The television adaptation of the classic Archie Comics, “Riverdale,” sent everyone into a frenzy, as it was much darker and more serious than anyone could have ever imagined. While it followed the lives and escapades of Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead and the rest of the gang, the storyline was a far cry from the light and fun comic books that many remembered from their childhood. Despite the stark difference between the two, or even because of this, the series became a worldwide success. It launched the careers of most of its cast, but they never had it easy because of the restrictions that came with working on such a project.
- 1 Background on the show
- 2 The American teen drama series, “Riverdale”
- 3 Rules the cast must follow
Background on the show
An Archie Comics makeover
In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Archie, the comic book was given a reset at No.1 in 2015 with a new look and a darker tone. The re-branding began many years prior. when Jon Goldwater took over the reins as the chief executive upon the death of his father, who had helped found Archie Comics Publications in 1939. He felt that Archie was becoming ‘dusty, irrelevant, and watered-down,’ and as much as they wanted to keep its light-hearted or wholesome nature, they knew they had to change with the times, and give it new life.
Jon Goldwater wanted Archie Comics to be an international sensation, as huge as DC Comics and Marvel – after all, other publishers might have superheroes but no one had Archie. He had ideas for Archie-inspired theme park rides, TV series animation, and a movie.
“Riverdale” wasn’t the first TV adaptation
The comic book was first published in 1941, and there was an unsold pilot of “Life with Archie” in 1962. There was another attempt at a live-action version in 1990, with “Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again”, featuring Archie and the gang as adults dealing with adult problems. Several cartoons were produced, including “Archie’s Funhouse” and “Archie’s Weird Mysteries”, however, none made an impact except for the musical animated sitcom “The Archie Show.” It was centered around the fictional American rock band, The Archies, and their single “Sugar, Sugar”, gained nationwide success as it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in 1969.
How did “Riverdale” come about
Executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa first read the Archie comics when he was eight, and had been a fan ever since. He wrote a play in 2003 about Archie coming out as gay, called “Archie’s Weird Fantasy”, but renamed it “Weird Comic Book Fantasy” and changed the names of the characters after he received a cease-and-desist letter from the publishers.
During the time he was writing for the American musical-comedy series “Glee,” Roberto met the head of Archie Comics, Jon Goldwater, and was given the opportunity to write “Afterlife with Archie”, in which Riverdale was overrun by zombies. With its success, he became the chief creative officer of Archie Comics. There had been talks of a movie adaptation or a story that would feature middle-aged characters, with the comedian Louis C.K. portraying the role of Archie; however, none of these panned out.
With the re-branding of the comics, it made sense that the TV series would go in that direction as well. Roberto believed that keeping its core or perceived innocence intact against a dark material would be all the more interesting to a modern audience. “Riverdale” made its TV premiere on 26 January 2016 on The CW – it was available on Netflix the following day for its international audience.
The American teen drama series, “Riverdale”
The story revolved around the small town of Riverdale and the people who called it home. As idyllic as this place might have seemed, it was steeped in secrets, and they started unraveling upon the mysterious death of a high school student, the son of the wealthiest family named Jason Blossom. The core characters dealt with in unexpected ways following the murder investigation. They lived under constant fear and threat, as nothing was ever truly what it seemed in Riverdale.
In the Archie universe, the gang was comprised of Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), the All-American teen with a newfound passion for writing music; Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), the former ‘it girl’ from New York and self-confessed Class-A bitch who’s turning a new leaf; and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), the straight-A student and perfect girl next door, who had a longtime crush on her oblivious best friend Archie. Jughead Jones III (Cole Sprouse), the loner from the wrong side of the tracks, had a fervent desire to uncover the truth, and wrote a novel about it – with him as the narrator, it meant that the viewers were seeing how everything played out from his perspective.
In the succeeding seasons, Archie and the gang continued to become embroiled in situations shrouded in mystery and filled with danger.
