“…I went to the Women’s March with my female castmates, and we had a blast. It was empowering. We were in Vancouver and we didn’t even think that there was going to be a march and then one of our directors on the pilot was in town and he went. Then the moms on the show went and we sort of marched together. In that way, I feel like [politics] can kind of bring people together; the more people you have on your side, the better. You feel unified
and have a purpose…“
by Samantha Bergeson
photography by Nathan Johnson
Camila Mendes is living every 22-year-old’s fantasy. The recent NYU Tisch graduate graces the TV screen every week as vixen Veronica on the hit CW show Riverdale featuring characters from the iconic Archie comics. But really she gets to hang out with swoon-worthy K.J. Apa (see page 106) and Cole Sprouse. Not a bad first job.
Mendes luckily graduated a semester early from college, and after an “anxiety-ridden” casting process, she landed the lead role of sassy, complicated Veronica. “I lost a lot of sleep, shed a lot of tears,” Mendes joked. “It was very intense, but that is kind of what we sign up for when we decide to be actors.”
Just in its first season, Riverdale has already captured an entire millennial audience, filling the gap that Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl left, as Mendes explained. A dark spin on Archie comics, the show features a modern interpretation of redheaded Archie (Apa) torn between seemingly-innocent Betty (Lili Reinhart) and sensual Veronica, with his best friend Jughead (Cole Sprouse, unrecognizable from his Suite Life of Zach and Cody days) standing by—all while Riverdale investigates a teen murder. Definitely not as happy as the 50s comics.
As Riverdale grows and flourishes, so does Mendes. At first, the grueling television filming schedule was a stark change from the Tisch School of the Arts theatre screen-acting classes. “With theater you get like months of rehearsal time. And shooting a television show, you rehearse it two seconds before you shoot the thing!” Mendes said. “You really don’t have the luxury of preparation like you do in theatre.” But during the first season, Mendes adapted. “[It] was like a muscle I was building—like trusting yourself and being able to act quickly and make choices quickly.”
Mendes also mastered the role of social media transparency that accompanies such fame, crediting her “second nature” of social media since having grown up with it. “I don’t feel like [social media] should be something that anyone should overthink,” Mendes said. “For me, I try my best not to overanalyze my posts and just post things that feel true to me, and also promote the show. As long as people find the balance, social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming.”
Mendes even looks to technology platforms as opportunities for more content. “There’s so many different forms of media consumption, like the possibilities are endless.” She is particularly interested in the future of virtual reality as entertainment. “I think that once virtual reality becomes more of an acceptable art form, I think there can be like great arts there.”
Mendes is a true millennial, traveling to her own independent rhythm. Due to the transitional space in both her life and Riverdale, Mendes is floating between New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Brazil. “I don’t have a home right now,” Mendes laughed. “I’m a nomad.” Which makes sense given her family’s history of traveling. Her parents were born and raised in Brazil, then to Tokyo for her father’s graduate school. They then settled in Virginia, where Camila was born. At 10, she and her mother moved back to Brazil for a year. Mendes lived in the capital city of Brasilia, which is shaped like an airplane with areas named for parts of a plane itself. Mendes stressed that Brasilia is not a representation of Brazilian culture but rather a “glorified suburb” that was built in the 60s. She attended an American private school, but even then there was a strong Brazilian culture: healthy cuisine and emphasis on family. “It’s like the little parts of their culture that I admire so much. It’s like a community.”
Mendes’s own family remains a strong foundation for her. She goes back every year to Brazil to see her extended family—all who watch Riverdale. “They’re so stoked for the show! They watch it together every week…and they send me videos of the dubbed version, which is hilarious.”
Her immediate family in the U.S. also has always been “incredibly supportive.” Mendes cites her mother as setting her on the path to stardom. After moving to South Florida in sixth grade, Mendes’s mother enrolled her in an arts school. “We had a lot of talent and inspiration there, and that sort of inspired me to try acting as a career, as a future.” After this realization, Mendes’s father discussed with her the risk of entering acting as a career but assured her they were “100% behind you in all of this.” Her strong family support system is evident in her work; a Tisch professor even once told her he could hear their support in her voice while acting. “I think the fact that they were supportive allowed me to have this emotional creative space, this freedom to really explore [acting] as a career and not have anything holding me back.”
Even though Mendes has already reached success, she is just entering the world post-college. “Riverdale sort of put me after college so I’m like, I didn’t even get a chance to really experience life and like auditioning without school being my main focus,” Mendes said. She hopes to do voice-over work for animation, either in TV show or film. “[I’m just] getting my foot in the film industry and [would like to] do an indie or something. Like something very different from Riverdale. No wrong answers! Well, maybe some.”
Mendes is still figuring out life, ranging from politics to career. “I don’t think I had the capacity to process everything that was going on politically during what was a very difficult time—or a very stressful time, I should say—in transitioning from college to shooting a television show full-time.” Yet while Mendes was on set in Vancouver, she became close with other cast members and discussed politics daily. “I went to the Women’s March with my female castmates, and we had a blast. It was empowering,” Mendes said. “We were in Vancouver and we didn’t even think that there was going to be a march and then one of our directors on the pilot was in town and he went and then the moms on the show went and we sort of marched together. And in that way, I feel like [politics] can kind of bring people together. And the more people you have on your side, the better. And you feel unified and have a purpose.” Mendes admits she doesn’t consider herself an activist and was hesitant to become involved in politics but the March just felt right. “I want to dig deeper into that realm [of politics] for sure.
“There’s a responsibility too in playing these characters who are very strong young women. Now we represent women and we kind of want to promote that, we want to promote that sense of strength in young women.”
Mendes definitely has a bright future ahead of her, even though she is new to Hollywood. Although that is surprising in her confident and talented turn as Veronica. “You’re always learning. And every project, you’re going to learn something new,” she said. She’s excited about her future, and we definitely are too.
Calvin Klein black jacket
The Row black pants
Sonia Rykiel white dress
Chanel bra top
Levi’s vintage jeans
photography by Nathan Johnson
stylist La Marque
hair Sam Leonardi
makeup Natasha Smee
location Drift Studio new york city