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By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Jun 30, 2018

Deceptive practices and subversive negotiations are not part of Marisol Nichols real-life routine, but the traits of Hermione Lodge – her formidable character on Riverdale – certainly hearken to her own personality. This Chicago born, to a Hungarian/Romanian father and Mexican mother, actress uses her notoriety to put an end to the most nefarious human rights violation, human trafficking. Nichols created the Foundation for a Slavery Free World, to lend her powerful voice to the issue of modern day slavery. She wants people to know that it happens more in their own backyard than they care to realize. According to UNICEF, more than 1.2 million children are trafficked across international borders each year. More than 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year and many of these are children. California is one of the top five states with respect to human trafficking. Nichols has made over eight trips to Washington DC in the past two years to meet with members of Congress and other organizations and has supported crucial trafficking legislation. And her Human Rights Hero Awards, a red carpet event in Los Angeles each year, shines an even more persuasive spotlight on the issue. Nichols has even gone undercover to encounter, first hand, the perpetuators. This did not go unnoticed at the White House. Just recently, Nichols was awarded President Obama’s 2016 Presidential Service Award for her undercover work. We caught up with Nichols to hear her take on her character, Hermione Lodge, keeping her voice in the spotlight to effect change, and staying true to her inner Joan of Arc.

How would you describe your role as Veronica’s mother on Riverdale’s more sinister side to the original Archie comics?

Yes, the show is very complicated, so playing Hermione, she’s very complicated and not one dimensional and without guilt herself, as she would like to believe. And yes, she has to go back to her sort of strong, yet deceptive ways to not only protect her family but to protect her daughter and herself to be honest.

Where do you draw your inspiration for this role?

A lot of it came from Robin Wright Pen and how she plays Claire on House of Cards, especially towards the end of the season. As we start to see more of Hermione’s strength and, not her knifing because that implies that she’s evil, but her intelligence and how she goes about things, sort of came more from a House of Cards sort of feel.

You’ve had such an interesting career trajectory. How would you describe your role as agent Nadia Yassir on 24?

Nadia was a very timely role, because at the time to have a Muslim running a counter terrorism unit was not only controversial but we got to see how that affected Nadia in her role, simply because of her nationality. I applauded the producers of 24 for bringing that subject to the forefront. Just to change the conversation on how ethnicity is viewed in Hollywood and then in the rest of the world was a huge impact.

How would you describe diversity in Hollywood today?

There is a complete change today in how Hollywood allows people of ethnic background and what characters they’re allowed to play. When I first started out in the late 1990’s I couldn’t be ethnic at all. There were virtually no roles… you were maybe the tenth person down the line and you were a gangster or a maid. I was none of those things, nor did I want to play those roles. So, I had to figure out the best way to blend into a very Caucasian oriented Hollywood and then as it changed, it was wonderful because I saw how I was able to change people’s minds. I would go in for a role like Nadia let’s say, the role was originally an all-American character, but when I got the role they changed it and said what do you think of making her from Pakistan? I was like wonderful!

How do you view Hollywood today?

I would like to see the roles without descriptions of the characters…we want an ethnic person for this role, or this person’s Caucasian – couldn’t we just say female or male and let people come in and do their thing? I also believe we have a long way to go with the age of characters. It is ridiculous that a show that calls for a woman to be a neurosurgeon or an accomplished lawyer looks for someone in their late 20’s. Give me a break! We still have a long way to go but I do see it changing and I applaud those changes.

What would you say are your defining moments in your career as an actress?

I would say in the very beginning when I did Vegas Vacation. Audrey Griswold was the whitest girl in America, so to be able to play that role, as a Mexican-American without calling attention to my ethnicity, I thought was amazing. I was so proud of that. And then for me, working for Stephen Bochco (in Blind Justice) in that lead role. That was my first sort of lead role and I conquered something personally to be able to get that. I loved her (Detective Karen Bettencourt) toughness and her being so street wise – I felt a lot of similarities between her and me. And in Riverdale, it’s been really wonderful to be a part of something that speaks directly to our culture right now and our pop culture and the changes we’ve seen Archie go through from the 50’s compared to now.

Where do you stand with the overuse of social media today – can it be harmful to young teenagers?

I think the harm is not knowing what the boundaries are, what you think you should share with the entire public and complete strangers. Reactive posting, I would call it, because it can backfire.  If you have a moment of anger or whatever and you put something out there, it’s out there forever. It is also really easy to insult someone or for you to be insulted by someone who’s a complete stranger hiding behind some picture that they put on the Internet. They can say whatever they want… people would never be that rude in person – where are our manners?

With regards to your Foundation for a Slavery Free World, I applaud you for standing up – what compelled you to lend your voice to such a worthwhile cause?

I couldn’t not do it. I learned too much, I had seen too much in this field of child sex-trafficking and I couldn’t just sit back and go, “oh that’s horrible.” I had to do something. My mother has a human rights organization. She travels all over the world working on human rights and she would tell me these stories – I was horrified. When I learned about children being sold on the Internet for sex in this country, I was like ‘That’s it!’ I can’t not do something about it, I can’t. So that’s how I formed my foundation. I literally, and it’s funny that you interviewed me today because I just got back from Washington D.C. where I received a Presidential Service Award for my foundation from Barack Obama for 2016. I did some work undercover.

