Lili Reinhart Wants Every Role She Takes To Be A Challenge

From the stunts of Riverdale to pole-dancing in Hustlers.

Photograph by Steven Klein; Styled Arianne Phillips.

Lili Reinhart is not one to run away from an obstacle. When she first moved to Los Angeles with dreams of making it as an actress, it wasn’t immediate fame and fortune. In fact, it wasn’t until she returned to L.A. for the second time, after first returning home to Cleveland to focus on her mental health, that her career began to take off. “I don’t know if it was courage,” Reinhart says. “I think it was more just passion, just the passion for the art and wanting it so badly that I knew I was going to go back out. It was just a matter of when.”

Then, of course, was around the same time she auditioned in person for Riverdale‘s Betty Cooper, eventually nabbing the role of one of pop culture’s most famous blondes. “Before season one aired, people were telling me, ‘Do you feel this pressure? Do you feel nervous to be playing this iconic character?'” Reinhart recalls. “And I was like, ‘No, I actually wasn’t nervous about it until literally everyone started asking me if I was. I feel fine about it.'” Next up, Reinhart will star in the highly anticipated film Hustlers, alongside Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, a role that delivered its own challenges—including learning how to pole dance. Here, Reinhart details her road to Riverdale, shares the new skills that she learned from Hustlers, and recalls her first kiss.

When did you first decide to go out to L.A.?

I went to L.A. when I was 14 for the first time to meet with an acting coach and kind of see if this was something that I could actually do, and then when I was 18, I moved to L.A. by myself. I bought a one-way ticket to L.A. Didn’t know when I was going to return. Didn’t have much money in my bank account and had my fingers crossed and basically sat around all day, every day, waiting for an audition, waiting for something to do. It was quite miserable.

How did you book Riverdale?

I booked Riverdale after I moved back to L.A. for the second time. I moved home after going for the first time because I ran out of money, and I was incredibly depressed and unhealthy. So, I moved back home, and when I moved back out for the second time, I was able to audition for Riverdale in person, and I got it.

When I went back home, I knew that I was going to end up going back out eventually. I just knew that I needed to save up money and I needed to see a therapist to help me. My mental health was in such bad shape that it actually made my physical health was really poor, and I really needed to just take care of myself for six months before I went back out and tried again. And I went back to my job at Pier Ones Imports, where I was a sales associate, and I worked for six more months until I saved up a very little amount of money, and then moved back and tried again. I stayed on my friend’s air mattress on her floor. Acting was always my plan. I didn’t have a plan B. I didn’t go to college, much to my grandmother’s dismay.

Was that difficult to come home in defeat, as it were?

One-hundred percent. I really felt defeated. I had dwindled through my bank account. I tried to get a job in L.A. at Buca di Beppo. I got a hostess job, and after I was offered that job, I threw up in the Uber because I started having a panic attack. I called my mom, hyperventilating. I was actually breathing in and out of a brown paper bag, which I’ve never done in my life because I thought that was only something that happened in the movies.

I Skyped with my mom. I told her that I couldn’t be here anymore. It felt so counterproductive to be having this job in L.A. where I’m not actually acting. I was like, “I just need to come home. I need help.” I’m so glad I did that because I don’t know where I would be if I had just stayed and struggled, and I fortunately enough was able to go home to very welcoming parents who always had their arms open. They were like, “You can always come back whenever you need to,” and so I did, and I basically rebuilt myself because I felt pretty broken and pretty rock bottom, but I knew that I needed to go back out there. It was just a matter of time. I just needed to put my health first and that’s what I did, and once I felt better, I went back out.

What scenes did you have to audition with for Betty?

I auditioned with scenes from the pilot. It was the scene where Betty is talking to Alice, her mother, about how she doesn’t want to be the perfect daughter or sister anymore and she’s feeling a lot of pressure to be that kind of person. And then also a scene with Archie where they’re at the diner, and she’s talking about what she did over the summer and what he did over the summer, and yeah, those were my first scenes.

Did you feel a lot of pressure to be playing such an iconic blonde?

I feel like before season one aired, people were telling me, “Do you feel this pressure? Do you feel nervous to be playing this iconic character?” And I was like, “No, I actually wasn’t nervous about it until literally everyone started asking me if I was. I feel fine about it.” And luckily, our version of Betty in the show is so quite different and a lot more complex and three-dimensional than she is as a comic-book character, so I think we’ve created our own Betty to where people don’t really compare her that much to the comics, which is nice for me.

Tell me about Hustlers.

