Mädchen Amick teases Riverdale directorial debut, and what she learned from David Lynch
Mädchen Amick wasn't planning to direct the Riverdale season 4 finale. But when the coronavirus pandemic halted production across the world, her directorial debut on the CW series moved into the coveted spot.
"You want it to be exciting and climactic and really building its energy, so I wanted to honor that," the actress tells EW of her fateful episode. "There was a little extra pressure."
Amick has been directing since 2015, beginning with one of her daughter Mina Tobias' music videos. And while Riverdale has kept her busy playing Alice Cooper, the uptight, haunted mother of Betty (Lili Reinhart), since 2017, she has long dreamed of stepping behind the camera as well.
She finally got her shot for "Killing Mr. Honey," which was originally intended as the 19th installment of the 22-episode season. Now it will have to stand as the conclusion — and Amick warns that it ends on a cliffhanger.
In the photos above and below, EW has an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Amick's directing days on Riverdale. And ahead of the episode's May 6 airing, we called up Amick to discuss her experiences calling the shots, what it was like pulling double duty, and how working with David Lynch early in her career inspired her as an auteur.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you had an itch to direct, and how did this episode come about?
MÄDCHEN AMICK: I moved to L.A. at 16, and got Twin Peaks at 17. I would say around my mid-20s, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be more than just an actress and be a storyteller, but so many things in my career made me busy and made me feel like, "Oh, I don’t have time to step behind the camera. I have to keep busy and focused on staying in front of the camera." This was in the mid-'90s, and there were a few female directors — one in particular was Diane Keaton on the original Twin Peaks — that showed me there are women doing this, but [now] there’s a little bit of this movement to get more diversity behind the camera that I benefitted from. I have to give credit to my husband and my daughter. She asked me to direct her music video, and I was honored and jumped right in. I’ve done a few music videos. I’ve directed and produced a docuseries pilot. At the beginning of Riverdale when I did that first thing, I’d started asking around and asking [creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa] and [producers] Sarah Schechter and Greg Berlanti. I said, "Hey, guys, I really would love to direct an episode." They were super-supportive and excited. So it was this season that Roberto said, "You want to direct this season?" And I was like, "Yes!"
Riverdale has a very specific, highly stylized aesthetic. Did that make directing easier or harder, especially when it comes to putting your own stamp on the episode?
It was easy for me. I know the show so well, inside and out. I really enjoy the storytelling and the filmmaking part of it. So I know what Roberto likes, as far as the way he likes the story to be told and unfold. That was a great template that was already in place, and I wanted to honor that. Then, I just wanted to elevate it as much as I could and get as strong as performances out of all my fellow actors, which they were great and supportive. And just push the visual boundaries as much as possible. Presenting new ways to shoot scenes, but still staying within the world and the visual look to it, and just hoping that Roberto loved it.
I remember Roberto and I had a conversation: It might’ve been season 2 or season 3, but there was an episode and he said it didn’t feel very inspired. That really gave me an insight into [that] he really wants directors to come on board and love the show and be excited about the show, and then bring an inspirational take to it. That made me feel I had a little bit of freedom to run with it, and he didn’t want a cookie cutter, just make everything the same. It was nice to hear he wanted something that was inspired.
When you directed the episode, it wasn’t meant to be the season finale, but now it is. Is that exciting? Nerve-racking?
Since it's [episode] 19 of 22, you are getting to the end, so there’s usually a lot of climactic things happening. That’s a lot of responsibility, just because I want to get it right. I know we’re getting toward the end, and those last few are really important to start tying up loose ends or building to a cliffhanger. You want it to be exciting and climactic and really building its energy, so I wanted to honor that. There was a little extra pressure.
Did it lead to any last-minute adjustments or changes in the storytelling?
The episode that I shot was the last episode that we completed as far as filming. We were halfway through 20 when production stopped, so I was editing when production stopped. At that point, we didn’t really know that the season would be done. It was a little bit of a holding pattern of, "Are we just pausing and we’ll get back to it, or will our season end a little short?" Now knowing my episode will serve as the finale for this season, obviously we’ll pick up back up next season. They’ll have to adjust some storytelling with what they had planned at the end of this season. As far as my episode, it pretty much stayed intact the way it was written. There was a new layer that came into the story that now serves as an interesting cliffhanger.
You also appear as Alice throughout the episode. What was it like having to pull double duty?
I’m not gonna lie, it was a huge challenge. My brain was so much behind the camera that it was hard for me to switch over to being in character. I could easily slip into Alice, but I could not remember my lines, and I’m usually really good at that. I was really struggling. In one scene in particular, there’s a big confrontation that Alice has with Mr. Honey and she drives the whole scene with all of the parents, and I could not remember it, to the point where my fellow actors were whispering the lines to me to try to help me get through it. Man, it was rough. I know I’ll continue to get better with that with practice, but my brain was not in that space at all. I was full-on thinking of shots and directing my other actors, so it was a big challenge.
