The CW’s “Riverdale” travels far afield from the wholesome 1950s-era “Archie” comic books on which it’s based — but barely resembles.
So when Gina Gershon joined the cast as Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) mother — tough-talking, drug-dealing, leather-wearing Gladys Jones — she says she was surprised by what she found.
“I grew up reading ‘Archie.’ My brother and sister had the comics,” she says. “Of course as a little girl you’re like, ‘Are you Betty or Veronica?’ I was Veronica but then later I was like ‘No, I want to be Josie and the Pussycats’ because I wanted to sing.’ And when they asked me to be Gladys, I was like ‘Jughead’s mother!?’ But I hadn’t seen the show yet.”
Now in Season 3 (8 p.m. Wednesday), the show follows the broad strokes of the classic comics — a jock named Archie (KJ Apa) lives in a small town with his friends — but that’s where the similarities end. This season alone has featured cults, drug rings, evil board games, a bear attack before the SATs and prison fight clubs. So what better time to throw Jughead’s long-lost gangster mom into the fray?
Her storyline thus far has involved re-joining the Jones family and getting her claws in the local gang wars/drug trade, including getting rid of Serpent menace Penny Peabody (Brit Morgan) and threatening Veronica (Camilla Mendes) to pay her back for stolen Fizzle Rocks (a form of drugs on “Riverdale”).
“Gladys does what she’s good at, which is usually illegal,” says Gershon. “She’s an outlaw, an alley cat. I think in today’s world, people who are really tough come from a place of deep insecurity.
“That’s why they pave their own system [and] that’s how they know how to control things. I kind of took that out of the ether. She doesn’t fit the mold of a ‘normal’ mom.”
The show walks a line between melodrama and kitsch, so Gershon, best known for over-the-top classics “Showgirls,” and “Face/Off,” made a perfect addition to the cast.
“ ‘Riverdale’ is interesting because it goes from very serious to kind of campy, depending on which characters and depending on the scene,” says Gershon. “I love the fact that all the parents more or less are such nightmares. The show’s pretty dark and weird and out there. It’s really fun. It’s exciting to be part of that crazy world.”
Gladys made a dramatic entrance in the middle of this season as Jughead’s estranged mom and his dad FP’s (Skeet Ulrich) estranged wife — much to Jughead’s displeasure.
Gershon joins a roster of ’90s TV stars taking roles on the series (as parents) including Madchen Amick (“Twin Peaks”), who plays Betty’s mom, Alice; Mark Consuelos, who plays Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge; and the late Luke Perry (“Beverly Hills, 90210”), as Archie’s dad, Fred.
(Perry’s final “Riverdale” appearance airs Wednesday night. He died March 4 at the age of 52 after suffering a stroke.)
Gershon’s role as Gladys also marks a reunion with Ulrich, with whom she worked on the 1997 movie “Touch.”
“I think it was his first lead in a film,’ she says. “We hadn’t seen each other for years so it was really nice. I always thought he was great and I really loved him as an actor. So we were excited to play ‘husband and wife’ loosely in quotes [since they’re estranged].”
Gershon says she welcomes the tone of a show such as “Riverdale” at this phase in her career.
“I used to do such serious stuff, but I’ve really enjoyed in the last few years doing more comedy.”