Lili Reinhart Puts in the Work
THE RIVERDALE ACTRESS IS ONE OF YOUNG HOLLYWOOD’S BIGGEST STARS. BUT SHE’S NOT DOING FAME THE EASY WAY.
On a recent solo trip to Mount Shasta, California, Lili Reinhart discovered that she might be an empath. There, she met with a healer who revealed that the actress shows telltale signs: the capacity to apprehend another person’s emotional and mental state before being told anything about them. “I’ve always known I’m intuitive,” Reinhart says. “She also told me that I could be clairvoyant and telepathic, if I worked on my skills. It was very validating in making me feel like, ‘Oh, shit! I really do have a power to connect with peoples’ energies.’”
The trip, Reinhart’s first solo vacation ever, was a welcome break after four months of quarantine in Los Angeles, her adopted home. “I literally Googled ‘mental health retreat,’” Reinhart says. Faced with the longest break of her career since signing on to play Betty Cooper on Riverdale, The CW’s gritty retelling of the Archie comics, the 23-year-old decided to prioritize herself. “When everything’s out of control, out of your hands, that’s when it feels like it’s very much doom and gloom. It’s also like, ‘But what a perfect opportunity to take control of what’s going on inside.’ I feel very grateful because, without this time, I would have just kept trucking along. This gave me a time to, for the first time in four years, step back and process what has happened in the past couple years, process my emotions, and just process my shit.”
In Mount Shasta, she stayed at a Best Western for three days, and worked with the healer-slash-clairvoyant to process her shit. “She is what’s called a frequency healer,” Reinhart says. “She taught me how to meditate properly, how to really connect to my body, and the world around me, and nature… It was very spiritual for me, really connecting me to my Christian roots, and also just to myself. It felt like a good way to wrap up the last couple months of my life.” For Reinhart, the spring of 2020 brought, among other things, self-isolation, a traumatic experience involving her new puppy being attacked by another dog, and a quiet, then very public breakup.
“I’ve been through some shit, the last year, a lot of loss,” she says. “I needed to learn self-love, basically. It’s a very hard thing to do. How the f*ck do you love yourself?”
Reinhart’s journey from aspiring actress in Ohio and North Carolina, where her family moved when she was 16, to teen TV franchise idol, is in some ways a familiar young Hollywood story. Reinhart knew she wanted to act from a young age, and at 14 started booking small roles on shows like Law & Order: SVU and in little-seen indie movies. At 18, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time, but the relentlessness of the rejections began to impact her mental health, so much so that she briefly moved back home to North Carolina. Before officially throwing in the towel, she decided to give LA one more shot. A month later, she booked Riverdale.
Four seasons and some 24 million Instagram followers later, Reinhart is finally making the move official: This summer, she bought her first house. “All of the core four [fan’s names for Riverdale leads Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, KJ Apa, and Camila Mendes] of us bought houses this year. We made it! It’s like, ‘Thank you, Riverdale.’”
The Riverdale cast was in the middle of wrapping up the show’s fourth season in Vancouver when the coronavirus shut production down. She’s spent most of quarantine setting up her new home, but the pandemic has also been an important time for self-reflection. As her account of the healer’s assessment suggests, Reinhart belongs to a new generation of young stars who are candid about their mental health. “At the beginning of this pandemic, I felt very lost,” Reinhart, who has struggled with depression since she was 12, says. “I felt very sad and hopeless, because of personal things that were happening in my life. Instead of distracting myself, f*cking random people and doing drugs and drinking my problems away, I chose the harder route, which was to not distract myself. I was like, ‘I’m not doing that. I’m going to go through the next however many months of shit, pure shit, awful, crying every day, but the necessary work.’”
Reinhart has been doing therapy virtually via WhatsApp, which has helped her examine some of the things she didn’t want to look at before. “If you think about your brain as an attic, there’s a corner with a box. It’s dusty,” she explains. “You haven’t gone in there for a long time. The box is kind of mysterious. You’re not sure what’s in there. So, when you open it, you let some shit out that you’re not going to want to see or deal with. But in the end, that corner that was dark and gloomy is clean.”
It’s not easy, but Reinhart has witnessed the alternative. “I’ve seen too many people, especially in Hollywood, choose self-destruction,” she says. “I understand it because no one wants to feel pain. No one wants to feel grief, or heartache, or sadness. ‘Do I want to grieve, or do I want to sleep with someone?’ Hmm. You can very clearly see why people choose destruction. But your shit’s still waiting for you at the end of it.”
Taking action helps. When people across the country took to the streets this summer protesting police killings of Black Americans and systemic racism generally, Reinhart knew she had to do more than post a picture of a black box or clever protest sign on Instagram. Instead, she invited a number of Black activists, including writers Kimberly Drew and Sylvester McNutt III, Thandiwe Abdullah, the 16-year-old co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard, and Riverdale co-star Asha Bromfield, to have a conversation about race on Instagram Live. “I really wanted to learn. As a white woman, I didn’t know jack shit about racism. I don’t know what it’s like to be racially profiled. I don’t know what it’s like to fear for my life walking past a police officer. Racism is something that people feel in the womb. That’s something that just inherently I have never experienced.”
