Lili Reinhart is nothing if not candid.
The 21-year-old breakout star covers the February issue of Ocean Drive magazine, and PEOPLE has your exclusive first look at the stunning shoot and interview, in which she opens up about the complexities of Riverdale‘s Betty Cooper, her own battle with depression, and her rumored boyfriend — and costar! — Cole Sprouse.
Of shooting to fame on the hit CW series, Reinhart, who was raised in Cleveland and skipped college to pursue acting, says she still can’t quite wrap her head around it.
“Going to Comic-Con was mind-blowing, seeing all these fans and all these people who know my name. I’m like, ‘Are you sure you know who I am?’ ” she says. “I still don’t even really believe it quite yet.”
According to Reinhart, 25-year-old Sprouse, who has been acting his whole life, has been a shoulder to lean on as the Riverdale cast learns to navigate the spotlight.
“He really brings us down to earth if we’re feeling like something we’ve said is being taken out of context,” she says. “He’s always the one to be like, ‘Just ignore it. It will blow over.’ It’s a nice, calming energy he has because you know that he’s been through it.”
And like her TV character, Reinhart is many-layered, admitting there’s “a little darkness to me that people who know me can see.”
“Betty is the girl next door but there’s a dark side — a side riddled with anxiety and a dark alter ego,” she says. “But she’s optimistic even when she is going through the hardest things. There’s always a light inside her that can’t go out, and that’s beautiful.”
“I relate most with her darkness,” she adds. “What I bring to Betty is her real anxiety about things and the stress she’s under because I get easily overwhelmed and stressed out. I have anxiety.”
Reinhart, who fell into a depression the first time she moved to Los Angeles at 18 and had to move back home, also explains how she found the strength to return to Hollywood and keep trying.
“I had to build myself from the ground up. I had to find my passion again because it had dwindled like all the money in my bank account from being in L.A. for five months, and booking two things and not seeing any money coming my way, and struggling to get out of the house and get out of bed, and struggling to make friends,” she says. “It was a really rough, rough point in my life.”
“Back home, I saw a therapist for six months, which helped me immensely,” she continues. “I came to the realization: What the hell else am I going to do? And that’s what it came down to. I don’t want to do anything else. So if I have to try again, then I will try again. I’m not going to sit here and go to college for something that I don’t care about. The first night back in L.A., I had a huge panic attack and was sobbing on my friend’s floor. I called my mom, and she reminded me that I could always come back home again, which was comforting. They were always going to be there if I needed them.”
Reinhart has been incredibly open about her mental health journey, a decision she says she made because she “struggled with it so much and for so long.”
“I know so many other young people have, and I didn’t have someone who was talking about it,” she says. “I remember being in middle and high school and hearing Demi Lovato speak up about her mental illness and that was comforting. But I wanted more people to stand up. I needed more people to relate to. I was like, all these people can’t be so happy, can they?”
“It was kind of like this unrealistic picture that was painted in front of me of all these happy, happy people, successful people, beautiful people.” she says. “And even now I’m on this wonderful show. I have money in my bank account. I have my own apartment. I have friends. I still go through and experience depression. You don’t have to be ashamed of it. You don’t need to ever justify the way you feel.”
And Reinhart’s candor has even helped her young fans: She recalls that during a signing at a convention in Philadelphia, a couple of girls approached her with tears in their eyes to thank her.
“One girl told me she had tried to commit suicide and reading what I had to say about mental health helped her get out of the hospital,” says Reinhart. “I had no idea that the words I’m putting out there in the world were connecting with these young people, beautiful people. I felt so honored and also so unworthy of their love.”