INTERVIEW MAGAZINE – If you caught last year’s lockdown thriller Songbird, you might have noticed something different about its star, K.J. Apa. Since 2017, when he was a mostly unknown actor from Auckland, New Zealand, he has risen to become one of the most identifiable faces—and heads—in Hollywood. As Archie Andrews on the CW’s noir-ish teen soap Riverdale, Apa has, over the course of the show’s last four seasons, been dying his hair a bright copper red to match the beloved comic book character on which his performance is based. It’s become so entwined with the way people perceive him off-camera that when he made Songbird at the outset of the pandemic (it was the first movie to shoot in Los Angeles under COVID-19 guidelines), his shaggy brown locks and week-old stubble were a reminder, to him and us, that Apa is more than the role he plays on one of television’s most popular shows. As he tells his Songbird costar Demi Moore, it reminded him that he’s a person, too.
K.J. APA: I’m a little nervous.
DEMI MOORE: I’ll go easy on you. Tell me where you are.
APA: I’m in Vancouver. I just touched down yesterday for my quarantine before we shoot the second half of season five of Riverdale. It’s a little daunting, but I’m grateful to be working during this crazy time.
MOORE: It’s interesting, because the two of us have been on the maiden voyage. Part of why I wanted to do Songbird was because we were the guinea pigs, getting out there and seeing if we could make this work, and if other people could work as a result of it.
APA: I don’t know how it was for you, but I remember thinking the movie was either going to be really good or really bad, because of the condition of the world and how we were forced to shoot during COVID. You and all these amazing people were attached, and I was like, “Fuck it. Let’s try.”
MOORE: I had no idea what I was getting into. It wasn’t a huge role, but it wasn’t really about that. It was about the adventure.
APA: I felt so free coming from a show where I feel like I’m in jail a lot of the time. There are so many restrictions on what I can and can’t do. With this character, it was like, “Wow, this is what it’s like to really express myself in a natural way.” I wasn’t covered in makeup or hair products. I had long hair and a beard. I just felt free.
MOORE: I can see how playing a character that’s based on a comic book would come with a specific framework.
APA: There’s been so much pressure in playing Archie. I’m so grateful for the show and its success, but at the same time, there’s a lot of baggage that comes with that success. I feel like the only people I can talk to about my issues are my costars, the people who can really relate to me. Cole [Sprouse, who plays Jughead Jones] is an amazing person to have on set, because he’s been doing this his whole life. I try and look at it from a fan’s perspective to understand the way they think. But there are times when I’m like, “Wow, they really have no idea that we are actual people. They can’t separate us from our characters.” You don’t have that in other professions. You don’t dissect the life of a builder and start judging the decisions he makes in his life with his wife and kids. As an actor, I will be judged on everything: my political opinions, my opinions on drugs, my opinions on the people I want to be with. Everything. It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with.
MOORE: We’re living in a time of social media that has amplified everything you just described to an overwhelming degree. You’re responsible for a character that people have an investment in, and being able to separate who you are from who that character is, knowing they can exist separately and simultaneously, is not easy.
APA: Having Luke [Perry] on the show was such a blessing for me. When I was first experiencing success, Luke had a way of just quashing it and being like, “You’re only as important as the PA sitting over there.” He knew everyone’s name. Sometimes people talk about our job as this really important thing, like no one else can do it. Luke had the ability to be like, “Step on your mark. Stay in line. Go home. Show up on time. Treat people with respect.” I loved that about him.