Beauty Test: Actress Madelaine Petsch Like You've Never Seen Her Before
Welcome to our series Beauty Test, where we invite the freshest new faces to the Byrdie studio to test-drive the most buzzed-about beauty trends—or, to be honest, just some rad makeup looks we’ve been dying to see in real life. This month, get to know actress of the moment Madelaine Petsch.
Clad head to toe in oversize denim and wearing a pair of jaunty jet-black boots, Madelaine Petsch makes her way across the room. It’s 4:30 p.m., and the once naturally lit incandescence of the downtown Los Angeles studio has started to dim. Despite the low-buzz shuffle and stir of cameras, backdrops, and preparations for the end-of-shoot wrap-up, the room has an undercurrent of palpable energy appropriately on par with the actress’s mega-watt hit of a show, Riverdale.
All eyes are on Petsch as she polishes off the last couple takes of video footage for our November issue of Beauty Test. And though the 23-year-old actress has already given us a few good takes, for the fourth try, she’d prefer to give the last line a hint of haughtiness that’s so delectably Cheryl, yet the polar opposite of Madelaine, herself. She points out thoughtfully, “I don’t think Cheryl would quite say it like this.”
And so, with her waist-length crimson strands swinging down her back and gilded copper lids catching the last flash of daylight, she repeats the line. The studio is deafeningly quiet as Petsch sheds the bubbly, personable skin of Madelaine in favour of the porcelain, cool-to-the touch veneer of her already iconic character, Cheryl Blossom.
“Madelaine Petsch: Look four, take four, and… action.”
“Hey, Byrdies. I’m in the mood for some chaos.”
The young actress is an up-and-coming tour de force, easily able to transform a simple nine-word line into something capable of triggering goosebumps. However, despite the current fervor surrounding The CW’s show Riverdale, Petsch later explains to me over the phone that not all that long ago she was working three different jobs just to make rent and keep a roof over her head. (Perhaps this is why she seems so disarmingly grounded.)
And while it’s true the actress’s welcoming persona is a far cry from her icy demeanor on-screen, there are some striking similarities in terms of the pair's resilience and determination. Not only has Petsch handily dealt with an almost instantaneous ascent to fame (Riverdale’s popularity has been hot and heavy, to say the least), she’s also dealt with naysayers and body-shamers along the way. One thing is clear: Madelaine Petsch is a force to be reckoned with.
Read on for our exclusive interview with the actress where she experiments with three of our favourite makeup trends and sounds off on everything from her signature red strands to the case for taking a bubble bath.
Products: Nars Sheer Glow Foundation in Mont Blanc ($68); Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz in Caramel ($38); Marc Jacobs Highliner Matte Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner in Pink Of Me ($36); Surratt Beauty Artistique Eyeshadow in Ingenue and Rosâtre ($28); Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage in #2 ($55); Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Rosé ($36)
BYRDIE: Both of your parents are South African. Growing up, how did this influence your approach to beauty, and how would you describe your current makeup aesthetic?
MADELAINE PETSCH: That’s a really interesting question… I think I always had the idea that less is more when it came to makeup. I remember watching my mom getting ready in the morning, and she would put just a little bit of gold eye shadow on her eyelids and a little bit of mascara and that was it. You know when you’re young, you look up to your mom, and I remember always wanting to do whatever she was doing when it came to her makeup.
On the other hand, I began competitive dancing at a very young age. So, by the time I was four, I was already quite used to having a full face of makeup on and you know, having that whole look. But eventually I realised there’s so much more to beauty than that, and even though I would still have that full face of makeup on the weekends for rehearsals and recitals, during the week I would pull my hair back into a ponytail without a stitch of makeup.
As I grew older, I still went through phases where I’d wear more makeup, but now that I have to wear it so much for the show, when I’m not working, I just have my brows done and a little bit of mascara—I pretty much never have anything on my face and have finally learned the importance of good products like moisturiser and sunscreen.
BYRDIE: One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the studio last week was how striking your hair is and how beautifully it accents your features. What do you love to play up?
