Erinn Westbrook on Tabitha Tate’s Pivotal ‘Riverdale’ Episode

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Erinn Westbrook has come to realize that anything is possible in the dark and twisted world of Riverdale. In the year and a half since she joined the main cast of the hit CW drama, Westbrook has seen her castmates play out some of the most absurd plot twists—including, but not limited to: a time jump that catapulted the story seven years into the future, a five-episode event set in an alternate universe called “Rivervale,” and a house explosion that resulted in the inexplicable acquisition of superpowers for some of the original characters.

And in this past Sunday’s episode, Tabitha Tate—the ambitious, entrepreneurial young woman played by Westbrook who arrived to Riverdale in hopes of breathing new life into her grandfather Pop’s iconic diner—discovers she has the power to time travel when she is forced to go head-to-head with the new villain in town, Percival Pickens (Chris O’Shea).

“[The writers] really test boundaries and they go to so many different places. You just have to be prepared for anything on the show,” Westbrook tells W over the phone from St. Louis, where she was enjoying the holiday weekend with her family before flying back to Vancouver to resume production on Riverdale. “I will say I’ve heard a lot of fan feedback—and even from some cast mates—that Tabitha is the most grounded of all of the characters in so many ways. But now, obviously, she has a superpower that will definitely change the way we see her.”

In her Beauty Notes interview, Westbrook—who is also known for her work on Glee, Insatiable, and The Resident—spoke about the immediate appeal of playing an educated and strong-willed Black woman on Riverdale, Tabitha’s relationship with Jughead (Cole Sprouse), her favorite moments from the latest Tabitha-centric episode, and her go-to skincare products.

What was it about the way Tabitha was written on the page that immediately appealed to you as an actor and as a person?

I received the audition for Tabitha [in the] summer of 2020, a few months into the pandemic. One silver lining of that time when everything was locked down was the fact that so many of us were forced to slow down and really think consciously about what we were doing. We were also amid an inspiring resurgence of Black Lives Matter. So, as an African American woman in the midst of serious introspection, I was more focused than ever on the types of characters I wanted to play and the stories I wanted to tell. I was honestly looking for a character like Tabitha Tate. From the material, I could tell she was strong, courageous, ambitious, smart, passionate, kind, confident, and undaunted by a challenge. She comes in with this fresh perspective, and I think, having not grown up in Riverdale, she is someone who comes at it with a very mature mind-set; she knows who she is when she arrives.

Tabitha, like you, has been a breath of fresh air on this show, and she has slowly revealed parts of herself through her conversations and investigations with Jughead. What do you think Tabitha and Jughead saw in each other as friends that laid a foundation for a romance, and what has been your favorite part of bringing that relationship to life with Cole?

Tabitha was intrigued by Jughead from the start, even if she does not necessarily want to admit it. I think Pop’s opinion of Jughead and the history they share is something Tabitha notes and that makes her soften a bit and want to get to know him better. When she does, she realizes just how good of a person Jughead is and their relationship takes off from there. We have seen Tabitha and Jughead lean on each other at various points and they, of course, grow closer through those times. While they obviously have their romantic relationship, they are also best friends, partners, confidantes. Cole and I have talked about how mature they are and how easy their relationship seems to be. Nothing is forced. The world around them is crazy and there is so much happening and changing all the time, but they very consistently, and beautifully, find solace in each other.

In the last episode, Tabitha discovered that Percival had plans that would lead to the demise of Pop’s. What does Tabitha ultimately discover about herself and her family by going against Percival and unlocking her new time-traveling superpower?

In this episode, Tabitha is ultimately trying to take down Percival in all of the eras, in all the ways that she can. She sees him everywhere. I love that we also touch upon really important issues, one of which is racism and racial tension in America throughout the ages. Obviously, you can’t have an African American woman travel to the past and ignore the realities of the time. I’m so glad that Evan Martin, an African American writer for Riverdale, and the writers’ room as a whole, chose to confront those realities through a character like Tabitha.

I also really appreciate the emphasis on how important community and coming together has been throughout time. Tabitha really cares about Pop’s because of the legacy and what it’s meant to people, but through the episode, she actually gets to experience that legacy first-hand.

What was your favorite part of revisiting so many different time periods?

In the ’40s, Tabitha has no idea what’s going on. She’s just seeing Jughead in angel form, and it’s really [the Tate family’s guardian angel] Raphael [played by Hamza Fouad]. He’s like, “I look like your boyfriend, but I’m not your boyfriend.” He hands her this book, [and] she finds out that she’s “chrono-kinetic.” She goes to this meeting with her great-grandfather, and they’re talking about making Riverdale a sundown town. And in that moment, it’s so beautiful that in the midst of this mental chaos, she’s able to still stand up and speak her mind and talk about why [that] would be horrendous and horrific, and [she] calls out racism right then and there.

