Riverdale spinoff series Katy Keene, co-created by Michael Grassi (Supergirl), follows a quartet of iconic Archie Comics characters as they chase their twenty-something dreams in a heightened, almost fairy tale like New York City. The fab four are fashion legend-to-be Katy Keene (Lucy Hale), singer/songwriter with stars in her eyes Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), Broadway hopeful triple-threat performer and drag queen Jorge Lopez/Ginger (Jonny Beauchamp), and uber-well-connected Brit in the city “It Girl” Pepper Smith (Julia Chan).
While Katy designs and creates dazzling outfits for herself and all of her friends, she struggles to manage the pressures of her day job at Lacy’s Department Store thanks to the demands of her boss, legendary personal shopper Gloria Grandbilt (Katherine LaNasa). Luckily Katy has the support of her longtime boyfriend, KO Kelly (Zane Holtz), who has his own ambitions of becoming a professional boxer.
As Katy’s new roommate Josie arrives in the Big Apple from Riverdale her singing talent is almost immediately noticed by media mogul Alexander Cabot, but his hopes of signing Josie to his label meet strong resistance from his twin sister Alexandra (Camille Hyde).
Ahead of Katy Keene launching on The CW this Thursday February 6th at 8pm/7pm c The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann met the show’s lead cast and co-creator Michael Grassi at New York’s BroadwayCon to talk about relating to their characters as they follow their dreams, the importance of diversity in the series and featuring an LGBTQ lead character on a mainstream network.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: One of the themes of the pilot episode, and the series at large, is pursuing your dreams. How far can each of you relate to what your character is going through?
Lucy Hale: “One of the main reasons that I wanted to take on the part of Katy is because I was just reading about her struggle with life and figuring out what she wants to do, through her heartbreak, and I was like, ‘this reminds me so much of my twenties in LA and moving to LA and wanting to become an actress and being kind of naïve about it, but not letting anything get in my way’. There were so many parallels. The main thing I think you’ll take from the show is that there isn’t a dream too big and you can make anything you want come to life if you work hard enough. Obviously in the pilot things seemingly look wonderful for everyone, but what’s great about the show is that these characters don’t always get what they want. I mean the show does have a heightened feel, it’s a like a fairy tale almost, but you do get to see the struggle of what these characters go through, whether it be professionally or personally. You get to see darker sides to all of them and we just peel back the layers a little bit. So as the series goes on there’s a bit more grit to it and it’s pretty realistic. As Lucy, as an actress moving to LA, it was hard and we really showcase that on the show.”
Camille Hyde: “One of the reasons that this show was so alluring to me was that so many people don’t have the bravery to actually fail, or the bravery to get rejected, but all the characters in this series have the bravery to do whatever it takes to get to their dreams. That’s kind of the heart of the show and I think that’s what people will be able to identify with and hopefully it’ll inspire people to go through that heartbreak to get to their dreams.”
Katherine LaNasa: “I think that I relate to all of the younger characters because I’ve been all of them, and then I feel a little bit that way in my own life too, so that was nice.”
Zane Holtz: “As actors we can all sort of relate to the idea of having a big dream that we’re trying to chase and trying to achieve and dealing with the pitfalls that come with that. When I read the pilot I thought that we had an opportunity to be able to inspire the audience. Obviously people who are watching aren’t necessarily wanting to be fashion designers or perform on Broadway or be boxers or be singers, but everybody hopefully has some sort of dream and a passion. So if we can make you feel good and give you the inspiration to go out and chase that yourself then we’ve done our jobs. I think for all the characters in this first season they kind of refer to this as a bit of an origin story, so you see everybody kind of at square one. You pick up with everyone in those early stages, so it’s going to be fun to see how everybody deals with those different obstacles that they have.”
Julia Chan: “Have I achieved my dreams?! (laughs) It really has been an extraordinary year personally and this job has a lot to do with it. It has ticked so many boxes personally and professionally, and as an actor became what I needed in terms of a challenge and I didn’t know I would get that with the show. You walk in and you start meeting people, there’s Michael Grassi and I’m saying things that sound like the British theatre I’ve always wanted to do and you know, doing the high, almost theatrical thing and I get to be a character actress, so thank you for that Michael! I didn’t know I would find it here and I really have, and then I’ve made family friends, so it’s been kind of the best year yet!”
