After having worked all over the globe, including the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, and the UK, Nathalie Boltt settled into the sleepy community of Riverdale by way of the manipulative Penelope Blossom, a character she has portrayed on the Archie Comics-inspired series since it first launched on The CW in early 2017.
When not acting, Boltt is applying her talents and drive to other cinematic endeavors, including writing, directing and producing. She is currently in development on a new film called “Holy Days” that she will direct based on the novel by Joy Crowley, but first… more “Riverdale.”
We recently sat down with Boltt to discuss slapping Alice Cooper (not the singer!), how Archie Comics impacted the show’s fan base, and why going evil is like therapy.
TrunkSpace: “Riverdale” seemed to establish a very loyal fan base in the early going of the series. How soon into the process did you feel the presence of the fandom and ultimately the series’ potential?
Boltt: I think I felt it when my first episode kicked in, when I slapped Alice Cooper. People kind of sat up and took notice. And then by Episode 5, which is when I was incredibly cruel to my daughter at the funeral, Jason’s funeral, was when people started following me and taking an interest.
I think the series’ potential was clear right from the pilot; it just really struck a chord. The pilot was just super sexy and dark and mysterious. It had that “Twin Peaks” element of a body, but in a real emotionally-capturing way that’s… it just struck a chord, especially with teenage audiences and their parents.
TrunkSpace: Were you able to see firsthand the fandom grow and build upon itself after Season 1 made it to streaming platforms like Netflix? Did that unlock even more potential in the popularity of the series?
Boltt: Absolutely. It went to Netflix, which is where a lot of people watched it. I know after Season 1, the viewership went up 400 percent. So it was a huge hit over the summer on Netflix, in the States especially, but of course Netflix loves people all over the world who don’t have cable or network TV to watch it.
I know that “Riverdale” is the fastest growing show on social media at the moment.
TrunkSpace: As someone who works on the show and knows the world better than most, how much of the source material, the original Archie brand, played into the series not only finding an audience, but maintaining one?
Boltt: The Archie Comics have been going for 75 years, so it’s got a huge fan base. And then, of course, it was like the re-imagining of Archie as a graphic novel that also really brought it into the new millennium. I think that already made people trust it, which is what happens with those with graphic novel and comic backgrounds. And all of the main characters have come from the Archie Comics, but they aren’t necessarily played in the same way because, obviously, they’re just comic strips. Penelope Blossom, for instance, was in the Archie Comics, and FP maybe not so much; I’d have to check that out. But some people have changed considerably. Like, Miss Grundy is young and hot, whereas in the comics she was an elderly lady. Yeah, some of those things have changed, but all to suit the ensemble with the inspiration of the Archie brand behind it. And I think it also does maintain the Archie brand because that’s how word spreads.
TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what did your character Penelope Blossom offer that you had yet to tackle on screen? What did you like about her that was different?
Boltt: I just like the fact that Penelope is quite a weirdo. The Blossoms seem to be stuck in sort of a time warp of their own. They’re like this royal family in their tweeds and their equestrian-looking outfits, but everything that Penelope wears is kind of… it harkens back to Hitchcock movies, which was one of my references. And also, I was asked to play her in a kind of other-worldly, quite the strange way, so while all of the other families are contemporary suburbia, the Blossoms are quite removed, and in a way it’s kind of like the Addams Family meets the royal family of Britain.
She’s just evil. She’s just such a terrible parent. And for that, you really have to go quite dark and quite still and quite scheming, and that’s loads of fun to play. It’s a little like therapy, really. (Laughter) Poor Madelaine (Petsch) who plays Cheryl… but we laugh about it, so that’s good.
TrunkSpace: Now that you’re a season and a half into your “Riverdale” journey, where have you gotten to go with Penelope that, looking back, you didn’t expect to go to when you first signed on to play her?
Boltt: Well, I certainly didn’t expect her to be burned. Loads of stuff has happened to Penelope; it’s awesome. I think the writers really have a lot of fun. So I didn’t expect at the end of Season 1 that Penelope ran back into the house and managed to get herself third degree burns. And I also didn’t expect just how evil she is and how she keeps on finding ways to be awful to Cheryl. But I suppose what I loved so far is the episode when Penelope actually shows a little heart, that’s The Sugarman episode. There’s some real motherly love there, and real remorse and regret, and I liked playing that a lot because we haven’t seen a lot of that.
TrunkSpace: In terms of an actor’s relationship with an audience, is the experience of working in television different from working on a film? Does the extended time with a character make the relationship with the fans more personal?
Boltt: Yes, of course it does. You get to kind of click into your character more easily the moment you get onto set because you know your character well; you know exactly how you would play that as Penelope, for instance. But also, your audience is committed to you, so you know they’ve invested in your character. And whether they love or hate you, they have certain expectations and that lasts for years if the seasons go on, whereas you’ve only got an hour and a half in a movie to build that up.
With the amazing TV series that are available at the moment, people really dig getting into their TV series and really like getting into the juiciness of it all, and having their favorite show to discuss. And I think you also then get to dig deeper into your character and find new things about them just as you would a new friend.
TrunkSpace: Your latest film “24 Hours to Live,” which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on February 6, is tonally very different from your work on “Riverdale.” Is it important for you to diversify your career and the roles you tackle project to project?
Boltt: Yes, it is. Nobody likes playing the same thing over and over. In “24 Hours to Live” I play a doctor who brings someone back to life. Ethan Hawke plays the lead character, and it’s a sci-fi role, and he drags my character around and nearly kills me. I think that kind of reversal of power is fun to play because generally I have power over Cheryl, but in “24 Hours to Live” Ethan’s character has power over me. And it’s physical and it was action-packed, and real shoot-em-up stuff. And it was amazing working with a team like… we had people on that like Oscar-winning Colin Gibson from “Mad Max,” and real top-notch people who see things in a different way.
