MADELAINE PETSCH HAS A SECRET AND IT’S RE LA TABLE AS HELL
Madelaine Petsch has the day off.
on the cover
Zimmermann bustier and skirt. Hunter boots. Cartier earrings and ring. On this page: Miaou dress. Hunter boots. Grace Lee earrings and ring.
Photographs by Eric Ray Davidson. Fashion by Cassie Anderson. Hair: Ryan Richman using Monat. Makeup: Patrick Ta using Patrick Ta Beauty. Stylist assistant: Katie Collins. Props: Abraham Latham for Art Department. Production: Crawford & Co Productions. For Madelaine’s look, try Le Volume de Chanel Mascara in Noir,
Stylo Yeux Waterproof Long-Lasting Eyeliner in Black Wood, Joues Contraste Powder Blush in Rouge Profond, Rouge Allure Velvet Le Lion de Chanel Luminous Matte Lip Colour in Rouge Feu, and Boy de Chanel Concealer in Light, all by Chanel.
She’s barefaced, wearing an oversize, baby-pink Fiorucci logo sweater, sitting on the floor of the Vancouver apartment she’s renting while shooting season 5 of Riverdale. Later, she’ll meet with her management team, then she needs to finish editing a video for her YouTube channel, and she still has lines to memorize. And she wants to make time to call her parents and older brother and maybe some friends in L.A.
But the first thing on her “day off” to-do list was a session with her therapist. They talked about how she often feels empty at the end of the day, and she realized it’s because she’s always working and giving “170 percent” of herself. This led to some crying. It’s been a few hours since it happened and she feels fine now. But, she admits, it was “a fullblown breakdown.”
I know, I know. This is a story you’ve heard before— The Ballad of the Anxious Young Hollywood Star. Madelaine gets it: At one point during our conversation, she pauses for a selfdeprecating eye roll while she talks about “the trials and tribulations of being an actor.” She knows it’s hard to have sympathy for successful people who complain about their fame and how it comes with so many problems and stresses them out. But still, anxiety is anxiety, and being self-aware doesn’t always make it any easier. Plus,
Madelaine’s not the kind of person who can just let things roll off her back.
“I don’t allow myself to relax,” she says. “My therapist was explaining this to me. I have this—it’s not a childhood trauma—but it’s a kind of trauma that basically makes you think you always have to be doing something. So I feel like that’s something I have to work on: allowing myself downtime.”
From the looks of it, Olive, her adopted part-Pomeranian-partChihuahua-part-Maltese-part-bichonfrise, could use some chill as well. Just a few minutes into our Zoom, the dog has already run past the laptop camera at least a dozen times. She’s now attacking a deflated chew toy that looks like it used to be a mouse. “Can you just relax a little bit? I’m in an interview,” Madelaine says. She grabs the toy and tosses it off camera. “Olive needs to calm the fuck down.”
Fortunately, Madelaine has decided on another kind of therapy for us to do together as our interview activity: massage. But for our dogs.
Enter holistic veterinarian Narda Robinson, here to help Olive calm the fuck down. Dr. Robinson pops into the Zoom with a stuffed Saint Bernard because “I actually have cats” and gets us into position. My dog immediately squirms away and proceeds to lick himself ecstatically in full view of the camera. (He’s a hairless mutt, so things are…graphic.) But Madelaine and Olive are fully committed. Madelaine runs her long, burgundy nails through Olive’s fur and strokes her cheeks. “Oh, that’s beautiful,” Dr. Robinson says as she kneads the floppy limbs of her plush toy. “Yep, yes, right there.”
This is ridiculous. I know it, Madelaine knows it, and I think
Dr. Robinson knows it. But we’re heading into the chaos of 2021 and we’ve all stopped questioning what feels “normal” anymore. When the lesson ends, Madelaine angles her laptop camera down to give me a better view of the results. “Olive is literally out,” she says, laughing at the creamcolored pile of fur sprawled on her lap. To be fair, Olive has a lot less on her to-do list.
