You may recognize Rachel Matthews from her role as a mean sorority girl in Happy Death Day and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, but the actress is working overtime to prove she has range. She’s nabbed roles in three projects that could not be more different from one another: a stealth supervillain in the Ruby Rose-led CW series Batwoman; a sophisticated collegiate type in the Hulu adaptation of John Green’s debut novel, Looking For Alaska; and the voice of a free spirit named Honeymaren in Frozen 2.
“I don’t ever need to typecast myself, and I can play all these different roles,” Matthews told W over the phone. “While I was in school, I had so many teachers tell us that we need to pigeonhole ourselves into something, and that always bothered me because I knew that I wanted to do so many different types of roles and different genres—everything from TV to animation. It’s surreal to see all these things come to fruition for me right now.”
Matthews considers herself “a rare breed” among Angelenos: an LA native who grew up with the acting bug and continues to pursue the craft to this day. “I got really into acting when I started watching Shirley Temple at a young age,” she said. “I was obsessed with her. I looked like her, and I wanted to be her so I put myself in tap classes and voice, and that opened the door for me. I jumped into the local theater program and started doing shows from the age of 10. Theater was always my bread and butter. I love being on stage, and that’s ultimately what I went to college for.”
She moved to the east coast to attend New York University, where she studied theater and met two of her best friends, fellow CW star Camila Mendes, and the musician Maggie Rogers. Matthews and Mendes eventually co-starred in Rogers’s video for “Give A Little,” in which they skateboarded in an empty pool. “Cami and I recently put all of us in a group chat again and were like, When is the second music video? We need to do another one!” Matthews said. “Every time I see her in concert, she usually will drag us up on stage and we will do the “Give a Little” dance with her, which is usually pretty humiliating but also so much fun. I’m actually going to Nashville because she’s opening up for Kacey Musgraves on my birthday.”
Before she jets off to Tennessee, Matthews will appear on the small screen in Batwoman as Magpie, a jewel thief who targets the wealthy. “Magpie comes in and steals something of great value to Batwoman—I won’t say what—and she kind of sets her on a whirlwind journey for the rest of the episode,” Matthews said.
When Matthews showed up to the audition, she only knew she was reading for a supervillain, but wasn’t given any specifics. When she found out she was cast as Magpie, she was excited to fly to Vancouver and get her face cast so that she could wear the character’s signature eye mask. “People usually hate that, but I was so pumped,” she said, before adding that the long hours she put in each morning to get into character made her want to work harder. “I love Magpie, she’s so fun. She loves to come in and cause some chaos with a smile on her face, but I also like to view her as a good villain because she’s kind of like the Robin Hood,” Matthews said. “She likes to stir things up and teach the wealthy a little lesson or two. It’s so much more interesting to watch and love those types of characters that you want to hate but you can’t because you know deep down there’s part of you that agrees with at least a little bit of what they’re doing.”
“Magpies—the birds—they’re known for stealing shiny objects,” she went on. “The character is based off the bird, so she’s a kleptomaniac. I feel like I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life because I think I was about two or three and I was, of course ironically, in a Warner Bros. store, and I stole a Tweety Bird headband. One of the only things I’ve ever stolen!”
In contrast, she plays less of a supervillain and more of a presumed antagonist on Hulu’s Looking For Alaska, opposite Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth. A fan of Green’s young adult novel since middle school, Matthews had been vying to be a part of the adaptation for nearly a decade. “I’d been tracking the project because I know that he’d been wanting to make it for a long time,” she said.” I actually got a hold of the script that was originally supposed to be a movie when I was in college. I was using sides from it—ones that people were actually auditioning with—as my fake audition for class, and wanted more than anything to be able to get an audition for it, but I didn’t have reps and obviously that never went anywhere. Cut to three years later, I managed to find my way in the project, so it was a dream come true.”
In the serialized version of the novel, Matthews plays Fiona, a friend of Alaska’s boyfriend that initially gives the titular character pause. “That posed an automatic threat to Alaska, but the more she got to know Fiona, the more she realized, she wasn’t a threat,” Matthews explained. “I really wanted to bring myself into this character. I felt very close to her. She really is just a young woman supporting other young women, and she didn’t want there to be any jealousy there or for Alaska to actually worry about her relationship. She actually genuinely cares for Alaska. I think Fiona ultimately is meant to represent everything that Alaska isn’t, and I think that in itself is intimidating for Alaska initially. I think anyone can relate to that, trying to maintain a friendship while respecting someone’s romantic relationship with a new person.”
As for her Frozen 2 character, Matthews cannot divulge too much (“Disney is secretive about everything”) but what she can say is that she was excited to not only voice an animated character for the first time, but also experience her first-ever voiceover audition, period. And as a diehard fan of the first installment (she admitted she dragged her friends to the theater four times to see it as a sophomore in college), she doesn’t really feel too much pressure to live up to the hype this second time around. “I’m just still pinching myself that I get to be a part of this that I don’t feel any pressure,” she said. “I’m just along for the ride, and every day I wake up, like, Oh my gosh I get to be in a dream project with an incredible cast. I’m excited to see it.”
The actress finds each of her upcoming roles to be evocative of the “strong female character” archetype, regardless of the medium through which they are portrayed. “Each one of them are strong in their own ways, whether it’s the villain of Gotham, or Honeymaren standing up for what’s right in Northuldra, or Fiona trying to support another woman in a time of need,” Matthews said. “It’s such a dream that I can look at all these projects right now and see how different they all are.”