A few steps from the Beachwood Canyon studio apartment that would serve as the location for Who What Wear’s October cover shoot, under a giant bougainvillea covered in magenta leaves, I set up two wooden chairs facing each other. The stage was set. This would be the perfect spot for my interview with Lili Reinhart: quiet, charming, and nestled away from the scorching late-June sun.
I walk Reinhart over, proud to show off the scenic arrangement I put together, we take our seats, and just as the first question rolls off my tongue, a truck pulls up. The driver peeks his head out the window to tell us we're in his parking space. My perfect meeting spot, it turns out, is a bust. While our unexpected visitor has me flustered and racking my brain for a suitable backup option, Reinhart remains cool and calm. Collecting our chairs, we walk to another, less picturesque part of the apartment complex. It’s hardly a noteworthy setting for this story, but we get 49 uninterrupted minutes of conversation—which is ages, all things considered.
Uninterrupted time, especially in public, is not a luxury Reinhart comes by often. Being approached by adoring fans while out and about is commonplace for the 21-year-old, who shot to mega-stardom as Riverdale’s girl next door, Betty Cooper. To put that rapid (almost overnight) rise into context, when the CW series first premiered in 2016, Reinhart had little more than 5000 Instagram followers; today, at press time, she has 12 million. While this level of fame might have you thinking Reinhart is at the height of her career, rest assured this is merely her first act.
Reinhart doesn’t have a cliché Hollywood discovery story; there aren’t any famous parents to help get her a foot in the door, nor a stint on a Disney show. In fact, the road from Ohio teenager to celebrated young actress was a bumpy one, at best. Thinking back on her first move to Los Angeles at 18, Reinhart recalls a short-lived stay with a stage-mom roommate who made her life “miserable,” the endless days she spent secluded in her room bingeing Netflix and Skyping with her boyfriend while waiting for her next audition, and perhaps the most heartbreaking, the multiple failed attempts at holding down a part-time job. The latter, a result of panic attacks caused by her severe anxiety, would ultimately have Reinhart packing for home. “I thought, I obviously can’t do this, I can’t be out here anymore,” she says of the tough decision. “I can’t be alone. I had to move back.”
Reinhart couldn’t call it quits on acting for long, though, so six months later, she would embark on her second solo move to Los Angeles. The panic attacks didn’t stop, but in retrospect, she says, it was the best decision she ever made.
Today, Reinhart is a force to be reckoned with. In the span of a year, she has been featured on multiple magazine covers, landed a skincare campaign with Dermalogica, and walked fashion’s most prestigious red carpet. As we sit for this interview, she is a week away from beginning production in Vancouver on the third season of Riverdale, one of The CW’s most watched shows. Though obligated to stay mum on details surrounding the upcoming season, she does reveal some plot points. “There is another mystery, but the mystery this season is different from the others because it’s not a whodunit situation,” she reveals with a sly smile. “It’s more of a town-wide crisis, rather than a serial killer or murderer. I’m very excited about this season because I think it’s also going to give the opportunity for the kids to be together more, which wasn’t happening a lot in season two.”
More screentime with “the kids” means more quality time with the cast off-camera too. It’s easy to see why an immediate bond formed between Reinhart and her Riverdale co-stars. All relative newcomers at the start of the show (with the exception of Cole Sprouse, who was, in fact, a Disney star), the group experienced rapid stardom together. “It’s kind of like the cast of Friends; they did that together,” she explains. “I think that’s a bond that [the Riverdale cast] has created as well and you just don’t let go of. I’ve made friends in this show that I will have hopefully until the day I die.”
There’s no denying that’s the case with Camilla Mendes. While it’s easy to spin a dramatic narrative around two female leads of a popular television series (Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively and Leighton Meester come to mind), Reinhart and Mendes have made a point to dispel any Betty and Veronica-type feud rumors. “Cami and I are friends; I don’t need to go out of my way and make that apparent,” she says. “I wouldn’t do that just for press. Cami and I have held hands through this whole thing, which has been really amazing because we were both put on the same pedestal together. It’s really wonderful to have someone to go through that with.”
And then there’s her relationship with Cole Sprouse. Rumors of a budding romance began swirling last year when Sprouse shared some photos he had taken of Reinhart on Instagram. Was she just his muse or more? The co-stars remained tight-lipped for months—skillfully dodging “are they or aren’t they” questions from press and fans. While she still prefers not to talk about the relationship publicly, she tells me she is getting more comfortable with it.
“I think it’s just that I’m so protective over it,” she says. “It’s not something the world needs to know about, because if you give them anything, they are just going to want more. I’m not going to hide away from my relationship or hide away from what’s going on in my life, but what does happen in my relationship is so private, and I cherish it a lot. He does as well. A relationship is a very intimate thing, and I want it to be between me and him, not me, him, and the world.”
About those photos, Reinhart admits they have been her favorites of hers. “I think he is such an incredible photographer, really. Sometimes he’s inspired by a location, and he’s like, ‘I want to shoot you here.’ Other times, I’m inspired by a dress, and I’m like, ‘I want you to shoot me in this.’ Our photo shoots are very intimate, just him and me; no one else is there ever.”
The couple made their official red carpet debut earlier this year at the Met Ball, which she admits helped make the whole experience less daunting. The Met was Reinhart’s coming-out moment, if you will, solidifying her place in the fashion community. A slew of noteworthy looks followed, including the beautiful Brock Collection floral number she wore to the CFDAs and the Ralph Lauren pastel slip dress she wore to Comic-Con this summer. Reinhart is quick to credit her stylists, Brit and Kara Elkin, for helping her navigate this new world. Having long admired Emma Roberts style, Reinhart contacted the sister duo to set up a meeting, and the chemistry was immediate.
“[Lili] is a beautiful canvas, and she’s a brave person,” Kara tells us. Brit adds, “She trusts our vision and is willing to take risks, which always makes our job so much more fun. And I just love her dry humor. Our group text thread (the three of us) always makes me laugh.”
“It’s kind of like when you finally find the right fit. You’re like damn, I’m excited,” says Reinhart of the stylist pairing. “I have definitely formed or am on my way to forming my style.”
While Riverdale is the biggest thing in Reinhart’s life right now, we can’t help but think about what’s next for the young star. During her hiatus from shooting the show, she stayed noticeably quiet while most of her castmates took on other projects. I ask if this was a conscious decision on her end.
“At the end of the day, I want to look back on the things I’ve done and say I’m proud of this, I’m glad I did this, and not Oh, I did that to just to fill time. I could have a done a lot this hiatus, and I had the opportunity to do a lot, but I didn’t, because even when I didn’t have a right to be, I was always very picky about my scripts. I just look for great stories. It has to be a compelling story with compelling characters, and that’s a high bar. But again, I only want to do the best. Maybe that’s cocky of me to say, but I don’t care. I would rather not work than work on something that I feel isn’t, what we say in the industry, pushing the needle for me. And that’s why I’m like, I’m 21, I’ve got time, it’s okay. There is a lot more to me, and I’m just quietly sitting in the corner for those opportunities to come.”
Reinhart may be hell bent on proving she's more than just girl-next-door Betty Cooper, but at this moment, whether it’s her project-picking standards or the building of an exciting fashion portfolio, she’s doing all the right things.