In the CW drama series RIVERDALE, the dark heart of the show revolves around the Blossoms. It was the death of Jason Blossom (Trevor Stine) that stoked the embers burning just beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic community. It led the unmasking of Clifford Blossom’s (Barclay Hope) role in his son’s death and the downfall of Blossom patriarchy. Nathalie Boltt has been a vivid and mesmerizing force to watch as she portrayed the razor-sharp emotions of Penelope Blossom in the aftermath of the deaths of her husband and son, and subsequent unraveling of her daughter Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). In an exclusive interview, Nathalie provides deeper insight into the appeal of portraying such a fractured and tragic figure as Penelope Blossom in RIVERDALE, as well as shares her thoughts on her array of entertainment projects and other passions as her career on screen and behind-the-screen continues to blossom.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Penelope Blossom and working on The CW’s RIVERDALE?
NATHALIE: For one, I was always a huge fan of the Archie comics, growing up in South Africa, that was one of the great delights of going up to the corner store and having a little bit of change in my pocket and getting the latest. I was definitely Team Betty, gotta say, at the time. But then the appeal of playing Penelope Blossom, when I got my callback after the audition, I worked with the lovely director Lee Krieger and with the showrunner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s guidance, and they kind of said, “Look, we like what you did in the first audition. Now we wanna give you this reference of this Hitchcock movie called ‘Rebecca,’ where there’s this very strange character called Mrs. Danvers and she is very other-worldly.” Then I watched the clip, and she definitely is a very strange character who is very straight-backed, always with the high collars, the hair scraped back, and she essentially — in the film “Rebecca” — encourages the character of Rebecca to commit suicide. So there’s this weird influence that she has over this young character. And you know, how interesting and how fun to portray someone so evil? To be honest, I haven’t actually ever played the villain. So that was a big part of it: to be a real villain.
How would you describe who Penelope is?
NATHALIE: I’d say Penelope is a deeply twisted person who has had a very complex upbringing. I think she was brought up in a very cold home with not much love and a very distant mother herself, and then went into a marriage that was equally cold with Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope). So I think she’s a very hurt person. But we haven’t really got to see her soft-side outside of the scenes in episode five where she breaks down in front of Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) about the Sugarman and about how she actually tried to protect her children from her husband’s dark business, his drug dealing business. So Penelope appears to be evil, but no one is just evil. There’s definitely a reason she got that bad. And hopefully, we’ll find out more about that as the seasons progress.
What do you most admire about her?
NATHALIE: I admire the fact that she never lets her guard drop. Well, yeah, I don’t know if that’s an admirable trait, but she certainly has never fallen to pieces as yet. She always maintains this air of royalty. So there’s that regal kind of energy about her. And she is utterly determined, very thick-skinned. Even if she’s driven by the desire to embarrass Cheryl or to control the situation, she’s very determined. So she doesn’t give up lightly and I think I’m kind of the same. I’ve battled through a lot of things in my life, though not in the same kind of twisted way, I like to think. Yeah, so I like that Penelope, no matter what happens, sees a future and sees hope and sees herself getting back to the top of Riverdale.
What is it like working alongside the talented ensemble on RIVERDALE?
NATHALIE: It’s always good working with talented people, because we all keep each other in check. You watch an episode of RIVERDALE and it’s not just the cast, it’s the crew and the post-production and the audio and all the wonderful things that make it a really sexy, delicious, and fascinatingly dark show to watch. To be part of that, you always wanna do your best and come out looking like part of the ensemble. So I think what results is that everybody works hard, and everybody gives it their all.
To date, what has been your favorite part about working on RIVERDALE?
NATHALIE: I think I’d have to say, again, the villain thing. I really do love playing the villain. It’s kind of therapeutic and fun because I get to get my scripts every episode and then just laugh loudly at the vile things the writers give me to say. I mean, Penelope doesn’t get normal adjectives. She gets the real complex things — the twisted paragraphs to say and Cheryl gets the really twisted things to say back to her. So I think the dialogue between us is never boring, and it’s always incredibly abusive. It’s the kind of things you wished you could say. It’s the conversations or the arguments you have in your mind when you’re really furious and wanting to take someone down. So that’s kind of hilarious to me, because I actually get to do that.
