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Spoilers Interview with Madelaine Petsch, Riverdale

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Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) has always been a stand-out character on The CW’s Riverdale. But this week’s episode, “Chapter Ninety-Nine: The Witching Hour(s)”It was a completely different level. Written by Arabella Anderson and directed by James DeWille, over the course of three different time periods we learned the truth about Cheryl, her history, and why she thinks she’s cursed.

“I think for the first time we truly see a full Blossom, Cheryl moment,” Petsch told Decider. “Of watching her love, loss, heartbreak and harden. If anything, you get a further understanding into the way Cheryl is today.”

Spoilers past this point, but in the hour, we meet Abigail Blossom in 1892 and Poppyseed Blossom in 1957, both played by Petsch, who ultimately turn out to be… The same person. We learn that Abigail was in love with Thomasina Topaz (Vanessa Morgan), in 1892. Fenn Fogarty, a powerful warlock, was killed by Abigail to be with her. He cursed her to live forever alone and to never be seen again. The same pattern was repeated in 1957 when Poppy (really Abigail disguised) fell in love to Bitsy (Lili reinhart), and was forced to leave her abusive husband Jack (Cole Sprouse).

But the cycle finally breaks in 2021 when Cheryl — who is also Abigail — recruits none other than Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) to perform a spell of transference. As Bailey’s Comet passes overhead, “Cheryl,” Sabrina and Nana Rose (Barbara Wallace) chant magic words, and transfer Abigail’s spirit from Cheryl’s body, into Nana’s. As Nana’s body dies, Abigail is able to finally rejoin Thomasina in the afterlife, while Nana Rose lives on in Cheryl’s body.

This all takes place in RiverVALE, an alternate universe. It’s also currently unclear exactly how this all might impact the show when it returns to quote unquote normal when the series continues on March 6, 2022; though showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has assured Decider in the past that all of this is in continuity, and it all matters.

It’s pretty complicated, but it’s also pretty epic and romantic, and beautifully acted by Petsch. To find out more about making the episode, we talked to Petsch about playing three different characters who are the same, what this all means for Cheryl and Toni (Morgan), and what we can expect from next week’s historic hundredth episode of the series — and beyond.

Decider: Just in a broad sense, what’s it been like going from you petitioning for Cheryl to get a female love interest, way back in Season 1, to starring in nearly every scene of an episode with a time-spanning, multi-character lesbian love story?

Madelaine Petsch I’m very proud of it. My voice was heard in Season 1. It made sense for Cheryl, at the end, to be who she is. I’m very thankful that we are doing it. And now, look at playing that character… You watched through three generations of how awful the external world can be to one woman. It’s heart-breaking, it’s heart-wrenching, but I’m so glad we did it.

I’m curious about how you filmed the episode… Was it done in chronological chunks? Or did you jump from Abigail to Poppy and Cheryl all at once?

Thankfully, I didn’t do that. We had a great discussion about what would make me the best character. Because every scene was set in Thornhill, it was very easy to move around between rooms. So we started with two days with Cheryl in Nana’s bedroom, and then four days with Poppy, and [the rest]Abigail. We ended with Abigail.

What was the importance of the overall look of your characters? How important was it for you to keep them straight in your head when you were shooting scenes?

It was just as important to them as their voice, how they spoke, how they walked, and their need and drive. Shoes are as important to me as any other aspect of a character. They’re a whole piece together, of the puzzle. So Abigail was a character we had already established in Season 5. We built on that and made her more three-dimensional. With Poppy, we started from scratch. We did extensive research into the hairstyles that were popular back then with our fabulous head of hair Victoria. [Fernandez]We found a Poppy wig. That’s the cool thing, I got to be a part of every single aspect of building character, when it comes to hair and makeup, wardrobe. My opinions are always welcome.

Photo by The CW

The ultimate reveal at the end of the episode is that they’re all Abigail. So how did you make that connection while also making these characters distinct in their own time periods, even though they’re essentially all the same person?

