SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have watched “Look Both Ways,” streaming now on Netflix.
When Lili Reinhart got the call to star in and executive produce her first Netflix film, the “Riverdale” actor was all-in. With the popular CW series set to end next year after seven seasons, the 25-year-old is ready to re-establish herself outside of the beloved character Betty Cooper, and “Look Both Ways” marks the beginning of that next chapter.
The dramedy, out Wednesday on Netflix, follows Natalie, an ambitious woman who takes a pregnancy test on the eve of her college graduation. From there, her life diverges into two parallel realities — one in which she stays in Texas and becomes a young mom, and the other where she isn’t pregnant and moves to L.A. to pursue her dream of becoming an animator.
Reinhart was attracted to the project — which is directed by “Rafiki” helmer Wanuri Kahiu, and also stars Danny Ramirez, David Corenswet and Aisha Dee — because of its message that there isn’t one right or wrong path in life.
“There’s a happy ending here, and there’s not one life that’s worse or better than the other,” Reinhart tells Variety. “And I think that honestly was the goal, and what we wanted people to take away from the film is that you have options and your life doesn’t have to look a certain way for you to feel happy.”
Below, Reinhart discusses how she approached the role of Natalie, what it was like playing a pregnant woman and what she’ll miss the most about “Riverdale.”
How were you first approached for the project and what drew you to it?
I read the script when I was on the set of “Riverdale,” actually, in between takes. I really fell in love and appreciated the character Natalie, and I also really loved how there was no wrong path. I think we can get stuck in a pattern of attaching ourselves to this idea of when we’re going to be married, when we’re going to have a kid, what our career is going to look like, how long it will take for us to get there. I think we limit ourselves sometimes with that sort of thinking.
I found that very comforting, that she’s able to still pursue her dreams and accomplish the same goals with or without becoming pregnant.
It was very important for us to make sure that, especially in Natalie’s life as a young mother, the career that she had worked so hard for, the degree that she just got, is not just thrown away because she has a kid. Like, you see her struggle with trying to keep that path in her life, but that wasn’t something that she just gave up or let go of. She’s still actively pursuing her passions as a young mom. It’s not one or the other: your career or you’re a mom.
You’re an executive producer on the film under your banner Small Victory Productions, like you were for Amazon’s “Chemical Hearts” in 2020. What are you most proud of in terms of contributing to the film creatively?
I really was a part of the film from start to finish, from finding a director to being involved in the many re-writes and the casting. So I’m proud walking away that I had a hand in pretty much all aspects of the film, and that just makes it more special to me. Rather than just being an actor and being like, “Yeah, I was in the film and it’s great,” it’s like no, I helped build this film from the ground up and that’s something that makes me even more proud. It feels like a big accomplishment for me and also encouraging as a young woman, being a producer as well and being taken seriously. If this were 10 years ago, I think it would have just been, let’s give her the title of an executive producer, but not actually let her make any decisions. And that was very much not the case. I was very respected with that title and taken seriously, which I wouldn’t expect anything less from both Amazon and Netflix, but just to actually live that and experience that was very wonderful and encouraging for me as someone who now has her own production company.
You mentioned you had a hand in finding the director, what made Kahiu the best fit?
We wanted to find a female filmmaker for this movie, and we always really wanted to find a woman who was a mother. Because I myself am not a mother, we wanted to make sure our filmmaker would be a working director also balancing motherhood. And we luckily found Wanuri, who I felt would bring such a grounded reality to “Look Both Ways” and make it more than a rom-com. The title rom-com, I don’t personally like it. I’ll use it, but I think it maybe does a disservice to the film because I think it’s more than that. It is still, at its heart, a journey — the romance comes second, but the journey that this woman goes on, Natalie, this is her story. This is the story of a woman trying to follow her dreams and create the career that she wants and be a hard-working woman and also a wonderful mom and trying to balance the relationships in her life.
I was very happy that we had our two-week pre-production before we started shooting where Wanuri and I got to spend time together doing a lot of script work, going scene by scene with Danny and David and Aisha, making sure that all of the dialogue felt organic and tweaking it to be more personal to us. It wasn’t just from script to screen, it was very much a collaboration, like let’s tweak things, let’s make sure this feels right, let’s have this be a collaborative process. And Wanuri was so wonderful, she was such a champion for Natalie, like she really was always pushing the narrative that Natalie has to be in charge of her own destiny.
How did you find yourself relating to Natalie?
Definitely her ambition for her career. Also wanting to find love, but wanting to make the right decisions for herself. But I think mainly it was the career ambition, like she very much went to school to be an animator and wanted to make that happen in both lifetimes. Me, as an actor, I didn’t go to school for acting, but I’ve always known that was what I wanted to do and had my heart set on it. And I’m sure if I would have become a young mother, I would have still very much tried to still act somehow and pursue that. That was my favorite thing about Natalie — even when she did choose to have a kid, because it just felt right for her, she didn’t let go of what her passion was. And I think that’s a good message.
How did you prepare to act pregnant, especially for the labor and delivery scenes? When I talked with Kahiu, she said you craved burgers on set.
[Laughs] Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with being pregnant, I just am always craving fast food. I was ordering Five Guys a lot when we were on set. But yeah, the labor scene was super fun actually because that’s not an experience I’ve had in my real life yet. We realized after we shot it, like damn, Natalie didn’t have a spinal tap or any drugs, she was just natural birthing it. I’ve never personally done it, but I think being able to play that was really fun and the nurse in the scene was actually a real delivery nurse and she was like, “You’re doing great, this feels really real.” So that was encouraging.
The story centers around whether or not Natalie gets pregnant in the first place, not if she gets an abortion, but I couldn’t help but think of Roe v. Wade. What does it mean to be telling this story in the wake of it being overturned?
Wanuri, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, texted me and said, “We really gotta make sure our film is a champion for women’s choices” and I said, “Absolutely.” The beautiful thing in our film, which now sadly feels a bit dystopian — like oh, in our world, we don’t have that option anymore — that a woman in Texas gets pregnant and she’s able to make the decision about whether she wants to keep the baby or not. This isn’t an abortion story movie, but it is a movie about a woman who had the opportunity to make a choice, and the choice was made on her own volition and it ended up being a beautiful decision for her because she was able to make it. She wasn’t forced into anything. One of my favorite lines is when Gabe says, “I’m pro your choice.” Like, damn right you are! You better be, because she’s going to make whatever decision is best for her.
Next season of “Riverdale” will be its last and the end to a six-year journey for you. What are your feelings going into the last season? Do you feel ready to move on from this chapter in your career?
There are a lot of feelings. Bittersweet is the word, because I obviously will miss this group of people that I’ve been through half of my 20s with. We’ll never all be together again working on the same thing, so I recognize that and I think we all do and we all are sad about that. It will be a very sad day when it actually wraps, but I do think the show has done so much for all of us and we’re all so ready to show the world what else we’ve got. On that aspect, knowing what’s on the other side is super exciting. I’m incredibly excited for the projects that I’ve been developing with my production company over the last year and a half that we’ll be ready to shoot when “Riverdale” ends next summer. But going into this final season, I think we’re all like, “This is our last hurrah, let’s really try to celebrate each other and spend time with each other because we won’t get this again.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.