Another thing that stands out was when she lands in the ’60s, right as Dr. King is giving his famous speech, and she realizes, “Oh my gosh, he’s alive, and this is the night before he’s going to be assassinated.” She wants to try to fix that. And we learn later that there are certain events in history that she will not be able to change because they’ve had such a lasting impact, and they’ve changed the course of history that they’re permanent, no matter what she does. It’s her conviction in every era to do the right thing, to try to do what’s best for her people and for just the community at large and the world. She always feels like she can do something about whatever is happening around her.

You wrote in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post that “our differences should not be seen as difficulties” in the entertainment industry. How would you say the experiences you had on sets early in your career have influenced your outlook on the importance of diversity behind the camera?

The landscape is shifting in Hollywood, and I am certainly grateful for that. I want to believe people in the industry are more conscious of how important diversity at every level is, and that there is more of a concerted effort within the industry to embrace it. There is also much more accountability than there was even a decade ago, and that is significant. It is important to feel seen, valued, understood—and that comes with representation and communication, both in front of the camera and behind it. Diversity across the industry is paramount to successful storytelling.

Let’s move on to some of the Beauty Notes questions. What’s the first thing you do in the morning, beauty-wise?

I drink water right when I wake up. I’ll often have warm water with lemon, or a green tea—something that’s detoxing and good for me. In terms of cleansing, I keep it pretty simple: I wash my face with cold water and a gentle soap that doesn’t strip my skin, something like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or La Roche-Posay Hydrating Gentle Cleanser. I also use Georgia Louise’s Cryo Freeze Tools—they’re amazing. You keep them in the freezer and they help you depuff and tighten. And I always use a moisturizer in the morning—I’m currently using Caudalie’s Grape Water, and then I use sunscreen. My favorite is the Unseen Sunscreen by Supergoop.

You’re most well-known internationally for your work as an actress, but you began your career as a model and a TV host. What are some of the most important beauty tips and tricks you’ve picked up from working on different sets?

To drink water—I can’t emphasize that enough—and get sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep and you don’t drink enough water, it will show up on camera for sure. [Laughs.]

What’s the best bit of beauty advice that you’ve ever received, and who was it from?

Just to keep it simple. Growing up, I watched my mom do her makeup, which would mainly be for occasions, and she would literally only do a bit of eyeshadow, maybe a blush and a lipstick—nothing too heavy. She’s truly a natural beauty, and her skin’s amazing. To this day, I don’t even think she owns a foundation. So I love the idea of less is more, and I try to stick to it when I can.

Is there a makeup or skincare product you can’t live without?

Silk pillow cases. They’re really good for your skin and your hair, and I’ve been using them forever.

What is the biggest skincare rule that you abide by?

Washing my face every night, no matter what. That’s so important, especially when you’re wearing a ton of makeup. Even on days when I’m not wearing makeup, I make sure that I do a deep cleanse every night because we’re constantly being confronted with pollutants in the air. Wearing sunscreen, and making sure to take it all off at the end of the day, is really important to me.

What is a major skincare investment you’ve made that was worth it?

Weekly facials. As an actor, I have to wear a lot of makeup, I’m constantly under lights, getting touched up on set or at events. So the best thing I can do for my face is to get a professional cleanse. And even when I’m not filming, I try to stay on top of that. It makes a difference.

You and the rest of the cast spend about 10 months of the year in Vancouver, but you’ve said in past interviews that you try to fly back to the States to see your family whenever you have an opening in your schedule. How do you unwind when you have some time off? What’s your favorite form of self-care?

[My] favorite form of self-care on the days off when I’m in Vancouver, when I don’t have the chance to travel with all my loved ones, is massages. They really help with my overall well-being. It’s obviously very easy, especially in our industry, to feel like you have to go, go, go all the time, so I’ll often try to do little self-care moments at home. I have an amazing eucalyptus shower spray, and I obviously do hair masks and face masks. [But] I feel like by actually setting an appointment to get a massage at a spa, I’m making the commitment to slow down for a bit.

What’s your nightly bedtime beauty routine?

I always take a shower, and I do use that eucalyptus shower spray, which transforms my shower into a steam room. But my nighttime routine is obviously removing makeup or sunscreen, and depending on what I have on, I’ll use either micellar water or a cleansing balm to remove everything. And on days when I wear makeup, I always use a clean, white face towel. That’s important because you can see everything that’s coming off and you can make sure that everything’s off your skin. I soak it in cold water, gently remove whatever residue might be left over, and then I wash my face.

I rotate between face washes depending on what I feel like my skin needs on any given day, but Joanna Vargas’ Vitamin C Face Wash is something that I always love. And then if it’s an exfoliation day instead of a simple wash, I will use Joanna Vargas’ Exfoliating Clay Mask or La Mer’s Replenishing Oil Exfoliator. And then I will finish with a face mist, a moisturizer and an eye mask. So the eye treatment I’m currently loving is Uma’s Absolute Anti Aging Eye Oil. I’m not a huge fan of eye creams, but I love eye oils, and that one’s really cool. And then the moisturizer I use is Sente’s Dermal Repair Ultra-Nourish Cream.



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