Fortunately, I knew this from the beginning of the episode. [laughs] I started building Abigail, the idea of this innocent young woman in a world built by men who doesn’t understand much about the world other than what she’s seen. Then Thomasina comes into her life. And you see Poppy almost in her own version carry out Thomasina’s [legacy]by supporting women to fight patriarchy in their own way. Cheryl is a fascinating blend of both these characters. It was a wonderful experience for both characters. Abigail is on one end, where she’s more open and vulnerable, and warm to the world. Poppy, who has been around for 100 years, has seen the world and has a little more of a chip on her shoulder. She also has a little more of an edge and a little more of a personality. Cheryl is the meeting place of the minds.

Was Cheryl your role as Abigail all the time, since the premiere of the film?

No. I didn’t even know this was happening until the episode before. [laughs]

Cheryl has been so at ease this year that I brought it up. I sort of described it when I was talking to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as the whole of Riverdale got sucked into Cheryl’s storyline. Was that how you felt?

Yes, I did. I was speechless when I first read the episode. “this is 100% Cheryl’s wheelhouse.”This is Cheryl at her core. This is a story about a gothic heroine. So that’s why I never needed to know what the intention was, or if she was Abigail or not. It is just Cheryl in her core. She is the camp, she is leaning in to all this, the broad character that can do all this, so this was another avenue I had to play with when Archie was sacrificed. [laughs]

What, if nothing, can fans take away from this to their favorite show? “real” Cheryl when we’re back in Riverdale? Emotionally or otherwise.

Oh my God, how can I not spoil it? When you pick up Season 6, Cheryl will still be the Cheryl you have seen grow over the past five years. But I think it will allow a more comprehensive understanding of the heartbreak she’s experienced, whether that has actually been her timeline, or just the way that she feels. I think for the first time we truly see a full Blossom, Cheryl moment… Of watching her love, loss, heartbreak and harden. You are given a better understanding of Cheryl today. It is another story if we take that stuff into RiverDALE.

That’s been my theory, that what we’re going to see through the rest of Season 6 is more the emotional intent of what’s happening, versus she’s suddenly Nana Rose in Cheryl’s body.

[laughs] I think you’re definitely in the right direction there. I’ll tease this. Moving forward into RiverDALE, we do bring a character from RiverVALE in for a little bit, and it’s quite funny and interesting the way we do it.

Jumping further into the episode, one the biggest deals for fans is that we get this 1890s Choni version, Thabigail. How was it to be in a noncombative, romantic arrangement with Vanessa Morgan after Choni had been so long apart?

[laughs] A non-combative one, that’s really funny. It was pleasant. I think that’s what’s so beautiful about Thabigail they’re both just open-hearted, and ready for love, meet each other at the perfect time. As Sabrina says so well in the episode’s end, the ending is happy and sad. “happy sad endings are best.” But I think it’s really beautiful, and it’s definitely a different version of Choni storylin, because as you put it so eloquently, while they may not be combative, Choni is a little more… They go head to head, they’re more stubborn, they’re more opinionated. While Thomasina is more of a sponge to Abigail in that storyline. Abigail was initially prickly at first, but once she realized Thomasina might have something to offer, she began to open up and was willing learn. That’s where the Choni and Thabigail storylines [diverge]. It’s a lot harder for Cheryl to open up, and Abigail is ready and waiting. It was truly beautiful.

Photo by Kailey Schwerman/The CW

Many viewers will look at this and comment. “well, it’s Abigail and Thomasina, but also it’s kind of Cheryl and Toni.” There’s certainly an expectation there, given the latter have been apart so long. When you’re on set, and filming something like Abigail and Thomasina kissing for the first time, or ending up in the afterlife and running together… Do you feel the weight of the viewers’ expectations when you’re filming that? Or is it more about capturing emotion in the scene?

I try to forget about the end result. And I try to live in the moment when I’m acting. Because if I think about the result, and they cut a scene, I’ll be devastated, so what’s the point? So I was present, in it, and doing my best. So, you know, if I don’t feel connected to it, then we will work it out until I do. We are putting a lot of pressure on our Choni relationship. It is something Vanessa and I love. We like it. We want to see them happy together. I believe that fans want it as much as we do.

We didn’t necessarily feel like Thomasina and Abigail were Choni, though. We both came away with a new perspective because they were completely new to us. It was exciting, new, and sweet. Choni fans will be fed a bit, moving forward, the two of them, which is not what they would expect.

That said, there were these memes that people were putting up with pictures of you and Vanessa in different universes including next week’s hundredth episode, saying “immortal soulmates in every universe.”