TrunkSpace: “24 Hours to Live” has a stacked cast and an impressive creative team behind it. A decade ago, a film with that level of talent would have created box office waves, but the industry and the distribution methods have changed so dramatically that there is now such an incredible volume of content in the marketplace all vying for the same sets of eyeballs. Have those changes to the industry altered the role of the actor at all, either through the process itself or in the personal reward of being involved in a project?
Boltt: I think, yes, it’s very clear that cinema has changed a lot. This is the golden age of television, and so cinema has to really work. I think we find a lot of films are franchises because audiences and filmmakers, distributors, etc., are very risk averse, and people aren’t going to the cinema so much anymore. They stay at home. So yeah, I think we all want to have our time on the red carpet and have amazing premieres and that sort of thing, but sometimes it’s actually seen as more of a marketing potential for a movie like that which is full of action and will go and do really well online because people like to sit at home and get into that sort of thing, and devour those sort of films On Demand. And so, I guess that was the marketing strategy that they went for. It’s all about that, and I think the strategies are quite different to when you would just wait to see what happened at the box office.
It is an incredible cast and an impressive team, and I would recommend watching it. It shot in Cape Town. It looks very beautiful and cinematic, and would play very, very well on a home entertainment system. High octane, lots of fun. And yes, they are all vying for the same eyeballs, but people also consume a lot more media, so I think films like that will find their niche.
TrunkSpace: You’re also a writer, director and a producer. Do the changes in the industry, both creatively and from a business standpoint, excite you more when wearing one of those hats as opposed to acting?
Boltt: I think being a writer, director and producer excites me because it gives me a feeling of having more control. Acting is very subjective. I have a wicked imagination, and so I write everything from drama to kids’ animation to outrageous comedy, and it just gives me an instant range. As a director, I think you learn a lot as an actor and when you step behind the camera to direct, you realize you actually have the skills often to direct, and I think that can be a fun challenge. And I think, above all, it gives you real respect for how difficult it is to get anything made. It’s actually miraculous to go from an idea to then a script, to financing, to shooting, and to actually distributing something. The fact that anything gets out there and is good is miraculous and magical to me still. And as an actor, you show up, you say your lines, you try to do a good performance and you go home. Whereas, when you’re writing, directing, producing you’re there the entire time, and it’s tough. And then when you come back as an actor, you really respect everybody who is involved in that very complex process, and I think that’s healthy.
TrunkSpace: Do you view those various industry jobs as careers separate from acting, or are they all extensions of what you set out to do when you first decided to pursue your dreams?
Boltt: I think it’s all part of storytelling, and that’s certainly what I’ve always wanted to do and always have done. Even when I started out as a dancer, that’s still a storytelling of a type. It’s an expression. So whether you’re expressing yourself as an actor, you’re also expressing yourself as a writer and a director and a producer, and it’s an extension of the creative process. So yeah, I think acting can be frustrating because you have a long run of doing things and being in demand, and then you have your down time where you feel like you’re waiting, and I don’t like waiting. I like being busy all the time, so that’s an extension of my personality, I guess.
TrunkSpace: You’re originally from South Africa, but have spent time all over the world. In your experience, how is pop culture viewed differently around the globe and does pursuing a career in acting require different approaches in different locales?
Boltt: Yeah, I think it does. In places like New Zealand and South Africa where you have really small industries, there’s a lot more jack-of-all-trades feeling to what you do. We all do a bit of everything, A lot of that stuff is seen locally. It doesn’t have the same viewership, so I think there’s just a lot more humility involved in making smaller shows in smaller countries. You still want to do a great job and build your audience. And then you go onto something like “Riverdale” and it’s got a global viewership, and you get a completely different taste of what it means to have a hit show in the world. And there are a lot of perks that come with that, a lot of attention that comes with that, and I think you have to respect that as well because it’s the next level of success. And I have worked in Germany and on German films, so that’s interesting being in another language and their working methods are quite different.
I think the approach has to be different. Wherever you go, you need to kind of feel out how people like to work and understand that approach and be respectful of it. Your job as an actor is to do your job well and listen to the director, and do your best to realize something, to bring to life your character. Sometimes you need a more subtle approach of asking what it is that the director requires. Sometimes you need to sit quietly and just wait until you’re called upon. And other times, you can be more direct and confident about it. I think it’s always a matter of just watching for awhile; being quiet and watching and seeing how people like to work, and then trying to respect that while also being true to what your job requires.
TrunkSpace: We’ve barely scratched the surface on 2018. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for yourself and looking forward, what are your career goals as you tackle a fresh calendar?
Boltt: You know, I’m not that good at New Year’s resolutions. If I’m happy I just carry on doing that; I just continue with the plan. At the moment, I’m looking at moving to Canada and pursuing my options here. However, I have a feature feature film, “Holy Days,” which is in development in New Zealand, so I’m looking forward to directing that there. It’s an exciting time. Things are going really well. I’m making things and my family is with me, and I have met a lot of exciting, creative people that I’m going to be working with. So I suppose part of that is to continue on the projects that I’m on, but also to keep fit and eat healthy, and not burn out. I think when you’re a busy person like I am, you tend to want to just have some balance. I’m going to be directing some music videos as well for a band called The Strange. That’s going to be fun. And writing some comedies and some dramas, and of course, playing Penelope and loving that. So that’s my plan for 2018, and I’m excited to see what people think of my storyline, which is quite outrageous, that’s coming up. I think people have a bit of an idea.
“Riverdale” returns tonight on The CW.
“24 Hours to Live” premieres on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital home entertainment February 6.