We chat with K.J. Apa about his comic book romance, that fiery red hair, and what it’s like having ‘90s icon parents.
When a nostalgic American comic book comes to life in the form a CW TV series, the stakes are high as it tries to appeal to old and new, millennial fans. Based on the ever-popular Archie Comics series, Riverdale debuted its first season with a bang and a second season is already in the works. New Zealand-born K.J. Apa steps into Archie Andrews’ shoes as the red-headed, jock and musician who delicately breaks hearts while trying his best to keep his parents, played by Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald, happy. With the season finale around the corner (May 11th), Archie and his friends band together to uncover the real story behind one of their classmates murder.
Did you have any knowledge of Archie Comics prior to the show? KJA: I didn’t, actually. When I got the audition, I had to do some research, go online, and find out what it was all about. I quickly learned that it was massive, that it’s been going for about 75 years.
I guess it’s probably surprising for people to know that you’re not from the States. KJA: Yeah, everyone gets really surprised when they hear my accent in real life. No one knows that I’m from New Zealand, which is kind of cool. I kind of like it.
So, you’re not naturally a redhead. How often do you have to get your hair colored? KJA: When we’re shooting, it’s pretty gnarly. It’s like once every two weeks. I have to get it dyed, the roots and stuff, because my hair grows really fast which doesn’t help. But yeah, it’s like once every two weeks—and the eyebrows.
Do you feel like the fans are still pushing for a romance between Archie and Betty? KJA: It seems like the fans are loving what’s going on between Betty and Jughead and Archie and Veronica. I think there’s definitely potential for those relationships to last quite a long time. I think Betty and Archie are the most iconic kind of relationship I think fans would be excited to see.
What are your thoughts on guys and girls being “just friends.” Do you think it’s truly possible? KJA: I think 100 percent it’s possible. But I don’t know if it’s possible if you have disclosed feelings for one another or one person has feelings for another person. For me, it can be hard to hang out with a girl who I really like and just be friends. I’d rather just not hang out and not be friends. It’s just too hard sometimes.
What you portray on the show as the high school experience is probably quite different than what you experienced yourself in New Zealand. KJA: New Zealand is a lot different to the American [school system]. We don’t have proms or pep rallies. Ours is more similar to the English style. Hogwarts is what I’d compare my school to. It wasn’t tricky, but it was something I had to keep in mind when playing the character—being submerged in that environment and to know how to just play it with some honesty there. But I was kind of working while I was in high school, too, so I wasn’t there a whole lot.
You get to show off your guitar and singing skills on the show. Was that something they were looking for because that’s part of Archie’s character? KJA: I don’t know if it was essential that the character needed to play the guitar or be somewhat musical but it was scripted in the pilot that he likes to write music and stuff. I remember in the screen test I took my guitar and just casually walked in. I told them I was going to play them a song before I did the scene. They didn’t really have a choice and I just did it. (laughs) Because I knew it was something that they would like to see.
Has it been crazy to see your social media grow? KJA: Yeah, as soon as our first episode aired, we all kind of started blowing up a bit. It was interesting to see it, too, because when you’re shooting it, you feel like you’re in this bubble and you feel like you’ve been shooting for so long. No one has even seen what you’re doing and you want everyone to see what you’re doing. Finally, the show comes out and then boom, it just like hits you. It was so good to see how people reacted to the show. I think most of it was really positive.
You have two iconic ‘90s actor parents, Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald. Did you know who they were? KJA: My mom knew who Luke was. I remember not knowing who he was, but I remember when I met him he looked really familiar. And Molly was the same. I didn’t really know who she was either, but I guess that’s the younger generation. I didn’t watch too much TV or movies when I was kid. I was out playing with the sheep in New Zealand. But I’m so lucky to have them playing as my parents. It doesn’t get much luckier than that. Luke is so great, we’re really close.