How would you describe the Penelope and Cheryl relationship?
NATHALIE: Well, it’s bad, for sure. It’s also really complex because everybody wants to be loved by a parent — everybody wants to be acknowledged. And if you look at Cheryl and Penelope’s relationship so far, there’s only been a little bit of sweetness between them. But even that tiny bit of sweetness is enough to keep Cheryl hanging on. I don’t know how, but I feel the audience believes that Penelope does love her daughter in this really complicated way. She just has no way to show it, and that’s quite tragic. And hopefully that tragedy will unravel itself in increments as we go along, and I think that’ll be fascinating to watch. Also the Penelope and Cheryl relationship is all about power play. So it’s fun to watch one get the upper hand and then the other one swing around and get the upper hand again. For instance, in the beginning of Season 2 when Cheryl cut off Penelope’s air in the hospital after Penelope was burnt so badly in the fire, I think that was one of those scenes where people just did not see it coming. So that’s always exciting.
What is it like working with Madelaine Petsch?
NATHALIE: Madelaine is incredibly talented, beautiful, very smart, and funny. Thing is is that we actually both come from Africa. These two pale skinned redheads, would you believe it? Which we did not know to begin with, and then discovered not only that we both come from Africa, where she lived when she was six, and I lived there about 10-12 years ago. But we discovered that her family and my family are actually intertwined in a very sort of synchronistic and spiritual way — one of my absolute favorite places to go to was in her family heritage. Isn’t that interesting? Because the Blossom story is all about family heritage as well. Then I also I speak like her mother. Isn’t that strange? Her mother is South African. So when I speak in my own accent, which I didn’t to begin with, so she didn’t actually know that. I spoke in an American accent for the first three months of RIVERDALE, just to get sort of an American accent fit. Then when I dropped it, she kind of went, “Oh, goodness, you sound like my mother.” I don’t know how disturbing that is for her, poor thing. But, yes, and when we have these hideous scenes together, we make fun of them. We have a good laugh because there’s so much tension, and you actually have to just have a good giggle about it. I think we quite enjoy them now, and like I said, they’re therapeutic. Because after everything is said and done, we’re completely different. I mean, I’m certainly quite opposite to my character. Madelaine shows a lot of vulnerability as Cheryl. And Nathalie Boltt never does. I mean, I’m just a playful hippie, with a really sick sense of humor. So I get to be that, I’m kind of rock-and-roll, really and that’s certainly not what Penelope Blossom is.
How surprised were you by the storyline that Season 2 introduced that Penelope tries to entertain gentlemen callers as a mean to earn a living and how have you embraced that twist?
NATHALIE: Well, I got to talking with the showrunners and the writers because — well, what do you do if you’re a moneyed woman and you’ve only ever relied on your family income and your social standing, and then you lose absolutely everything, including your house? So I thought it would be quite an interesting scene for Cheryl to say, “You’re not qualified to do anything but the oldest occupation in the world.” So we brought that in, and I mean, I’m a huge fan of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and I loved the madame, the bordello owner in that, and I loved her style. So I think that’s where some of the styling influence came from, and although, the Blossoms have always been vintage and kind of stuck in their own time zone, I think it made sense for us to go that sort of 30s-40s look, which I think suits Penelope quite well. It was nice to have a real change from her kind of tweeds and her scraped-back French twist into something quite different. So I think I wasn’t that surprised and I think it’s hilarious because I love for Penelope to just be as weird as possible. Sometimes the writers say, “Sorry for torturing you,” and I just laugh and say, “Bring it on.” The weirder, the better. Because I’m a freak, what can I tell you.
How would you describe the Penelope/Harold (Lochlyn Munro) relationship and where it may be headed?
NATHALIE: I think Penelope does have real feelings for Hal, but she’s being forced — and this is where the power play with Cheryl comes in — she’s being forced by Cheryl to break it off. So is Hal. So both of us have been put in a position where we really don’t have any choice. So Cheryl has the upper hand with that one. But who knows? Maybe those feelings will go dormant for a little while, and then they’ll pop back up, because real feelings do.
