“I’m all about creating a family around me”: Camila Mendes on life after Riverdale and escaping the trappings of Hollywood
Looking ahead to a future beyond Riverdale, the Hollywood actress discusses leaving her famous role behind, taking a break from social media, and her means of survival.
Camila Mendes is enjoying a day off. She currently likes to spend her downtime rewatching Curb Your Enthusiasm, seeking out new sets by stand-up comedians and listening to Midnights by Taylor Swift, which she’s thoroughly enjoying despite not being an avid Swiftie: “There are some real bangers on this album!”
But these moments of relaxation come few and far between for Mendes, because for the past six years, ten months out of each year have been devoted to playing Veronica Lodge in the hit CW series, Riverdale. With its seventh series currently in production, the genre-hopping teen classic will come to an end next year, closing the door on the show that kick-started Mendes’s career. “It feels exciting in the sense that it’s the beginning of a new chapter,” she tells me from her apartment in Vancouver, where the series is filmed. “I feel like we really milked it for everything that it’s worth. I can walk away from this experience feeling that it was a significant chapter of my life that I’ll never forget, and I’m glad we’re ending it on such a high.”
The show’s climax will give the 28-year-old the freedom to work on other projects, something she has proved she is more than capable of: she has appeared in films including Palm Springs and Dangerous Lies. She also recently starred in the Netflix hit Do Revenge, alongside Maya Hawke and Sophie Turner. But the open schedule is something of an uncomfortable space for the actress, who admits she relies on routine. “I love stability and I think that is in large part due to my upbringing. I had a lot of instability in my family life because of my parents being divorced. I moved around often, jumping from city to city. I have very supportive, loving parents, but the environment wasn’t stable,” she says. “Now I’m living a lifestyle that is very similar to that. It’s very inconsistent. I’m always looking for stability and structure that can somehow anchor and root me.”
Her understanding of her need for stability has been deepened by a book she’s reading that was given to her by her sister – The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. She says her personality is most aligned with Type 6, which, after some swift post-interview research, tells me she’s reliable, hard-working and responsible, with a basic desire for security and support. “That’s why I overwork myself, because in my mind I’m like, ‘I’ve got to keep this career going! I’ve got to work. I can’t stop!’ I gotta make sure that my career is there to stay. So that is my attempt to create security,” she says, before adding that the key ingredient to feeling secure is having trust in yourself. But does she trust herself? “Absolutely not. That is the main problem. And it manifests in this fear that something is going to go wrong. Something is not going to go as planned, or there’s going to be a big shift and I won’t be able to handle it. So that is the lack of trust. The truth is that I’m going to have disappointments in my life, things aren’t going to go my way every time. Change is normal and I have to be able to trust myself enough to know that when things go wrong, I will find a way.”
It’s evident that Mendes is intent on sustaining the career she has built over the past decade, and the fear of that being impacted or falling by the wayside is something that plays heavily on her mind. Riverdale provided the actress with a stratospheric rise and an enormous platform, as evidenced by her 27-million Instagram following, but in an era when so much content is being created, the fight to maintain relevance isn’t an easy one. “Just because I’m on a hit show that has run for years and is deemed to be successful doesn’t actually mean anything. It doesn’t define how the rest of my life is going to go. A lot of the public have this perception of, ‘Well, they’re set for life,’ and it’s not [the case],” she says. “Being a creator is about competing for people’s attention. You have to be in the conversation at all times. I think that is the most toxic aspect of this [career]. The thing I hate the most about what I do is the pressure I put on myself to be in the game. I want to be able to disappear for a few months and it not affect anything. Like what if I just stopped posting for a few months? Would that change things for me? Would I still be able to thrive if I weren’t constantly engaging with my audience and capturing their attention in some way? I really struggle with that because I would love nothing more than to take a break.”
And a break is much deserved. During her short hiatus between series of Riverdale she squeezed in two film projects – perhaps a further nod towards her need for security – one shot in New Jersey and the other in the UK, before returning to LA to promote Do Revenge. Her nonstop schedule left her feeling burnt out, she tells me, adding that she felt she “overextended” herself and bit off more than she could chew.
But despite the gruelling schedule, she feels her hard work paid off, having now had the chance to star in and executive produce one of her most important projects to date: Música. Described as a rom-com, the film follows a young man plagued by the music in his head who has to come to terms with an uncertain future while balancing love, family and Brazilian culture in Newark, New Jersey. It was the first time Mendes was fully able to embrace her heritage on-screen. “It has a lot to do with growing up as a Brazilian American. It’s so rare that you find a movie with Brazilian characters. If there are any Latinx characters, they’re usually not Brazilian, they’re some other Spanish-speaking culture, and it has been really frustrating for me because I can’t fit into that mould, and that seems to be the only Latinx mould that there is. So with this movie, I’ve been able to showcase this side of myself that I don’t ever get to share.” With a project so close to her heart, Mendes knew that she needed to be involved at a greater level. “When he [Música’s director, Rudy Mancuso] approached me to sign on to the project, I was like, ‘I need to produce this with you because this means way too much to me. I’ve been waiting for something like this my whole career and I have so much to contribute to this story.’ And so it was so meaningful for me to be part of that creation, to have been able to come in and help shape the female characters and build my character, it was so special.”
As our conversation comes to a close, it dawns on me that Mendes is at a defining moment in life. The Riverdale-shaped mould of her career is about to melt away, and with that comes the opportunity to choose her future. While most actors leaving a revered long-running TV show might feel panicked about their “make or break moment”, Mendes actually seems pretty calm and collected, which is ultimately at odds with her need for stability and security. As our conversation heads off into talk of our favourite snacks (hers is Sweet & Salty Boomchickapop kettle corn) I manage to squeeze in a question about what it is that keeps her so cool when she’s faced with the reality of her day job coming to an end. It’s not about having a long list of projects confirmed ahead of her, it’s about what goes on behind the scenes. “I’m all about creating a family around me. That’s the most important thing to me. I need that. Because of that strong support system, I’ve been able to avoid a lot of the Hollywood bullshit. And I know that there is a really beautiful life for me to enjoy outside that.”