‘Riverdale’ Madelaine Petsch Interview With Spoilers
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)” was on another level entirely. 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. In 1892, we learn, Abigail fell in love with a woman named Thomasina Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). In order to be with her, she killed a powerful warlock named Fenn Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner), who cursed her to be immortal and forever alone. In 1957, the pattern repeated when Poppy (really Abigail in disguise) fell in love with Bitsy (Lili Reinhart), who was forced to reject her by 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.
Oh, and probably pretty important to mention: this all takes place in a dark, alternate universe called RiverVALE, not RiverDALE. 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 mean, what a beautiful way to put it. I’m very proud of it. My voice was heard in Season 1, and I think it only made sense for Cheryl to be who she is, at the end of the day. 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 were you jumping from Abigail, to Poppy to Cheryl on the same day?
Thankfully, I did not do that. We actually had a big conversation about what would make the most sense for me as a character, because every single scene took place in Thornhill, so it was fairly easy to jump around between rooms. So we started with two days with Cheryl in Nana’s bedroom, and then four days with Poppy, and [the rest] with Abigail. We ended with Abigail.
How important was the overall look of the characters, for you, keeping them straight in your mind when you were shooting the scenes?
It was just as important as the voice, and the way they spoke, the way they walked, their need and drive. To me, playing a character, the shoes are just as important as everything else. They’re a whole piece together, of the puzzle. So Abigail we kind of already established in Season 5, we built on that, and made her more of a three-dimensional character. And with Poppy, we broke from scratch, so we did a lot of research on what hairstyles were worn back then, with our fantastic head of hair, Victoria [Fernandez], and we found a wig for Poppy. 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 opinion is always welcome.
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?
Thankfully, I knew that beginning the episode, right? [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. And then Thomasina enters her life. And you see Poppy almost in her own version carry out Thomasina’s [legacy] by helping women fight the patriarchy in her own way. And then Cheryl is an interesting blend of both those characters. So it was wonderful for both characters. Abigail is on one end, where she’s more open and vulnerable, and warm to the world. And Poppy has been, over the course of 100 years, has been weathered by the world, and has a little bit more of chip on her shoulder, and has a little bit more of an edge to her. And then Cheryl is the meeting of the minds.
Were you playing Cheryl as Abigail the whole time, since the premiere?
No. I didn’t even know this was happening until the episode before. [laughs]
The reason I brought this up is Cheryl has felt so in her element this event. I sort of described it when I was talking to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as the whole of Riverdale got sucked into Cheryl’s storyline. Did you feel that at all, that comfort level for her?
Oh, I absolutely did. The moment I read the first episode, I said, “this is 100% Cheryl’s wheelhouse.” This is Cheryl to her core. This is a gothic heroine storyline. So that’s why I never needed to know what the intention was, or if she was Abigail or not. It is just kind of innately Cheryl. She is the camp, she is leaning into all this, the broad character who can do all these things, so this was another avenue for me to play with when I was sacrificing Archie. [laughs]
What, if anything can fans take from this to the “real” Cheryl when we’re back in Riverdale? Emotionally, or otherwise.
Oh boy, how do I not spoil this? Cheryl is still the Cheryl that you watched grow on screen for the last five years, when you pick up in Season 6. 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. If anything, you get a further understanding into the way Cheryl is today. Whether we carry that stuff forward into RiverDALE is a different story.
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 more into the episode, one of the big deals for fans is we get this 1890s version of Choni, Thabigail. What was it like being in a non-combative, romantic situation with Vanessa Morgan, after Choni has been broken up for so long?
[laughs] A non-combative one, that’s really funny. It was nice. 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. And of course the end is happy sad, like Sabrina said so well in the episode, “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. Whereas Abigail is really more a sponge to Thomasina in that storyline. At first Abigail was prickly, but the minute that she kind of realized Thomasina might be on to something, she opened up and was willing to 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 really beautiful.
A lot of viewers are going to look at this and say, “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 the emotional intent of the scene?
I do my best to not think about what the end result will be. 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 in it, present, and doing the best I can. So, you know, if I don’t feel connected to it, then we will work it out until I do. But we actually have a lot of pressure on the Choni relationship. Vanessa and I really love it, and we like it, and we want to see them happy together. So I feel like as much as the fans want to see it, we do, too.
We didn’t necessarily feel like Thomasina and Abigail were Choni, though. They were completely new to both of us, I think we came out with a different perspective. So it felt new, and exciting, and sweet. But Choni fans will get fed a little bit, moving forward, between the two of us, which is not how they would expect them to be.
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.”
So as a professional journalist, I feel compelled to ask: are Cheryl and Toni immortal soulmates in every universe?
I think 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. What was it like working with Lili Reinhart on these scenes, and playing this very different relationship from Betty and Cheryl?
Oh, it was so lovely, I love working with Lili, she’s one of my best friends. We had a blast. 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.
But it was really 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. And heart-breaking that time and time again, no matter whether it was romantic love or otherwise, Poppy was left out by the people around her.
Cole Sprouse is so scary in those scenes as Jack, what was it like working with him in this mode?
He’s not a method actor, so the minute we say cut he’s burping in my face, and like, being Cole again. But he did a fantastic job. I think they cut the beginning of it, but him knocking on my door and explaining everything with Bitsy, and she mouths “I’m sorry” to Poppy, there was this really interesting improv before where he was yelling at her and grabbing her arm, and it was really cool to watch. I think he nailed Jack.
Jumping to the present, you have Sabrina showing up, and it’s such a perfect fit with Cheryl. I talked to Kiernan about this a little bit, and she was, of course, all very positive, and had a great time. But what was it like having her come on set, from this other show?
Awful, hated it.
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 most fantastic time, and I consider her like a bestie now. It feels like we really connected 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 thoroughly enjoyed her presence on set. I really, genuinely hope she comes back.
There’s an implication that Abigail and Sabrina go way back, maybe even centuries. Do you have any clarity on that, or is this just another Riverdale mystery for another day?
Just another mystery for another day, Alex.
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 so nice. 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! So it was very meta, and really beautiful, and I really appreciate that Roberto did that, we brought back some characters that built the show with us, and made it what it is today, and it was a really wonderful way to commemorate this big milestone for all of us.
What can you tell us, if anything, about Cheryl in 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?
I thought it was super cool. the way that we ended the Rivervale episodes helped me make sense of some of the things that happened in Riverdale seasons before. And it absolutely leans into what makes our show, our show. I loved it. It allowed us to have even more room between the boundaries of what we can do, and what we should do, and what we want to do. 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 at 9/8c on The CW.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
https://decider.com/2021/12/07/riverdale-madelaine-petsch-witching-hours-interview-spoilers/ ‘Riverdale’ Madelaine Petsch Interview With Spoilers