Vanessa Morgan has become the Queen of TV’s Wednesday nights with two breakout roles on the sophomore seasons of Riverdale and The Shannara Chronicles. The Canadian actress is currently befriending Jughead (Cole Sprouse)–and potentially causing tension with Betty (Lili Reinhart)–as Southside Serpent Toni Topaz, and suffering as Eretria’s (Ivana Baquero) star-crossed lover as Lyria, the Princess of Leah.
On the surface, the two roles couldn’t be more different: a girl who has grown up on the wrong side of the tracks of Riverdale, and a princess trying to escape the clutches of her power-hungry mother. However, both are young women born into a pre-determined life, drawn to outsiders that bring a different perspective. Not to mention they’re both credited as openly bisexual characters.
We spoke with Morgan about her experiences as the new kid on Riverdale and The Shannara Chronicles, how her characters are bringing more positive bisexual representation to TV, and what’s ahead for Toni and Lyria.
The TV Junkies: You’re on two major television shows on Wednesdays right now. How does that feel?
Vanessa Morgan: I know, it’s crazy! My family loves it because they say, “oh, at 8:00 we watch you on Riverdale, and at 10:00 we watch you on Shannara,” so it’s pretty cool. I try to keep up with the two shows online to keep it even, but it’s definitely a surreal experience.
TTVJ: There are a surprising amount of parallels between Riverdale and The Shannara Chronicles, considering how different they are. First of all being that you were the new girl in both of their second seasons. How were those experiences for you?
VM: It’s always intimidating joining Season 2 of a show where there are established relationships. On both everybody was very welcoming and I never felt too much like a newbie. In New Zealand, that was an awesome experience too, because I’ve never been to New Zealand before and I never thought for a second that I would travel there. So that was insane, and moving there by myself, and everyone welcoming me in.
On Riverdale, one of my best friends Madelaine [Petsch, who plays Cheryl Blossom] was already on the show, so she welcomed me in, showed me the sets, so I never felt too much like a newbie.
TTVJ: I know you and Madelaine became friends after both auditioning for Riverdale Season 1. It seems like a case of “everything happens for a reason” because even though you didn’t get the part of Josie, you got the chance to join Shannara, and still ended up on Riverdale in Season 2. That has to be pretty cool.
VM: It’s crazy how everything happens for a reason. That being said, I didn’t get the first role I auditioned for, but I find this role as Toni better suited for me, and I really love this character. It is crazy how everything ended up working out in the end.
TTVJ: Another parallel between Riverdale and Shannara is that both of your characters are openly bisexual. The bisexual community is often underrepresented on television, so have you had a response from them so far?
VM: Yeah, I’ve been really welcomed by the community. I think a lot people on TV view bisexuality as promiscuity, which is absolutely messed up. I really hope that more representation shows that that’s not what it is, and you can love both genders and fall in love with somebody’s soul. It doesn’t have to be a promiscuous thing or it doesn’t mean you’re confused.
TTVJ: Especially with Lyria and Eretria, they have such a sweet love story.
VM: I know! A lot of people are saying that they found that last scene with them [in last week’s episode] really passionate, and they had a really passionate kiss. I’m really liking how their relationship is evolving. They want to be together but they can’t. I love that relationship.
TTVJ: They’re also really good for each other. In that same scene, Eretria gave Lyria the confidence to stand up to her mother. How will that affect her story moving forward?
VM: Her mom has been controlling her life at this point, so I think going forward with Eretria’s help, pushing her to have confidence and say, “you’re going to be Queen if you marry Ander, so you have the control here.” I think that comes from Eretria’s boss personality, so I definitely think that’s going to help her grow as a person, become her own, and not be controlled by her mother. And probably become a better leader than her mother is.
TTVJ: Your outfits on Shannara can be pretty ridiculous. What were those costume fittings like?
VM: Oh, the costume fittings were crazy. Some of my fittings would be an hour and a half, just in-detail tailoring, stuff like that. The costumes were insane, and all my jewelry was handmade. Getting dressed in the morning, someone would always have to help me.
TTVJ: I don’t doubt that. Then just being in New Zealand, with the scenery like that. I imagine it must have been so surreal.
VM: Oh, it’s insane. Sometimes I would have my trailer on location, sitting in the cast chair, and we’d be overlooking the water in these beautiful mountains and I would be like, “Oh, this is my office today.” It’s crazy.
TTVJ: Obviously Riverdale is a lot different, since you’re set in Vancouver. I feel like we’re just getting to know Toni. What do you think it is that has her character so intrigued by Jughead?
VM: I think mentally, she knows they’re both from the wrong side of the tracks, so they both connect because they’re both Serpents, and you can tell they’re both very smart. Toni’s very passionate about photography, she loves school, and you can tell Jughead is a very studious guy who grew up with the hardships of his family, so they can relate in that way.
TTVJ: The Riverdale cast is really active on social media. Do you find that means the fan base has a big presence on set?
VM: Oh, I’m sure having the actors being so active on social media helps fans feel like they’re with the cast, can relate more, and can respond to them. That’s why the cast does a lot of live tweeting. The fandom for Riverdale is so huge, so you definitely see that with the fan fiction and whatnot.
TTVJ: Have you read any Riverdale fan fiction?
VM: Yeah. [laughs] I’ve read some. There are so many, it’s hard to keep track. I get tagged in them on Instagram.
TTVJ: What can you preview about Toni’s journey on Riverdale this season?
VM: Obviously she’s a Southside Serpent, she’s one of the girl gang members, and one of Jughead’s first friends, as we’ve seen, and their relationship will develop as the season goes on. Hopefully you’ll see her meet the other characters as the season goes on as well, and hopefully other relationships will develop.
Are you looking forward to seeing more of Lyria and Toni? Sound off in the comments below.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW, and episodes are available to stream Thursdays on Netflix Canada; The Shannara Chronicles airs at 10 p.m. ET on Spike and Space.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.