The Riverdale babe talks Hustlers, J. Lo and refusing to be typecast

September 25, 2019   |   Written by Elana Rubin

“I hope to just keep it interesting and definitely not play the same role twice,” Lili Reinhart says over the phone. “I think that would be the worst case scenario.” The Cleveland- born star, 22, has been a mainstay of the Wednesday night television since 2017, thanks to Archie Comics’ Riverdale, in which she plays high school student Betty Cooper. Hard pushed as she’d be to replicate her girl-next-door-who-brings-down-cults character from the soapy teen drama elsewhere, her next turn in 13th September’s Hustlers is a far cry from the ponytail-wearing teen.

Hitting the big screen alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names — Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Cardi B, Lizzo and more — Hustlers was born from Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores”. The story follows a group of women who emotionally, financially, and chemically manipulate men, drugging them with MDMA and ketamine — so they’d be happy, but also forget the details of their high-priced evening — to spend tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars at a strip club.

Reinhart originally read the script in an airport while flying from Los Angeles to Vancouver. The characters and their story captivated her – and after an hour- long FaceTime with the movie’s director and screenwriter, Lorene Scafaria, it was set. Reinhart had the role. “The synopsis of it did not do it justice,” she admits. “I was like, ‘What is this movie going to be about?’” When she realised Scafaria — writer of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World — was attached, she thought, “This is obviously much deeper than it appears to be on the outside”.

She liked that it was a story about women “trying to support themselves”. The women’s manipulation of the Wall Street money-making men in the film wasn’t “revenge” – for them, it was a means of survival. Whether it was to finance themselves, their grandparents and kids, or to take back what they thought belonged to them from the club, the hustlers wanted to redistribute the wealth. Ringleader Ramona’s excuse? Wall Street robbed the world in the 2008 crash, and most got away with it. And when you put it like that, well, it’s hard to argue.

Reinhart’s character Annabelle joins the scheme working with operation bosses Ramona (Lopez) and Destiny (Wu), as well as Mercedes (Keke Palmer). Annabelle is attracted to the “sisterhood” after being shunned from her own kin when they find out she’s a stripper, but the operation is uncomfortable for her – she throws up from all the mischief. “She was written as being the baby of the group, which she is,” Reinhart explains. “She looked to the other girls to take care of her a little bit. She clearly could take care of herself, but I think she certainly wasn’t the ringleader Ramona was. She let Ramona take her under her wing.”

Annabelle continues her participation with the crimes and gets caught up in her new “family” and the wealth her job brings. “She settles comfortably into this dangerous path of drugging these men, maybe not necessarily understanding the full consequences of what she was doing,” Reinhart says. “It was fun to play someone who doesn’t have their shit together… I was like, ‘This is a great opportunity to be a part of a film with a bunch of women who are experienced that I can look up to and a big feature film that I can play this naive, clueless girl.’”

Likeable as the characters are, Reinhart’s aware that sympathy is where the road to reason ends. “I don’t think you can ever sit back and defend these women for doing what they did,” she says. “You can understand, but you can’t go as far as justifying or defending it. What they did is illegal and wrong.” Not that that makes an underdog tale any less intoxicating (literally, in this case).

In a word, Reinhart’s more low-key than her Hustler ’s counterpart, using her time in NYC to “learn how to take the subway”, shop for vintage clothing, and get ice cream at 2 a.m. “I went tothe Playboy Club,” she says, reminding me of her character momentarily. But it turns out her trip to the house of Hef was actually for Hustlers’ wrap party. “It was a little too loud for me,” she politely adds.

Pretending to be a girl who enjoys the club scene was a rather more enjoyable experience for Reinhart. “I really just had a good time being around the women and learning to be in a different environment, because I hadn’t done a film where I played a significant part for a while,” she says. “It was really nice to be on a film set again and Lorene as a director obviously was really wonderful in allowing all of us to share. It was very collaborative.” Scafaria encouraged the actors to ad lib and be a creative part of building their characters into more fully-realised people.

Though Reinhart feels like a staple on screen by now, Hustlers is actually the biggest film role she’s ever taken on. Understandably she’s excited about how people will react to seeing her in a different setting. “There’s so much hype for it,” she says. “[I’m] proud to have been a part of something like this, that was on such a big scale. I mean film is where my heart lies.” She adds, “There’s nothing quite like seeing your face in a movie theatre.”

Reinhart will see her name on screen not only as an actor, but as a producer too on her next movie, Amazon’s Chemical Hearts, due for release in 2020. Filmed right after Hustlers, she got in on the behind-the-scenes action as an executive producer. “That was really a passion project of mine, which luckily came together [timing-wise],” she says. “It’s cool to spearhead your own projects and really build something from the ground up. It makes things so much more special. You really just have such a drive to make things the best that they can be… I’m definitely going to try to be having more producing credits from here on out.”

She added buying a house in Los Angeles to her to-do list, too. Reinhart has lived in Vancouver for the last three years while shooting Riverdale but has had her heart set on LA since she first visited at 12 years-old. “I was just so in awe of the entertainment industry and how so much seems to be happening in that city,” she describes. “It was where the big movies were made, where the movie stars lived, where such history was, and film and television… It was a hard pill to swallow when I knew that I had to move to Vancouver to be on Riverdale because I had worked so hard and so long to make it to LA.”

I tell her she seems to be one step ahead of most of us 20-somethings (myself included) who are still trying to trace their trajectories. “I’m also still very much figuring things out,” she humbly replies, in what I’ve come to realise is a typically understated Lili fashion. “I know what I want, but I have no idea where I’m going to end up in a couple years… Things could go terribly wrong. Who knows?” Currently shooting season four of her hit show, and with Hustlers in theatres now, from here it looks like Reinhart’s name is only going to keep rising, with her feet planted firmly on the ground.