Lili Reinhart on Doing Better

September 02, 2021   |   Written by Chelsea Tang

In Striving to be an authentic role model, the actress-producer prefers to lead by example — by showing that being human means being vulnerable, tender and raw.

Lili Reinhart runs her buzzy Instagram account seeming to follow a certain subconscious pattern: there are photos of fresh-faced Lili frolicking in nature, smiley Lili coddling her miniature Schnauzer mix doggo Milo and made-up Lili posing at various photoshoots (accompanied by tongue-in-check captions).

If not for her name being a househole one, courtesy of the American actress’ breakout role as Betty Cooper on The CW teen soap Riverdale (for the uninitiated, a dark remake of the timeless Archie comic series), Reinhart’s life would be like any other everyday person’s. And even though she’s decked out in a decadent quilted Miu Miu jumpsuit for this cover shoot in Los Angeles, being “real” and “organic”, especially on social media, were her 29 million-strong fanbase reside, is someting she considers to be imperative.

“I am, you know, a real Midwestern girl. I love junk food and sitting around outside with my friends listening to music,” she says, as a small chuckle leaves her glossed lips. “I love playing with my dog Milo, who’s like my best friend. And I just love having people over in my home and having good conversation.”

That’s Lili Reinhart. Unapologetically and undeniably.

In August 2020, four months after a mandatory quarantine introduced the longest break in the actress’ career since signing on to Riverdale, Reinhart went on a solo road trip to Mount Shasta in Nothern California — the famed getaway destination for spiritual healing. There, she hiked up the volcano, and promplty uploaded picturesque landscape shots to her Instagram. For some mental clarity and healing, the caption to the post reads.

The trip served as more than just a vacation break for Reinhart; she had specifically chosen Mount Shasta in a bid to take a mental health retreat. Indeed, 2020 was a rather traumatic year for the 25-year-old (she’ll blow out the birthday candles come 13 September) — having to deal with the stress of social isolation, Milo’s near-death experience and a supposedly hush-hush break-up that went very, very viral.

Not one to shy away from broaching the topic of mental health, Reinhart has always been open about depression and anxiety, which she’s battled since the age of 12. The pandemic, however, threw er over the edge a little. “I find that when I’m able to work on a project, and have a schedule, I feel more at ease. I have a built-in routine,” she lets on, confiding that the first few months in quarantine were “hard” on her mental health, as acting helps her process her own emotions; she’s able to express her feelings through her characters, acting being cathartic and therapeutic at the same time. Her struggle through this period, however, revealed something else to Reinhart: that in constantly playing someone else, she’s actually missed out on opportunities to re-center herself.

“I was looking to heal myself, heal old wounds, work on bettering myself, and practise self-love,” she shares. “And it was an incredibly beautiful experience that got me started on this journey of self-awarness, and spiritual awakening that I’ve been committed to for over a year now.” Reinhart is referring to reiki, a Japanese form of alternative medicine that focuses on energy healing. Shortly after returning from Mount Shasta, she began reiki lessons, and quickly got certified in levels one and two. Come fall, she’ll start on her reiki master classes, and is hoping to get certified in that, too.

Reiki emphasises the consept of self-healing. The process is raw, for it turns the spotlight inside. “As far as lessons that I’ve learnt, we are so powerful as human beings and we don’t get that taught or told to us enough,” she adds. “Things like how we can manifest things on our orld and heal ourselves. We [tend to] look for outside sources to heal us, but the truth of the matter is that healing very much happens from inside of you.” As an actress, it may be hart to reconcile such energy work through her craft to her audience, but as all other-worldly concepts go, everything’s connected somehow. If looking inside oneself is on the cards, then Reinhart strives to convey that (often) brutal honesty and tender rawness with authenticity. “When I’m playing certain characters and protraying certain emotions, I hope people can see themselves and their emotions reflected in me,” she says. “And maybe that [can] help them become more connected with themselves.”

Chemical Hearts, Reinhart’s second starring role following Riverdale, inevitably floats to mind. The coming-of-age romance film by Amazon Studios (based on the novel Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland) follows a not-so-typical teenage love story trope: Hopeless romantic Henry Page (played by Austin Abrams) meets the sullen, surly, and handicapped Grace Town (played by Reinhart), and is slowly drawn to her. He soon finds out that Grace is actually still in love with her deceased boyfriend who passed away in a caar accident, even as she lets Henry into her life. Thus begins the emotional struggle — the “I-want-you-but-I-can’t”, which culminates in a eart-wrenching first-love break-up, and an eventual bittersweet goodbye.

