It’s no secret that Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz (aka Choni) have become the couple to ship in the Riverdale universe, arguably even eclipsing the beloved Bughead. After being shipped off to the Sisters of Mercy compound, in what was a controversial gay conversion therapy plotline, Cheryl was rescued by Toni, and the two shared a kiss that immediately set the internet ablaze.
The vast outpouring of fan love is not lost upon Madelaine Petsch, who plays Cheryl on the CW show. Turns out, Cheryl’s sexuality was something she and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been discussing since the first season, so Petsch said it was important to her to bring queer visibility to one of TV’s most popular contemporary series "with care and grace." “So many kids messaged me telling me that this is a similar story to their experience and that their parents felt the same way about them, and that scene is helping them,” she tells us. “It's hard enough to play that, but knowing it actually happens to people makes me want to hold them in my arms and hug them and tell them that they are accepted.”
In honor of the launch of her Privé Reveaux collection and ahead of the highly-anticipated musical episode, we sat down with Petsch to delve a little deeper into Choni’s relationship, as well as the importance of their relationship’s visibility within an industry that still tends to skirt around depictions of bisexual women. Read our Q&A, below.
What did you think about the crazy reaction to Choni finally kissing?
I'm so happy about it. Vanessa [Morgan, who plays Toni] has actually been my best friend for a very long time. Roberto and I had also discussed Cheryl’s sexual orientation in Season 1. I was like, "She's definitely not straight." There's so much more to her than what we've seen so far, so we really wanted to develop that in Season 2. It was very nerve-racking, because we wanted to make sure we did it with care and grace. But I think the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I'm really happy to bring bisexuality to TV, because you don't see that often on television, especially with women. I find that so interesting because most of my friends—my female friends—are bisexual. It's just the majority of our generation... and I don't think you see it on television still.
It just makes sense with her character, too. When we really delve into it, Cheryl's got this mean exterior and facade, but then you find out that her mom has hated and [repressed] a really huge part of Cheryl for her entire life. She caught Cheryl in bed with a girl and told Cheryl that she's deviant and disgusting—so Cheryl hated herself growing up.
Speaking of said kiss, I know you were just talking about snotting all over Vanessa.
Oh my god, I almost tweeted that: “Vanessa Morgan is a champ because I was crying in the scene previously and I still had snot running down my face and every single time she ate my snot like a pro.” They were like, "We want you to be fully sobbing and then when she gets in, you stand up.” So, I did it and the first take she was like, "Salty." I was like, "That's really disgusting,” but she just totally rolled with it. I was like, "Thank god, that was my best friend, because that would be so embarrassing [had it be anyone else]." Imagine if they were like spitting it out after every take. I'd be crumbled inside.
On a more serious note, as her best friend, what did you think about all that hate Vanessa was getting before Season 2 even aired? When everyone thought Toni was going to get in the way of Bughead?
I was very adamant, actually. I put out a YouTube video on my channel with her, introducing her to the Riverdale world. I was saying, "Guys, you need to stop treating her like this. You don't really know what's gonna happen with the story." Oddly enough, the same people who hated her, now are obsessed with her character because she's dating my character. They love that.
People are so invested in the Riverdale couples. Like, the shipping is on a whole other level.
I'm scared of it, but I feel really fortunate to be on a show that people are so passionate about. So I don't really feel like I need to delve into it too much—just that I have people who care enough about what I do every single day, [to the point where] they feel strongly enough to message me, being like, “This person shouldn't have done this to this person.” It's also like, “Wow, thank you for spending so much time finding little Easter eggs on the show that's only an hour long every week.”
Riverdale fans are hard-core sleuthers; what would you say has been your favorite fan theory so far?
I was reading them the other day actually, and there was something really funny—that Archie is actually a lost Blossom. But I was like, "There's no way I'm gonna allow that because I've already kissed him,” and there's no incest in Riverdale. There are a lot of Blossoms in Riverdale, but I don't think the Andrews are one of them.
But the fans, they really are excellent sleuthers. This is really off-topic, but before I became public with Travis [Mills], my boyfriend, I remember I had a dress in the background of one of his selfies hanging over a car seat. He had taken a selfie with just a little piece of orange in the back, and then I wore the dress that night to an event. And fans put those two photos together! They were like, “Madelaine Petsch is dating Travis Mills, because this is the dress she wore to this event, and this was in the back of his selfie.” And I was like, "We haven't even posted together. We just follow on Instagram and people have already figured it out.” That's how good of sleuthers they are. It's kind of awesome that people are that interested in what I do, because I don't know why they would be.
You're also obviously not Cheryl though, but sometimes this weird conflation with you and your character happens—like in Vanessa’s case. Was that ever kind of weird for you?
I mean, I guess it kind of comes with the territory. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I also made a YouTube channel to show people that I'm not Cheryl because it's hard for people to differentiate between a character they see on television and a person who plays the character. But by creating that YouTube channel, it has created a separation for me and Cheryl, which is healthy because she's been such a mean character on the show. Or, at least, up until the last couple episodes. [In the meantime, my channel] showed them that I'm not that person at all, and I think that's helped with the fans. It's a lot less hate.
Riverdale airs Thursdays on the CW.