The conversations lasted between 20 minutes and an hour, and covered a range of topics, from Black representation in Hollywood to the hoaxes of racism for non-BIPOC people. As sometimes happens when you’re trying to become a better human, she has made some mistakes as well. In June, she posted a topless photo with the caption, “Now that my sideboob has gotten your attention, Breonna Taylor’s murderers have not been arrested. Demand justice.” Commenters flagged the post as an example of a trend toward turning Taylor’s death into an internet meme. Part of the work, she’s found, is learning to acknowledge her own missteps. “I made a mistake with my caption. It was never my intent to insult anyone and I’m truly sorry to those that were offended,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I did say the wrong thing a couple times [on Instagram Live],” she acknowledges again now. “It was like, ‘Oh, no. We don’t use that term,’ or, ‘That’s not really something people say.’ I’m a stubborn person. I used to have a very hard time apologizing, very hard. I still sometimes do, but now I definitely can own up to my shit. If I did something wrong, I don’t have a problem apologizing for it.”
Inspired by the activism and open dialogue about identity happening all around the country, in June, Reinhart quietly came out as bisexual. On her Instagram stories, she posted about an upcoming LGBTQ+ Black Lives Matter rally, writing, “Although I’ve never announced it publicly before, I am a proud bisexual woman. And I will be joining this protest today. Come join.”
Of course, the tabloids ran with the first part of that statement. “I’m like, ‘Isn’t everyone bisexual?’” she says now, still incredulous that it made such waves. “I remember being in fifth grade. I was waiting for my bus. I remember this so weirdly and vividly, just standing by myself going, ‘Do I like girls?’ I don’t even know where it came from or why. I remember looking at this article — I think it was in Cosmo — that asked ‘Do you want to be with that woman that you’re looking at, or do you want to be her?’ I was like, ‘I would like to be her, because she’s a sexy, amazing woman, but I also want to be with her.’”
She’s never broadcast her bisexuality — it was just sort of there. “I didn’t date girls until I was… right now,” she says. “I’d been with a girl when I was 18. This part of my life was never intentionally hidden. My friends and family knew. My cast members knew. I didn’t want to come out and talk about it because I felt that bisexuality was becoming a trend [among celebrities], but I’ve supported the LGBTQ community since I was a little tween, and it just felt organic. I was like, ‘F*ck it. Now’s the time. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. Hey, you. I’m going to be at this protest for LGBTQs for BLM. Come join me.’”
When we talk in early August, Reinhart has just gotten notice that she’s been called back to the Riverdale set to finish the last three episodes of Season 4 — “We stopped during the prom episode, so I have to fit back in that prom dress. Five months later, we’re all going to be tan, maybe a little bit thicker. I certainly am.” Then they’ll go right into taping Season 5, which will start with a seven-year time jump. It means that once she gets back to Vancouver and quarantines for two weeks, she’ll be required to stay there, with no breaks, until Christmas. Reinhart, understandably, is conflicted about the return. “I genuinely feel like a prisoner, going back to work, because I cannot leave Canada. That doesn’t feel good. You can’t go home for Thanksgiving, can’t visit your family. No one can come visit you unless they quarantine for two weeks. It just feels f*cked.”
No break also means no time to take on any new projects over a hiatus, which is another frustration. ”I’m very lucky, but it’s like, ‘I need to keep going. I need to keep going,’” she says.
Fortunately, she’s had two very personal projects to focus on: the film Chemical Hearts, which was released on Amazon in August, and her first book of poetry, Swimming Lessons, out Sept. 29.
In Chemical Hearts, based on the YA book Our Chemical Hearts, she plays the role of Grace, a mysterious teen dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s death. “Lili is someone who embraces pain and darkness, as well as the cheerier side of life,” the film’s director, Richard Tanne, tells NYLON. “She’s comfortable confronting her pain and the pain of others, and then speaking about it. Her familiarity with that allowed her to be brave in portraying Grace. In playing her, Lili had to have a very strong control over the direction of her emotions.”
The film also marked Reinhart’s first time stepping into an executive producer role. “I loved every second of being an executive producer,” she says. “Weirdly, I had one of the best times of my life filming it, because I was so happy and in my element working on something that I was so passionate about, and so invested in.”
Swimming Lessons reveals another side of Reinhart, an avid journaler, who compiled the book from poems she has written over the past five years. “It seems to be our winter,/ so I’ll try to make snow angels in your cigarette smoke,” she writes in one; “It’s like I’ve discovered a new compartment inside myself/ with all this room left to fill/ And I’m filling it, easily,/ with you.” concludes another.
“I still don’t even consider myself a poet. I really don’t,” she says. “People are sure to tell me on Twitter that I’m not. I don’t even think of it as really poems — more as, ‘Here are my pretty thoughts. Here are my thoughts worded in a beautiful way. I write in a lofty, longing, romantic way because I’m a huge romantic.”
The book begins with a standard disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction.” Reinhart seems to contain two warring impulses: an artistic desire to share the contours of her emotional life and a young celebrity’s desire to keep her private life private. Last month, she took to Twitter to comment on a recent Refinery29 feature, writing, “Quotes taken from my most recent interview are not about a ‘breakup.’ They are about the depression I’ve felt over these last few months. Tired of people taking my words out of context and piecing together their own story for clickbait. I would never speak so candidly about something as personal as a breakup. That’s incredibly private. I was addressing my depression.” Talking about her poetry a few weeks prior, she lamented the impulse to read her words as biographical, offering an additional disclaimer of her own: “I’m trying to evoke a feeling. I wanted a reader to be able to see themselves in it. They’re things that just popped into my head as a good way to evoke an emotion. It was just a way that my brain wanted to tell a story. I’m not saying anything bad about anyone. I’m expressing my own experience.”
Which was the point. Working on the book was, above all, self-affirming. In May, when she found herself alone in a small studio recording the audiobook, “I got teary-eyed saying some of my poems, reading about certain people, or certain experiences that I very much lived through,” she says. “It was hard, but that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I wrote it all. I want to remember everything that I feel, and know at the end of the day that I lived a thorough human experience.”