Apart from perhaps Captain America himself, there's no more All-American comic book character than red-headed, freckle-faced, bow tie-wearing, love triangle-having teenage heartbreaker Archie Andrews.
Which is why it's kind of awesome that the actor playing Archie in the new TV adaptation Riverdale, couldn't be more of a classic Kiwi.
19-year-old K.J. Apa, the half-Samoan actor heretofore best known for his short stint as All Black prospect Kane Jenkins on Shortland Street, beat out thousands of other contenders in a global search to find the right actor to play Archie in Riverdale. He's as surprised as anybody.
"It's weird aye?" says Apa. "I was thinking: 'What if I don't look good with red hair?'"
Apa is speaking to TimeOut towards the end of a long day of press at a hotel in Pasadena, Los Angeles. Despite being at the centre of a giant, glossy marketing machine for a big new American series, Apa is clearly still a very grounded New Zealander, and is stoked to be talking to a fellow Kiwi amongst all the media scrutiny.
"This stuff is all definitely new and weird like I'm worried if I say the wrong thing or something. But I was with Cole most of the time so it was fun, it was good. He's really smart."
"Cole" is Cole Sprouse, the former child star (
) who plays Archie's best pal Jughead in
"I watched The Suite Life when I was a kid," says Apa. "When I met him I was like 'Aw bro, you're the man!'".
If Riverdale is a success, it could turn Apa into a bonafide teen idol. I ask if he's ready for that, to which he has a very Kiwi response.
"Everyone's been kinda warning me about it and saying 'Get ready' and stuff but I'm just like 'Not even, aye'. It's all good, I don't reckon it's gonna be that. People just need to chill out, you know? It's just a job at the end of the day and we're all just going to work and getting it done."
Apa says this is more of an ensemble anyway.
"The show's called Riverdale, it's not called Archie, you know what I mean? I don't think I'm of any more importance than these other three leads [Betty,Veronica, Jughead], we're all on the same level. But it has been a really surreal experience being on set and stuff and I don't think that's ever gonna change, I don't want that to change. And as long as that's the case, I can stay grounded."
The comic book version of
has been undergoing well-received reinventions of late, and Riverdale continues that trend by bringing a little edge to Archie's world. Described by the producers as "
", the new show's plot is set-off by a murder. The contemporisation extends to the characters aswell, so gone are the freckles and the bow ties - but Archie was always gonna have red hair.
The chiseled Apa easily pulls off the auburn locks, and is believable as the centre of the most famous love triangle in comic book history. Apa had to do "chemistry reads" with the two actors playing Archie's perennial romantic partners Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) in order to secure the role, but producers explained earlier in the day that Apa sealed the deal by turning up with guitar, a pretty classic Kiwi move.
"I took it to the screen test. I knew I had to lock it in some how, so I took the gat and I just tried it out."
The gat gambit worked, but Apa says he was more hesitant when it came to singing on the show.
"Archie writes a couple of songs, mostly about his relationships. Real angsty, classic kind of stuff. But the singing part of it for me was like... I didn't wanna sing aye. Cause I'm not real confident singing. So when they got me singing, I was like. 'Oh shi...'. It was really way out of my comfort zone."
Although it's a long way from Ferndale to Riverdale, multiple elements of Archie echo the character Apa played on Shortland Street. Both are young men with strong sporting prospects (as Apa was in real-life before he found acting). And both characters hook up with their teachers.
"It's funny, the thing with Ms Grundy," says Apa. "It's funny doing that again after doing that on Shortland Street, where my character got with my P.E. Teacher. It's like 'How am I in this situation again?'"
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