Ashleigh Murray: “I definitely can relate to Josie because I moved here when I was 19 for college, to pursue my acting career, and I booked Riverdale when I was 28. It was maybe a month after I turned 28 and I couldn’t believe it because I was the brokest of broke and had absolutely nothing to lose. When we shot the pilot pretty much every location that I was a part of reminded me directly of where I was at that time in my life; in my career, what full-time job I was doing and which commercial I’d booked. We shot up in Washington Heights, that was the first and only place I’ve ever lived alone in the city. Watching Josie go through this is giving me a chance to kind of relive that fun and that sort of danger and wonderment of ‘is this going to be the job? Is this going to be the guy? Is this going to be the bar?’ But within the safety of ‘…and cut!’ And you know, it’s fun because I’ve been Josie for a few years now, and I get to really see how she is as a young woman and I get to discover who she is in friendships and relationships. I’m also kind of finding myself more in a way that I didn’t expect to because this is a new place. Living in New York for over a decade is very different from working in your dream job in New York. You know, when I was in college they were like ‘you should get on The Young and the Restless or Law and Order, that’s pretty much going to be the only thing you’re going to work on in New York.’ Now we’re on this great hit new show and hopefully we’re going to go for a while so, winning!” (laughs)
Jonny Beauchamp: “For me, I keep saying to my mom all the time it’s kind of been the biggest hug I’ve gotten on this journey as an actor. My whole life this has really only been the plan. I grew up in theatre, I thought that was my lane, I never dreamed that I could possibly be on television or in movies, that was kind of a pipedream. I thought I was, like my character, a little too femme, a little too short, a little too gay, a little too Latin and sometimes something happens in the atmosphere and then we have this amazing moment where writers put pen to paper and they crafted this amazing character that I so feel is in my body. The cherry on all of it is I get to play a boy like myself from New York doing all the things that I was trying to do when I was his age and I get to sing while I do it! I just wanted to sing and I have never gotten to show that I love to sing and I get to do it in a big way on this show, not even just alone, I get to do it with my friends.”
“I believe that manifestation is a real thing because I’ve been wanting a project like this, or just wanting to showcase myself in this way, because it’s what I love the most. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time, and just broke enough to be scared enough to jump in headfirst. Then the rest is history and you’re now playing a comic book character that you used to read about. In that respect this really has been the biggest gift and it’s even that much better when you get to do it with people you love. You know, because work is work, it’s the same as any other job, but once in a while you get a job where you’re like ‘wow, we really do get along. It’s actually kind of like a party on and off camera and I’m like the prankster of the group, so I’m always trying to mess the girls up! But it’s nice because we can keep it light and then when we’ve got to go there, we go there. I hope that if anybody is to watch this they can see in me and in us that you can kind of achieve your dreams and to keep dreaming. So to be in a show achieving your dreams, about dreams, with dreams, we might even sing dreams …!”
Had you done drag before in real life?
Jonny Beauchamp: “I’ve always been…I call it drag adjacent. I’ve always really loved the drag culture and the ballroom scene. I grew up in New York, so I was always really involved, but I never saw it as my vocation but I’ve played a lot of drag queens. My Off-Broadway debuts were all drag queens, my first film I did I played drag queens. I think I have a solid way into characters like that and I have a real understanding and a love for the art. I really just love drag culture and it would seem to have been a hobby for centuries and it’s now become the biggest vocation, now it’s like the new brand of rock star is the drag queen!”
We see Jorge goes to two open Broadway auditions for Mannequin the musical and he’s told that he’s wrong for the role. I wondered how far each of you could relate to that situation of being told ‘you’re not right for this’ but moving through that and persevering?
Camille Hyde: “I think in general when it comes to the arts, no matter how good you, no matter how many hours you put in, how dedicated you are to your craft, there are so many elements that go into getting a big break that have nothing to do with you. There are so many things that are out of your control, so it’s really just about putting yourself in the position to be the best at your craft when an opportunity presents itself and a lot of people can get demoralised by the nos and take it personally and quit before getting to that finish line. But all of us, both in real life and in the show, have to put themselves in the position to focus and let their hearts lead them to their final destination and not get demoralised by all of the other things going on in the world that are completely out of their hands.”
Lucy Hale: “Yeah, conquering rejection is sort of a tool in itself. That’s been my biggest struggle in my career, not taking it personal and there are so many factors that go into it. Just going to sleep at night and being proud of yourself even though things don’t always go your way is important because that’s just life no matter what career you’re in, no matter what path of life you’re on, that’s just is what it is.”
Zane Holtz: “When you’re talking about Jorge trying to find a version of himself that works for that part, I think all actors have to do that. A lot of times you get a piece f material, you get an audition, and you look at it and you think ‘alright, how can I make this work for me, how can I find myself in this?’ You show up and sometimes as soon as you do walk in the room they say ‘that’s not the guy, there’s nothing you can do about it, you did your homework, but that’s no what we were thinking.’ But the flipside of that is that sometimes you are perfect for the part and when those things do line up and you do have the quality that they were looking for and you did do your work, that’s when great things happen. I think we’ll see that for everybody in this cast and also the characters within this show.”