In season two, Hiram Lodge, Veronica’s ex-convict father, returned to Riverdale to run his business empire without scruples. He wasn’t above getting rid of those who stood in the way of his goals, in whatever way necessary. On top of that, there was a serial killer on the loose called the Black Hood, who was terrorizing the town – this masked man claimed that his reason for the killings was to purge those he believed to be child predators, adulterers, or drug and sex addicts. He wasn’t a character in the Archie comic book series, but he had his own comic books published by MLJ Comics, which later became Archie Comics Publications, Inc. Unlike the one in Riverdale, however, the comic version definitely wasn’t a villain, but a superhero.
In season three, the viewers were introduced to a deadly board game called Gryphons & Gargoyles and its connection to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, a home for troubled youths. The role-playing game fostered delusions and violence among those with impressionable minds. A cult called The Farm was also wreaking havoc in town, as some of its residents including Betty’s sister and mother became part of it. They believed it to be a healing place, that could reconnect them to their dearly departed.
Season four began with the death of Fred Andrews – Archie wanted to carry on his father’s legacy of helping people and cleaning up the town. Also, Jughead faked his own death to solve another murder. In season five, after graduation from Riverdale High, there was a time jump of seven years. It appeared that they went their separate ways, as Archie joined the Army, Betty was in Quantico for FBI training, Veronica was married, and Jughead had a drinking problem. They reunited and were back to dealing with the mayhem in town. In season six, “Riverdale” delved into the supernatural, and the gang developed superpowers.
What most people remember from Archie comic was the love triangle of Betty-Archie-Veronica. In the small-screen adaptation, this was easily squashed because it was made clear from the get-go that Archie was attracted to the new girl in town, Veronica. Despite his interest in her, however, he was having an illicit love affair with his music teacher, Ms. Grundy, who it turned out wasn’t her true identity. Veronica exhibited self-awareness and was more empathetic to others, and only hooked up with Archie when it seemed that Betty had moved on from her unrequited love. Jughead, who was perceived as having no interest in a romantic relationship with anyone, became Betty’s boyfriend. Much later, Archie and Betty explored the feelings they had for each other.
Which leaves us with Barchie and Varchie.
That's right folks – it's the classic Archie Comics love triangle! pic.twitter.com/0NdyzikKiA
— ✨️Astro✨️ (@Astro_Latte) June 16, 2021
Rules the cast must follow
The TV adaptation of a much-loved comic book drew a lot of buzz, mostly from its avid readers due to the excitement of finally seeing the characters come to life. For an actor, playing such a character came with a specific framework, so there were rules they had to follow.
No change in hairstyle and hair color
Attention to detail was required, particularly when it came to physical appearance, as the actors were expected to look like the ones from the comics. While it was impossible to find their doppelgangers, the most that the production could do was to make sure that they had the same hair color, hairstyle, and fashion sense. During the filming season, the cast was given strict instructions not to change the way they looked in keeping with the characters in the comics.
KJ Apa, who had dark brown hair, dyed his hair and eyebrows red, leaving no doubt as to the character he was portraying, even if he didn’t look like Archie at all. He shared in interviews that it initially took eight hours to get the right shade of color and to maintain that, a visit to the salon was required every two weeks, with each session lasting up to two-and-a-half hours. While both had girls vying for their attention, some said that the actor was more handsome than his comic book counterpart, and as Kevin Keller, Betty’s gay best friend, had said in the first episode of season one, ‘Archie got hot! He’s got abs now.’ Apparently, working at his father’s construction company during summer made him buff.
Lili Reinhard was a brunette, and she dyed her hair blonde for her Betty character. Cole Sprouse who had blonde hair, dyed it black for his role as Jughead, and wore his trademark whoopee cap or gray knitted crown beanie. Camila Mendes had natural brown hair, and had to dye it pitch black for her Veronica character but without the bangs.
Maintain the physique
The cast had to maintain their physique for their roles in “Riverdale.” KJ was almost always shirtless in his scenes, so he had to stay ripped. He was put on a strict diet, and had to be diligent in doing his workout routine. Camila had to maintain her figure for her character, slender yet voluptuous as Veronica was depicted as someone who had a sophisticated and elegant look about her. The rest had to stay in shape, so as not to stray too far from how their characters had looked.