This episode is going to have to hold us over for a while; what can you tease about it? Would you say it’s a satisfactory end to the season?
The whole theme of the episode is the big confrontation between the kids and their awful Principal Honey, who’s just been tormenting them the whole season. So lots of really, really fun stuff. There’s a mixture of some fantasy of what they want to do to Mr. Honey and some reality of what ends up happening to Mr. Honey. So that’s the big tease.
The back half of the season angered so many Varchie and Bughead fans, and it doesn’t seem like the same instant regret Archie and Betty have had over previous kisses. What can you say about where those relationships and feelings are headed? Might Riverdale be exploding some of its most beloved relationships?
[Laughs] Why? Why were they upset? No, but don’t they always teeter on that? I think Roberto loves to torture the fans, quite frankly. That’s the fun dynamic, and that is what’s classic to the Archie Comics, is you have this love triangle that’s always been between Archie, Betty, Veronica, and now we’ve thrown in Jughead into the mix. It’s complicated, but we’ll see what ends up happening at the end of senior year and where relationships really go. I know the plan for the next season is we were going to jump forward in time and see where everybody had landed, but I don’t know if that’s gonna adjust now that our season changed a bit.
Both Skeet Ulrich and Marisol Nichols had announced they were leaving at the end of this season, leaving you as the only original Riverdale parent left standing. Now that filming has ended early, does that alter their plans? Will we get any hint of where F.P. and Hermione were originally headed?
As far as the episode I directed, there wasn’t really anything different happening for their characters. It was the same story line going on. But with technically three more episodes they had planned, I’m assuming they had plans. I also know Roberto really loves Skeet and Marisol, and he told me he hopes their characters can come and go from the show depending on everyone’s availability. It’s always funny whenever some of our characters die on the show, it’s like, "Oh, well that guarantees you’ll be on more often." Nobody’s ever really gone on Riverdale.
Does it feel weird to know Alice was going to be the last one left? And what might that mean for her going forward? She seems so happy with FP, it’s really sad to imagine that ending.
I know! They were finally doing good. I don’t know what Roberto has planned, but yeah, poor Alice. She’s really going to be alone now. Maybe she’ll just be ruling the town, who knows? Maybe we need to start a new campaign, Mayor Alice. Obviously not until next year, but just even thinking about coming back next season and having all my O.G. homies not around on a consistent basis, it’s definitely going to be really sad. I’m absolutely going to miss them, but I know that won’t end our friendship.
Earlier in the season, we had evidence Chic and Charles are working together. Will we see any answers there, and what might it mean for Alice to discover her long-lost son has betrayed her once again?
We hadn’t gotten into that for my episode. I think that was in the next few, so she hasn’t experienced the betrayal yet. I know she’s really resilient, but there’s been a lot of betrayal in this woman’s life. I think Alice is going to need some therapy next season.
And not of the Farm variety.
Real, good old-fashioned traditional therapy.
We were setting up for high school graduation to round out this season, and the characters going off to college or other futures. Will we ever get some taste of graduation, and have you any hint of where the kids will end up next year?
No, I don’t. I know the idea was we were going to jump forward in time a little bit to see what they had done. I’m assuming something brings them back to the town of Riverdale.
Can you point to moment or visual choice that you felt defined your identity or artistic choices?
Jughead and Betty have a fantasy going about what they would do to Mr. Honey, and so Betty’s revenge fantasy inspires Jughead to write an essay for college submissions. We get to go into and reenact Jughead’s fantasies and his writing. I wanted to push the envelope in those scenes. You don’t want to go too far out of the way where you’re totally getting rid of reality, but I wanted to visually have some fun with breaking the rules of what you’re supposed to do with shots and how you edit them together. Jughead is all about classic storytelling, so my inspiration was Alfred Hitchcock and Citizen Kane and that kind of stuff. We did a lot of twisted shots and shots that moved in weird [ways], very Vertigo- or Citizen Kane-inspired.
How much were you influenced by the visual artistry of working with David Lynch so early in your career?
He was my mentor from the very beginning. I didn’t really know too much about filmmaking until I worked on Twin Peaks with him. He showed me you think outside the box and do things that feel and look right to you. It wasn’t until I went into the business after Twin Peaks that I realized how different and what an innovator he was. That’s always been in there as my base, to just not be afraid of taking risks. He sent me a really beautiful email my first day of directing, and just reminding me to make sure I did every single thing I want in every single shot, and to have fun.