Camila Mendes

Camila Mendes Is Entering a New Season

With 'Riverdale' in her rearview, the 'Do Revenge' star is ready to take on what’s next.

Camila Mendes isn’t into astrology, but she swears she’s “not not a believer” — especially once she hears about Saturn Return. Every 27 to 29 years, Saturn ends up back in the same spot it was in when a person was born. For late-20-somethings, it’s a time packed full of change, when things can feel rocky, uncertain, and major decisions are made about the future.

“I buy it,” the 28-year-old tells me over Zoom after my amateur explanation for why she may be undergoing such a sea change right now. She’s dressed casually, sitting in her hotel room in Leeds, England, wearing a black long-sleeved top and jeans, simply accessorized with a tortoiseshell headband and her impeccable brows. “I’m all for it. Saturn Return, here we go.”

Whether or not Mendes reads her horoscope is irrelevant. As her 20s wind down, her life is most definitely undergoing a makeover. For starters, Riverdale, the show that catapulted her to stardom, is set to end after its upcoming seventh season, and soon enough, Veronica Lodge will be just another credit on Mendes’s IMDb page (for the uninitiated, the show is a pulpy, noir retelling of the classic Archie comics from the ‘50s). These days, she’s more focused on film, and as we chat, I count three or four different projects she has in the works, one of them being Netflix’s Do Revenge, a ‘90s-esque dark comedy, out Sept. 16. Mendes also started working behind the scenes trying her hand as a producer, and recently joined skincare brand Loops as a partner and creative director.

No matter what those planets are doing, they sure are working in her favor.

“I’m really looking forward to this next chapter of my life,” she says. “I know myself more now; I have a clearer sense of what I want for my career, for my personal life. Riverdale taught me so much, and what a blessing to be able to act every day. Not a lot of actors have that privilege.”

That’s perhaps the best way to sum up her experience on the CW hit, which, from an outsider’s perspective, sounds ... intense. Since the show premiered in 2017, Mendes and her co-stars (Lili Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, KJ Apa, Madelaine Petsch, and more) have truly been going nonstop, filming 22-episode seasons 10 months out of the year. The days on set are long and, for Mendes, time off is essentially non-existent — something she says is her own doing, since she prefers to film other projects during the show’s two-month hiatus.

Camila Mendes wears a Richard Quinn dress and Chanel earrings for InStyle's Fall 2022 Cover
Richard Quinn dress. Chanel earrings.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

“There’s so much more I want to experience, there’s still so much more I want to achieve, and I get a small window to do that between seasons,” she explains. “I want to have other things under my belt. I don’t want it to just be Riverdale.”

Mendes says she dreamed of being a serious actress since childhood. She studied theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and landed the role of Veronica shortly after graduating in 2016. Aside from an intense drive to succeed — something she credits to having Brazilian parents who immigrated to the United States and worked hard for everything they have — it’s the craft Mendes enjoys more than anything. She’s constantly seeking out ways to challenge herself and improve her skills, and is often critical of her own work.

“There were so many days on Riverdale where I came home being like, ‘I’m a fucking terrible actor. I did a terrible job on that scene today, I didn’t get to where I wanted to be.’” she says. “And then, the next day, I would show up and I’d be better, and I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so proud of the work I did today.’ You really get to see yourself [on a consistent network show] and there are lessons I’ve learned from that.”

Camila Mendes
Richard Quinn dress. Chanel earrings.

 Rosaline Shahnavaz

Do Revenge is both a fresh start and the end of an era for Mendes. On one hand, she’s officially moving from network TV star to movie star. But at the same time, her character, Drea, is still in high school, though Mendes sees the role as the ultimate goodbye to playing a teen. “Let me send it off with the best possible vehicle,” she says.

The film is quite the “last hurrah,” as she calls it. While it’s being marketed as a mashup of Clueless, Cruel Intentions, and Mean Girls, the pastel costumes feel very Heathers, and for casting, Netflix seemingly plucked one person from each of its successful young adult shows (Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, and Outer Banks), banking on pre-tested talent to guarantee an instant hit.

“Everyone kept calling it the Teen Avengers or the Avengers of teen shows,” Mendes jokes. “You take one from each teen show, like a little buffet, put them in a movie, stir them up, and see what happens.”

At the start of the film — which is rated R and feels more cinematic than you’d expect — we find out that Drea is one of the most popular girls at her prep school ... until her boyfriend (Euphoria’s Austin Abrams) leaks her sex tape, and her friends quickly abandon her. Eventually, she connects with the new girl in town, Eleanor (played by Maya Hawke), who has her own damaged reputation. The two decide to team up and vow to enact revenge for one another. Of course, hijinks, emotional monologues, shocking twists, and important life lessons follow.