MARISOL NICHOLSWhat additional measures have you taken regarding this foundation?

Well, in addition to raising awareness in Hollywood, I have been doing closed door briefings with some really hard core hands-on trafficking agencies. One of the reasons I got the award was because I’ve gone undercover several times. I can’t give the details of what I did but I can tell you that I’ve gone face to face with child predators and helped with the arrest of over a dozen child predators in the United States. And I do mean hands-on. I just can’t give the details.

When you confronted this predator, how hard was it to not just physically attack him?

When I first started doing this, it was extremely hard to not jump across the room and just attack, because that’s your instinct. But in the long run I knew that we were building a case and that this person will be in prison and not be coming out anytime soon. That’s what would keep me from not just wanting to tear them apart.

Did you ever come face-to-face with a child that you had a role in saving?

I’ve seen children who have been saved face to face and it’s haunting because they are void of joy. No child should be void of joy and they’re void of it, it’s been taken away. At the same time, I’ve also come face to face with some survivors that years have passed and they got their joy back, and they get to be a kid again. That is amazing to see. With the child predators, I just take comfort in the nameless kids that are now not going to be targeted by these predators. I can go by the number of children they’ve already harmed and taking them off the streets has been hands down, the most rewarding thing that I’ve done. More than anything else I have achieved in my life.

A lot of people will say it is all too dreadful but to actually do something about it and go out there and spend your energy doing it requires additional energy over and above being an actress and mother to nine year old Rain. Where does this burning passion come from?

To do all of these things, I would say it comes from my desire to… God this is a great question. It’s compartmentalized in other words. When I’m being a mom, my desire is to do the best that I can for that kid, period. I am concerned about things that all moms are concerned about. Am I doing the right job? Am I being tough enough, am I being too tough? Is this going to backfire when she’s a teenager? I do the best that I can with my kid just like any other mom. Then I have to also all balance, ok I’m an actress and I have to work. Sometimes those two things together are really hard. Especially if I’m working long hours or my kid is sick, or I’m concerned about her, then I have to go to work and let that go. It’s definitely a balancing act for any working mother. And then as far as the trafficking and my foundation, I don’t have the viewpoint that I can leave it to somebody else to do. Too often in society we go, “oh somebody else can handle that…someone else is handling that.” Well if someone else were handling it, we wouldn’t have ten million children caught up in child sex trade today.

Where do you draw your strength from? Do you exercise, do you eat healthy? What do you do?

I do exercise and I try to sleep because enough sleep makes all the difference in the world. I try to eat right so that my body isn’t battling crappy food things and sugar comas. And then, just because you asked, I’m a Scientologist. That is how I can recover. That is where I get my strength and it’s made me the best version of me that I think I can be, and I’m always continuing to grow and learn.

How do you keep your marriage fresh with such a busy schedule?

It’s very hard, because my husband’s a director so he’s gone half the time and I’m gone half the time. You know, I think having a sense of humor has helped.  And it’s not always fresh, it’s work. It’s not something that’s easy and you just fall into, especially when you have two working parents that are on opposite ends of the globe half the time.

Your daughter, Rain is adorable. When will you give her a cell phone?

That’s a good question. I mean, I want to wait. I want to wait ideally until she’s about twelve or so. But this is spoken from right now. She may turn ten, and I’ll go no she needs the phone because I need to be able to get ahold of her. So I don’t know, but as of right now foolishly I’m thinking, “Well let me wait ’til she’s twelve.” I feel it’s too early right now.

Regarding your own childhood, when did your epiphany happen to quit drugs and alcohol?

I had an epiphany around seventeen, because I started drugs at eleven. I was always hanging out with kids that were older than me, and a couple of them were starting to go to jail after committing crimes. I was like “Ok If I don’t stop this, this is where my life is going to go.” So at seventeen years old I quit drinking, drugs, everything. But then, unfortunately, when I got in my 20’s I kind of went back into it a bit and it was a downward spiral. Drugs are horrible. It’s the one thing I regret more than anything in my life, is taking drugs. So as soon as I started drinking again, it was like, bam, drug personality, here we go. It was hard, it was rough but I finally got done with everything, I think probably in my late 20’s I was like, “No. There has to be more to my life than this.”

How do you feel about the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in some states? 

I think it’s ridiculous to be totally honest. Spoken from someone who started with marijuana, and any drug addict will tell you, anyone will tell you, you start with pot and you go to harder drugs, period. So, you know I don’t agree with it and I have reasons not to agree with it.

Where are you in ten years? 

I have about four shows right now that I’m trying to produce so hopefully they’ll be on the air. One is a documentary series on human trafficking that I think will change the conversation. And the other is scripted. I believe television is the medium to communicate to the world. So for me, it’s natural that I would develop things that should be communicated that are entertaining. Hopefully I will also still be on Riverdale, that would be amazing or at least something else that fulfills me creatively.