In the past, tattoos on characters in a TV series or movie were associated with gangs, bad guys, or those who served time. Even if they’d had since become widely accepted in most societies as a form of expression or art that held special meaning to a person, the body ink on actors had to be covered up. The characters they portrayed had personalities that might not jibe with the kind of tattoo that they had.
Wondering what KJ Apa's tattoos mean? We broke down each and every one, and the stories behind them are pretty emotional. –> https://bit.ly/2Y7NALL
KJ Apa had several tattoos, such as the Samoan patterns on both his shoulders, which were a nod to his Samoan heritage; a small bee on his inner wrist, which his mother and grandmother also had although his was surrounded by a wreath; and the Latin phrase “Omnia Vincit Amor” on the left side of his chest, which translated to “Love Conquers All.” All these had to be covered by make-up for his shirtless scenes, as Archie Andrews had no body ink. The head of the make-up department said that it took about 40 minutes to make sure none were visible during the shoot.
Lili Reinhart had tattoos including a gray-colored rose and an arrow on her forearm, an alchemy symbol for earth on the left side of her ribcage, and a cross on her pinky finger. While they were small, the one on her back was big; it was a tree with flying sparrows going up to the back of her neck, and a few lines near the trunk. Since she was mostly covered up as the sweet Betty Cooper, the make-up department only had to deal with the ones on her forearm; they had given up on the finger tattoo as it was too small anyway.
Camila Mendes had the phrase, ‘to build a home,’ tattooed under her right breast, but it wasn’t a concern for the make-up department since she didn’t have topless scenes, and rarely wore a skimpy top or a bikini that might have revealed it.
There was an unwritten rule for celebrities not to go out in public without make-up on, because they had a certain image to maintain. It wasn’t just the paparazzi that they should be on the lookout for, but also people who were fast with their cameras. However, the cast of “Riverdale” were told to arrive on the set barefaced for practical reasons. It would be time-consuming to remove the make-up and then apply it anew that was fitting for the role.
No kissing with tongue
It was revealed in an interview with Lili Reinhart that while they had kissing scenes in the show, they could only do it in a certain way. She said, ‘You can only be so much of an adult on a CW show, because you’re not even really allowed to kiss with tongue.’ Fans now knew what went on behind the scenes when Betty was hooking up with Jughead, and then later with Archie, no matter how steamy their kisses might have seemed. The cast had become so comfortable around each other that they were not too concerned about doing intimate scenes. They knew that things wouldn’t get too crazy because it’s The CW. After playing a girl-next-door type, Lili looked forward to doing adult roles, diverse or more complex ones.
No phones, no spoilers
Steps were taken to ensure that there would be no leak in a story or character development. “Riverdale” might have been based on the Archie comics, but there were elements that were different from it. While some were fond of spoilers, many viewers were not, and so it was crucial not to ruin the suspense or surprise for them.
Taking selfies or videos had become the norm for most people who wanted to capture moments for personal use, or to post them on social media. The actors weren’t allowed to have their phones with them while on set so, they couldn’t take a photo. It was because the fans could easily deduce an important plot development from how the actors looked, who they were with, and where they were filming.
The cast was also given instructions on what to say or not to say about the show during interviews, or when posting on social media. Even without meaning to, they could accidentally reveal what they shouldn’t in a tweet, so it was best that they had guidelines to follow. It was even said that any information about the show was sent to them in password-protected emails.
No other projects while filming
Avoiding scheduling conflicts was the main reason why the actors weren’t allowed to accept other projects during the filming season, for a particular drama series or movie. This was a strict rule that they imposed on the cast of “Riverdale,” as they had an intense schedule, most especially the main stars because they were the central focus of the story. Even if it was possible to do projects simultaneously schedule-wise, and that they could easily jump from one character to the next, they couldn’t change their appearance to fit other roles.
The CW CEO Mark Pedowitz felt that “Riverdale” was ready to bid its fans farewell, and so the seventh season set to premiere in 2023 will be its last, leaving many excited to see the fate of each character, and especially who would end up with whom.