Camila Mendes
Dior Haute Couture dress & shoes. Alexander McQueen earring. Dior ring.

 Rosaline Shahnavaz

“Throughout the whole movie, Drea is in survival mode and constantly feeling fight or flight,” Mendes tells me. “All of her defenses are up because she’s been humiliated. She’s been abandoned and is an outcast. The atoms in her body are just shaking constantly, and there’s a lot of rage and anger that she wants to expel.”

The actress says she felt especially connected to her character during the more emotional scenes, like when a wounded Drea says it hurts to merely exist. (“I have, for sure, had those moments when I am just going through some depressive episode,” Mendes says.) She even has a high school horror story of her own.

“I was dating the most popular guy in school, and he cheated on me with my best friend, and everyone knew about it,” Mendes says. “I felt humiliated, and I had a feeling it was happening, but no one was validating it. So, I know what that feels like and how that can drive you to look like you’re insane, and how that ends up making you even more insane — it’s like this domino effect. That situation for me was so traumatic at that age; it completely shaped the way that I viewed relationships, for the worse. I’ve healed that part of myself, but for a long time, that was a thing that happened that I struggled with healing from.”

Mendes says the movie is a reflection on how we deal with trauma, and “this idea that getting back at somebody ultimately hurts you in the end.”

With all the growing and evolving she’s doing, Mendes is still down-to-earth — something that her TikTok followers have probably gathered by now. Talking to her is like catching up with an old friend, and the longer our conversation goes, the more I want to know. She’s smart and goofy, and even gets up mid-conversation to show me stuff in her closet, including the ByFar bag she wears every day. Her wardrobe at home, she says, still includes an old mesh top from Forever 21, which she’s held onto for years and does break out from time to time. “I will wear the shit out of something until it’s destroyed,” she explains. “And I only get rid of it once I have to.”

What mold am I trying to fit into? I'd rather just create my own.

Do Revenge feels doubly special for the actress. Not only did she get to play the lead, she also had the chance to be more involved creatively, with director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson often asking for input.

“I feel like Do Revenge was me warming up to being like, ‘Oh, I kind of like being included in these conversations. Maybe I’m more into this side of things than I realized initially,’” Mendes says, although she makes it clear she’s more interested in producing than directing. “[As director] you really have to know what you want. You have to be willing to lead without any hesitation. Every decision is on you, and I’m not decisive enough creatively, I think, for that. But as a producer, I’m a little bit more removed, where I can oversee something and make sure it’s headed in the right direction.”

For her next big project, Prime Video’s Brazilian-American rom-com, Música, Mendes is making things official. Not only is she starring in the movie (and speaking Portuguese) opposite Rudy Mancuso, she’s also credited as executive producer, which she says was “so meaningful.”

Camila Mendes
Dior Haute Couture dress & shoes. Alexander McQueen earring. Dior ring.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

“I feel like I get to be part of something bigger, which might be the first step towards changing Hollywood for the better,” she tells me, adding that at one point, she thought she had to limit herself to only acting, partially due to lack of visible representation around her. “I think I put myself in a box for so long, because I thought I had to. I’d look at the industry and I’d say, ‘What’s been done before?’ and almost start to convince myself that’s the only way to do it. But to be honest, being a Latina in this industry, there are not a lot of people I can look up to. It’s so limited, the amount of Latina actresses that we know — the household names. So, what mold am I trying to fit into? I’d rather just create my own.”

This newfound confidence is also something she credits to getting older. “I’m in my late 20s now. I’m starting to get more comfortable being in a position of power.”

Among all these exciting changes is this cover, which she says feels like a departure for her. “I haven’t done anything like that before,” Mendes says of the shoot, which involved a mix of striking designer ensembles and wet hair. “It’s, I think, my first real fashion cover, because I’ve done a lot of young-adult-skewed magazines and avant-garde magazines, but this one just feels like I’m leveling up a little bit.”

Still, Mendes is careful not to seem ungrateful to her past, which she knows led her to this moment. When she talks about moving on from Riverdale, it’s similar to how a person might speak about leaving their hometown, filled with all of their best friends, their family, and everything they’ve ever known — which is ironic, considering she moved around a lot as a kid. Yes, it will be emotional to leave the show behind, but at the same time, Mendes is looking forward to change.

“Everyone’s always like, yeah, ‘Free the Riverdale actors’ or whatever, but I think ultimately, we’re all going to be sad when it’s over,” she says. “Any sort of creative artist seeks new challenges, and there’s a point in time when something ceases to be challenging. I think everyone’s just ready for that next chapter. It’s like we’re outgrowing the show in a way.”

