Ashleigh Murray is too old for your bullshit, but not too old to play 16-year-old Josie McCoy on Riverdale. On the CW’s hit reimagining of the Archie Comics, Murray portrays a local celebrity diva, unafraid to throw a few punches at a would-be rapist or undercut her adversary’s political career. There’s a worldliness to Josie McCoy, but also an inherent softness, and her journey in the second season has not been an easy one: She’s been alienated from her Pussycats, stalked by her best friend, and caught between the affections of Riverdale‘s two most problematic hunks.
Murray’s career, however, has never been better. On Twitter, the 30-year-old actress revealed that she was buying groceries with a food stamp card before getting the casting call that would change her life. Now she’s preparing to take her first ever international trip—to Brussels, for Archie Con.
Despite the upswing, and the fact that Murray is decidedly not Josie McCoy, some aggressive social media commentators are having trouble telling the difference—for example, when her character refuses to help save Cheryl Blossom from an unseemly fate, or causes trouble for Veronica Lodge’s student body president campaign. “The line was crossed right away, with people calling me a bitch and telling me to die,” she tells me over the phone. “Sometimes people can be wary of standing up…but I don’t have a problem doing that.”
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Here, Murray opens up to ELLE.com about her confidence, Josie and Cheryl’s reconciliation, and—of course—the Black Hood.
So tell me about making this epic musical episode!
You know, it was tough. On everybody. All around. Most of us are not trained dancers. And we also didn’t get to learn the choreography together as a group. That whole opening sequence, where we’re all on stage with the chairs and the big circle and everything, the day that we shot it was the first time each and every one of us were in the same room at the same time doing the choreography together. And it came out so wonderful. The crew was awesome. For me, it was also very nostalgic because I started out in theater, musical theater. I haven’t done it in a while. It made me miss it.
So, Josie got closure in this episode. How do you feel about Josie forgiving Cheryl for traumatizing her?
Josie forgiving Cheryl, it’s one of those things—I remember in high school, whenever I got into a tiff or had some issue with a friend, oftentimes it wouldn’t last that long. Mostly because sometimes it’s easier to forgive them, and it takes so much more energy to be upset and to be mad. Sometimes all you’re looking for is an apology.
I think even in that scene I tried to convey a gradual acceptance. Because at the end of the day, they were best friends. And, you know, the sad thing is a lot of young people when they’re dealing with their sexuality, they don’t know what any of it means and then when they do start to find out and society tells them that’s wrong, oftentimes they do lash out, because they’re hurting. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s coming from a place of pain. All we want is to be loved and accepted and forgiven for their mistakes. And I feel like Cheryl—she’s gone through a lot. She deserves some forgiveness, too.
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I agree. But when Josie did walk out on Cheryl in the previous episode, before she got an apology or an explanation, I was like, ‘Yes!’ I would not be cool with my friend sending me a pig’s heart either.
Look, I would have done the same thing. I would up and leave, because this is crazy. This is a girl who not only gave me a pig’s heart, but told me that Chuck was the one that did it. I’m completely am 100 percent on board with Josie. But a lot of our young viewers are die-hard fans. They attach to somebody, and they can do no wrong. And they’re like, “How could you turn your back on your friends?’ Are we just going to politely forget that I could have been a vegan and she sent me a pig’s heart? We’re just going to overlook that, huh? Why can’t I be mad at her for that?
You had a tweet the other day that was like: Don’t call me a bitch. I’m not Josie. Is that was that was about?
Actually, that came after the episode where Ethel poured the milkshake in Veronica’s face [then we passed around flyers exposing Veronica]. A lot of fans were immediately very vicious toward me and Shannon, but especially toward me. You know, a lot of our young audience, they see these things happen and they immediately react. And the line was crossed right away, with people calling me a bitch and telling me to die…and “How dare you do that to Veronica?”
People did absolutely start to attack me. I think the fact that we live tweet and we engage with our audiences gives them this idea that they have the freedom and the power to do and say whatever they please. You know? And that their word is somehow stronger than ours, and their feelings are stronger than ours—and that’s not the case. The reality is, it’s a TV show. I don’t write it. I just say the words that I’m given. I hope I give a good performance; I hope it’s enjoyable. If I’m a villain and you hate me, that means I’m doing my job. But I’m not the one to stand for anybody to call me out of my name for any reason.
Because, our viewership is so important, sometimes people can be wary of standing up and being like, “Hey, don’t do that.” But I don’t have a problem doing that. And it helps other cast members too. I’ve had some people in the cast tell me that they appreciate when I stand up and say something, because they’re afraid to. And you can’t be. I’m happy to be on the show. I’m happy to support the show, but it’s important that the same respect that we have for our fans, they should have the same for us.
Where did you learn to stand up for yourself and lift up other women in the cast, the way you did with Hayleau Law and Asha Brom in this tweet?
Honestly, I learned it from my aunt. You know, I was raised by women my entire life. My mother is gay. She was married to my dad up until I was 9. She was just like, “I’m tired of this, I’m just going to be with who I want to be with.” So I’ve been raised by women, through my mom and also my aunt. My aunt is bi, and most of her partners have been women. I was always surrounded by a very strong tribe of people.
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My aunt taught me the words “misogynistic” and “misogyny,” and what feminism meant when I was 11 years old. She really instilled in me that I’m going to come up against a lot of things that other women are not going to come up against—being a minority and being a woman in this country. So it’s important for me to stand up for myself and to show that I have every right to be in whatever room I’m in. I have every right to speak my mind. I have every right to make mistakes. And I have every right to succeed.
Sometimes I get nervous. Sometimes I get scared, because of the transparency that I have now. I know that you have to pick and choose your battles, but in moments where I know someone needs support or somebody might heal from what I’m about to say, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. And I’d rather take the bullet for myself than let other people deal with it when it comes to their table.
You and Josie seem to have this in common. So how did Josie end up running for student body president with Reggie “The Misogynist” Mantle?
I think it’s that bad boy syndrome. You know they’re bad, but it’s that wit and that charm. Josie knows that he’s no good, and that he’s a bit of a pig, and a jock and will just say whatever he wants to, but he’s very suave. Who knows? There might be something sweet underneath all of that horrible piggy exterior.
Last thing. The Black Hood is back. Do you know who it is?
You know what, I don’t. And it’s a good thing I don’t, because I’m a terrible liar…oh, you know what’s funny? I feel like I actually might. Now that I’m thinking of it, I think I might know who it is. But I’m on hiatus now.
Okay, okay. If it’s who you think it is, will the audience be surprised?
If it’s who I think I think it is, yes. I think the audience will be very surprised. It’s not me. It’s not Ashleigh.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 P.M. EST on The CW.
Styling by Zadrian Smith