'Riverdale' 's Madelaine Petsch Says Late Luke Perry Was Her 'Oracle': 'Such a Kind and Loving Soul'

Luke Perry, who played Archie's father Fred Andrews, died in March after suffering a massive stroke

Since his death earlier this year, there’s been a Luke Perry-shaped hole on the set of Riverdale.

The late actor, who died in March at age 52 after suffering a stroke, was an original cast member of The CW hit, appearing in almost every episode as Archie’s (KJ Apa) dad Fred Andrews since the series premiere in 2017. And with the season 4 premiere less than a week a way, his absence is deeply felt.

“Luke was my oracle throughout Riverdale,” Madelaine Petsch, who plays the iconic Cheryl Blossom on the show, tells Seventeen for its latest digital cover, previewed exclusively by PEOPLE.

“He was on [Beverly Hills, 90210] and had done all this work, so anytime I had any questions, he opened his door to me,” continues the actress. “He was such a kind and loving soul, and he was so generous. He was the kind of actor that gave you everything when he worked with you.”

Adds Petsch, “I’ve learned from Luke to be a bright light for people because you never know who needs it, just like I did.”

Madelaine Petsch, Luke Perry
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Madelaine Pestch
Daniel Matallana

And Perry isn’t the only cast member who made a mark on Petsch, 25. She also credits her female co-stars (Camila Mendes, Lili Reinhart) with inspiring her to embrace her authentic self.

“When I first moved to L.A., I thought I always had to have makeup on and look perfect, because what if I ran into a casting director in the grocery store,” she says. “Now, I’m around so many empowering women. We remind each other to be funny and embrace who we are.”

“I don’t feel any pressure about being perfect on social media anymore,” she adds. “I’m showing my true self all the time. I’m just being me.”

Madelaine Pestch
Daniel Matallana

Petsch, who has been candid about her mental health and struggles with social anxiety, also opens up in the interview about how she’s overcome bullying.

“I grew up in a small town,” she explains. “And a lot of people made fun of me for having red hair, my parents are South African, I wasn’t raised religious, I’m plant-based. I had everything up against me, like all the things that made me unique were the things that people would chip away at.”

“I remember someone made a really awful Facebook or MySpace page about me and my best friend,” she recalls. “We were so mortified. Hearing what other people say on social media makes it so hard to fight back.”

Madelaine Pestch
Daniel Matallana

Petsch tells Seventeen that playing the feisty Cheryl has opened her eyes.

“I’ve learned the mindset of the people who bullied me very well because Cheryl’s been a bully on the show,” she says. “I’ve learned that the people who’ve made the most fun of me as a kid probably had their own s— that they were going through. And so they were taking it out on other people. And that breaks my heart.”

These days, the actress has learned to love the very qualities her bullies used to target.

“I think Cheryl has helped me really love my red hair. Finally, my hair and I have a great relationship,” she says. “And when fans tell me they’re being bullied, I remind them that the things they’re being bullied for now are the things that make them unique. When you get older, those things are going to make you stand out.”

Season 4 of Riverdale premieres Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

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