Star Nathalie Boltt talks to TooFab about Penelope Blossom's evolution, teasing some future Maple Club visitors and the arrival of Edgar Evernever.
Between all the betrayal, bed-hopping and straight up murder, the parents of "Riverdale" have really given their kids a run for their money this season by getting more involved in the show's drama than ever before.
While the deliciously devilish character of Penelope Blossom began as someone viewers loved to hate, she slowly started to evolve in recent weeks, as more and more of her backstory was revealed. With her fiery hair, lace dresses and "proclivity for poison," the Blossom family matriarch has made it clear she's not to be messed with, but definitely one to watch.
After Betty dubbed her the "Red Dahlia" in this season's episode of the same name, Cheryl's mama confirmed she did kill both Clifford and Claudius Blossom ... but with good reason.
First, we learned she was an orphan who was adopted by the Blossom family thanks to her red hair. They then groomed her to become her adopted brother's wife, which is all kinds of weird. This season, she explained she offed her brother-husband Clifford after learning he killed their son, Jason. She also poisoned Clifford's twin when she discovered he was responsible for the Fizzle Rock runoff in Sweetwater River, which triggered seizures for Cheryl and the other girls in town.
Oh yeah, did we mention she's also a full blown dominatrix madame and dating the now-incarcerated Black Hood, Hal Cooper? Your fave could never.
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TooFab caught up with star Nathalie Bollt to chat about her character's transformation this season, teasing what's yet to come and explaining how the show's fans have really begun to embrace her. And, don't worry, while she's starting to let down her guard, don't expect Penelope to turn into a softie anytime soon.
Let's start with the Red Dahlia reveal. We always knew Penelope had a dark side, but what was your reaction when you learned her somewhat tragic backstory?
I loved that because, funnily enough, I spoke to the showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about the fact that my own mother is one of the inspirations behind Penelope. She's an incredibly kind woman, but her flip side can be very, very dark and she has exactly that kind of background, a Catholic convent that she was at a very young age. It was almost like a meeting of minds when it came out and I said, you know this is really true and I think it explains a lot about a lot of people. It sort of takes it to the next level, these incredibly harsh, cruel men, but it's not just that. Penelope gets adopted by the family, The Blossom Family, that not only groom her to be Clifford's sister, but his wife. [Laughs] Oh no! Oh, I see! Then you start to understand why she's such a nutter.
For you as an actress, the backstory must make the character more interesting -- and challenging -- as well.
Absolutely. It makes it challenging, but it makes her more human, it starts turning the opinions of the fans. I think as an audience member, it's so much more fun to start figuring things out on your own and piecing together someone's life and going, oh, maybe that's why she said this, and that's why she has such a problem with Toni or, you know, why she behaved this way towards certain men and her fascination with serial killers. It just starts making Penelope a much more rounded, fascinating character than a one-level villain who just does bad things and says mean stuff to her daughter.
Which is fun too ...
Oh, which is fun too! But then you kind of go like, oh, I see, maybe because XYZ. I've had a lot of fans say, 'She just had this really awful, tragic childhood and I think she's just really misunderstood.' You go, yeah, yeah she is really misunderstood ... but that doesn't mean she's going to stop saying terrible things and doing awful things. But there's a reason behind it.
What has the shift been like from fans since the reveal?
It's been great. I have a big following of very passionate, interesting fans and I think a lot of them are fascinated by how different I am in real life. I'm a wildlife activist, I'm a comedian and I'm a nutter. I like making fun of Madchen, my number one frenemy online. And I think people really enjoy that. But a lot of the greater "Riverdale" fans have only seen Penelope as somebody to fight against, you know? But then with the reveal of Penelope and her very fun Maple Club -- which, let's be honest, is a hilarious place to go and explore -- I think a lot more people have started investigating who this person is and who I am.
I think people, the fans, are also recognizing that there's a twinkle in Penelope's eye and a little tongue and cheekiness to her whole character, a dark humor, which is so fun. I've loved the interactions with Betty, because Betty is way too smart for Penelope and has this eye rolling, 'Oh, Auntie Blossom' attitude towards her, but that final showdown in "Red Dahlia" where Penelope turns the whole story back onto Betty, going, "Are we that different?", I think it's so fun to watch.
What was it like stepping into the Maple Club for the first time, seeing the set?
It was the absolute best, because up until this moment she was, "I want my brothel ... where's my bordello?" I pictured it as more of a casino, the downstairs level of the casino, but the Maple Club is so much more creative. The fact that it's a dominatrix club is, of course, just the cherry on top. The set decorators and the props people have just gone above and beyond. Some of the paintings in there are hilarious and the research that had to be done to find my props -- from the whips and chains and handcuffs -- I think the props people had an absolute ball. They were kind of blushing, but also having a great day at the office.
And then you have all these new costumes that come with the Maple Club. When you start seeing those come out, what goes through your mind?