That was such a fun experience, so different from Riverdale. It’s fun to do something so completely different from one project to the next. I think Jeff Bridges said that each project that he does is a 180 from the last one he did, or something like that. And I just think that’s the coolest way to go about your career, and what an interesting way to keep things alive and fascinating and challenging.

I’m wearing these bodycon, very lovely, cheap dresses, much different from my sweaters and jeans on Riverdale. You want to be showing off all the goods, so. We turn on the guys, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t wearing those bodycon dresses. I mean it was incredibly fun. I worked with J.Lo and Constance and Keke [Palmer] the most, and it was so cool to be around such a diverse group of women, and they were all so kind, and we all got a long really well, and it was just such a fun experience. It’s truly something that I will never forget, and I think the fun that we had together really is going to translate in the film. I think it’s going to be a great, get your girls together and watch this movie.

Do you like auditioning, or is it hard for you?

I hate auditioning. It is the worst. I mean, anyone who says they enjoy it, you’re lying because it’s not fun and it’s horrible. It’s so nerve-wrecking. It’s exhausting. It truly is just exhausting.

What was your favorite TV show growing up?

I watched Hell’s Kitchen with my dad. My dad also watched Glee with me. It was so cute. I was a big Glee fan. What else? I mean, and then the Disney Channel shows that I grew up watching.

Did you want to be a Disney kid?

I did not want to be a Disney kid. We’ll leave it at that.

Did you have a favorite TV star growing up? What posters were on your walls?

Sadly I did have posters on my wall. I had a poster of Zac Efron on my wall, for sure. I was big High School Musical girl, so I had Zac Efron on my wall. I had Vanessa Hudgens on my wall. I’m pretty sure I had Ashley Tisdale on my wall.

What’s your karaoke song?

My karaoke song is “You and I” by Lady Gaga. Get maybe a little drink in me and I’m pretty darn good at karaoke. I love Lady Gaga for karaoke. I love her period. I loved A Star is Born. I cried very hard. I thought it was very moving—very sad, but amazing.

What was your favorite Halloween costume?

I was a strawberry when I was three or four, and I looked really cute, I have to say. I don’t think you should make every costume sexy. I kind of see Halloween as a way to be weird and scary rather than sexy. You can be sexy pretty much anytime ever, but use this opportunity to be scary and scare some bitches.

What was your first CD that you bought?

I don’t know, but I remember having the Britney Spears CD on my little Hello Kitty CD player. Next to my bed, I had the Britney Spears CD, and I had The Lizzie McGuire Movie soundtrack CD, which I listened to all the time and played with my Barbies while listening to it. I pierced my Barbie’s ears. I would go through my mom’s little jewelry box and take her studs and pierce my Barbie’s ears. Not that they would stay in there obviously, the earrings, but I don’t know. I did that. I definitely tried to straighten my Barbie’s hair once. It ruined my straightener completely. I’m like, “Oh, this will work.” And then there is synthetic plastic hair, melting on my straightener.

When was your first kiss?

It was on set of a movie. I was so nervous. I think I didn’t really even process that I had to do it until I was there and I was like, “Oh shit. I’m about to make out with someone for the first time,” and it was horrifying, and my mom was on set, not that she really cared or that it was that awkward for us because we’re close, but it was definitely strange. And it was an older guy, so that was weird. I remember doing it for the first time and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t even really have to try that hard.” I was like, “I didn’t really have to think about what I was doing. It just sort of happened,” so I guess that was a relief. I think I was just happy to have it over with.

A lot of actors say that a lot of the things they did in movies they did before they did them in real life. I bet you Betty will have a child way before you have a child.

I don’t know if you’ll see it in the show, but I think Betty will get married before I get married. How about that? Being on Riverdale and just doing films and projects like this gives you the opportunity to do stuff that you would never in a million years do. Filming Riverdale, especially this past season, I’m doing things now in my life that I never would have ever thought I’d get to experience, like stunts. For Hustlers, I took two pole dancing classes. It was very hard, but I’m kind of good at it. Now I have a party trick if we’re ever at a strip club. I’ll be like, “Hey, let me show you guys.”

Do you have any other secret skills?

I’m good at makeup. I do my own makeup on the things that I work on now, usually. I did my own makeup for Hustlers, and I do my own makeup on Riverdale. I learned through YouTube and then also just being on sets and seeing how makeup artists did my makeup and what I thought looked best, and so I learned from just experience. And now I use it as a calming technique. In the morning, I go to set. I do my own makeup. I find it very relaxing.