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With ‘Upgraded,’ Camila Mendes Is Here to Prove She’s Grown Up Since ‘Riverdale’: I ‘Just Want to Be Taken Seriously’

For most of her career, Camila Mendes has been known as Veronica Lodge. She portrayed the rich, confident high schooler on The CW’s “Riverdale” for six years, appearing in 136 of the 137 episodes before the series wrapped up last year. And now, she’s ready to put that behind her in order to show the world what else she can do.

“I’m sure I will be typecast — I think people are gonna offer me roles based off things that they’ve already seen me do. So it only’s natural that’s what would happen,” she tells Variety.

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Which is part of the reason Mendes is attracted to projects she can also produce, and she’s both the star and an executive producer of “Upgraded,” a new romantic comedy that dropped on Amazon Prime Video’s on Feb. 9. In it, Mendes plays Ana, a young art intern who meets a handsome stranger (Archie Renaux) and lies to him about her job when she’s on a last-minute work trip to London. Mendes is also an executive producer on her next project, “Musica,” set to debut at SXSW.

“I feel like it’s a way for me to take agency over my career and force people to see me do things they haven’t seen me do before — whether they like it or not,” she says.

Here, she talks to Variety about her role as Ana in “Upgraded,” the power of rom-coms — and why she’s taking a break from them — and what she learned from working on “Riverdale” for so long.

When you first read “Upgraded,” how did you find your way into the character of Ana?

I really fell in love with the story, I thought it was unique. I’d never seen a rom-com set in the art world before. It felt like a version of “Devil Wears Prada,” but in the art auction house world, so that was really appealing to me.

But for me, it was really important that I came on as an executive producer, because I had a lot of ideas and opinions, and things that I wanted to evolve in the scripts. That played a huge role in me developing the character and doing my prep, and finding Ana was part of the rewrite process and bringing on two of my friends — one of which is my co-producer’s brother, Justin Matthews, and his writing partner, Luke Spencer Roberts. We brought them on to do a pass on the script, updating the dialogue and giving a little bit more nuance to the dynamic between the characters. I really found Ana with them. Justin Matthews knows me so well, so he really understood my humor. He knew how to tailor the character to me a little bit, so by the time I got to set and stepped into her shoes, it felt very organic.

Moving forward, how important is producing in addition to starring?

There might be projects down the line that I sign on to where the character is already there, and I don’t need to do much work on that, but do work on other things. But for this one, something really important to me was developing the script.

Ana isn’t as confident as most characters we’ve seen you play. She’s not not confident but how was it taking on someone so different?

I feel so much more like me. I identify with her more than any character. Obviously, characters like Veronica and Drea in “Do Revenge,” there’s a quick-wittedness to them, and they always know what to say, and they’re very strong. It’s a different energy to those characters, and I like tapping into that. I feel like there’s a part of my personality that’s like that. But I’ve really enjoyed playing Ana because she felt so natural to me. She is exactly like you said — it’s not like she’s not confident, but she’s still figuring it out. She’s not that self-assured. She’s still a little bit insecure about her status in life. It was nice to kind of play a character that was a little bit more lighthearted.

Ana (Camila Mendes) and William (Archie Renaux) in UPGRADED.
Camila Mendes and Archie Renaux in “Upgraded.”

Rom-coms were so huge in the ’90s, and are seemingly having a resurgance now. Why do you think that the genre has this staying power?

Rom-coms are a really beautiful art form when they’re done right. If you have real chemistry between actors, and you have a good story, even though you know what’s going to happen in rom-com, even though you see where it’s going and you recognize the tropes, if you can keep it interesting through performance and dialogue, rom-coms are super relatable.

I love rom-coms from the ’90s. That was the golden age of rom-coms. But I’ve also seen rom-coms in the last few years that I’ve really liked.

After acting on a long-running TV show, I imagine it can be hard to get out of that mindset and move into different kinds of things. How has that process been like you, looking at new scripts and now having this freedom to take on whatever you want?

That’s a good question. I actually produced an indie a few months ago, and also starred in it. I wanted to make sure that my character didn’t lean towards Veronica too much. I wanted to make sure that I made enough of a difference through the scripts and her character arc that I could separate it from other characters that I played.

I’d assume that’s the case for most actors, taking on new roles to challenge yourself. At this point in your career, what makes you say yes to a script?