What do you think viewers will get a kick out of when they continue to watch RIVERDALE?
NATHALIE: Oh, how much time have you got? I think viewers will get a kick out of what they’ve become addicted to with RIVERDALE in that there will be twists and turns that are completely unexpected. We’ve obviously got to sort out the Black Hood and the mysteries that still remain regarding that. There’s all kinds of crazy going on with Chic (Hal Denton) and that hasn’t been solved yet either. The Lodges have all kinds of evil plans that obviously run very deep and there’s a lot of ambition there, and of course the whole mayoral campaign is gonna be a fight. I don’t wanna say to the death, but there’s certainly gonna be some scratches and bruises along the way. But above and beyond that, RIVERDALE always delivers a ton of stuff every episode. And that’s, I think, what is so addictive. It’s just so rich and so full of story that you’re gonna get more of that, as a viewer.
As an actor, what has been the one thing you have taken away from the experience of working on RIVERDALE so far?
NATHALIE: Definitely watching how much we can pack into an episode. Experiencing just how different characters can be from their comic book origins, and I’ve certainly experienced a high quality of work and a beautiful visual style that RIVERDALE is known for. So it’s incredibly cinematic. So we’ve had really, really talented crew to work with, amazing editors and wonderful directors, and a writing team that always delivers. So I’ve come away with an experience of being on one of the best shows on TV and that is a great honor.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
NATHALIE: Hm, that I still have one! I have been, yeah, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve acted all over the world, from South Africa to Germany to Ireland, New Zealand, and now North America. I think when you’re in the early stages of your career, you always, you tend to panic, going, “Oh, if I don’t achieve this by a certain age then it’s never gonna happen.” And I certainly had successes at the right time. Then I went quiet and got into my writing and directing career, I have a feature film coming up that I’ve been working on for years called “Holy Days” that will be shot in the next year or so. And that’ll be a great experience, and I’ve made two short films. One called “The Silk” and the other called “Vajazzle,” which you should definitely watch. You can find them on my website, nathalieboltt.com. So I’ve had a very varied career, and I think when you get to a point where you just accept that there are curve balls everywhere, you are just grateful for the good times, and RIVERDALE is definitely a good time. But I always continue to do my other passion work on the side — and I don’t mean the bordello. I mean my own film and writing and directing projects, because that is what actors and all creative people should do to develop their skills. To always try the other side of the camera, so at least you understand just how much it takes to get something finished and on screen. It certainly gives you a lot of humility and some control over what you use your creative skills for.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you worked on?
NATHALIE: I’ve learned that I have quite a broad range of skills. For one, acting wise, I can look very different from one role to the next, and I can also provide a lot of different characters and a lot of different voices and accents. That goes for the same as my voice acting career, I play a baby alien in one piece, in which I voice at the moment, and on the other hand, I play a dark villain on RIVERDALE. So that’s about as far and broad a range can go. And like I said before, I’m a writer/director, and I am capable of writing and completing my own films as well. So I never knew that when I started.
What is your proudest achievement from your career so far?
NATHALIE: RIVERDALE is obviously one of them. I had no idea it was coming, and I think it’s been such a wonderful success. Whenever you get on a show, you hope that it’s gonna be successful — very often, especially if you speak tosome of the bigger stars in the industry — you’ll see that all these sure things are never “sure things.” And sometimes you have these shows that people are just holding thumbs about —and boom — they happen. They become massive hits. On a global scale, so I think for me, RIVERDALE was that. Then previously, “District 9” was that, where I was in Wellington, New Zealand and had just had a baby and was really not thinking about acting at all, and got a call about this strange film horror sci-fi thing about aliens addicted to cat food and I thought, “What the heck? No, I don’t wanna do this.” But they talked me into it, and the next thing “District 9” was born. It was number one at the box office, a massive hit. So that was a proud moment for me as well. But I think coming up, directing my feature film “Holy Days” is going to be one of my proudest moments too. I’ve spent six years writing the screenplay adapted from a much loved book called “Holy Days” by Joy Cowley. And I never knew I could do that, and it’s been incredibly difficult. But it’s going forward now and it’s in great shape. Had I not stuck with it, I would never have known that I actually have that determination.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
NATHALIE: Oh, the perks are an income, which is always wonderful. I have people who follow my madness on social media, which is great, because who doesn’t love an audience for their comedy and their thoughts and their sketches and terrible songs that they play on ukulele? And, of course, I get to travel. I get to hang out with my son, Jupiter, which is always a delight, and the rest of my family and support them. And I get to work with really exciting, interesting, colorful people. And of course, occasionally, I get to go to fun events and dress up, I love that. I suppose the perks of being a public figure — where, yes, you are recognized, but because I’m a villain, people are always incredibly polite to me. So I like that. Yeah, but I mean, the joy is I get to act on a regular basis and that — if you ask any actor — is an absolute privilege.
