Text & styling: Azza Arif
Photos: Mitchell McCormack
Miami native Camila Mendes is best known as Veronica Lodge, the raven-haired rich girl with a dark past, determined to shed her bad-girl in the popular CW television series, Riverdale. The budding screen and social-media star opens up to Azza Arif about Riverdale, her role as a ‘sugar baby’ in the latest indie hit, The New Romantic and how she continues to battle mental and physical struggles with an eating disorder.
A newcomer by Hollywood standards, Camila Mendes earned near-instant fame with Riverdale’s release. The viewers couldn’t help but fall in love with her version of Veronica, which is so much more than the spoiled heiress portrayed in the Archie Comics. But how well did she know her Archie comics history? “I didn’t actually know much about Archie comics,” she reveals with a sheepish grin. This was understandable, considering the fact that the popular American comic series has been around longer than her grandparents. “I mean I knew it existed and I knew what it was, and I obviously talked to a lot of people about it when I got the auditions. My mum told me that back in Brazil, she and her sister used to watch Archie back in the ‘70s, so she was super excited when I got the role.” They were even more ecstatic when they found out that the casting directors were making the character a Latina, rather than a white girl with dark hair as depicted in the comics. “They made the choice to go in a different direction and make her (Veronica) Latina, which was a blessing for me too, as I felt like I could play that character and I saw myself in her.”
As the world waits to see what Veronica Lodge and the rest of the cast of Riverdale has in-store for us for Season Three, we turn our attention to The New Romantic, Camila’s first feature film role, directed by Carly Stone, which looks at the realities of dating in a modern world, in which a young, ambitious college student decides to become a ‘sugar baby’. “My character, Morgan, is a ‘sugar baby’; these are girls who get paid to go on dates with rich older men. And I kind of think that a part of the story echoes how expensive it is to go to college these days, and how a lot of young women are doing things like this in order to pay their way through college. There is the whole argument behind it like ‘is this an act of feminism, or not?’”
Camila explains, “Some people think it’s demeaning to women, while some may think its empowering. Or perhaps some may say they are taking advantage of a system that is already messed up to begin with. This film sort of asks that question, and the lead character (played by Jessica Barden) meets my character and is inspired by her, and decides to try out that lifestyle of paid romance. So it’s like a coming of age story, and I play a character that makes the argument for the empowerment of women in being a sugar baby.” But the film doesn’t try to sway you into thinking one thing or the other. “At the end of the day, you should do what you are comfortable with. And nobody should influence that. If you want to get paid by going on dates with older men, then by all means go do that. If no one is making you do that, then I feel that you should have the freedom to do that. Because there is a mutual agreement there, and no one is being taken advantage of, both parties are fully aware of what is going on.”
Like any kid born in the Internet generation, Camila has no problem letting everyone see her more vulnerable side on social media, and judging by her eight million followers on Instagram, the world is listening. She recently used the platform to sound off on her personal issue with dieting, and how it affects both mental and physical health. “When I grew up, I was obsessed with being thin. I always wanted to be lean, and then I went to college, I noticed my body was changing and it made me feel out of control but I didn’t understand it. I thought I was just gaining a lot of weight.” She revealed the toxic narrative of her pre-adolescent obsession with being thin and how being in the limelight pushed her to seek professional help to overcome her own battles. “At that time there weren’t many voices out there that championed curvier body types. But now, we see models like Ashley Graham who are encouraging women to embrace being unique, and that made me let go of the standard that was established so long ago – that thin is the only type of beautiful.”
Camila is currently working with Project Heal, an organization that aims to raise awareness for eating disorders, and helps to fund necessary treatments to combat this illness. “Growing up, my sister had a very serious eating disorder, and was in rehab for awhile,” she tells us as she tugs on the sleeves of the pumpkin orange sweater she had on. “I think the biggest message through Project Heal is to let the public know just how high the costs really are to get treatment, and how an eating disorder is not recognised as a mental illness when in fact, it is one of the deadliest mental illnesses there is. I also struggled with this illness, and although mine is not as serious as my sister’s, I went through phases in my life, and the hardest thing for me was acknowledging that I had an illness. Because when you have a sister that grew up with an eating disorder, you kind of compare yours to hers, and I would think ‘oh mine is not that bad’. And there is the common misconception that when you have an eating disorder, you are really skinny, and that is not the case at all, it’s actually quite the opposite. People don’t know that you don’t necessarily have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one. And because I was never that skinny, I never thought that I did (have the disorder.)” After debuting on Riverdale, she started to create a lot of insecurities for herself due to constantly being in a state of looking in the mirror, and having a camera in her face. “I created this hyperawareness of the way that I looked and what I didn’t like about the way that I looked, and that brought all those negative thoughts back, and that was when I started to seek treatment with a therapist. I learned so much about myself, and all the reasons that could have contributed to why I started with my eating disorder. And I think once you start to tackle those specific reasons, you would be able to make necessary changes in your life. I am now at a place where it’s always going to be a constant struggle, and there will always be that little voice in my head, but I know how to deal with it now. And I know how to surround myself with positive influences and positive thoughts.”
Her love for Project Heal grew stronger after she attended a gala with them in San Francisco, and met other survivors like her. “I brought my sister with me to the event. It was so nice to surround ourselves with people that have been through the same thing because I never had that before. I never had people to talk about that with, and then you realise how much you had in common and how many experiences you share. That taught me the value of peer mentorship. When you are feeling that moment of self doubt and insecurity, you know who to talk to, and who will say the right thing at that moment.” It is never easy to publicly address something as personal as an eating disorder, especially when you’re in the limelight with the world watching your every move. Camila used the platform her career has given her to speak out on an important issue that affects young women everywhere, and for that, we applaud her bravery.
Read the full exclusive in the June 2018 issue of Marie Claire Malaysia. Available now at newsstands and through the online newsstand, Magzter!