Chad Michael Murray has an acting bucket list. It includes complicated roles that could be found on the vision boards of pretty much any actor in Hollywood, a cowboy (yes, he knows how to ride a horse), and as it turns out, the role he’s currently playing on Riverdale.
“As an actor, when someone asks you if you want to play a cult leader, the answer is always yes,” he tells EW.
Murray, who has taken on the much-hyped gig as Edgar Evernever on the hit CW show, knows an awful lot about playing a cult leader. He studied the most famous crimes from pop culture history — Charles Manson first and foremost — but also pulled from his self-described box of tricks to get into his characters’s head.
“For me, a lot of the work that I did for Edgar was psychological,” he explains. “There’s two major pieces to a cult — the leader and the followers — and I find them both incredibly fascinating. We want to know what about the leader makes him special, but what about the people that are following him? How did they get to this? For me it was asking those questions that gave me Edgar.”
The actor famously got his start in Hollywood on Riverdale’s WB predecessors, but he admits that he hadn’t actually watched the teen drama before the script for season 3 came across his desk — in fact it was his wife, an avid binger, who told him to read the part immediately. He became a fan of the beauty and no-holds-barred story lines, but also quickly noticed the young acting talent of stars like Lilli Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, and Camila Mendes, which stood out even more once he set foot on the Vancouver set.
“One of the things that stood out to me most walking onto the show was how incredibly smart, intuitive, prepared, and professional these young adults are,” Murray says. “I look at them and just go, ‘Man, I wish I was that smart when I was that young.’ I think they have some advantages because they had, God rest his soul, Luke Perry, and Skeet [Ulrich], and Molly Ringwald, and Gina Gershon, and all these people who have been there and know where the pitfalls are.”
Murray came to the WB (a precursor to the CW) by way of Buffalo, New York: He moved to Los Angeles, and within six months was cast as a Chilton school hottie on Gilmore Girls, which led to a role on Dawson’s Creek, which led to a starring gig on One Tree Hill. Few actors have borne witness to the phenomena of both the WB and the CW, and Murray has noticed plenty of similarities between the two.
“I think they caught lightning in a bottle back in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” he says. “Dawson’s and Roswell and Popular, I loved those shows and they really captured teen and young-20s angst. Dawson’s, my gosh, they all had degrees in language, and I find that with Greg Berlanti shows. That’s why I get this fascinating dialogue, which I love — I did it on Dawson’s, and now I’m doing it on Riverdale.”
He can’t tell fans much of what’s to come on this season of Riverdale (nor can he divulge what Edgar’s endgame might be), but he did let EW in on what, in his opinion, allows Edgar to control his followers.
“When it comes to Edgar he knows how to read people,” he explains. “He has the charm and charisma to get them entranced, to know the right questions to ask to pick up on their love language and give them what they need when they need it.”
And, most important of all, he says the key to Edgar’s success — and Murray’s ability to play him — is sympathy.
“I have to believe, and so does Edgar, that he’s doing what’s best for the greater good,” Murray said. “That his cause is righteous. And it is, I believe that.”
Watch the video above for more from Murray.