VANCOUVER — One doesn’t just saunter into the fictional town of Riverdale, “the town with pep.”
B.C. actors Jordan Connor and Drew Ray Tanner had both paid their dues, spending years auditioning for bit parts and playing smaller roles in other productions while frequently crossing paths at casting calls.
“It was funny because we were always like, either Drew got it or I got it,” said Connor of the run-ins.
Then the CW’s hit show Riverdale came along and tapped both actors for roles.
The filmed-in-B.C. mystery drama follows the shady dealings of a seemingly quiet town, based on the characters and setting of the nostalgic Archie Comics series — but with updates for the Instagram generation. Archie has killer abs and Betty isn’t just the girl next door anymore. Storylines grapple with class warfare, burgeoning sexuality and, well, murder.
Now wrapping up its second season, the show has exploded in popular culture and become a phenomenon, propelling several of its previously unknown young stars to Met Ball status, onto magazine covers and the focus of lineups at fan conventions around the world.
“It’s a young cast and for a lot of us, this is sort of one of our bigger milestones in our careers,” Tanner said in a recent interview with Postmedia, just before the penultimate episode of the show’s second season.
For Season 2, Connor was cast as Sweet Pea and Tanner landed the role of Fangs Fogarty. Both are members of the Southside Serpents, a crew of leather-clad thugs who lean more toward the Outsiders than they do vicious gangsters.
Both had seen how the show’s first season had been well received but neither one fully grasped what the show would mean for their careers, that the audience was as widespread as it is — or that it would help get them out of trouble with police.
When Tanner had difficulty finding the Riverdale set on his first day last fall, he mistakenly made a lane change without signalling and was instantly pulled over by a police officer.
“Next thing you know, ‘Woop!’ Cop pulls me over and I can see my trailer, like I can see it, I’m that close,” he said. “He comes up to the window and asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry sir, I just — it’s my first day at work, I’m not really from around here, I was just trying to find where I was going and I made a mistake.’ “
When the officer learned Tanner was headed to the Riverdale set, he told the actor he was a fan and that he watched the show with his daughter.
“He gives me back my licence and registration, gave me a warning and let me go,” said Tanner. “So in terms of working in your own backyard, it felt like he was rooting for me in a sense.
“I was just so amazed and that’s when I started to realize — this show doesn’t just reach teenagers, it’s universal.”
Connor was also baffled at the response he got as soon as his episodes began airing, even if he had been warned of the possibility.
“I think everyone on the show, even the crew, had told me, ‘Oh, your life is going to change after this show.’ Me and Drew were just kind of like, ‘Nah,’ ” said Connor.
“We’ve done it before where we’ve worked on a show and you’re like, ‘This is gonna be the one, this is gonna be the one that changes’ and nothing really happens.
“But then this show came along and as soon as a few more episodes aired, it was pretty immediate.”
Thankfully, the show is also stacked with a who’s who of ’80s and ’90s stars and veteran actors who have been working since well before some of the show’s young cast was born, and who have been able to pass on advice for navigating both set life and everything else that comes with being a recognized face.
Actor Skeet Ulrich plays FP Jones (Jughead’s dad) in Riverdale.
“I think a great thing that has really helped with the show is having the parents in the show,” said Tanner.
Skeet Ulrich (Chill Factor), Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Luke Perry (Beverly Hills), and Mark Consuelos (All My Children) are among those who star as parents to Riverdale’s teens.
“Skeet (Ulrich), Mädchen (Amick) and all those characters who have done this, Luke (Perry) and all those guys — they’ve done this already and they’ve kind of passed the baton to us and really shown us the right way to do it, the right etiquette,” said Tanner.
“They’re so welcoming and create a great atmosphere, and you’ve got a bunch of young bucks who’ve never done this before and just learning — and on a lot of shows, it’s not like that, so we’re lucky.”
Connor echoed that sentiment, pointing out it’s not often that young local actors are embraced as warmly as they have been on Riverdale, particularly when cast in a supporting role.