I give a lot of love, because she absolutely deserves it, to Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup and her team, who is the wardrobe stylist. I think once we went into the Maple Club and see how wild it is -- it's so beautiful and lush and red light and anything can happen and fantasy -- that you can take where we were going, which was this flapper look, when I chopped my hair into more of a bob and a softer sexy look and really take it there into laces and body suits. I was pushing for a little bit of Dita Von Teese and that kind of burlesque world and Rebecca ran with it, so we have a ball finding Penelope's costumes.
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Your scenes with both Betty and Cheryl have been great, but is there anyone you haven't had as much screen time with you'd love to work with more?
Having [Cole Sprouse] on the set, because Cole is such a quirky person by his personality, so for him to come around with Betty and for them to think they're going to corner me and we have this face off, that was so fun. Also, Cole as a person, he adores the Penelope character and he adores the madness of the Maple Club set.
We have a little more coming up with that and I can tell you that it only gets quirkier and more hilarious in terms of what Penelope actually has in her club. Really enjoyed having Cole there and Skeet Ulrich, he's also going to be part of the Maple Club visitors in some form. I haven't had much to do with either of them before, so that whole development has been fantastic.
Penelope has changed quite a bit since Season 1, but where do you think we may see her go next?
Sky's the limit with someone as crazy as her. She has this -- as was so beautifully written -- "proclivity for poison," which I think can come in handy at the 11th hour with all kinds of troublesome characters. I see Penelope being called upon to help out when things might get too complicated for the other characters. I also see her, she's part of the villains side, the South Side of Riverdale, but then occasionally she's called upon to help the other parents. Penelope is not a shrinking violet, she's been through too much and she's too hardened and adaptable to ever lay down and submit to anyone. In her mind, it's still a chess game to see how she's going to get back on top.
I'm dying to interact with Edgar because Edgar would be another male who is using women in particular for his own game, it seems like a twisted game that he's playing. I've actually known, in my own personal life, people who have got involved in cults and have given up their entire lives and entire savings to this person who is .. . cult leaders are extremely charismatic and they prey on people who are in a very vulnerable position in their lives and are very needy. I think it would infuriate Penelope and that she would definitely have some solutions and could quite possibly put aside her differences with the Coopers to step in and regain the balance, because as she revealed as the Red Dahlia, it's not about people, it's men, she picks off men. Penelope would be frothing to get her hands on him.
The other big development is the "Heathers" musical coming up. Might we see Penelope singing soon?
Penelope will surface in that episode but, as per the writing that always comes out of "Riverdale," it's not gonna be what you think. There's gonna be a wonderful twist in the musical episode that takes us into the gallop that heads us towards the end of this very exciting season. I very much look forward to the musical episode, to show a side of everyone you haven't seen.
We know you've been interested in directing as well, do you see that coming to fruition behind the scenes?
I found the whole process of being on "Riverdale" fascinating. It just became this really fascinating process of how you take such rich scripts and turn it into an episode in such a short amount of time, but with such quality and having a hit show. I was fascinated from the moment I got onto set as Penelope, and then just started asking questions and seeing if I could find out a bit more about the directing side. I shadowed Maggie Kylie on "Sabrina" and I think it would be a logical next step to do what, say our first AD has done, and direct an episode. It's not to say my first episode of TV would be "Riverdale," I would like to do episodic directing, but of course the "Riverdale" world is well known to me and that always helps. For sure, in the future, I would love to work with our cast and have some fun telling the story from the other side of the camera.
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You've talked about the fandom for this show and I'm sure it's given you a bigger platform as well. You're especially vocal about Palm Oil Investigations, can you talk a little about that as well?
Thanks so much for mentioning that. When I was a household name in South Africa, I do try to bring my interest in wildlife and conservation and the environment into people's consciousness. It's so easy for us to live in these cities and just be unaware of what the choices that we make here, what they do in other parts of the world, how they affect people and their environments. Palm oil is just one of those insane crises that has flown under the radar or has been very cleverly concealed, especially in North America, where essentially we're having indigenous forests eradicated at the rate of one football fields worth every three seconds, the mind just boggles.
I kind of approached Palm Oil Investigations and said, look, I've got red hair, orangutans have red hair, let's find some connection. I've got a big following, how can I help you? It's a tragedy unfolding and this amazing species is going to be extinct within three years if nothing is done. If you save the orangutan species, you have to save the forest because they can't survive without it. So if you save the orangutan, you save everything in the forest. It's kind of like an umbrella species.
I believe we have one lifetime and why not just live it to the fullest and do as much as we can rather than sitting on Twitter and trolling about, saying mean things to people. There's no power in that really. The power that we have is our voice and finding people like you and working towards something better, that ultimately is power and it's a real satisfaction. So here I am with a following, this crazy red head going, hey guys, take a look at what's happening in the third world for our cheap snack food and cosmetics, how bout you flip your product over and check the ingredients and say, I'm not touching this, I know I'm no longer asleep, I know what it means to buy Palm Oil: it means the destruction of the forests of our world. That's what I'm encouraging, I continue to do that, I try not to preach too hard, but for those who are interested, I give out the information.