If there were one previous role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
NATHALIE: Oh, I’d love to revisit some of my character roles. So if you watch “Vajazzle,” which you can see at www.rodrigofilms.com/vajazzle, that character, Charlotte, is a maniac. And she does a revenge vajazzle. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not giving more away. But I did share that on Valentine’s Day that I had written the extension of her character in a web series called “Dropped Pie,” if you look for Dropped Pie Rodrigo Films on YouTube, you can watch where she goes next. We had a whole — I think it was a sort of 13 episode arc where she ends up in a cat fight with a bordello owner. So these bordellos seem to come up in my life. It was gonna be complete spoof comedy, and I absolutely love comedy. So if I could revisit a character, I would go to Charlotte and I would take her some crazy places that end up with a lot of scratching and hair pulling and smashing pies on the floor, because it’s called “Dropped Pie.”
Do any of your characters in the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
NATHALIE: Yeah. I think because you put a lot of effort into your characters, there’s always an effect when you’re playing somebody dark or you’re playing somebody depressed or you’re playing somebody neurotic. You have to actually take that on and that energy does enter your body. So with the tough roles, you have to somehow let that go. And I think with that — well, I could go into how you have to let those things go. But leaving a lasting impression, I played a character called Joey on a South African drama called “The Deep,” or “Isidingo.” And yeah, I think because I was the lead character for four seasons, I had a lot of input from fans and I had a lot of storylines and, in South Africa, it’s really quite something when people, who have very little, see you as a role model. I actually had the experience of an AIDs orphan connecting with me. She was a nine year old girl who was supporting her family, because in South Africa there are a lot of child-led homes, because both parents have died of AIDs — and through interesting circumstances, which was a documentary that was being made by my husband at the time and he told me that when they filmed at her shell of a home, well, it was kind of just a hut, really, that she had a picture of me up on her wall. That left a huge lasting impression — that someone, like my character Joey who was a go-getter and a survivor, would have helped or been an influence on a young, nine year old African girl who was doing everything in her power to support her little brothers. (If you want more information on that, please let me know — the documentary’s called “Nikita.”)
Do you find any of your characters habits manifesting in your own life? Like what?
NATHALIE: Well, if you’re asking me if I’m a terrible parent to my child, you’d have to ask him! But he’s smiling at me right now. He’s incredibly well behaved, I must say that. Yeah, the lasting impressions. I mean, it’s funny. I think I start dressing like some of my characters sometimes when we have all these wonderful wardrobe fittings and you get to be dressed like something you wouldn’t naturally choose and go, “Oh, yeah, that actually looks pretty good.” So, yeah, the styling definitely influences me sometimes. But I wouldn’t say Penelope’s influencing me in that darkness. I really use her evil twisted character as therapy so as to not have to do that in my own life. Then the rest of my life can be fun and enjoyable and full of laughter, quite honestly.
Has there been any great advice you’ve gotten about working as an actor?
NATHALIE: Yes, if there’s anything else you can do at all in this world, do that. And if you cannot, then be an actor. I think they say the same to writers. And that is why I’m an actor and a writer. I mean, my attempts to do other work, it was always in the acting world. I was a casting director for a while. I’ve done all of those things. But office jobs, absolutely not. So other great advice to actors is: if you can do anything else, do that. If not, welcome to the family. But yeah, the other advice that I give — that I know that I was given at some point — was make sure that you have something that can bring in other income and that can stimulate you in some creative way so that you don’t find yourself waiting around for roles or waiting around for the ‘yes’ from your agent. Because that can really drive you mad. In the same way: stay healthy. Stay fit. Keep yourself active. Have some kind of outlet for the frustrations of the entertainment world, which are huge. It’s a completely insane world. It’s wonderful when it works, but don’t ever find yourself waiting for someone else’s permission to live.