“As Vancouver actors, you come on as day players for one or two episodes and we just have to go with the flow. So coming into Riverdale was definitely a different experience in regards to how we were treated as actors,” said Connor.
“Coming in and having everyone welcome you so easily and be willing to give you advice and work on scenes with you and feeling a part of the crew and the cast just immediately really helped loosen you up and makes you feel comfortable to make bold choices and do things the way you would do as if you were part of the main cast from the beginning.
“So to come into the family like that is a bit daunting … but they invited us in so graciously and it’s been nothing but incredible.”
Drew Ray Tanner, who plays Fangs Fogarty on the CW’s Riverdale, checks out some albums at Neptoon Records in Vancouver this week. Nick Procaylo / PNG
In return, the two B.C. boys have been able to share their knowledge of Vancouver with other cast members who are from elsewhere.
“I think for me and Jordan, working in our own backyard, it was a great opportunity for us just to be like, ‘Yeah, you’re new in the city? Let us show you around, let’s go to these places that we know’ and that gave us an opportunity,” said Tanner. “If you’ve spent any time alone in this city, you know what that’s like.”
Both Connor and Tanner grew up attending school around the Metro Vancouver area: Tanner attended Aldergrove community secondary in Aldergrove, then W.J. Mouat in Abbotsford; Connor attended Sands secondary school in Delta.
Both men credit their high school drama teachers for pointing them toward their current careers.
“They had a wonderful theatre program,” said Tanner of W.J. Mouat. “Mr. Edwards, shoutout to you. He cast me in my final theatre performance, which made me want to continue to pursue this so yeah, big shoutout there.”
Connor recalled the first time he stepped foot into the theatre at Sands in Grade 8.
“I remember walking into this tiny little black box behind the cafeteria — because we didn’t even have a theatre at the time — and I just remember walking in there and thinking, ‘This is where I belong’ and Mrs. Vincent was a proponent in me pursuing acting to this day,” he said.
“I think good acting teachers — good teachers in general — from a young age really help, so thank you.”
So how does Riverdale High compare to their own high school experiences? Similar in some ways, not at all in others.
“It’s funny — when you start playing a character in a high school show, you start to remember and think back to your own high school experiences,” said Tanner. “So for me, I’m starting to remember a lot of things and find parallels between the show and my real life.”
In reality, Tanner and Connor were likely more Bulldogs than they were Serpents during their own time in high school, both having played football as well.
“My high school beat his high school in football,” Tanner interjected. “Just so everyone can know, real quick.”
“Yeah, we played football against each other in high school which is great,” added Connor with a laugh.
And as the second season has unfolded, so their roles have also grown.
Both Connor and Tanner’s characters started off as supporting characters, filling out the Serpents ranks but as storylines twisted and snaked their way toward darker plot points, both have had their characters fleshed out and thrust into the spotlight in the final half of the second season.
In a recent episode, Tanner’s character Fangs is wrongly accused of murder and then freed, an event that turns up the heat on the already simmering tensions in Riverdale. When he is shot by a misguided vigilante, Connor’s Sweet Pea leads the Serpents on a rampage through town, seeking vengeance for his fallen comrade.
“I don’t think either of us knew that the Serpents would be this big of a player in the way that the season turned out,” said Connor.
But despite all the challenges thrown at the Serpents, both Tanner and Connor agree that their characters are simply products of circumstance.
“For me, in terms of developing that character, you always have to approach it with a certain level of compassion for the person’s situation,” said Tanner.
“I think if we’d played it too much the one way, it wouldn’t have worked.”
So what can viewers expect in next week’s season finale and beyond? According to the pair, the momentum will carry over into the third season and audiences will see a lot more of the Serpents in future episodes.
“Someone’s going to take a fall for something that maybe — ah, I don’t know if I can say this. I’m not going to say it, I’m going to stop right there,” Connor said, with a nervous grin.
“Someone’s going to take a fall.”