Before Lili Reinhart found fame playing the near-perfect blonde schoolgirl Betty Copper on the CW’s hit TV show Riverdale, she was a budding actress suffering from crippling anxiety — including what she calls “the worst panic attack of my life.”
The 20-year-old actress opened up about her battle with the disorder in a new interview with W magazine, where she explained that she had to flee Los Angeles and move back in with her parents in North Carolina to get a handle on her mental health.
Living in L.A. in shared apartments at just 18, Reinhart was auditioning as much as possible at the time. But the lack of a steady paycheck plus the expense of a not owning a car and “Ubering everywhere” was taking its toll.
“I remember looking at my bank account and seeing all of this money that I had saved [from] acting over the course of many years just gone,” Reinhart recalled. “I had so much anxiety booking work, and I spent almost five months holed up in this bedroom in this house just feeling anxious, waiting for my next audition, and not doing anything else. It was the most miserable time of my life.”
To help alleviate her stress, she made the decision to get a side job working at a family-style restaurant on Universal City Walk, though she was nervous her anxiety might creep up again, a problem she had in past restaurant jobs. “I had had to quit a few jobs in North Carolina because of how anxious they made me,” she explained. “My anxiety was so bad that I had to keep quitting jobs because I physically could not work.”
When asked by her restaurant boss in L.A. to get a black button-up shirt and slipless shoes, Reinhart went out shopping only to turn up empty-handed. The hopelessness quickly turned into panic for Reinhart, the pressure and loneliness overwhelming her.
It would turn out to be her breaking point.
“I threw up in my Uber because, one, I was carsick, and two, I was having a panic attack,” Reinhart recounted. “I get home, lock the door in my room, immediately Skype my mom and said, ‘Mom, I’m not okay.’ I had to get a brown paper bag and breathe into it, which felt so dramatic, but I really could not breathe. I felt like my world was crashing. I didn’t want to admit defeat, but I was like, ‘I need to come home. My mental health is suffering, and it is making me physically ill.’ ”
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Back home, the actress returned to a therapist who she had previously seen and began taking medication for her anxiety. “She really helped me build myself back up again,” Reinhart said.
Her first audition for Riverdale would pop up around then, though the timing couldn’t have been worse for her to film her audition tape.
“I got my first audition for the show during that period of my life when I was rebuilding myself, and in between meds,” Reinhart said. “I went on a medicine that gave me the worst mood swings — I felt like a monster. My mom was like, ‘I can’t even be in the same room as you.’ ”
She didn’t get the part (“It [didn’t] surprise me, because I was in a s— place when I taped that”), but the role would come back around when she was back in Los Angeles months later. She booked it, of course, and learned the show was going to series hours after watching the pilot for the first time.
That changed everything for Reinhart. “I felt like, ‘We did it,’ ” she said. “All my money problems went away in that moment, and I just felt like a successful working actress. I was so excited to be working and to wake up and know that I had a job.”
Riverdale season 2 premieres Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.