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How a Riverdale Audition Led Chance Perdomo to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Chance Perdomo. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Spoilers below for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina part two.

There are few TV characters as immediately beguiling as Ambrose Spellman on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. When the show premiered last year, Ambrose proved to be a magnetic presence as Sabrina’s necromancer cousin, a warlock who imprisoned for 75 years for aiding in a potential bombing of the Vatican. Played by English actor Chance Perdomo, he was enchanting and enigmatic, sharp-tongued and soft-eyed — an alluring blend of contradictions.

As Lauren Michele Jackson wrote at the time, “The unknown unknowns surrounding Ambrose contribute to his attraction, in collaboration with actor Chance Perdomo’s soul-captivating good looks, which he expertly plays to magnetic effect. But nothing so trite as ‘mysterious’ distinguishes Ambrose from the slate of delightful personalities that romp across Greendale. Rather than any number of traits, his allure is better attributed to the atmosphere left hanging in every scene he appears in, lingering when he is away. Ambrose doesn’t conjure so much as emit from every sly movement, every lolling turn of phrase.”

In Sabrina’s latest batch of episodes, which premiered on Netflix last Friday, Ambrose is in a very different place. Free for the first time in decades, he relishes the joys of the witch world and often sees himself butting heads with Sabrina, who seeks to disrupt the very system he’s anxiously moving back into. Meanwhile, he’s also drawn closer toward Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), leading to many tense nights in the Spellman household. I recently spoke with Perdomo about his character’s journey, how fashion informs his performance, and how an audition to play Jughead on Riverdale led to this breakout role.

I read that you originally auditioned for Jughead on Riverdale, and that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa was so taken by your audition tape he ended up writing Ambrose for you.
That is correct. Crazy, huh? Apparently it was super, super close. And then he was like, “I’m going to keep this kid in mind.” And he did, unbeknownst to me, even in the audition process when I was on the Warner lot in front of three sets of execs. He mentioned he remembered me from that audition, but I didn’t know that he’d written this character for me! So it’s mad, it’s mad.

That is! Can you tell me about that Riverdale audition tape?
It was the initial narration when Riverdale opens up in the pilot. It’s a moody, film noir narration on the kind of town Riverdale is and the people in it. When I watched the pilot, I was like, “Ah, I kind of know this!”

How were you ultimately cast as Ambrose?
I did a screen test with Kieran and the monologue in front of the execs. And then two days later, just before I was about to fly out, I found out — “You got it, kid.” There were no words for it! David Rappaport, the casting director, sent me a text with all-caps saying. “CONGRATS!” And then my managers called me and said, “You’ve been here for, like, ten minutes!” I was like, “Thank you guys so much, but I need to call you back because I have to call my mum!” I called my mother and she was like, “What? OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! I’m driving! Wait, wait!” And then she pulled over and I heard [mimics retching noises]. She was so overcome with emotion she had to pull over because she was heaving.

Oh my God! That’s sweet, in a weird way.
Yeah, it was a beautiful moment! One of my favorite moments I’ve ever had. We were both crying together on the phone like idiots.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Hand to heart, I’ve always wanted to be two things. When I was three years old, the first thing I said was, “Mommy, I want to be the first black president of the United States.” And the second thing was, “I want to be on Barney.” Now, it would have been hard to do the first one, but the equivalent of being on Barney is being an actor. I was about 17 when I figured, “This could be a legit thing. It’s not just school plays or theater groups anymore.”

Was there something specifically that happened when you were 17, or did you just realize you wanted to go for it?
It was a few things. There’s this theater in Southampton called the Mayflower Theater. I did Bugsy Malone there, and then they recommended that I join something called the National Youth Theater — it’s a program where you join and you have opportunities to train and to act in London and around the country. I auditioned and I got in and I went to college, and then I went to do a law degree. As I was doing my law degree, I was doing a show in London. I was selling shoes and every dime, every dollar, every pound that I made was put back into acting.

And so, I’m in the show and I was still doing my law degree, but I’d gone on an audition and gotten through the final round and I’d just gotten a TV show. A child’s program! I was like, “That’s it! I made it!” [Laughs.] It was either my law exams or the show, but they were going to clash, so I took a leap of faith and I did the show. After the show, I heard nothing. It was radio silence for a year and a half.

Damn.
I know! But I didn’t let it deter me. I started acting at this part-time school called Elementary School of Acting where people like John Boyega, Malachi Kirby all went there. They kind of specialize in young, black British actors. As soon as I accepted their philosophy, I was getting role after role, and then Sabrina. It felt like a long process, but then suddenly when it came, it really came.

I’m glad it came because I really love your performance as Ambrose. He has this longing he has to be in the inner circle of the Church of Night, which causes tension within the Spellman family, especially between him and Sabrina. How do you think the dynamic between him and Sabrina has changed?
The dynamic definitely starts to get strained. Sabrina, yes, she’s self-actualizing and what not, but she’s kind of ignorant of the consequences of her actions. The people who’ve suffered the consequences of her actions [are] her aunties and Ambrose. They’ve been taking the brunt of whatever she’s caused, imposing her will or justice on others. And that has consequences.

As I watched the new episodes, I wondered to myself, “What is behind Ambrose’s intense desire to be closer to Father Blackwood?” To me, it speaks to a loneliness within the character. Why do you think Ambrose wants to be a part of the inner circle?
If you remember [Sabrina] part one, we get a hint as to Ambrose’s past with the whole Vatican bombing and how he saw a father figure in Alistair Crowley. He always seeks a powerful father figure. He looks for powerful figures because he doesn’t necessarily feel powerful himself. I can’t give it away, but there’s so much in his past that has caused him to seek power. He’s always battling his past, and that manifests in an icky way. Especially now that he’s on probation from being under house arrest. How can he move on and become a functioning member of the witch society? You see his past coming into the fray. You see the kind of torture in his eyes.

At the end of episode four, we’re told that Ambrose’s boyfriend Luke has died offscreen. I’m not even sure I believe it, to be honest. Father Blackwood lies like everybody else breathes air.
He breathes lies!

But still, were they any conversations on set about the Bury Your Gays trope? Or does it play out in a way that subverts the usual trope?
It will definitely subvert expectations. Whether or not it will exceed your expectations is up to the individual, but it will definitely take a turn you do not expect.

What do you hope for Ambrose’s future? Sabrina has already been renewed, so we’re going to see a lot more of him. Is there anything about his backstory that you hope to see explored?
I don’t want it to be unfolded quickly. He has such a rich past that can’t be delved into in a single sitting — well, maybe a special or something where we can get some answers into his predicament. I’d definitely like him to be able to use his necromancy as well. Those are two key things. I mean, we have a graveyard on the mortuary premises!

Let’s talk about Ambrose’s style before you go. Every character really has a distinct sense of fashion that reflects who they are. How does Ambrose’s wardrobe influence your understanding of the character? Ambrose is so suppressed and has been trampled on so much. That’s one of his key elements, right? If he’s been quieted down and suppressed by all around him, then you best believe his outfit’s going to be loud! It’s his quiet rebellion. Under witch law, if he leaves the premises he explodes, so the next best thing to him is, “I’m going to wear what I want and do what I want.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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