MP: I have always been into big brows even though I don't have them naturally so I always fill them in. But for about four years now, my hair has probably become my absolute favourite feature. Growing up, I always felt like it made me different, but then once I got into the industry, everyone was just like ‘Oh my god, your hair!’ I slowly started to realise that it’s a blessing, and I really try to take care of it. I do masks about once a week, and I make sure to get cuts every couple of months.
BYRDIE: It’s already become such a signature look for you, do you think you’ll ever switch up the length or colour?
MP: Definitively not the colour but my hairstylist Michael Kanyon says when you’re 30 you have to shorten your hair… So I’m like okay, we’ll see. (Laughing.) I’m only 23, so I still have seven more years.
Products: Nars Sheer Glow Foundation in Mont Blanc ($68); Eye Paint in Baalbek ($26), and Shimmer Eye Shadow in Fez ($26); Surratt Beauty Artistique Eyeshadow in Truffle and Hot Chocolate ($28); Chanel Le Crayon Khôl Intense Eye Pencil in Black Jade ($45); L’Oréal Voluminous Carbon Black Mascara ($27); Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat Re-Size & Re-Shape Lip Liner in Iconic Nude ($35); Sisley Paris Comfort Extreme Nutritive Lip Balm ($85)
BYRDIE: Switching gears a bit, you have a YouTube channel! What inspired that?
MP: I actually love this question. So last year when the show came out, I was not only perceived as a bitch on-camera but off camera as well. A lot of fans would comment on my Instagram photos saying things like: “She’s pretty, but I bet she’s a bitch,” or “I bet she’s really mean in person.” And after a while, it really started to hurt my feelings. I mean, wow—I’m an actress, and it’s my job to read what’s on the page.
So I began racking my brain to figure out a way to kind of shift that image, and I realised there wasn’t really a way to do that other than creating videos showing my fans exactly who I am. So, at first, I intended to only have about five to 10 videos to just show everyone, hey guys, I’m a weirdo, I’m not mean at all—that kind of thing. But then I really started to get into the editing process and loved the fact that I was really in charge of creating a whole product from start to finish. But originally, it was just intended to show my fans who I really am because they only see Cheryl.
BYRDIE: That’s so true and I’m glad you touched on that—I think people really have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction, actress from character.
MP: Especially because our fan base runs a bit younger—I mean, I’ll be completely honest, I used to think Blake Lively was Serena van der Woodsen. I didn’t understand Blake was someone entirely separate from that character. I didn’t even think about it. And back then, there wasn’t Instagram, so there was no way to have any kind of access to someone like her. But now, there are so many ways to show my fans that Cheryl’s not who I am and to also show my versatility. This is a way for me to separate myself.
BYRDIE: You seem to have a great sense of self-awareness—it’s obvious you have a lot of love for your fans while also remaining true to yourself. Have you always been like that?
MP: I mean, I was raised by two South African parents who were vegan, and we were always just very different. But I was raised to be exactly who I am. I’m proud of where I come from, I have two very loving and supportive parents who I talk to every single day and who love me unconditionally.
They take such good care of me and even if I wanted my ego to take control, they would never allow it. And then I have a boyfriend who’s the same way, a great group of friends, and just so many people surrounding me who care. I’m just very happy with where I am right now, but I also very clearly remember three years ago when I was working three jobs and trying to pay my rent. Up until very recently I was honestly just trying to keep a roof over my head.
BYRDIE: You mentioned your boyfriend, Travis Mills. You’re very open about your relationship and it seems like your fans really appreciate that.
MP: Yeah, you know I want them to know that there’s just so much pessimism about love in the world right now. It’s kind of cool and “in” to act as if you don't believe in love or that you’ll never fall in love, but there’s this amazing side to it that’s so completely enriching and powerful…I want people to see that.
BYRDIE: There’s always some potential to lose ourselves within relationships—I think many of us have this “all-or-nothing” approach. What’s your advice for striking a balance?