Sounds like a familiar sentiment, eh? The relatability might prehaps partly be due to the shared experience that all teenagers go through — “that being young is so painful, it’s almost too much to feel”, per Grace Town’s words — but should also be credited to Reinhart’s involvement as executive producer, alongside director Richard Tanne. “I think ‘raw’ is the right word,” she says, affirmatively. “We worked really hard to make sure the film felt grounded and raw; we wanted it to be a raw emotional journey, and not for it to feel suger-coated or just like another teen love storu, or simply a movie that took place in high school.”

Blue Valentine, the critically aclaimed film that realistically portrays the disintegration of a marriage (which starred Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling), served as the inspiration for Chemical Hearts. “We ensured that the film was something special, and that it was an elevated love story between two young people,” Reinhart adds. To that end, taking a milestone achievement in her career; no — Reinhart has greater plans for herself.

Small Victory Productions — the actress’ production company — signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios in June this year. To her, it’s almost like a dream come true; to have that artistic and creative freedom to conceptualise films that that touch, a liberate, in the palm of her hands. What’s first on the to-create list? Films that whos what’s like to be ayoung adult today. I’m not looking to do any stereotypical storylines that have been told a million times, I want to tell stories from different perspectives, different races, different sexualities, and really [accurately] represent what the world looks like today for 20-somethings,” she says. “It’s a very different world than it was 10 years ago. And I think film and TV is just starting to reflect that. I want to help bring that to light.”

At the time of print, Reinhart will be in Canada filming Season 6 of Riverdale. She knows Betty Cooper like the back of her hand seeing how the character has been in her life for six years or so. That also means her mega fan base that came with the series and the character of Betty Cooper might have a bit of a challenge seeing her as someone else. “I think there are the hardcore Riverdale fans, and then I think there are true fans of mine that are here to really support me on the rest of my career journey,” she says.

Her film ambitions spreads far and wide. Actress Tilda Swinton is cited as one of Reinhart’s biggest film role models. “She’s such a chameleon in her craft, she can play anything and had such an incredible career,” the actress adds. She’s got her eyes set on playing complex female characters, where she can dive in to “good, meaty roles”. Her fleshiest (and newest) role might be the one she plays in the Netflix romantic comedy film Plus/Minus (set to be released in 2022), where her character, Natalie, experiences a life diverging into two parallel realities. In both journeys as a 20-something, Natalie goes through life-changing love, devastating heartbreak, and rediscovers who she truly is as a person.

“When I read the script for the first time, I knew I wanted to be part of such a beautiful and touching experience,” Reinhart says, ackniwledging that it’ll be an instense role for she’ll technically be playing two different characters.

Yet the allure of the film foe her is, once again, how painfully relatable it is — the foundation of Plus/Minus lies in the adage of “what will be, will be”. “It’s easier to think the grass looks greener on the other side,” she explains. “But even when you’re on the other side, you’re still wondering about the alternative. And so, the beauty in that is knowing that what was meant to be is meant to be. Sometimes life doesn’t take you down the path you thought it would, and you won’t have control over it. In these cases, it’s beautiful to relinquish your control and just accept.”

A lot of that heavy emotion stems from personal introspection, which Reinhart has artfully channelled into her poetry, which was published in her book called Swimming Lessons, that was launched last September. The book is a reflection of her emotions when she first experienced love, being in a relationship, and feeling true heartache for the first time. “And I hope when people read it, they feel connected to…” she ponders here for a moment, “their emotions. I think a lot of people aren’t very connected to themselves,” she says. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is one thing, but to allow the world actress to your inner thoughts puts one in a state of vulnerability. And Reinhart admits that. Looking back, it’ll be a full year since the publishing of her book, and she shares that perhaps she should have waited a while longer, that “the book was published before [she] was really ready for it to go out to the world.”

“Some poems aren’t a reflection of what I can do as a wrtiter,” she says, noting that the Notes app in her iPhone has gotten a lot fuller with more elaborate poetry over the past two years. But more than that, it’s the human hesitancy of putting forth a less-than perfect side for critique that peeks through. “I think I would’ve preferred to wait and hold on to that privacy a bit longer,” she adds. “I’m not sure if I’ll come out with another book. I don’t necessarily feel inspired to do so, but I don’t know. Maybe.”

In retrospect, — and we hope Reinhart notices this as well — her reflection may come across as a sign of growth, a positive journey with self-love (that ironically blossomed during her lowest period, the pandemic). “I feel so much stronger now actually, than I did before,” she says. “I love myself in a way that I hadn’t before.” The actress, in fact, went back to Mount Shasta last month with not only three best friends, but also with a more peaceful state of mind. “That trip was lovely. We had a little adventure there,” she quips.

Self-love, to her, means taking time out to know oneself, to practise self-awareness. Not needing to seek validation and derive joy from others has been her biggest win — and she has very acutely pointed out that it’s a journey than a destination. “I am very much on a better path now,” Reinhart concludes. “To continue on my journey of self-discovery and spirituality, and to continue growing as a person.”