Madelaine, however, is already working on her next project, Clare at 16, a comedy-horror film about an unnerving teen named, well, Clare. (“If I can pass for 16, I will take that shit,” says Madelaine. “I’m going to ride the wave of looking like I’m in high school as long as I can.”) She’s also an executive producer on the movie and a producer on the upcoming Meat Me Halfway, a documentary about plant-based eating and the ways it can help the planet.
And then there’s Riverdale, the incessantly watchable CW series based on the Archie comics. Even though the show is in its fifth season (the premiere was January 20), it’s
as addictive and deranged as ever. Madelaine plays Cheryl Blossom, Riverdale High’s head cheerleader and one half of Choni, aka Cheryl and Toni, everyone’s favorite good girl/bad girl couple. Or maybe it’s a bad girl/ bad girl couple? Toni (played by Madelaine’s IRL best friend Vanessa Morgan) is a gang member with a heart of gold, and Cheryl is a maple syrup heiress who blackmailed her mother, lives with the corpse of her twin brother who was killed by her father, and uses her deadly archery skills to protect her friends and threaten anyone who gets in her way. You know: your average high school power couple.
Madelaine gives Cheryl the sex appeal and snark of a thousand Regina Georges, and when the show premiered, fans loved to hate her— with a fervor that boiled over into real life. “I was massively bullied online. People would call me a bitch all the time,” she remembers. Maybe it was because the show’s audience was young or because they’d never seen Madelaine in another role, but the internet seemed to think Cheryl Blossom = Madelaine Petsch. For the record, I didn’t see a single corpse in Madelaine’s apartment. Still, the comments stung. “I was crying in bed every night,” she says.
It was shitty…but not shitty enough to consider quitting, especially after how hard she’d worked to get the part.
Immediately after high school, Madelaine made the big move to L.A. from her hometown in Washington, near Seattle, where her parents raised her and her older brother on eight acres of land with six cats, two dogs, and a big garden where her dad grew a lot of the family’s food. She says her parents are “quite hippiedippie” and encouraged her to control her own life and make her own decisions about everything from religion (she’s agnostic) to diet (she’s vegan) to hobbies (she danced competitively for 16 years). When she got to L.A., she worked four jobs to pay the rent. “I was not sleeping and I was literally living off of coffee and whatever I could get my hands on,” she says. “But I always told myself as long as I was auditioning and doing everything I could to make my dream happen, I would be happy.”
So when the Cheryl Blossom haters came for her, she didn’t feel she had the right to complain or even clap back. Instead, she asked her costar Luke Perry for help. Luke, who died of a stroke in 2019, was her “oracle,” Madelaine says. “He was like, ‘You’re not a character we’re supposed to like, and that means you’re selling it so well that people think that must be who you are.’” He also told her to get off Twitter. But unplugging didn’t give her the sense of control that brings her comfort. Madelaine went into problem-solving mode.
“I called up my team and was like, ‘I love my job, but this is hard for me.’ And one of my team members was like, ‘Maybe you should make a YouTube channel and show them how dumb and weird you are?’” So that’s what she did, creating a channel (now with 6.3 million subscribers and counting) that she updates weekly with day-in-the-life videos, ask-meanything sessions (#AskMads), beauty and workout videos, failed attempts at becoming an ASMR influencer, and stunts with her famous costars.
The strategy was successful— more or less. Riverdale High’s head cheerleader would never put on a Hogwarts cape to test-drive magic wands at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or care about achieving Impostor status while playing the video game Among Us. She says she films and edits everything herself, and I believe her—especially because she admits she’s gotten a few things wrong. “I was so public with my boyfriend,” she says. “I wish I would’ve pulled back a little bit.”
