their careers, with their families. Maybe the craziness in Riverdale will have settled down and you see the characters entering a more peaceful chapter of their lives. I really have no idea how the show’s gonna end, but I do think Roberto, who’s our show runner, cares so deeply about these characters that he wants everyone to have a happy ending. And I think they will.
You are also an author. In 2020 you released a book of poetry titled ‘Swimming Lessons: Poems’. The book explores themes such as young love, anxiety, depression, fame and heartbreak. What was the main inspiration for you to write this book?
I wanted to publish a book out of the desire to have creative control over something. I wanted to express artistically a different side of myself, that I hadn’t before, and that I wasn’t able to. When you’re working on a TV show, it’s very rare that you can leave and go film something else in the middle of shooting. For nine months out of the year, I was attached to ‘Riverdale’, filming every day in Vancouver. And I wanted to have an outlet of more and different creativity. So I thought that working on a book and publishing a book would give me that outlet to express myself.
I had already been writing for a couple of years and enjoyed reading poetry and thought that maybe it would be a fun thing to do. And it was and I very much enjoyed the process. I think it’s a cute little book. I’ve written a lot since then and continue to write as a form of therapy and as a form of processing my own emotions. Emotionally, I think it’s just something that I always do. It was never about ‘I wanna be an author’ or ‘I want to make more money’. It was genuinely about sharing this side of myself that exists, that I think maybe other people could relate to.
The book debuted on on The New York Times Best Seller list. Do you have plans to pen another bestseller?
Maybe down the line. I don’t think anytime soon, although I have written an extremely large amount since my book was published. I could publish a book, I have all the material and the resources to do it, but I think I am not quite ready to release what I’ve written yet. I feel a bit of what’s called imposter syndrome, where I don’t really feel like an author and I don’t really feel like a poet. I just enjoy writing and I do it for the sake of my own wellbeing, out of self therapy.
It’s weird because I would like to publish more poems, but it’s almost as if I need the disclaimer saying: ‘I don’t think I’m a great writer, this is me sort of adding my thoughts into the mix, but don’t criticize me too hard’.
You are also an activist for mental health and body image, as you’ve dealt with depression yourself. You often use your platform to raise awareness to these issues. What do you believe is the most effective way to raise awareness on mental health issues, as people tend to be ashamed to be dealing with this themselves?
I think it’s about honesty and I think it takes a lot of bravery to be honest. For me personally, in order to deal with what I’m going through in life, I have to be vocal about it. I’m not a closed off person. I’m a very open and vulnerable person, so I have to reach out and open my arms and ask for help and look for connection in order to feel okay. When dealing with my anxiety and depression, I can feel very isolated and alone. And when I talk about it, it makes me feel better. I encourage people who are in the spotlight to do the same, because it encourages young people looking up to you, following you. It makes you feel less alone, it makes me feel less alone.
The amount of support that I’ve received when I’ve opened up about my experiences has been nothing but positive. There are people who like to tell me that I don’t deserve to feel a certain way, because I’m famous and whatever, but most of the feedback is very supportive and I’ve kind of felt very embraced by a community of people who also deal with depression and anxiety. I feel like just talking about it is the most important thing that you can do. You don’t have to share personal details, but just being honest and open, saying ‘Hey, I experienced this too. I also struggle with this and I’m a human being on this journey just like you’. That creates a connection and I think that’s what we’re all here to do.
I think 20 years ago no one was talking about depression and anxiety, but now I feel we’re moving in the right direction as far as being open about mental health, so I feel good about that. And I think I will teach my future kids about mental health and encourage them to talk about their mental health. Dealing with Covid has sort of made a lot of people experience these mental health issues. I love my generation, I think we’re very passionate and honest and brave. So I think we will continue to breed people who are the same.
Lili, besides ‘Look Both Ways’ and ‘Riverdale’, where will we be able to see you next?
I have very exciting projects that I’ve been working on with my production company. We’ll wrap ‘Riverdale’ next year, next summer. And I’ll have a little bit of time off to take a moment and be sad about my show ending, but then I’m gonna jump right back into more projects and things that I’ve been developing. Hopefully a mini series. I have a period piece, drama that I’m developing and then I’m also producing shows that I’m not acting in. It’s very fun for me as well to just be a producer and not be in things, because there are certain things where I can’t and don’t need to be acting in.
I wanna focus on diversity and I can’t be the lead or an actor in some of these projects. So I want to obviously produce things for other people, create exposure for other people. I have a bunch of exciting things, but nothing will be coming out until 2024 because I didn’t film anything this summer.
interview by JANA LETONJA
Talent: Lili Reinhart @lilireinhart
Photographer: Agata Serge @agataserge
Stylist: Sarah Gore Reeves @sarahgorereeves
Make-up: Pati Dubroff @patidubroff @forwardartists
Hair: Lisa-Marie Powel @sheardeath @artdeptagencyla
Lighting tech: Dylan Tatem Gordon @dylan.tatem.gordon
Set designer: Isaac Aaron @itsisaacaaron
Set design assistant: Charlotte Cahill @char_3d_artist
PR: Olga Leventis @is_olgaly
Producer: Anna Makovchik @annamakovchik
Production: Uprising Productions @uprisingproductions_
Video production: One Ten Media @oneten.media
Video producer: Alexander John @alexanderjohhn
Video director: Andi Cher @andi_cher
Editors: Timi Letonja & Wies Kuijpers @timiletonja @wies_tk