The Gargoyle King is dead. Long live the Gargoyle Queen. In a delicious twist that Riverdale has been revving up for all season, none other than Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt) was revealed to be the creative mastermind terrorizing the town with her merry gang of psychopaths, her destiny that was the culmination of many years of trauma, loss, and anger. (Let’s not forget she was groomed as a child bride and lived through her husband’s murdering her son.) And while her final quest to make the show’s core quartet “as dark-hearted as the town that birthed them” ultimately failed, Penelope was able to slip away unscathed into the night and is likely planning her next move for when Riverdale returns in its senior year.
Before the finale aired on Wednesday, Vulture had a chat with Boltt to learn more about what it was like to play a Big Bad, as well as how she sees herself in the grander scheme of television villains. Oh, and her madam outfits!
What a great twist!
I’m really excited that it worked out like that for her. The show had been pretty quiet with Penelope lately, so it came as a complete shock to me.
I’m trying to think of a family as screwed up as the Blossoms, but I’m drawing a blank.
There’s a bit of therapy required. [Laughs] Ideally from someone with body armor and a Taser.
I can’t help but feel somewhat bad for Penelope — she’s gone through some of the worst trauma a woman could possibly experience. Is there any redemption for her at this point, or is she a total goner in your eyes?
What do you think? Would you want to have her redeemed and understand why she’s so horrendous?
I love a good villain backstory.
As soon as we started showing a bit of her humanity, people sat up and starting going, Okay, yes, I understand who she is and why she’s doing these things. She’s definitely the most watchable of the twisted parents. With her having a more human side, she’s developed into a pretty iconic character. The fact that she didn’t go in to save her daughter but rather bought Betty from the Farm was definitely a dark moment. There’s a respect from Penelope toward her daughter; she knows Cheryl can take care of herself. Cheryl has looked after herself so much — we had that great scene where Penelope calls her and says, “Keep your bow and arrow close.” As much as she gives Cheryl a hard time, she knows she’s going to be okay. There’s this crazy competition between all of the Blossom and Cooper women who never doubt they’ll make it through to the next round. So yeah, I think there’s redemption in Penelope.
Do you think she began her redemption cycle by not killing the kids?
Well, she talks about what a hideous and cruel place the entire town is. You have to feel for her in that she’s recognized something deeply wrong with Riverdale, and if she were completely unredeemable, she wouldn’t care and would probably join in with the drug gangs and gangsters. Instead, she was being her strategic self and showing people what this town is actually about. I think that’s why she didn’t kill the kids in the end. She saw they were redeemable. The way Veronica jumped to drink Betty’s poison, and the way the group looked after each other throughout that whole ordeal, proved to Penelope that there’s hope.
I have to admit, I was surprised Penelope got away with it. For now, anyway.
When I was told about being the Gargoyle King, I honestly thought this was it for my character. How could she get to live after doing the things she’s done? That wonderful scene at the banquet table where she says, “Is there anything more dreadful than a loss of a child?” That speaks to me as a parent — I really can’t think of anything worse. It’s a beautifully dark thing to do.
How did you prepare for your big reveal monologue? Was there any inspiration you wanted to seek out?
It was very cathartic. [Laughs] I spoke to Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] about it. I watched a few films, looking for inspiration — like The Hunger Games, especially the character Effie, played by Elizabeth Banks — those kinds of films where there’s terrorizing of children. Roberto was just like, “Play it real, play it straight. There’s nothing you need to push except the humanity.” That scene took 13 hours to film. I remember shaking and being quite surprised by the emotion I felt, letting the pain and pent-up frustration of Penelope come through. It’s an expression of people who are deeply traumatized and dealing with PTSD, and as much as they think they’ve dealt with it as an adult, deep inside [they’re] still a very, very hurt child. I really understand it because there’s a lot of pain in my family from the Catholic Church. When children are traumatized at a young age, it’s very difficult to get over and it informs the rest of your life. In seasons to come, I can see Penelope trying to overcome that and trying to grow into something else. But for now, it was all about Penelope’s childhood pain and the fact that she had nobody on her side.
I’m curious about how you personally define Penelope. Is she a serial killer? A criminal mastermind? I was wildly impressed by her Martha Stewart–like attention to detail throughout that final quest.
She’s a patient criminal mastermind, which the other villains of the show aren’t. She’s thoughtful and patient. I’ve always likened her to a chess game — she’s a king or a queen on the board, possibly both. She’ll wait and plan while everyone’s doing drugs and rounding up their gangs and beating each other up. She’ll help pit them against each other and then continue on. She’s a new kind of villain. She’s similar to Cersei on Game of Thrones, but she’s not that bitter. There’s a grace to Penelope that nobody else possesses.
Aside from murdering people, you got to play a madam this season. Was embracing that kinky side as much fun as it looked?
It was the best. Roberto and I had joked about that for a while before she got the Maple Club — like, Penelope had a 50 Shades of Grey–esque pain room in her house before it burnt down. [Laughs] The wonderful thing is no matter how down-and-out Penelope is, she dresses with incredible class. God knows where her wardrobe has been this whole time! In the first season, I was exclusively dressed in this tweed equestrian look, and by the time I was Madame Blossom, I was wearing Roberto Cavalli and La Perla.
I’d love to know the budget for your madam wardrobe alone.
I have no idea what the budget is, but it definitely jumped. [Laughs.] But I will say, I’m hugely inspired by my childhood growing up watching Bugsy Malone. Tallulah, played by Jodie Foster, was my absolute icon. That’s part of what inspired the look, that iconic flapper style. That’s where you can bring a twinkle into the performance — that slight smirk. Not only is she exceptionally dressed with a room at the Five Seasons Hotel, but she’s running a fetish-fantasy dominatrix club. She gets to express herself in ways Riverdale has to accept in good humor. The prop masters had so much fun decorating the Maple Club. Paddles, handcuffs, you name it. When I asked where they bought them, they blushed and went, “Well, it was a fun day in the office.” Let’s just say everybody always had fun filming in the Maple Club.
I was so sad to learn about Luke Perry’s death earlier this year — every single person who’s worked with him had nothing but the fondest of stories to share. When you look back at the time you’ve spent with him, is there a memory that will always stay with you?
He brought a fun, loving, playful energy to set every day. What stands out for me is he’s such a doting dad. For the first two seasons I was commuting from New Zealand, because my husband and son lived there. I didn’t get to see my son very often. Luke was so excited for me to see him when he was finally able to come over to visit. Luke walked into my trailer while I was getting my make-up done, and my son was sitting on my lap. He hugged both of us so affectionately and said, “You don’t know how happy this makes me to see you two together.” From one doting parent to another doting parent, you know exactly what that means.