She’s talking about her three-year relationship with musician Travis
Mills, 31, which was well documented in cute YouTube couple videos of them doing cute YouTube couple things like the Whisper Challenge and a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt. When the two broke up a year ago, right before the pandemic hit, Travis posted a message on Instagram calling Madelaine “compassionate, smart & wonderful.” Madelaine said nothing. “I chose not to because that was what felt most authentic to me,” she tells me. “Moving forward, I will keep personal relationships like that off my YouTube.”
After the breakup, Madelaine moved out of Travis’s L.A. home and was expecting to keep herself busy on the Vancouver set of Riverdale. But a few weeks later, at the beginning of March, production shut down because of you-know-what. Madelaine found an Airbnb with Lili Reinhart (aka Riverdale’s Betty) and figured she’d have a few weeks of downtime for a bit of self-reflection. (Lol, didn’t we all?) Once it became clear she wouldn’t be going back to work for months, Madelaine returned to L.A. and moved in with her actor friends Daniel Preda and Joey Graceffa. They did the requisite baking sessions (vegan dog treats) and home improvement projects (“apparently, I can put up wallpaper”), and then she found herself alone with her thoughts—something she’s been actively avoiding most of her life.
“The busier I am, the less anxiety I have,” she explains as we come full circle in our conversation. She has social anxiety, anxiety about her health—a sore throat can trigger three hours of crying on the phone to her mom—and that anxiety when she has
nothing to do but just be. Again, I know: Who TF doesn’t? It’s that little voice in your head asking, Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Successful enough? Respected enough? Loved enough? It’s the constant pressure to be doing. To be productive, living your best life, putting in the work—all while feeling like you have to prove it, not just to yourself but also to your friends, your family, maybe even your followers. It’s a lifetime of being told to do your best and actually hearing, “Be the best.” And when you finally think you’re there, it turns out it doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would, so you go back out and work on the next thing and the next and the next. It’s trauma, as Madelaine’s therapist might say. The trauma of productivity culture, of social media, of being a human in 2021.
“I really bury myself in my work because I—this is maybe a little sad, but—because I want to be other people all the time. I want to bring other people to life,” she says. “And quarantine for me was—is—like, Whoa, I’m really just Madelaine all the time right now.” She pauses and looks away. “When you’re always bringing other people to life, who does that leave you with?” She stares out her huge windows at a corporate-looking high-rise across the street. “I feel like I have to be everything to everybody. And I don’t know what that makes me at the end of the day.” And then, a shift: “I’m so in touch with my emotions. They have to always be underneath the surface at any given moment for a scene. That’s why I can nail it every take,” she adds with a sarcastic wink and a finger-gun sound. It’s also why she cries so easily. And maybe why relaxing—the absence of emotion and action—is so difficult.
Her therapist has even given her some homework in that department: She’s supposed to schedule 30 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing. “Do you ever just sit alone by yourself?” she asks. “I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do with that time. I think the purpose is that you don’t.” She looks to Olive, who is still passed out—the inspirational poster child for doing nothing. “I get a lot of anxiety leaving my apartment and going on walks alone,” she says, sounding nervous. “Maybe my first step will be not bringing my dog and genuinely just walking alone.” But then, if she’s walking—does that count as nothing?
She tries again: “I mean, I meditate, but that’s doing something. Meditating doesn’t feel like I’m sitting alone with myself. For me to genuinely sit with myself—” She stops, covers her mouth, then burps. A small one. “Excuse me!” she says.
It’d be really convenient if that burp were a metaphor for something. Her deeper feelings literally bubbling up to the surface, a revelation, some sort of breakthrough. “No. But sure, yeah, you can write that if you want,” she says, laughing. It’s fine. This way’s better. Real-er. More self-aware, actually. And isn’t that the first step to letting go? “I’m still figuring it out,” she continues. “And it’s like, Okay. So how do I create a structured plan that will fix it? Well, that’s the thing— you don’t. Right? You just have to not.” Madelaine will be just fine.