On this week’s episode of Riverdale, Tabitha Tate (Erinn Westbrook) takes a trip through time. And not only that — and spoilers for “Angels in America” past this point — it’s to some of the darker parts of American history, as the show takes on sundown towns, the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and more. That’s of course between the show’s usual weirdness, with angels, demons and the aforementioned time travel.
“I do think it’s easy in the world of make believe and supernatural elements to gloss over certain issues or pretend like they don’t exist,” Westbrook told Decider about the episode, “but issues like that can’t and really shouldn’t be ignored, especially when you have an African-American character traveling back in time.”
In case you’re a little behind on Riverdale, in Season 6 the show has gone full-fledged supernatural, with characters like Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) able to read minds, and now Tabitha able to travel through time. For her, though, the trip has extra significance. Fed up with her meddling, new villain Percival Pickens (Chris O’Shea), who has the power to coerce people into doing things, sets it up so that Tabitha gets shot while working at Pop’s Diner.
Only instead of killing her, it activates her “gift” of time travel. Along with an angel named Raphael, played alternately by Sprouse, Vanessa Morgan and Lili Reinhart in different time periods, Tabitha figures out how to stop Percival at different points in time, and ultimately get home to warn the gang of an impending apocalypse. To find out more about filming the episode, Tabitha’s relationship with Jughead, and much more, read on.
Decider: You’ve been on the show for about two seasons now, but this is the first time you’ve had an entire episode built around the character… And you’re in, I believe, nearly every single scene. What was the experience like?
Erinn Westbrook: I mean, it was exhausting, but in the very best way. It was a wonderful opportunity to put a spotlight on Tabitha, I think she’s very deserving of it. The character is a really special and unique one. It was great, we had a wonderful writer, Evan Martin, who led the writing of this episode and we had an incredible director, Claudia Yarmy. So it was a very beautiful, collaborative experience. Yes, I was in every scene, except for three, I believe, so that was like 64 out of the 67 scenes, it was something like that. I had to day by day it, but each day I knew we were doing really great work and we were telling an important story, so I was really excited. I’m glad that it turned out the way it did, it’s a special one.
Tabitha seems to be stepping up in a big way post Rivervale, now that we’re back in Riverdale. What’s it been like going head to head with Chris O’Shea’s Percival Pickens?
Tabitha definitely has a stronger footing in Riverdale this season. She’s no longer the new girl in town, she’s definitely found her groove. She’s overcome a lot of challenges. She has a leadership role in the town council. She continues to fight the good fight, I always say that Tabitha is fighting the good fight. She’s completely undaunted by a challenge, and is very protective of Pop’s and obviously the town of Riverdale and its inhabitants. So she is not afraid of a showdown with Percival because she knows she can see through him, essentially. A lot of people are under his spell and she’s not one of them, she wants to make sure that he knows it and that she protects Riverdale as best she can. Chris is a wonderful actor, I often tell him he’s almost too good at the role of this antagonist. So we’ve had a lot of fun going head to head, and we’ll just have to see, good vs. evil, who wins at the end.
It’s been great to see the character get back to how she was originally presented, using her business school degree to really push Pop’s, push the brand, in the last episode we saw her working with Veronica and Toni… How has her stepping up that aspect of the character been for you?
It’s been wonderful to see Tabitha teaming up with a lot of people we haven’t seen her work with previously. So yes, you mentioned Veronica, we see her with Toni, we see her with Archie, Cheryl, Betty… She’s really lucky that she’s finding her groove. She is a businesswoman, and she thinks pretty critically and analytically about a lot of things, so she always has a plan. It benefits her greatly, and the town of Riverdale, and I think the community really respects her. That’s why she has this leadership role on the council, by the way. Very quickly, people respect Tabitha and her ideas and they know that she is someone who can get whatever job that is in front of her done, and done well.
What your reaction was when you heard that Tabitha would be getting a power too? And in general, what has the feeling on set been as the show has full-fledged gone into the supernatural?
I was really excited when I heard that Tabitha was getting a power, this gift. It’s probably the cooler one of the powers, honestly. I’m looking around at everybody else, and I’m like, “Ah, I think Tabitha has the best skill at this point.” While it was surprising for me, in terms of us all leaning into the supernatural elements of Riverdale, nothing’s truly a huge surprise anymore at this point. There’s obviously so much going on in the world of Riverdale, so anything is fair game and we’re all just embracing it, and excited to see where this goes. As you know, we’re still actively filming right now, I’m literally on set in my trailer, and we’re shooting some new cool stuff today… We’re all always just game for whatever come our way, because that’s what we signed up for on Riverdale. It’s a fun ride, for sure.
In this episode, even when you’re dealing with time travel and angels, you’re also hitting some incredibly powerful topics dealing with racism throughout history. So from a performance perspective, how do you feel you found the right balance between these wild supernatural aspects, and treating it realistically?