A lot of it is what I’m looking to avoid. It’s not so much what I’m saying yes to, but what I’m saying no to. I don’t know exactly if I could sum up what that is, but I just really want to enter a new phase of my career and age out of the young adult genre. That’s definitely on my mind when I’m looking at things.

But also, it’s like you said, every actor wants to feel like they’re doing something different than the thing they did before. That’s me. I don’t want to feel like I’m just repeating the same role over and over again or repeating the same genre. Obviously, I just did “Upgraded” and then I have “Musica” coming out, both of which are rom-coms. And so now, I’m not really interested in doing rom-coms right now. I want to do something else.

What did you learn from playing Veronica for so long?

I think I learned how to stay engaged in something for a really long amount of time. When you become so comfortable in a character and you start wearing them like a second skin, you have to start looking for new ways to get excited about work. I was always down to find whatever it was in that scene that felt different and challenging and hone in on that thing so that I never got stale or lost interest in what I do.

Because I never want to feel like I’m bored of acting. That’s my biggest passion in life. “Riverdale” taught me how to stick with something, even when things start to feel boring. I need to challenge myself to find what’s interesting about this day, what can I pay attention to that’ll help me continue to grow.

Riverdale 100th Episode
“Riverdale”

Whether it’s a series or film with a big fan base, many times you have no control over storylines or the reactions that fans have to certain things. What advice would you give to a young actor — or yourself at the start of “Riverdale” — when reading scripts or comments that you have no say over?

I think it comes with the job. I come from a theater background. For me, the script was the Bible. You don’t mess with the script. The words that are on the page are the words that you say, and you make it work. A good actor will make it work. I had that mentality for the first few years of “Riverdale.”

And then with time, especially because I saw a lot of other actors around me vocalize their notes on certain scenes and what they want to change to make themselves feel comfortable. I was like, “Maybe I should start speaking out more. Maybe I should stand up for myself. I’ve gotta protect myself. No one else is gonna protect me.”

You have to look out for yourself and follow your gut, because there are moments when you read a certain part of the script, and you’re like, “I don’t know that I’m going to be able to sell this line this way, or this feels like a big jump from that line to this line, and I feel like I need something in between to connect those two thoughts.” I developed the ability over time to just vocalize it, whether it was to the writer or the showrunner or the director. I got really comfortable with just saying how I felt about something, understanding that it might not change, I might not get what I want, but as long as I feel like I’m expressing myself and being heard, that’s as much as I can do without being involved as a producer.

Is there a genre you want to dive into?

I’d love to do a lot more drama. I feel like I haven’t gotten to do drama, and it’s my favorite genre to do. Dramas are what I love the most, as a theater kid — that’s all I did in school.

Have you’ve faced any challenges of being typecast after playing Veronica for so long?

It’s hard to say, because I haven’t experienced much time since the show wrapped. We literally just wrapped last year, and then the strike hit, so I feel like now is the time I’m going to start seeing what life is like post-“Riverdale.” Now I’m promoting “Upgraded” and “Musica,” so I feel like I won’t really see how things are until all this is done.

I’m sure I will be typecast — I think people are gonna offer me roles based off things that they’ve already seen me do. So it only’s natural that’s what would happen. That’s why I think producing is super important to me, because I feel like it’s a way for me to take agency over my career and force people to see me do things they haven’t seen me do before — whether they like it or not.

Is there anything you’d like to take and put into Ana into your own life?

I don’t think Ana did this intentionally, but what I’ve realized is the power of manifesting your dreams. If you act like you deserve success, and you act like you deserve all these good things, those good things will come to you. Even though Ana lied, and all those good things came out of a lie, it worked out in her favor eventually. So I think there’s a lesson there, and I would like to apply that to my life.

So what would you be manifesting right now for your career?

I mean, what every actor wants — what every teen actor wants after getting off of a long show: We just want to be taken seriously. We just want people to recognize our talent. I think if anything, it’s more about manifesting this idea that, knowing that I deserve those things, is something I want to practice. I can be such a realist, and I can be almost pessimistic about things sometimes and almost too statistical.

So many actors want the same things I want, who says I’m going to be the one that gets to do them? But I think that mentality can hurt you — you start to convince yourself that it’s not gonna happen and that you don’t deserve those things. If you don’t believe it, no one else is gonna believe it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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