Katherine LaNasa: “I think that Gloria is so hard on everybody, but it’s coming from that place of realising that’s how tough you have to be if you want to be successful as an artist, or I’m sure a boxer as well, or anything. I feel like that’s something that I’ve realised in my real as well. You just have to keep going if you want to keep doing it. So I think she brings that in and I think one of the things that Zane was touching on is that it’s really about bringing yourself through. I feel like a lot of these characters are trying to find their authentic self and their own paths through finding their dream. That’s always where we’re most successful, because trying to be an artist is impossible and filled with rejection and poverty and everything else, and you have to love it and you have to find a way to really bring it through your heart in order for it to work. So that I think comes out a lot as the show moves on, you’ll see that people are like ‘I’m not in the right place, you know this is not what I want to be doing with my music’ or ‘this is not what I want to doing with my designs’. They’re really trying to fulfil their sincere passions.”
Last year The CW announced the ‘We Defy’ initiative to “reinforce the network’s commitment to inclusion and representation”. What does it mean to each of you to be part of that pledge on Katy Keene where there’s Jorge for instance, an LGBTQ character at the forefront of the show?
Katherine LaNasa: “I feel so happy about it. To say it’s hard for people to find their way that are in the queer community is to put it mildly and I am so excited, I mean I almost want to cry a little bit, that this is on The CW. I think it’s so incredibly important to have a mainstream network have these gay characters and these queer characters and to take it even further in the Hispanic community because I have friends who aren’t out to their family and they are married here. It’s a tragedy and it’s really tricky with religion and everything else and I just think it’s wonderful because it’s something so simple, but you know there’s some gay boy who’s going to be sitting in the Midwest that doesn’t have anyone to compare himself to and when he sees that Jorge/Ginger is on TV on The CW, you know it’s lifesaving and I know it sounds overblown, but I think it’s true.”
Lucy Hale: “I think so often you watch TV shows and it’s just not realistic and I think when you watch our show it looks like real life and it feels like real life, it sounds like real life and I just ditto everything you said. To have a character like Jorge goes so far because what we watch on TV and what we hear has such an impact on our lives and the decisions that we make and like you said someone in the Midwest watching that, it could save someone’s life or help them feel not alone and we just need to normalise it, this is 2020, this is the world we live in and it’s only going to get better from here on out is what I think.”
Camille Hyde: “I’m just so excited that we’re normalising something that’s been such a taboo for so long and doing it on such a large network. I’m a product of a gay man who tried to cover it up for so long. It took him years, I was twenty when he came out and it was a new thing for me and I felt kind of like a parent to my dad, because he was almost shy to admit it to himself and having me as an ally I was like ‘OK, cool, let’s do pride together!’ He knows that I love him so much still, even more because we broke through the threshold of secrecy, and I think having a show like this will help men of that generation as well, where it was not nearly as acceptable as it is now to talk about it and to come out and to be accepted. I’m just so happy for him to see it and that’s going to be really special for us specifically.”
Zane Holtz: “I’m super happy and excited to be part of a cast that looks like New York and looks like America, and this is a group of people that would be friends. It’s not even the version of friends that I saw on TV when I was a kid, so I think we have come a long way and I’m glad to continue to be part of that for The CW. And I get to work with a fantastic, talented group of actors, so I’m very happy.”
Jonny Beauchamp: “I think one of the best things about it is that Katy Keene is completely ignoring token culture, there’s no token in our show. I mean, I’m not just a kind of silly, filly gay person who does hair and loves Broadway. I get to be a fully fleshed-out human being with a family and there’s love in that family. But specifically to the juxtaposition of queerness and family there’s some conflict there too, and I think I’m not the only one who’s gone through something like that and I know there will be a lot of people that will feel seen and represented in that capacity.”
Ashleigh Murray: “I was raised by two moms and a lot of my family is queer and we get to show the support on the show, but you know that there are so many people out there who don’t get that support, who are ostracised, who are damned, but there are also people who are not related by blood who are still there to hold you. 100% full allies.”
Jonny Beauchamp: “Yes, your Chosen family and what that means.”
Michael Grassi: “There’s so much diversity on our show, but also diversity of characters and people are chasing differing things. I think hopefully when people come to the show, everyone will be able to see themselves in one shape or form. One of the most important things while making this show is that I hopefully people will fall for the storytelling and with this wonderful cast and feel like ‘oh, other people are being vulnerable and chasing their dreams’ and putting themselves out there romantically and professionally. It’s really inspirational in that way.”
Ashleigh Murray: “You do get a full makeup of New York too, that’s what I love. For me growing up and watching any sort of media, whether it’s television or movies, I’m always looking at who’s in the background. I want to see who else is in the room if I’m there and we have the most colourful background, we have the most colourful guest stars and day players. It actually looks like New York and that is even better because aside from who you may or may not see yourself in with the lead characters, you still see yourself in the crowd, you know ‘OK, I’m in the at room too.’ It’s really, really wonderful.”
Katy Keene premieres on The CW Thursday February 6th at 8pm/7pm c. For more head to the Katy Keene page on The CW website.