I think you said it perfectly. Obviously we do touch on really important and real issues of racism and racial tension throughout the times. I do think it’s easy in the world of make believe and supernatural elements to gloss over certain issues or pretend like they don’t exist, but issues like that can’t and really shouldn’t be ignored, especially when you have an African-American character traveling back in time. So I am really glad and grateful that Evan Martin, the writer of this episode of Riverdale, and the rest of the team chose to confront those realities through Tabitha and her journey. And I have to say, we obviously don’t have enough time to do a true historical deep dive in the episode, so you’ll hear a mention of the Green Book and the sundown towns and significant historical figures and events, they come up. But there’s also a major focus on just how important community is, and how important Pop’s is and institutions like Pop’s have been over the course of time, so it’s a true safe haven. It’s really cool that Tabitha gets to live out the legacy of Pop’s, which is something that she focuses on and has touched upon in previous episodes as well. It’s very real, what we’re doing, and it’s a cool way to tie in the supernatural, but also the very realistic issues of those specific times, for sure.
You just touched on this, but I wanted to ask you in particular about those things like the sundown towns, the Green Book… Certainly they’ve been highlighted in movies and on TV shows recently in different ways, but particularly for the younger audience that Riverdale has, this might be the first time they’re encountering a lot of these parts of history. Maybe this is more of a script question, but what was the discussion like on set, if any, in terms of getting these aspects as accurate as possible?
I feel like you’d have to talk to Evan Martin the writer, but Evan Martin is an African-American writer, he took this very seriously because it’s history, it’s our history. Every effort was made in the writer’s room to bring these things up with respect and with accuracy. And like I said, we couldn’t do a historical deep dive into everything; some things, like with the Green Book, there’s just a quick reference made. But the hope is that people will, if this is the first time they’re hearing about something like this that they didn’t hear about in their history class or social studies, that maybe they will do a quick Google and do their own research as well. I’m hoping there’s some thoughts that happen after this episode, and that there are important conversations that happen as well. I think that there will be, for sure.
There’s one specific moment I wanted to talk about, the scene in the diner where they find out that MLK has died. Particularly for Tabitha, who knows it’s coming, it’s so hard to watch and so visceral, but beautifully played. What was it like to actually play out that scene on set?
I’m glad you brought that up, Alex, because that was one of my most notable moments on set. Because obviously, Martin Luther King means a lot to the world and the community at large, but he means a lot to me as an African-American woman moving through this world. I’ve obviously heard his speech, I’ve seen documentaries on him, I’ve read about him in books, and history books and I’ve been taught about him throughout my life, not just by teachers but my family. So it’s not a new story, and we all know unfortunately how the story ends — or continues in a way. But to have to live out that moment and to be in that space of Tabitha, and have to really immerse myself and really believe that I’m listening to this happen for the first time, but knowing that it was coming, it was really powerful, and it was also really heartbreaking. So the emotions that you see play out in that scene are very real. I did not have to really try hard to convey the sadness and the heartbreak that I know millions around the world felt at that exact moment in time, and still feel today.
To completely flip it and talk about something on a more positive side, as you are jumping through these different time periods, you get a lot of different really fun looks for Tabitha. Did you have one that was a particular favorite for you?
I have to say, I liked the hair of the ’40s, but I liked the look of the ’60s. It was so fun, and it’s just so fun to play dress up and to step into different spaces in time, and so that was definitely a fun aspect of traveling back in time, all the different outfits and makeup and hair looks that we could play around with. It’s fun to look back on photos, for sure.
I talked to Cole Sprouse a while back and he was so effusive and so positive about working with you. What’s it been like playing this steady, adult relationship between Tabitha and Jughead?
Aw, man. I love working with Cole, he’s super talented, he’s easy to work with, we play off each other really well and we’ve become really good friends, so it’s always fun when we’re filming together. Tabitha and Jughead seem to have something really good going on right now. They’re of course in a romantic relationship, they’re also best friends, partners, confidantes. We’ve seen Tabitha and Jughead lean on each other at various points, and they of course grow closer through those times. Like you said, the relationship is beautifully mature, and its just easy and stable at this point. There’s always something crazy and intense going on in Riverdale, and the world around them, but it’s clear that in so many ways they find a consistent solace in each other, and I love that for both of them. So we’ll see where it goes.
That said, we’ve seen some of the relationships on the show over the last episode or so go on the rocks… Are Jughead and Tabitha headed for some drama? Or like you said, do they have no time for that with everything that’s going on in Riverdale?
I will say, right now they feel pretty solid. I think the drama is happening in the world around them. But only time will tell, because honestly, like I said, we’re still actively filming, so we’ll just have to see. But for now, I think they’re pretty rock solid.
And on the non-relationship front, I’ve been loving seeing Toni and Tabitha working together in particular. Are we going to keep seeing them pairing up in the future?
Yes. You will. And we are so excited about that. Vanessa and I absolutely love working together, we have such a good time, and Toni and Tabitha are great friends, and so are we. So it’s exciting.
Before I let you go, what else, if anything, can you tease about Tabitha’s journey in season 6?
I’ll just say that Tabitha is really focused on protecting Pop’s and Riverdale at all cost. She’ll continue to explore her new abilities of time jumping, you’ll see that come into play a bit. And you will of course continue to see her spend time with Pop and Jughead. And again, she’ll team up with a lot of characters that we talked about before, but it’s really wonderful that she gets to work with Toni, Archie, Veronica, Cheryl, Betty. And we’ll all continue to lean into the supernatural elements of the show, so there’s lots to look forward to.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Riverdale airs Sundays at 8/7c on The CW.
Soruce : https://decider.com/2022/04/24/riverdale-erinn-westbrook-interview-angels-in-america/