MP: I love that. I think you know you’re in the right relationship when you can balance everything. For instance, I have time to go to Vancouver and get my work done and see my boyfriend and see my friends and maintain a healthy relationship with everybody. That’s when you know you’re in the right relationship. When you’re in the wrong relationship, it’s hard to strike that balance. You don’t want that. That’s unhealthy. You have to make time for your friends, you have to make time for your family, you have to make time for your work. It has to be balanced.
BYRDIE: So what do you like to do completely on your own? What’s your ultimate self-care ritual?
MP: I have a personal trainer out here in Vancouver, and I love training with her. And then afterward, I’ll come home, I’ll put my phone on “do not disturb,” I’ll put on one of my favorite playlists, I’ll light a bunch of candles, I’ll make a bubble bath, and I’ll bring a book in there—it’s a whole thing. I have my robe on, I have my diffuser going—I really love my alone time as well. I also like to go to bed early—it’s a treat to me. Or even making a YouTube video and editing it.
With social media, everyone is glued to their phone. I mean, my entire job is essentially on my phone except for when I’m on set, which is crazy! So I think there’s something to be said for finding that time to get off your phone and to just focus on yourself. You know, read the book or do the thing that makes you feel like you’re powerful—and that's not usually social media.
BYRDIE: Okay, so I’m glad that you brought up your workouts. Can you tell me a little bit about your routine?
MP: Well, I have always worked out at least about five times a week, and I’m a vegan. I eat really healthily, and I’ve always been into training. I was a dancer for 17 years, and I still dance when I have time, so it’s always been important to me to feel fit. That being said, I always used to keep myself in condition. I would run three miles a day, and then I would do a quick floor routine focusing on abs or legs. But within the last month, I started working out with a trainer, and I realized there were so many muscles I wasn’t using or wasn’t working properly. So now I work out with her about four times a week, which is great because I’m held really accountable.
BYRDIE: I love that you were a dancer. I used to dance, so I totally get it. But there's also a lot of pressure when it comes to appearance and body image. How do you keep a healthy mindset now—especially with having that background in dance?
MP: The beautiful thing about dance is that it taught me tenacity and drive and endurance. Sometimes you really have to put 100% of your soul into something. I never missed a class. Dance teaches you punctuality, and essentially it almost becomes your job. From school, I would go straight to dance for about four hours a day, it taught me so much about myself.
I’ve been lucky and haven’t had too many issues with body image, but when I was younger there were definitely times when I had some body dysmorphia. I think a lot of young girls go through that but don’t quite understand it. And when Riverdale first came out, there would be these crazy people, fans who called me a whale. And to be honest, there were times when I would question myself… like why do people hate me?
But then you have to take a step back and realise that all that matters is feeling good about yourself, knowing that you’re a good person, loving, and taking care of yourself. It’s important to acknowledge you’re doing the best that you can and then forget whatever everyone else is saying. Cami and I have this conversation all the time—about self-image and mental health, and you know, just ensuring we’re doing everything we can for ourselves. We can’t focus our energy on those outside forces. Lilli is really great about speaking out about body image, and Cami is too. I feel really lucky to be around so many strong women who I can discuss these things with. We’re able to be open and honest and be one another’s support system.
BYRDIE: Right, and no matter what you look like, people are always going to have something to say. There’s no point in conforming.
MP: Exactly! Exactly. You know, everyone has a different image in their mind of what beauty is, and you can’t let another person’s image deter you from how you feel about yourself. Cami, Lili, and I, we know that we have a responsibility to be good role models and we take that seriously. We really care about our fans and we want to make sure we’re keeping it real but also putting positivity out there.
BYRDIE: Who else in the industry inspires you? Either on a personal level or in terms of their approach to beauty?
MP: My number one role model is definitely Zendaya. She sets such a great example for how to conduct yourself as a celebrity. She’s so young and she’s so graceful and so poised and still so real. I’ve never even met her, but I follow her on social media and see the way she handles things and how she uses her platform for more than just posting pictures of herself. She really utilises her platform to spread good and to spread words. I think that’s so incredibly important.