Camila Mendes
Christopher Kane dress. Kiko Kostadinov necklace.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

That doesn’t mean the cast is outgrowing one another. Mendes promises her friendships with Reinhart and Petsch will remain intact. (She insists that their joint TikTok account will continue to be active. “@blondebrunetteredhead will not die. I will not let it die.”)

“They’re like my sisters — we’ve all seen parts of each other that no one else has seen,” she tells me, explaining that there’s no bond comparable to one made on a long-running TV series. “It’s like family — you don’t choose them. Maybe these aren’t people that I would’ve been friends with had I just met them once at a party, but we’re bonded by this experience. I fought with every one of these girls. We’ve had drama, we’ve had disagreements, we’ve cried, we’ve made up. We’ve been through a lot together and we’ve leaned on each other in those moments.”

When talking about the future, Mendes is cautiously optimistic. She refuses to make any real predictions about where life will take her, and is even hesitant to name a former CW star whose career she’d like to emulate. Social media has changed the landscape, she says, although a few of the same challenges remain.

“With people like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Williams, what’s so impressive about them is it was much harder to make that transition [to film] back then. TV actors weren’t respected as talented artists, and I feel you had to fight harder to prove that you were worthy of film — and I think that still exists,” she says. “I’m definitely going to have to fight for that and prove myself in the industry. Coming from a teen show, you really have to show that you belong in other things.”

But Mendes isn’t exactly panicked about her next step. She may not believe in astrology, but she does trust the universe will work in her favor, as long as she’s putting in the work, too.

“Something that Jen [Kaytin Robinson], Do Revenge’s director, has always said to me is that at the end of the day, all that matters is that you have talent,” she says. “If you have talent, then you’ll always have your talent.”

Everything in my life right now is so planned. I just want to remember what it feels like to just wake up and not know what you’re going to do that day.

Mendes is also trying to figure out who she is when she’s not acting and producing. When talking about her career, she’s surprisingly reflective and practical, able to keep the art at arm’s length.

“I think it’s dangerous when you assign too much worth to what you do — you should only ever place your worth on things that you can control and change, and I can’t control my success as an actor,” she says. “I can control my work ethic. I can control my values. I can always hold myself to this standard, work hard, do this, and be disciplined. But I can’t control what projects I book and how much money I make. These are things that are far beyond my control. And so if you place your worth in that, you’re bound to live an unhappy life.”

When she’s not talking about her on-screen ambitions and work behind the camera, Mendes is open to sharing her beauty secrets (unsurprisingly, she swears by Loops masks). Although, sadly, fans will have to live with the fact that there’s no insider trick to her enviable eyebrow game.

“It’s just genetics, I’ve got to say. I was born with a unibrow that I was trying to get rid of my entire life,” she says before telling me about how annoying the upkeep can be. “Every day that I go to hair and makeup, I have to sit in front of a mirror with a pair of tweezers and pluck. Every day. There’s not a single day that I don’t. There’s a downside to having full eyebrows. It’s not like it’s just perfect right here and no hair anywhere else. No, I pay the price.”

As we say our goodbyes, I find myself really rooting for Mendes’s success. I’m no astrologer, but I can already tell that we’ll be seeing the results of her metamorphosis. For now, Mendes only has one request for the near future, which, I too, hope is written in the stars: a two-week vacation, sitting at home with an empty calendar.

“I really just want to hole up in my house and do nothing. Catch up on movies and TV shows and read,” she says. “I want the freedom to just wake up and decide what I want to do based off how I feel. Everything in my life right now is so planned. I just want to remember what it feels like to just wake up and not know what you’re going to do that day.”

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Credits

Photographer

Rosaline Shahnavaz

Director of Photography

Francis Wallis

Stylist

Kingsley Tao assisted by Janice Mahenge

Hair

Hiroki Kojima

Makeup

Naoko Scintu at The Wall Group using Giorgio Armani Makeup & Skincare

Manicure

Chisato Yamamoto

Set Designer

Celina Bassili assisted by Gabe Gilmour and Letty Houldsworth

Senior Creative Director

Amber Venerable

Senior Editorial Director

Laura Norkin

Creative Director

Jenna Brillhart

Beauty Direction

Kayla Greaves

Fashion Direction

Samantha Sutton

Senior Visuals Editor

Kelly Chiello

Senior Video Producer

Justine Manocherian

Social Direction

Danielle Fox

Executive Video Producer

Bree Green

Associate Photo Editor

Amanda Lauro


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