Awww.

As a professional journalist, I felt compelled to ask: Are Cheryl and Toni immortal soulmates?

I believe so! I don’t know if they actually will be, because I don’t write the show. But I think so.

Let’s move on to Bitsy and Poppy then, because it’s such a beautifully tragic story. Was it different to work with Lili Reinhart and play this role in these scenes?

Oh, it was so lovely, I love working with Lili, she’s one of my best friends. It was a great time. I’ve seen online, the biggest concern everyone has is Bitsy and Poppy are cousins. They’re not cousins, it’s not the same timeline. Her name is Bitsy Smith, and I’m Poppy Blossom. They’re not related in any way, I’ll just put it out there.

It was truly beautiful. Again, it was a different female/female storyline on the show that we haven’t seen yet, as an almost forbidden love, it was really beautiful. It was heart-breaking that Poppy was ignored by everyone around her, regardless of whether it was romantic love or not.

Cole Sprouse is as scary as Jack in those scenes. What was it like working alongside him in this mode of operation?

He’s not a method actor, so the minute we say cut he’s burping in my face, and like, being Cole again. He did a wonderful job. I believe they cut the beginning. But he knocked at my door and explained everything with Bitsy. “I’m sorry”Poppy mentioned that there was an improv scene where he was shouting at Poppy before and grabbing her arm. It was quite interesting to watch. I think he got Jack.

Jumping to the present, you have Sabrina showing up, and it’s such a perfect fit with Cheryl. I spoke to Kiernan about it a bit. She was positive and had a blast. What was it like to have her on set from the other show?

It was awful, I hated it.

Oh no!

Just kidding. She’s so positive, what am I supposed to say? No, she’s fantastic, I have nothing bad to say about her. We had the best time and I consider her my best friend. It’s like we were meant to be together when we met. So professional, and so hard-working, and she’s been doing this since she was literally a child, and it’s really impressive to watch. I enjoyed her presence on the set. I really, truly hope she returns.

There’s an implication that Abigail and Sabrina go way back, maybe even centuries. Is there any way to be certain or do you think this is just another Riverdale mystery?

Alex, just another mystery for another day.

Fair enough. Jumping ahead, we’ve only seen a little bit of the hundredth episode, but it looks absolutely wild. What was it like filming those classic character look scenes in Pop’s?

It was wonderful. We did the Pop’s one, and there’s another one I’m assuming you probably haven’t seen which is an homage to Season 1. And it was this crazy flashback moment, and very meta itself, because this is my first TV show, and we shot an episode of television not even knowing if we’d get picked up for a Season 1, because that’s how pilots work, and now we’re paying homage to our first episode, our one hundredth episode! It was very meta, and really lovely, and I really appreciate Roberto doing that. We also brought back some characters that helped build the show, and it was a wonderful way for us to remember this important milestone.

Photo by Kailey Schwerman/The CW

What can you tell me about Cheryl, Episode 100? Certainly it seems Jughead-centric, but we’ve seen pictures of non-1890s Choni in the mix, among other things.

Everything that you learn in 6×04, you can kind of throw out the window for 6×05. [laughs] In the sense of, it’s in the universe of Rivervale, but it’s not even about that, we’ve moved past that. And a lot of the time you’re questioning whether Cheryl is crazy — I guess you’re always wondering that. But in this episode, you’re wondering if Cheryl is crazy, or if she’s the only sane one in the room. That plays in 6×05 a lot. And you get to see her with a character that’s been very important to her, her entire life, but you haven’t really gotten to see a dynamic play out, that will be really cool, too. A little bit more of her family, Cheryl’s family.

This event has been so much fun… Now that it’s almost in the rear-view mirror, would you want to revisit Rivervale in the future?

It was awesome. the way that we ended the Rivervale episodes helped me make sense of some of the things that happened in Riverdale seasons before. It is a great example of what makes our show, Riverdale, special. It was wonderful. It gave us more freedom between what we can and should do and what we want to accomplish. The way we could just basically do whatever the hell we wanted to do, and have a reason to do it… That was really fun. And if it’s not fun, why are we making it?

Riverdale airs Tuesdays on The CW at 9/8c

This interview has been edited to be more clear and longer.

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