On The CW series Riverdale, viewers will get a bit more insight into the inner workings of Josie and the Pussycats, as they prepare for their performance at Riverdale High’s annual variety show. When Valerie (Hayley Law) helps Archie (KJ Apa) prepare for his big performance, it leads to some major fall-out between her and Josie (Ashleigh Murray), who is dealing with her own pressures at home, with the return of her father who just isn’t showing the interest in her dream that she wishes he would.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Ashleigh Murray shared her crazy audition experience for Riverdale and talked about just how close she was to taking a break from acting before getting hired as Josie, along with the challenges of rocking a leotard with a tail and cat ears, how much she loves Josie’s wardrobe, the strained relationship Josie has with her father, having a bit of a band shake-up, the coolest thing about getting to bring this iconic character to life, and just how many times she tried to guess the answer for the show’s murder mystery.
Collider: Everyone I’ve talked to for this show seems to have a crazy audition story. What was your audition process like for this? Did you also have to prove that you could sing?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: OMG! I was $4,700 behind in rent. I lived in New York City, so it was a lot of money. And I was just about to take a break from acting for about six months, until I could get myself back on my feet financially, and then hit the ground running. This was my last audition. So, I went on the audition, and the next day, I was on my way home from the grocery store with $12 in my bank account. I had to call my mom and ask her for an extra $5 because the last of it went to food at Whole Foods, just so that I could get home. My manager called me and said, “I just got off the phone with your agent, and they’re pinning you for the role.” I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know that there was a Warner Bros. office in New York. It was my first time auditioning there. And then, 20 minutes after that, it was, “Okay, they might be flying you to L.A. to test, so make sure that all of your travel information is up to date.” Twenty minutes after that, they were like, “Okay, you’re going to L.A.” I had never even tested before.
This was my first big audition for pilot season, and I was so broke. I didn’t have money to do my laundry, so I was washing my clothes in my bathroom sink. And then, I ran up the street and begged the guy at the laundry mat that I go to, all the time, to please let me dry my clothes there because I had a big audition the next morning. So, he let me dry my clothes for free. I stayed up all night, printing out resumes and headshots. I went straight to the airport from my apartment, and I almost missed my flight. I grabbed a TSA person by the collar. I don’t know how I didn’t get arrested. Apparently, the gate that my phone was telling me didn’t actually exist. So, I made my flight, but went to the wrong studio location. I managed to make it to the right one, and I was the last person to go in. I had a little prep session with David Rapaport, our casting director, and Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], our showrunner. And then, half-way through my song, I forgot the words. I was frozen in this dance move, trying to figure out where I was supposed to go and everybody was like, “Is she done?!” And then, I found it and I kept singing.
By the time I got back to my hotel room, I had been awake for 36 hours straight. Then, I got the call telling me that I had advanced from studio to network. I went in and did network, on that Monday. It was crazy! I was like, “Even if I don’t get it, now Warner Bros. knows who I am. I think I’ve done a good job, so if this isn’t right for me, I’m sure something else will come along.” And then, after I had my audition, I went back to my hotel room and I got the call. They were like, “So, they want to offer you the role.” I was like, “What?!” I couldn’t believe it! It happened overnight, literally. I went in on a Wednesday, and then I was in L.A. on Friday. I did it over the weekend, and I came out with this role. It’s just been snowballing, ever since. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced, in my life.
It’s not easy to rock a leotard with a tail and cat ears. Do you feel pretty comfortable in Josie’s performance costumes, or do you have to really get into character to feel comfortable in them?
MURRAY: That’s so funny because everything that Josie wears, I love. And there are a lot of looks that I haven’t worn, that I’m hoping, if we go to Season 2, will just make people drool from their face. But that particular performance outfit, I loved, except that I was so nervous because my tush was out a lot. Ashleigh, as a person, wears boy shorts. I’ll wear a boy short swimsuit. The entire time that we were shooting, I would turn to Cami [Mendes] or Hayley [Law] and be like, “Can you just look at my butt real quick? Does it look okay? Is it out a lot?” And I would be tugging my costume down a little bit more. I was so nervous! I was like, “We’re on The CW! Oh, god!” But, I just had to own it. I was like, “Look, I know that I’m cold from the hips down, but I’m going to let these stage lights do their magic, and I’m just going to sing this song and make it work!” That’s how I made it through that scene.
I love that we not only get to see these characters’ lives with their friends, but we get to see their dynamic with their parents, which really says so much about who they are. Why do you think having her mother’s acceptance isn’t enough for Josie, and why does it hurt her so deeply that she can’t seem to hold her father’s attention very long?
MURRAY: It’s because she gets her talent from her father. Her drive and success is definitely mostly from her mom. She always has her mom’s support, 24 hours/7 days a week. Her mom is there with her. Her father is the one who’s out living what is a dream of Josie’s – to be a successful musician. Even though that may not be what he is in her mother’s eyes, that’s absolutely who he is in hers. She’s constantly fighting for him to tell her that she’s doing well, even though it’s not the same type of music that he likes. It’s just a never-ending battle. We all know what it’s like to want to have that support from our family members and the people that we love, especially our parents. So, it hits her very hard that the one person who should be the most proud of her, doesn’t seem to be. She can’t figure out what to do, to get that from him.
What was it like to have a bit of a band shake-up, in this episode, and have Veronica join the Pussycats?
MURRAY: It was tough. For me, as Ashleigh, it was tough. I don’t ever want them to have problems! But it was actually a really fun scene and story to play out, to actually showcase what it’s like. Everybody knows, when you have a band, there’s always going to be a hierarchy and there’s always going to be some issue where ego gets involved and causes some kind of shake-up. I actually really liked the way we had the dynamic that Veronica joined the Pussycats based on the branding that Josie’s mom wants. Even though Josie gave an eye roll and was like, “Okay, fine, mom,” we understand why she’s doing it. Even though Josie may not love the idea, it’s what mom wants and mom knows best. She’s running the town, so she must be doing something right.
What’s the coolest thing for you, in being a part of this comic book world and bringing this iconic character to life, in this way?
MURRAY: Aside from literally living a dream, it’s not just because I’m a working actress, which is beyond wonderful, but it’s being able to be a character that I grew up reading and loving. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re running out of fantasy people to play. It’s the fact that there wasn’t anything like this before. I get to play this literal icon, who’s never lived and breathed or done anything, but has managed to change the way people view certain things, and even the way people view comics and women. I get to step into this world, bring it up to date, and color it with the things we know to be true today and that we relate to as human beings, is behind amazing. Every day, I wake up and I’m like, “Dude, there are going to be people in this generation who, from now on, who only know Josie as me!” That’s a big thing to be responsible for! I’m always wanting to do better and I’m hoping that I am giving a fresh take on who Josie is, and that people actually love it and it’s palatable, and that they understand where I’m coming from and don’t feel like they’re not included in this journey that I’m taking her on.
When you do a show like this, that has a murder mystery element to it, did you find yourself trying to solve the mystery? And how many guesses did you have, before you knew where things were headed?
MURRAY: Oh, absolutely! I had like eight guesses, and they were all wrong. Every last one of them was wrong! I’ve gotten into text wars with people from hair and make-up about it. I was like, “No, no, no! You’re incorrect. I know who did it!” And they’re like, “Well, I get the script before you do, and I know you’re wrong!” I never got it right. Not once.
Riverdale airs on Thursday nights on The CW.