On this week’s episode of Riverdale, Alice Smith (Mädchen Amick) has decided to leave the already tenuous reality of The CW’s hit series for something even more fantastical. Specifically, after the death of her daughter Polly (Tiera Skovbye), she’s retreated to a musical fantasy world inspired by the Broadway hit Next to Normal, complete with ’50s attire, and Polly alive, singing and dancing with her now non-serial killing son Charles (Wyatt Nash).
“I enjoyed playing Alice in those scenes because it’s just something that Alice needs so much,” Amick told Decider. “Back together, and happy, and cooking, and there were moments I was like, ‘Maybe we just need to leave Alice in this world. Let’s not move on. Let’s keep her here.’”
Over the course of the hour, Alice’s daughter Betty (Lili Reinhart) desperately tries different methods of bringing Alice back to reality, from presenting her with Polly’s ashes, to physically grabbing her face to pull her focus away from the specters of her other children. It’s a heartbreaking journey for Alice and Betty that ultimately ends in the realization that they’ll never be happy — but they can at least aim for the next best thing.
In light of this intense hour, we talked to Amick about filming with Reinhart, how it ties into her real life mental health foundation, and a little bit about what’s next for Alice — and Amick — in Riverdale Season 6.
Decider: Before we get into the episode proper, I wanted to ask you about don’t MiND me foundation, and the related podcast. What led to its creation? And how, if anything, has it impacted your take on Alice?
Mädchen Amick: It’s almost like a very kismet thing that happened in a way, but at the same time, it goes to show you how prevalent mental health is in all of our lives; whether it’s in our personal lives, or weaved into our storytelling for film and television. But about 10 years ago, my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and we were a very tight knit family — my husband, my daughter, my son, and myself. And that that was the case because we love each other, but also we traveled the world together, little gypsy life… Artists as we are, have to pick up and go somewhere else.
So we really relied on each other as a family core. When this happened to our son, at first it was just so confusing, we didn’t know what was going on, he was a freshman in college, and it took a while to actually get a proper diagnosis. And then from there, it took even longer and is still a problem trying to find the right treatment. What happened as a family is, we just immediately jumped into being advocates and trying to spread the word, and try to spread our story, to try to help others navigate. In this last year or two, we’re finding that we’re still 10 years later, running into the same obstacles and seeing our mental healthcare system get worse and worse.
We just were so adamant that we wanted to try to do something about it. So we started a nonprofit foundation, don’t MiND me, And our main goal is to raise funds for direct impact where we can sponsor people and connect them to treatment, and actually sponsor the funding to get them through treatment. Because it’s just so incredibly expensive, that it just doesn’t make access for everyone. So that’s our main goal now, we eventually are going to advocate at Capitol Hill and change some laws in our nation, and then globally try to make some change and get proper help within our system to people. But that’s what inspired this little family unit of four to try to make a change in the world.
So how has that impacted your take on Alice?
Yeah, so it’s interesting because I think it made me realize even more… I obviously got more sensitive to the way mental health is depicted in film and television. And I was getting so tired of seeing villains, just get some mental illness slapped onto them and, “Oh, that’s why they’re such a bad person. It’s because they have this mental illness.” Seeing how [showrunner] Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] incorporates different topical, social, themes in Riverdale, whether it’s navigating your way through coming out to your parents that you’re gay, or just these mental health breaks that families go through… Alice, I think, is one of the most tragic characters, and the most fun to play and has such a big journey. But she’s had a lot of tragedy and loss.
This episode … she deals with loss. We’ve seen this last week that Betty and Alice have officially lost Polly, Alice’s daughter. This episode is a true mental health break, how Alice is dealing with that loss. It’s given me quite the backstory, and almost science behind what happens in the brain, with loss, and trauma, and disorders that can come from that. I’ve been able to apply all of that knowledge to Alice, and not just play a surface, stereotypical version of it, but really be able to dig deep into real experiences of my own and disorders that I’ve come to learn [about] in great detail.
The episode which is absolutely heartbreaking, but there’s a part of myself as a viewer that, like Alice, really loves seeing the Coopers happy for the first time.
Yes! I know.
What was it like filming those fantasy sequences with Wyatt, Tiera and Lili?
It was fun! It felt like very old Riverdale, original Riverdale, when the Coopers were presented to be this picture perfect family. I enjoyed playing Alice in those scenes because it’s just something that Alice needs so much, and she created it in her fantasy world… Back together, and happy, and cooking, and there were moments I was like, “Maybe we just need to leave Alice in this world. Let’s not move on. Let’s keep her here.” It was fun having everybody back, as a big happy family.
On the other hand, you have these much more realistic scenes between you and Lili that are so raw. I was just curious to hear you talk about the level of trust between the two of you as actors, because I imagine at this point it’s off the charts.
Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, Lili and I are so connected. It was a very easy relationship, we were drawn to each other immediately when we first met, when we started working together, and we have really leaned on each other in front of the camera and in our scenes, and have each other’s back as actors and performers. I absolutely could not have gotten to that performance without Lili by my side. I mean, it’s the main ingredient. Alice and Betty are connected at the hip, and we really trust each other in front of the camera. And by the way, our long time DP [Ronald Paul Richard], our director of photography on Riverdale, this was his directorial debut. So it was the three of us that were very connected in the story, and just bawling on and off camera.
Switching the lighting between fantasy and reality, going from this bright world to this dimmer world… Was that done on set, or in post? And how did that help you inform Alice?
There were definite times that it was practical lighting on set, almost like a big spotlight, and everything else goes to dark around her. So, that was all practical. I know that Ron also designed the different lighting concepts, even as we were filming. And then a lot of that just happens in post. You get to color, and play with it, and tweak it and exaggerate it. So it was a little bit of both. It was nice in those moments when it was really dramatic, because it just put me right in the emotion.
The number that I wanted to ask you about in particular that absolutely destroyed me was “I Am The One,” as Alice keeps turning to look at Polly and Charles, but Betty physically is turning her head to focus on her. What was it like filming that?
Well, just in general, I’m not an accomplished singer. Lili is such a beautiful, beautiful singer. And so just to have to sing and then perform it in front of our crew, was so scary… You put your trust in like, “I hope they’re not judging me too much.” But you get lost in the performance and you get lost in the scene, the way that it’s choreographed, and I have to step outside of my own insecurities and give it everything in the emotion… And know that the whole point to it is not my ability to sing, but conveying the emotion of the scene itself. All of that was great. I thought everything was designed really well, and how Betty had to break into Alice’s fantasy to desperately try to bring her back.
At the end of the episode, Betty makes a decision to never leave Riverdale and stay with Alice. Do you think she made the right choice? It certainly is what Alice needs now, but is it what Betty needs?
[Laughs] Well, yeah, I know. Selfishly for Alice, I’m glad she made that choice. It’s just hard to imagine any of the characters leaving Riverdale to be honest, I think we have to come up with ways to keep them around, at least for a couple more years. But at the same time, Betty did go out on her own, and there was a lot of trauma and drama that happened through her while she was gone. So I like the idea of her staying close to her mama bear. Alice and Betty navigate the world really well together, and have each other’s backs when we need to. So I think it was a good decision. I will say: yes. She made the right decision.
The final number, with everyone standing at the grave almost functions as a curtain call in a certain way. And it’s really unique and special as a viewer to see the entire cast together like that. What was it like filming a big group scene, particularly after a year of COVID mostly kept everybody apart?
It was just great to all be back working together in general. I love it when there are scenes where it brings the whole cast together. It doesn’t happen often anymore. Obviously Alice and Betty were very emotional in it, and so just to stay in that head space while we had to do all the different shots with all the different cast members, is challenging as a performer. But it was really special to be doing it all together, and I thought it turned out beautifully.
This isn’t specifically about the episode, but now that you have directed the show a couple of times, do you find that it all impacts how you’re approaching things on set?
I’ve always been sensitive to the challenges of filming a TV show, and all the things that have to come together, so I’ve always been very conscious of that anyway. My mind has always been curious about what you do behind the scenes, and how you execute it. But I have gained a huge appreciation for how hard every single crew member works. I always knew that, as a concept, as an actor, but you’re a bit in different worlds where an actor’s off getting ready… Whether it’s physically getting ready, or mentally getting ready and preparing to come on the stage, you interact for a bit and then you go away; where directing, I get to sit with the crew from the moment we step on set to the moment we’re done for eight to 10 days in a row. The appreciation that I’ve gained by seeing how much they care, and how hard they work day, after day, after day, has been a really great enriching experience.
Are we going to see you direct another episode in Season 6?
I hope so. We’ve definitely been talking about it, and maybe it’ll be more than one this season, we’ll see. [I’m] just waiting for the invitation to come back, but I would love to.
Fans were definitely… let’s say interested, in a still from the finale of Alice and Frank standing together, and I believe you teased that there was a new romance coming in Season 6. So is Fralice coming? Or will Alice’s heart always be with FP?
That’s a really good question… I don’t know if I can completely answer, only because I don’t know what’s in Roberto’s head, but I will say at the beginning of this new season, there’s definitely quite a bit of some flirtation happening between Alice and Frank. So Fralice may be on the rise.
Anything you would say to Falice shippers in that case, to calm their nerves?
I would say that I think Alice’s heart is always going to be with FP. We’re all in this together, and we all are secretly rooting for the reunion of Falice, but Alice does need to move on. It’s been [seven] years since FP left. Don’t we want to see Alice happy?
She deserves happiness. Absolutely.
She deserves happiness!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.