ven Jiminy Cricket could receive a run for his money from Marisol Nichols when it comes to what the Riverdale actor has learnt about having a conscience. During her decade of human rights advocacy,“tons” of harrowing stories about trafficking and slavery have pricked at hers. One has stuck with her the most.
“There were two cousins in America who were both taken. They were trafficked from hotel room to hotel room all around the United States, being advertised online. And these two young girls… the traffickers would beat one or the other to use them against each other,” Nichols tells Stellar.
“A customer met up with one of the girls right after she had witnessed her cousin almost beaten to death. Believe it or not, the customer was actually the one to call the police. Somewhere in him, even though he was queuing up to have sex with a kid, a 16-year-old, he had a conscience.”
Nichols is hoping the whole world will let their conscience be their guide when it comes to human trafficking and modern day slavery. The 44-year-old is the founder of the non-profit organisation Foundation For A Slavery Free World, which aims to eradicate all forms of slavery worldwide, be it adult or child sex slavery, slave labour or debt bondage. Armed with the knowledge that an estimated 35.8 million people are trapped in slavery, Nichols is determined to shine a light on these issues, and she’s not afraid to get intimately involved – she once even went undercover with the police as a mother selling her children to trap paedophiles.
“There’s more slavery today than there ever was during the slave trade in the 1800s. It’s a huge issue and unfortunately not a lot of people are aware of it,” she says. “If people actually knew what was going on, there’d be riots, speeches, protests and demands for change. One of my purposes is to help people become advocates as well, so they can join the fight.”
Part of the fight, Nichols says, means first of all protecting our kids. “Women and children are the main people being abused. So we must teach kids how to be safe. Protect your family,” the actor stresses. “After that, it’s raising awareness, getting other people involved. There are so many non-profit anti-trafficking organisations out there. They need money and help and support. It’ll take a lot of shoulders to make a dent in this issue, but hopefully we can finally put an end to it.”
Nichols, who was born and raised in Chicago, admits she had a “rough childhood”. She was experimenting with drugs before she was even in high school, but her love of acting forged a new, better path for her in college. Parts in Cold Case, 24 and NCIS followed, before Nichols landed her current role as Hermione Lodge in hit Netflix series Riverdale, which is loosely based on the Archie comics (Season 3 starts next month).
Fortuitously enough, one of Nichols’s first acting roles was in Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1996, where she “very briefly” met Luke Perry, who played bad boy Dylan Mckay. Twenty-two years later and the pair are starring together in Riverdale. Nichols says acting opposite one-time teen idol Perry is “a pleasure. I love working with him. He’s very genuine and a really good guy.”
Being of Romanian-hungarian and Mexican descent, Nichols says it was initially difficult to find work. “When I started out, I had to be as white as possible if I wanted to work at all,” she
recalls. “Nowadays I have friends who are white with blonde hair and they can’t audition for certain roles because they want people of colour. So [the industry] has completely changed. It’s more representative of the audience. I really, really like that.”
She also really likes playing the villain. “It’s so much fun. I enjoyed playing the good guy the first season, too. But I think [Hermione] wouldn’t get to where she is by being completely clean-cut all the time.”
For now, Nichols is happy to keep causing trouble on Riverdale and to work hard on eradicating slavery through her foundation. She credits her daughter Rain India, who turns 10 next week, for giving her the strength and empathy to do the work she does.
“As a mum, as a sister, as a woman, it’s something we have to do. We’re essentially allowing this to happen to our children, who are going to raise the next generation,” she says. “I know people don’t want to hear about these horrible things. But once people do hear about it, we can do something about it. I want us to one day say, ‘Remember when [slavery] was going on? Thank god it’s over.’
“We have to stop it,” Nichols says with force. “We have to.” Marisol Nichols is the founder of Foundation For A Slavery Free World; slaveryfreeworld.org.