Madelaine Petsch on Riverdale Winding Down & Other Projects Picking Up
Dec 22, 2022
Madelaine Petsch is nearing the end of a seven-season run with Riverdale. While it’s likely scary to leave a long-running and very popular show behind, it will afford Petsch the opportunity to tackle other genres, flex new acting muscles, and maybe even get involved behind the scenes in different capacities. If her latest release, the Amazon Freevee film, Hotel for the Holidays, is any indication, Petsch is gearing up to do all of that and then some.
Petsch leads Hotel for the Holidays as Georgia, the manager of the Hotel Fontaine in New York City. It’s Christmastime, so there’s sky-high pressure to offer guests a high-end hotel experience loaded with holiday spirit. Georgia always strives to bring her A game to work, but it’s not easy juggling a curious spark with the hotel chef (Mena Massoud), an infamous pop star, a European ex-prince, her own personal career ambitions, and more.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
With Hotel for the Holidays now available to stream via Amazon Freevee, Petsch took the time to join me for a Collider Ladies Night conversation to recap her journey from her earliest inspirations to her lengthy run on Riverdale and beyond.
Image via Amazon Freevee
Where did it all begin for Petsch? She credits a very special connection to the Harry Potter books:
“This is such a strange answer, but when I was a kid, I grew up in a kind of difficult environment for many reasons, and the Harry Potter stories allowed me escapism in a way and world-building in a way that I had never really felt or understood before. And I think the amount of escapism I felt while listening to the audiobooks, reading the books, the safety that I felt in that world is a huge reason why I love what I do today.”
In addition to that appreciation for Harry Potter, Petsch grew up making up plays and dances, and her parents took notice. They enrolled her in theater and dance classes at just three years old and were very enthusiastic about supporting her acting dreams, but they also put great value in Petsch having a traditional childhood before committing to pursuing her craft full force. Here’s how Petsch put it:
“They refused to let me not go through any normal childhood experiences. So they’re like, ‘You have to go to prom. You have to graduate high school,’ which I’m so thankful for now. So I’d say that was a really solid first step for me. They drove me to California, or maybe we flew twice, and auditioned and met agents and managers, but they really were like, ‘You can’t do this until you’re done with high school, and then we will fully support you.’ And then also, I went to an arts high school, a high school that was really focused on the arts, and I think that really helped me with independence. That helped me with really honing in on my craft, and it helped me make the decision to not also pursue dance. I decided I was only going to pursue acting by going to this school that had all these different performing arts that I could try.”
Image via The CW
When the time finally came to try to make acting a full-blown career, Petsch wasn’t intimidated by the extreme risk and challenge of the business courtesy of the example her parents set. She explained:
“I was raised in a family where ‘can’t wasn’t really in our vocabulary. My parents are from South Africa. They moved to the States with almost no money in their pockets, have built a business and were able to put a roof over my [head] and [my] brother’s when coming to this country with nothing … And I think because of that and because of their drive and their knowingness and their success and their belief in themselves, I was taught at such a young age that it wasn’t really an option not to. Which I’m so thankful for looking back. They built this confidence in me as a kid that I could just do anything, and now I look back, and I’m almost more fearful of the world now than I was then, which is so funny considering where I am now. I’m like, ‘How did I do that at 18?’”
Even with that spirit and belief in herself, it wasn’t smooth sailing right out the gate. After a good deal of time without booking a role, a significant boost in confidence came via an opportunity to work with three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.
“I didn’t really book anything the first year that I was there other than a Honda commercial. And I think that also might have been a big high. I made good money on that and I worked with an amazing DP, Emmanuel Lubezki who did Gravity, and I think doing that made me feel like, ‘Whoa, okay, I can book this. I can do this.’ That was a very validating moment for me.”
Image via The CW
Petsch received further validation of her instincts and authority over her work courtesy of the collaborative nature on the set of the production that would ultimately become her big break, The CW’s Riverdale. Petsch didn’t need to pay her dues. Right out of the gate, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa made a point to get her feedback and incorporate her hopes for Cheryl in the series.
“Roberto, our showrunner, has always been so open to our creative input from the beginning. I remember right after the pilot was done wrapping, he sat down with each of the five of us and said, ‘What are the things you want to see your character doing?’ And he’s like, ‘What are things that you just want to do or you want to learn?’ I was like, ‘I really want to learn archery.’ That got into the show. I was like, ‘That’s random, but I want to do it.’ So he’s always been open to it. And then when we had been halfway through Season 1, I believe, I called him and I was like, ‘Cheryl’s a lesbian.’ And he was like, ‘Cool. Tell me why.’ And he was super open to it. [He] and I are the reason why Cheryl’s a lesbian. It was an idea, a thought, a feeling I felt when I was playing her. So he’s always really respected all of our creative input and welcomed it with open arms.”
Riverdale’s seventh and final season is currently in production and expected to premiere in 2023. With the end in sight, I asked Petsch for an acting technique that’s specific to Cheryl and will likely have to stay behind with the character, and for a corner of her craft that that role hasn’t given her the opportunity to explore that she’s eager to dive into. Here’s what she went with:
“Cheryl speaks incredibly quickly and I find when Riverdale’s over, I have to snap myself out of that. So that would probably be something that needs to be left in the dust. And things that I’m looking forward to exploring? Kind of everything. I have definitely gotten to dive into a lot of other projects and I’m so thankful and happy and love them all. I just did Hotel for the Holidays and I think doing a comedy and a lighthearted piece was so fun. I really would love to do more comedy and get to have fun on set [laughs], and not just be crying and running away from monsters and serial killers all the time.”
Image via Amazon Freevee
Petsch isn’t just the star of Hotel for the Holidays. She also took the time to work with director Ron Oliver and the writers to further develop Georgia prior to filming. She explained:
“I really wrote with the director and the writers. I rewrote a lot of my lines to feel more in line with the character that we created, and I think that’s something that I haven’t done a lot of and I really enjoyed that. I also think the quirkiness, the comedy, the almost Gilmore Girls-esque relationship Georgia has with pretty much everybody in the movie, I feel like I will take forward into other comedies as well. I haven’t gotten to do a lot of those, so I think learning who I am in a comedy role and in a film like that of that genre was really fun for me and I really look forward to exploring more of that.”
Given Petsch’s dedication to going above and beyond contributing to the development and writing of Hotel for the Holidays, one might wonder if she’s got any plans to write and direct herself. Here’s what she said when asked about her future behind the lens:
“I do. I do. It’s hard to say. I really like producing and I like being invested from the ground up and I like making characters. That’s kind of my job as an actor and I think as my storytelling evolves, so will the way that I tell stories.”
Looking for more from Petsch? We’ve got you well covered in that department! Be sure to check out her episode of Collider Ladies Night in the video at the top of this article, or you can listen to the 30-minute version of the conversation in podcast form below:
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