In a series packed with memorable characters, Nathalie Boltt is a standout as Riverdale‘s resident villain Penelope Blossom (at least until the inevitable return of the Black Hood). Having previously been on the radar of Den of Geek readers due to her supporting role in Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, the South African actress regularly steals scenes as the mad, possibly murderous, matriarch of the Blossom family. In light of the various Blossom-centric shocks revealed in the latest episode, we spoke with Boltt during a break in filming from the show’s Vancouver locale and found her to be the exact opposite of the villainous for she portrayed on TV. Here’s what she has to say about all things Archie, playing evil, and what the future has in store for the Blossom women.
Prior to getting the part on Riverdale, how familiar were you with Archie comics?
Very familiar. I grew up with them in South Africa. Whenever I had pocket money I would go down to the corner store and get five Archie comics. I was a huge fan, I was with Team Betty. I remember them so well. So when this came up I was expecting Riverdale to be a lot along those lines of cuteness and affection and ’50s and ’60s America. And boy was I wrong!
What was the audition prcoess like for Riverdale?
I am the poster child of that saying ‘trust the crooked path,’ because I had a lot of success in South Africa as an actor, traveled around the world, and then ended up in New Zealand for ten years, quite cut off from what was going on in the world. I was a writer and filmmaker and wasn’t really following a lot of developments in television. Then I came to Vancouver — my husband was working as a VFX specialist on War of the Planet of the Apes — and I got an audition, and was told that it was for the Archie comics.I dressed as the completely wrong character, I dressed as Hermione. I got the wrong character, I got the wrong sides. The director of a large portion of episodes in season one, Lee Krieger, he asked me to come back. He said he liked my audition and asked me to come back, read the right lines, read the right character and come dressed appropriately and try again. And then when I came back the second time, I realized who the character was and dyed my hair red…dyed my hair redder.
He gave he a reference to a Hitchcock character in a movie called Rebecca and said ‘have a look at this very strange old maid, Mrs. Danvers, who runs the household.’ She essentially is an evil character who encourages the lead to kill herself. So I watched this Hitchcock movie, it’s black and white, and this very straight-backed, high-collared, hair-in-a-tight-bun woman is what was my reference.
I just did exactly what I felt they wanted from me to play, and I think Roberto the showrunner loved it. It (the role) was really creepy. I had no idea what it had to do with the Archie comics, and the next thing they said ‘the role is yours if you want it.’ And I said ‘well what is it for exactly?’ (Laughs) They said it’s for the CW. I thought it was for a local station. I had no idea what I was auditioning for. And so Penelope happened. It was a possible recurring role that’s now become one of the regularly seen characters. So that was lucky!
Since the Blossoms are my favorite characters, I have to ask: Are you having as much fun playing Penelope as we are watching you?
Probably more. Because you only see some of what actually happens. A lot of people go “oh, isn’t it hard?” and “how do you feel?” And I feel great because it’s like therapy. You get to say these hideous things and play out the worst scenes you can possibly imagine, and then I go home skipping, a few pounds lighter because I’ve got everything off my chest. I think its Poor Madaleine Petsch who plays Cheryl who probably has to actually deal with the trauma sometimes. We’ve found our way of working together where we have a little giggle and a hug afterwards and we know we don’t mean it.
On Riverdale it seems like the Blossoms are living in a heightened reality separate from the other characters on the show at times. Do you find yourself playing scenes differently with Madaleine than the other non-Blossom actors?
Good question. When I first auditioned they said to me ‘just play it in an otherworldly way.’ I always remember those words. Just a bit removed from this planet, just a bit freaky. So I think the things that happen at Thistlehouse and the things that used to happen at Thornhill were a bit heightened and creepy/dreamy in some way. And so people would expect that from us somewhat.
Whereas when you enter real Riverdale, it would be more of a suburban interaction. But you don’t often see Penelope go into Riverdale and visit people. They kind of come on to her turf. Whenever they do, things get a little twisted, and I think that’s part of the fun of going to the Blossoms: Nana Rose Blossom with her strange staring one blind eye. The things we say and the things that happen in that area are always a little odd. And maybe that’s a nice little escape from Riverdale and suburbia into this other world where anything can happen.
As an actress do you find it more enjoyable and dramatically fulfilling to play evil?
Anyone who plays the villain will tell you it’s the best. (Laughs) I think playing genuine romantic leads is probably the hardest thing to do because being brave and true is not as obvious a choice as being evil and twisted. Being evil and twisted in acting is a gift, you get wonderfully hideous words, really twisted interactions that are always tense and explosive. I think it’s any actor’s dream. It’s delicious to play a villain.
Because also you don’t have the real life consequences. We’re always holding back with what we say or the anger that we have in real life situations, because you don’t want the consequences of what would happen if you said what you really felt or acted out your frustrations. Whereas when you get to do it in something like Riverdale, it really is fun from an acting perspective. At the end when they call curtain you can just say ‘sorry, you know I don’t mean it’ then carry on with the day.
Delicious is the perfect word to describe this week’s episode, because it is a very Blossom-heavy installment highlighted by the debut of Claudius Blossom. Claudius and Penelope have some scheming involving Nana and Cheryl underway. What can you tell us about their relationship and your character arc for the rest of the season?
Well I’ll tell you this, Penelope has lost everything. She has lost her child — her favorite child. She lost her husband. She lost what she thought they had, which was the most successful business and most wealth in Riverdale. They were royalty, and she thought she was untouchable. Not only did she lose two family members in one year, but she lost her wealth and she was ashamed by the fact that the wealth had nothing to do with the maple syrup business but drugs. So whatever she does now, the only way is up.
Because she and Cheryl are always at each other’s throats, and that Cheryl is exhibiting, as Penelope put it “deviant,” behavior, I think she is taking it as a personal affront…but also an opportunity to just get everyone out of the way and take back what is hers. Being a villain, she thinks she’s right and that she’s not doing anything wrong — she is owed her inheritance by being Clifford’s long-suffering wife.
I don’t think Clifford was a good husband or a kind person at all. Dealing with the whole Blossom social expectations, and being very controlled and downtrodden, she always assumed that the fortune was her payback, and she didn’t expect it all to be ripped away from her. Now it’s inheritance time, and it’s owed to her. She’s not going to let anyone get her way. And if Claudius wants to be an ally, all the better.