Josie McCoy is on a mission to make a name for herself and her Pussycats. A powerhouse in pussycat ears, Riverdale's teen rock star is determined not to let anything stand in her way. And that's not a bad thing.
Ambitious women on TV are often punished, sometimes even villainized, for their relentless drive to succeed, but on Riverdale, Josie's brash confidence is championed. For actress Ashleigh Murray, Josie's ambition is paramount to the character, and it's a quality she envisioned for the teen from the very beginning — before she'd even read the script. In many ways, Josie is an extension of Murray. A self-described theater geek, Murray was the resident drama queen of her high school, a badge she still wears proudly. That innate charisma is on full display on the CW series.
MTV News chatted with Murray, the leader of the Pussycats, about the exact moment she cracked Josie, how she thinks the Pussycats would fare in New York City, and the struggle of finding Josie and the Pussycats' modern sound.
You had me at Justin Gingerlake.
Ashleigh Murray: [Laughs] That was a fun day, shooting that! It was also great auditioning with that, too.
That was part of your audition?
Murray: That was my audition scene. I had gotten the script and the sides while I was on my way home from grocery shopping. I was like, Who is Josie? I hadn't even read it yet. But I knew that she was the kind of character who wore heels all the time, and if she wore sneakers, they'd have to have a wedge and maybe some studs. And she always has her lip gloss on. Then I read the script, and she says, "Read my glossed lips," and that's when I was like, I got this. I know who Josie is.
I love that you knew who Josie was before you even read a single line of dialogue. Did you pull inspiration from anyone in particular?
Murray: I honestly pulled from myself. They said that she was sassy and snotty, and I knew that she might come off a little aggressive, so I wanted to turn that around, especially for someone who's trying to be a rock star. Maybe she's just really confident, and people aren't used to that? So I pulled some of my confidence out and went from there. I didn't want to pull from anyone else because I didn't want her to be like anything that people had seen before.
I've seen a lot of people describe her as the Beyoncé of the group.
Murray: I feel like everybody uses Beyoncé to describe anyone powerful and amazing, and I am not complaining.
How did you find Josie and the Pussycats' sound for the show? Because I know you worked closely with showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on it.
Murray: We talked a little bit about it when we were starting to shoot the pilot. I had some input on who I felt like our girl band should be and how it should be perceived. For me, it was about rocking girl power. I was able to help choose the songs we sing in the pilot, but they're still trying to define their sound. There's a lot of cover shows that they're doing. I feel like in the background, Josie's probably creating some kind of showcase to step outside of the favors that she does for Cheryl and her mother to give the world a taste of who she feels like she is and what she really sounds like. So we're still discovering her sound, and I hope we really get to explore it in Season 2.
That feels realistic for a 16-year-old, though.
Murray: The one thing that she absolutely knows for sure is her aesthetic. She loves the idea of the Pussycats. She loves what it means to be a Pussycat, and she doesn't want to let that go. She likes the cat ears and the leopard print. She wants to make a statement, physically and visually. She definitely knows how she wants to be perceived, but she's just figuring out the music.
She's so tenacious. Do you see a lot of her in your high school self?
Murray: I do, but it was about theater for me. I definitely stood out when I was in high school. Usually, when people are asked, "Would you ever do high school again?" a good 99 percent of them say, "Oh god, no. I would never do that again." I would absolutely go back to high school. I was just this little theater geek. I joined the drama program my freshman year. I read the morning announcements my sophomore year. I didn't have to eat in the cafeteria with everyone else because my drama teacher was cool. Everybody knew who I was, and that's all I ever wanted as a theater kid. So I do feel like I was Josie in a way, but I like getting to play her because she has this unrelenting confidence that I don't think I necessarily had at 16.
She's definitely a big fish in a small pond. How do you think Josie would fare in New York City?
Murray: I think she would explode in New York City just like I did! If we ever did get a spin-off, I hope it follows her first trip to New York City. I think she would lose her mind. She would do really well, but I'm not sure her Pussycats would fare the same.
You don't think her Pussycats could hang?
Murray: Valerie might be able to hang, but I'm not sure Melody would want to do it because she's got her own aspirations outside of music — she just happens to know how to play the drums and love performing, but it's not her dream. So it might create a rift because New York isn't for everyone. You have to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of spirit to really connect to a city like that, and Josie absolutely has that.
I feel like it's safe to say that the female characters on Riverdale are running the show. Do you feel like the show is powered by the strength of its women?
Murray: I absolutely do. All of these women are smart and willful and confident. You won't find a traditional ditz here, and they don't need a guy to make them feel fulfilled. It's so refreshing. I actually enjoy watching everyone else more so than I do performing. I love being able to sit back and watch the first cut of an episode. Madelaine [Petsch] is so amazing, and Lili [Reinhart] and Cami [Mendes] are so strong and passionate. It gives me that kind of fire, and I'm in the show.
Josie and the Pussycats operate on the periphery. They're helping Archie with his songwriting and performing at town events, but that's pretty much it so far. Does Josie get to interact with more characters this season?
Murray: This season is about the murder of Jason Blossom, and though she has a professional friendship with Cheryl, she didn't hang out with Jason. So Josie's kind of removed from all of the craziness that's going on, and she's focused on her music. Archie does create some drama when he starts batting his eyes at my band members, so that will unfold.
I definitely caught that look Val gives Archie in the pilot, so I'm assuming Josie is not a fan?
Murray: Oooh, she doesn't like it. And you see how much she doesn't like it in Episode 6. That's also a big episode for Josie. You see who she is behind closed doors and why she is the way she is through her relationship with her parents.
You guys seem like an incredibly close cast, especially you and your Pussycats.
Murray: It's hard for me when I'm not on set because I just like being around everyone. We're all kind of the only friends we have out there [in Vancouver] because we're the only ones we know. It's just as ridiculous on set as it is off. KJ [Apa] is constantly messing with our boom operator Paul, rubbing his chest and messing up takes. But there's no place I'd rather be than on set with everybody, which is why I'd be so sad if I couldn't see them all the time if Josie and the Pussycats do get a spin-off.
You're going to have some major separation anxiety.
Murray: I always do. I think I may be the only one going back to New York after we wrap, and it's just like, Really? I can't keep anyone? I'm not moving to L.A.! That's not happening, unless I have to. But I don't want to. Everyone needs to come back to New York.