Ottawa-born actress Vanessa Morgan is having one hell of a crazy year. Since joining the cast of Riverdale Season 2 as a pink-haired Southside Serpent named Toni Topaz, the 25-year-old has been filming two shows in New Zealand and Vancouver (she’s also on Spike’s sci-fi drama The Shannara Chronicles, whose second season premiered the same day as Riverdale’s, NBD), and trying to get used to the wildly passionate fandom that comes along with her new roles. Luckily, Morgan was already best friends with her Riverdale co-star Madelaine Petsch (yep, that would be your girl Cheryl Blossom) so when they’re not filming—or dodging the droves of fans that circle their Van City sets—they’re decompressing over workouts and vegan meals. (So cute, right?). Forget #Bughead, we ship these IRL besties.
Here, we chat with Riverdale’s newest cast member—the show’s first openly bisexual character and first lady snake who may or may not come between our beloved Bughead—about joining the cast in Season 2, what it means to her to play a bisexual character on a popular show like Riverdale and all there is to know about Toni Topaz (who, BTW, makes her first appearance on the show in the episode hitting Netflix October 26.)
How well did you know the Archie Comics before you joined the cast?
I was very familiar with the comic books. It was one of those things when you’re little and in the pharmacy, like, getting a pack of gum and you asked your parents to buy you one.
How did you feel about the show giving the comics a dark spin?
Literally as soon as I auditioned for the show originally a year and a half ago, I thought, This is genius. Everybody loves the Archie Comics, it’s one of those [classic] childhood memories, and making it darker was such a great idea.
You mentioned that you auditioned around a year and a half ago. Tell me about your journey from that point to now.
I auditioned a year and a half ago for a different role on the show and that role didn’t pan out. The creator Roberto (Aguirre-Sacasa) told me ‘We love you and we’re going to find a part for you at some point in the show,’ so I didn’t know if that meant it was going to be in Season 1 or further on. I auditioned for it when I was in New Zealand filming another show called The Shannara Chronicles—my agent got a call from the casting director asking me to put myself on tape for the new character Toni Topaz. I was so pumped because I felt like I related to this character even more than the one I went for a year and a half ago. It was the waiting game after the self-tape, and then I found out I got the part.
What was that moment like finding out you’d been cast on Riverdale?
Oh, it was so exciting. I was in New Zealand at the time and I was on a little weekend road trip and I got the call and was freaking out, literally jumping up and down. I always know when my agents have good news for me because they conference call me. I called my parents and one of my best girlfriends who is also on the show, Madelaine Petsch. She’s probably within the top three people I called right after I found out.
That’s so cute! How do you and Madelaine know each other?
We actually met at the screen test a year and a half ago before we found out who was getting cast and who wasn’t. The process for our screen test was a like three-day process and it’s nerve-wracking. You bond with some people and some you don’t, and we still hadn’t found out who was getting it one of the nights, but we went out for drinks and you we were like, ‘We get along so well!’ We kept hanging out like every day and going to the gym together and stuff. She got the part, I didn’t, but you know, it all works out in the end because now we get to be on the same show!
What do you and Madelaine do on your downtime?
We make sure we go out for our vegan meals and work out. It’s what we do—we do our workouts and go for our meal, we relax, we go shopping. We love vegan pizza with cashew cheese or a really good spinach salad with brown rice and an iced tea. We’re really into sweet tea.
Did you watch the first season of the show? Would you call yourself a fan?
Yes, for sure. I watched the first season before I found out I got it and I loved it. I thought everybody did such a great job and I remember thinking Oh, it would be so fun if Roberto ends up putting me in the show eventually. I didn’t think it would be so soon after watching the season that I would be called to audition again, but I was extra pumped because I was already following the story line.
What was it like coming into such a tight-knit cast for the second season?
I was definitely intimidated; I was definitely nervous. But everybody was so welcoming, so it wasn’t ever awkward. Everybody gave me a hug and Madelaine gave me a tour of all the sets which was really cool. I’ve been really lucky in that sense. It can be nerve-wracking joining a show in the second season, but the cast has welcomed me in.
What can you tell us about you character?
My character is Toni Topaz, and she’s from the new generation Archie Comics. I will be rocking the signature pink hair. I’m a Southside Serpent and one of Jughead’s first friends at Southside High. I always wanted to play a badass female character, so I really like that I get to do that. My friendship with Jughead does continue to get stronger and maybe that will cause some turmoil between the Bughead relationship…
Speaking of the turmoil that Toni Topaz might cause between Betty and Jughead, I know you even received death threats about this. How do you cope with that?
I was really surprised about how passionate some people were to take it to that extreme. At the end of the day, I don’t feel any real threat to my life, it’s just sort of a surprise. You know, sometimes people feel really into the show and they think that a character is somehow real. They can’t help but write those things, but I’m not taking it too seriously, and there’s a lot of love that comes with fans being passionate as well. There’s a lot of people supporting me and ever since the story came out about the death threats, I’ve received so much love from the fans being like ‘No, we’re welcoming you into Riverdale ‘ and ‘Only trolls have written stuff like that,’ so it’s made me feel really good.
How else has your life has changed since you were cast as Toni Topaz?
I’ve adjusted to being mostly situated in Vancouver now, which I love, and to the fandom that comes along with it. At some points when we’re filming in Vancouver, there are more than 100 fans outside our scene. It’s so cool being able to be a part of something where people are so passionate.
We’ve read that Toni Topaz is bisexual, and how that may be explored in Riverdale. How do you feel about playing the first openly bisexual character on the show?
I didn’t know that about my character until the press release came out but I’m so excited about it. The last role I played on The Shannara Chronicles was also bisexual so I’m pretty comfortable with it, and I’m excited because I’m the first official bisexual character on Riverdale. I think it’s important to show every type of love on a show. I’m really excited to be a part of the movement of showing that on television.
Will Toni Topaz have a love interest in Season 2?
I’m sure she will but I have yet to know who that will be.
You also sing. Is that something you do for fun or do you sing professionally?
Music is something I’m working on right now and I’m trying to work on my demo again. I put it on hold again while I was filming in New Zealand but I wrote a song for The Shannara Chronicles this season that they put it on the soundtrack, which is awesome. And I’m working on another song right now that will probably be released on Spotify and Instagram and then once I have a little bit of more time to, you know, fully get into it, I’ll start making some bigger moves.
Finally, are your friends big Riverdale fans—and do they try to get show secrets from you?
Some of them don’t want spoilers so they haven’t tried to get insider information. They’ll mostly ask me how the cast is or about my character but it’s so cool being on a show that my friends watch because they’re so invested. Even my brother and his friends—and he’s 34—are so excited. It’s so cool because I have older friends and younger friends that all watch it.