Just ahead of publishing 'Swimming Lessons,' the actress from 'Hustlers' and 'Riverdale' opens up about anxiety, intimacy, and her first executive producer credit.

March 17, 2020   |   Written by Peter Davis

It’s eleven in the morning and Lili Reinhart just woke up five minutes ago in her semi-permanent work apartment in Vancouver on a day off from shooting the fourth season of Riverdale, the dark Archie Comics update that made her very famous only a few years ago for her naturally commanding star turn as Betty Cooper. It’s raining, her Ikea blackout curtains are still closed, and she’s speaking freely about things like the laundry basket that’s full of her shoes in her storage unit in Los Angeles (“I literally am going to buy a house within the next two years just so I can have a fucking closet,” she jokes), and her love for true crime documentaries, which naturally includes Netflix’s Don’t F*** With Cats. “Horrifying. I was watching it in between takes on set. I couldn’t get enough of it,” she enthuses, describing a kind of incidental method acting that seems appropriate for Riverdale.

Reinhart is about to publish her first book, a collection of poems called Swimming Lessons. She was 16 when she began writing poetry, during a difficult personal moment after her family relocated from her longtime home outside of Cleveland, Ohio, to North Carolina, where she chose to finish high school online, partly because of her social anxiety and partly because she was already determined to pursue acting. (She moved to Los Angeles when she was 18.) She began researching and then writing long-distance-relationship poems to share with her long-distance boyfriend and was drawn to social media poets like Tyler Knott Gregson, R. M. Drake and Lang Leav, whom she describes as her favorite to this day.

Reinhart was encouraged to publish a book after first sharing her poems on her less-known Tumblr account—a sort of soft launch that allowed her the kind of civilian intimacy that her Instagram account, with its 22 million followers, could not. “I never thought I would publish a book. And I definitely never really wanted to be one of those people who published a book about themselves, like, ‘Oh, this was my journey into blah blah blah,’” she explains. “I don’t even read those types of books that celebrities write about themselves. But I love poetry. It truly was never about, ‘Oh, what can I monetize? Let me monetize a hobby of mine!’”

Swimming Lessons delivers deeply felt personal stories. “There’s a lot of me in there and my experiences with love and depression and anxiety,” she says. In her poetry, Reinhart openly negotiates the tension between the public and the private as her life continues to rapidly and radically change, something that became particularly heightened during her semi-permeable offscreen relationship with her Riverdale co-star Cole Sprouse.

“It seems almost contradictory to be like, ‘Yeah, I like to keep my private life private and then publish a book of poems about love,’” she says and laughs. “But to be honest, the poems are a portrayal of feelings. It’s not my story, it’s not an autobiography that someone’s going to read and be like, ‘Oh, this is something that happened to her!’ Yes there’s a lot of that in there, a lot of my personal experiences, but some of it is fictional storytelling that was inspired by a feeling. I think someone who’s reading the book could think, ‘Ooh, I’m going to get juicy details about her love life,’ but that’s just not what happens.” She adds, “It gives you a glimpse of how deeply I have felt love and I have felt loss but it doesn’t tell you anything about a relationship that I’ve had.”

It goes without saying that Reinhart receives a wild amount of attention. “It’s a tornado. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m 23 and no one taught me how to do this. I don’t know what I’m doing!” she says and laughs. “Sometimes I have to give myself a fucking break. I don’t know what I want to share with the world yet. I’m figuring it out as I go.”

She does know that she’s passionate about Chemical Hearts, the Amazon Studios film she stars in based on the young adult novel, and her first executive producer credit. Reinhart describes it as “radically different from Riverdale” and thinks it will be fun for people to see her as something other than Betty—while noting that her part as Annabelle in director Lorene Scafaria’s strip club capitalism epic Hustlers was obviously helpful to that end. (Reinhart started shooting Chemical Hearts in New Jersey a week after wrapping Hustlers in New York.)

“This film really means a lot to me. I really put my heart on the line and my full vulnerability out there,” she says about the teen romance in which she plays Grace, a transfer student who reads Pablo Neruda. “I can’t wait for the world to see it! I know that I’m so happy with it and so proud of it that it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. It’s not a typical teen love story. It’s really not like The Fault in Our Stars or The Kissing Booth or anything like that, nothing against those movies but it just feels different. It feels more melancholy and a little bit more raw and exposed. I hope people can see the beauty in it that I do.”

And what does Reinhart want readers to get out of Swimming Lessons? “Comfort,” she says. “I started to read poetry in order to feel comforted and not alone and I hope people can read my book and feel like they aren’t alone, that someone knows exactly how they feel. And that it’s normal to feel sad and melancholy and brokenhearted and to go through the motions of being a human being. I always remind myself that it’s a beautiful thing we’re able to experience all of these things. It hurts and it’s hard but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a privilege to feel so much.”