Camila Mendes got her break in an unconventional way: by asking for it.
As a student at Tisch School of The Arts in New York City, where she was studying acting, Mendes worked as an intern at a talent agency. At the end of the internship, she asked, point blank, if she could audition to be represented. They said yes, she auditioned, and soon after, was signed to the agency.
It seems simple, but many wouldn’t even think to ask for such an opportunity. “I think as actors, people are waiting to be discovered and they’re waiting for people to be like, ‘Wow. What a talent. I must sign you,’” Mendes tells me. “But really, you have to put yourself out there. And yeah, it’s going to be a little uncomfortable but what’s the worst that can happen, you know?”
For Mendes, the risk was well worth it; now, she stars on one of the most popular CW shows in recent years (Riverdale, in case you live under a rock).
But Mendes’ internship wasn’t just a way into the audition room; it was an important piece of her education. In her classes at Tisch, Mendes was learning the craft of acting (she tells me a story about memorizing the entirety of Angels in America – a seven-hour play – for one of her classes), but it was up to her to learn about the business side of the entertainment industry.
“I didn’t grow up in a family that had that knowledge either,” Mendes says. “Especially having Brazilian immigrants as parents. They understand Hollywood even less than, I think, the typical American family.”
One of the main reasons why Riverdale has inspired such a strong reaction from viewers is that it puts an inclusive twist on a classic story. The show is a subversive take on Archie Comics, exploring the darker, more complicated side of the fictional small town of Riverdale. Set in present day, the show takes several liberties to separate itself from the original comic; including making Mendes’ character, Veronica Lodge, Latina.
“The fact that Veronica’s Latina was something that I thought was a very positive change to make,” Mendes says. “Also, the fact that it’s a Latinx family is very important because we’re being portrayed in a way that not all Latinx characters get to be portrayed. They’re powerful and sophisticated, and I think that’s not something you see a lot in the media.”
Mendes portrays Veronica with icy confidence, but also she has her fair share of vulnerable moments. The emotional depth of all the characters on Riverdale is certainly a refreshing update to the dated comics, allowing for a diverse cast that’s truly representative of their fanbase.
“I know there are a lot of Latino fans that feel represented with me. And a lot of people from LGBTQ community who feel represented in Kevin, and people in the black community feel represented by Ashleigh. It’s nice that everyone can feel represented and have someone to be there and add another flavor, another color to the story. I think that’s very important.”
Mendes, by all accounts, seems to share the same self-possession as her character, Veronica. Her Instagram account is a satisfying mix of self-deprecating humor and snaps of her stunning red carpet looks. In interviews, she’s charming and down to earth. But Mendes is quick to explain that her position in the public eye is often perceived as confidence.
“If you’re an actor, there’s this natural reaction inside of you. You just turn it on and realize like, ‘Okay, now it’s time for me to speak. What do I have to say?’ And I’ve always found that being honest is the best thing you can do,” she explains.
“And usually, honesty translates to confidence. Like when people always say I’m confident it’s like, ‘Am I confident or am I just very honest about what I’m going through?’”
When it comes to her emotions, Mendes admits: “I’m very comfortable with how I feel and I’m usually not that afraid to voice how I feel. I also feel very confident in my intelligence, the way my dad is, and I like incorporating logic into everything that I do. And I think together that just comes across as being very a confident person.”
The ability to tap into emotion is what makes Mendes’ performances so genuine and what allows her to portray such a wide range of characters. In the forthcoming film Coyote Lake, she plays a troubled girl named Esther (“a part-time murderer”, according to Mendes) alongside a predominately Latinx cast.
“I’m just very proud of the whole cast,” Mendes says of Coyote Lake. Everyone just did such an amazing job. It almost feels like a really well-written play when you’re watching it because the relationships in the story are so strong. And what I remember about reading a lot of plays in college was that the relationships and characters are really well-developed.”
At only 24, Mendes is just at the beginning of what will surely be a long, triumphant career; more than most actors can only dream of. But for her, success means more than starring on a hit TV show or gracing red carpets.
While winning an Oscar is typically the ultimate marker of success for actors, Mendes is able to see beyond Hollywood’s most lusted-after mantle decor.
“I mean, every year we see these amazing actors in beautiful films that don’t get nominated. So it’s like, how much weight can you really put on an event?” Mendes says.
“That being said, the Oscars is a celebration of talent and hard work, and there’s a reason why all those people are there. I’m just saying, there’s so much more to be achieved in this industry, and for me success is being able to make a living, challenging myself and doing my art supporting my family. That to me is a success.”