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Camila Mendes needed to have a good cry. Or rather, Veronica Lodge, the socialite teen she plays on Riverdale, needed one.
“It’s a very emotional scene,” the actress says in the current issue of EW of filming a recent telephone call for season 3 of her hit CW drama (and no, she can’t tell you who is on the other end of the line or what prompts the tears). “The first take, I started crying in the middle of it, tears streaming — it was very intense,” she says. “The second one, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t produce the same amount of tears. At one point, I was about to be, like, ‘Can we cut? I need to start over because I’m not getting there.’ But right before I did that, as soon as I started saying the last line, I just started crying. It was totally unexpected, but it just showed me how much I’ve grown.”
Indeed, the 24-year-old has come a long way in a short time. Just three summers ago, the actress was preparing to enter her final semester at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. A self-described “performative child,” Mendes grew up acting in school but admits she didn’t always take her NYU classes that seriously.
“I got sucked up into the New York fun life,” she says, recalling attending parties thrown by her Riverdale costar Cole Sprouse’s twin brother, Dylan. “I remember there was one day where I walked into class late, and my teacher just yelled at me in front of everyone. He was, like, ‘You’re wasting all your talent.’”
So Mendes took control of her career. She began interning at a talent agency, eventually convincing them to represent her as an actress. When her team first heard of Riverdale and the role of Veronica, they thought Mendes would be a perfect fit. There was only one problem: “‘They’re probably going to go with some white girl,’” Mendes, whose parents immigrated from Brazil, remembers them telling her. “They were looking for someone who looks like Krysten Ritter.” But when the casting notice was broadened to consider Latina actresses, Mendes jumped at the chance to audition.
It was a “whirlwind,” Mendes says of her path to playing Veronica, which began with an audition in November 2015, just weeks before her graduation. “Some teachers were really cool about it, and some teachers… weren’t,” Mendes says of how her professors reacted to her auditioning while still in school. “The goal is for me to be able to pay my loans. I was frustrated that they would get mad when someone’s trying to pursue the career that you’re teaching us.”
Still, Mendes is glad she was done with school by that Christmas because come January 2016, she was already doing network tests in Los Angeles. (And meeting future industry pals like 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford, who was auditioning for Betty. “We went out and we got falafel with a guy who was auditioning for Archie,” Mendes says.)
“It’s just so funny to think about that time in my life,” she says. “I would have never thought in that moment that I would be here.”
Riverdale season 3 premieres Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.