Are you actively involved with any charities? Which charity do you work with most and which would you like to see your fans become more involved with more?
NATHALIE: I am currently involved with an organization called Palm Oil Investigations. I am arranging to go down to Borneo to volunteer at IAR, which is one of the biggest orangutan volunteer programs, because at the moment, the Indonesian rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra are being utterly decimated by the palm oil industry, which is riddled with corruption and all kinds of animals, orangutans, elephants, and so on, are being pushed to extinction because they have nowhere to live because their rainforests are being chopped down and replaced with palm oil plantations. Palm oil is in 75% of products out there, from food to toiletries to cleaning products to soaps, and it blows my mind that people are not aware of this. So palm oil is absolutely a focus that is dear to my heart, the fact that people should not buy products with palm oil in them. I’ve always been involved with wildlife conservation, so that is very close to my heart. And of course, female empowerment, but in terms of what is out there and has a name, Palm Oil Investigations is who I support.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans to do to lend support in that endeavor?
NATHALIE: If you are a creative female — if you’re a writer or a director — make sure you finish your projects and get them out there in some way. Luckily, social media is an easy start. So get them out there. Do not wait for permission from anybody. That’s very well known in the industry that part of the reason female filmmakers are at such low levels is not just because it’s a male-dominated world, but because women tend to hold back because they don’t think they’re prepared enough, and men tend to just go for it gung-ho. We need to just be more gung-ho about it. But also we have to be supportive of each other. So women need to have more of a camaraderie. The competitive bitchiness that can be involved in our industry absolutely has to die. In any industry. Because women need to support each other, and if you get out there and watch female films, support your directors if they’re female, support your writers. Always encourage, encourage, encourage. And that’s not just women. I mean, for men of course, I would give the same advice to. Because like, as they say, you don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. I think it’s just a case of seeing and recognizing and respecting everyone, right? Of all genders, of all denominations. But really, women, let your voices be heard.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans could keep an eye out for?
NATHALIE: Yeah, so I’ll go back to “Holy Days.” “Holy Days” is a feature film that I’ve adapted into a screenplay. It’s based on the book by the very loved author Joy Cowley in New Zealand, and we are moving ahead and it is a story about a young boy, who has lost his mother, and goes on a road trip with three elderly, very quirky nuns to heal his heart. It’s a New Zealand story set in the 70s, and it’s going to be along the lines of “Waking Ned Devine” or “Ladies In Lavender” or “The Exotic Marigold Hotel.” And I will be directing that. Another project that I’ve recently directed is the music video called “Doll of Torture” by the Vancouver band The Strange and that’ll be out hopefully in a month or two, which was shot by the RIVERDALE crew — the beautifully talented, amazingly hard working RIVERDALE crew, cinematographer Brendan Uegama, and the villain in that music video’s played by Martin Cummins, who is the sheriff on RIVERDALE. So look out for that. And all of these releases will come via my social media handle which is @natboltt where I will be feeding information about my upcoming projects. If you wanna watch something now, I’ve recently been in a high-octane, shoot ’em up action-thriller with Ethan Hawk called “24 Hours To Live,” in which I play the doctor who gives him 24 hours to live, and that is on VOD, so check it out. It’s not boring, that’s for sure!
To see what is next in the wickedly toxic mother-daughter relationship between Penelope and Cheryl Blossom and if it ensnares other unwitting victims along the way, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of RIVERDALE when the show returns on March 7th as Season 2 continues, airing Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. on the CW. To also see special clips and promos for the show, be sure to follow the show on Twitter @CW_Riverdale. Then to keep a close eye on what Nathalie is up to with all her wonderful creative endeavors, be sure to follow her on Twitter as well @NatBoltt.
RIVERDALE “Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Hills Have Eyes” promo:
“24 Hours To Live” trailer:
“Dropped Pie” episode 1: