Is the ocean bigger than Camila Mendes? Certainly—but also, in some respects, no. In real life, Mendes is 5’2” while the Atlantic Ocean takes up nearly 41 million miles. Watch the Riverdale star wade through waves in Miami—even while wearing some gasp-worthy beachwear from Chanel—and it’s easy to lose her between the blue-green swells that smash the horizon. She’s just one girl, after all, and the ocean is eternal.
That’s in the physical realm, anyway. What happens when you view Mendes through your phone is a little different. For starters, the 27-year-old is captivating onscreen, with a wide open face she knows how to use. (After four years of training at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, it seems her eyebrows alone have mastered the Stanislavski method of “react first, think later.”) Put a camera on her in the Atlantic, as photographer Tyler Joe did at the shoreline of the Faena Hotel, and suddenly you think, What ocean?
Then there’s the data. In the vast corner of the internet known as TikTok, #CamilaMendes content has been viewed roughly 2 billion times. The #AtlanticOcean? About 175 million. We could twist this fact into a parable about environmentalism and Hollywood, or a lament about the attention span of the American teen. Or we could simply accept that in some realms of reality, Mendes is essentially a force of nature.
“I can’t even think about numbers like that though,” says the actress a few days later. “It’s too big. What does it even mean?” Mendes is calling me just weeks after Riverdale celebrated its 100th episode, a milestone for any show—much less a teen drama on The CW. The Brazilian-American plays the show’s leading lady Veronica Lodge with a tart, glossy sense of fun that masks the panic of young adulthood. In later seasons, she’s been forced to confront the true nature of her adoring parents, her unwavering (or maybe wavering?) belief in romantic love, and more than a few psycho killers.
“I’ve had some heavily emotional episodes lately!” Mendes says proudly. “It’s hard, because sometimes you reach into those deep dark places of your past or your present in order to play that emotion authentically. But then you find yourself, once they call ‘cut,’ still stuck in that mindset. It’s like you opened a wound, and now you have to see it through. I’ve had moments where the scene is over, but I can’t stop crying. And I have to walk out of the room for a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself and then come back. Because that can be dangerous, to pull from personal experience.”
Some stars may pride themselves in going too close to their own psychological borders—a recent Hollywood Reporter cover asks, ‘Is this acting or is this f*cking therapy?’ but Mendes—who has been candid with her past struggles with anxiety—prefers to keep her work life contained. “That [mentality], ‘I suffer for my work’ comes with some egotistical pride,” she says. “But you have to do [it], to separate yourself from your character, and separate yourself from the emotions that might come up in a scene. It’s vital to your mental health…that’s why we have training. I went to school to learn how to be the best actor I can be, and learning to separate myself from the work is part of it.”
But while Mendes can Swiffer through the emotional residue of Riverdale scenes, she’s more than content with the Camila/Veronica overlap of luxury fashion, specifically the iconic looks of Chanel. “My love of Chanel goes way back,” Mendes, a friend of the house, says. “For my graduation gift from high school, my dad got me my first Chanel bag. It was an orange metallic crossbody bag—really unique—and I was obviously so excited. I still have it, and actually, I need to start wearing it again!” She adds: “And my mom’s favorite perfume is Chanel. Every year for Christmas, we ask her what she wants, and she goes, ‘Just get me my Chanel.’ It’s very glamorous!”
Fittingly, Mendes’s love of the label was further stoked by another teen TV star—The O.C.’s Rachel Bilson. “She was everything to me!” Mendes exclaims when I ask about the connection. “Rachel Bilson was the fashion inspiration for me growing up. To me, she was the epitome of laid-back, chic style. God, she was the coolest. I met her once at a party and we exchanged numbers,” she says, at which point my jaw hits the floor because, like Mendes, The O.C. was a vital part of my early fashion education (along with everyone who came of age in the aughts). “I guess there was a bond there,” Mendes continues. Like, ‘teen stars.’ She was like, ‘Text me if you ever need anything,’ and of course I didn’t have the courage to do it. So I still have Rachel Bilson’s number in my phone—if she hasn’t changed it, I guess!” I tell Mendes she has to text, just to see. “I know,” she sighs, “but I feel like it’s too late. It would be too random at this point. This was a few years ago.”
And anyway, Mendes is kind of busy. She’s about to star in a revenge-centric and as-yet-untitled new Hitchcock-goes-to-high-school thriller for Netflix directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and co-starring Maya Hawke and Sophie Turner. I ask if, in the world of Camila Mendes, fame is its own kind of revenge.
“Oh my gosh!” Mendes laughs. “I don’t know. I think it can be interpreted as revenge? And you can use fame as an act of revenge. Fame is great as a tool for saying, ‘Look at me now.’ And I definitely felt that way in the beginning of my career. I was like, ‘Hey, all the exes that screwed me over! All the friendships where we had a falling out! Look! Being separated from you has actually been very good for me!’ But at the end of the day, that is not real.”
“Fame is pretty meaningless,” she continues. “There’s not much value there in terms of how you’re actually doing in your life, or how fulfilled you feel in your own life, or even how good your work is, right? It’s like, ‘Cool, cool, you’re famous. And?’ That doesn’t mean you’re happy or fulfilled…no matter how many people follow you on Instagram.” (For the record, it’s 26 million, which is more than the entire populations of Greece and Sweden combined.)
When I mention Mendes’s massive social media footprint, she is both mystified by the vastness of it and proud of the Instagram content she’s made. “It’s so personal,” she says. “I want it to be me writing the captions, posting things. I’d worry too much about somebody else pretending to be me. That’s not authentic to me.” But Mendes is still not a verified TikTok member, and the one account she’s been using—a digital threesome with her Riverdale co-stars Madelaine Petsch and Lili Reinhart—is zingy, but sparse.
“We don’t work on [Riverdale] together that much anymore,” Mendes laments. “Our characters don’t really interact. So we don’t get to see each other on set, which sucks. Getting us all together, logistically, is very difficult. And we’re also very lazy,” she laughs. “Our TikTok was so last-minute and so thrown together…every once in a while, I’ll have an idea, but if you’re not careful, it can be a full-time job, and we already have those.”
Mendes admits she sees some of the #CamilaMendes content when friends text it to her. “What’s weird is when I go scrolling through TikTok, I’m not on my own algorithm. I don’t see any posts about me, which is actually kind of lucky…you can’t look at yourself online too much. It gets overwhelming. Sometimes you have to just look around [and] go outside.”
Which brings us back to Miami Beach, where Mendes is perched on a hot pink beach chair finding her glow—which is literally everywhere, because it’s 11 A.M. in Florida. Through the camera lens, she’s the center of the universe, decked in glorious Chanel pieces and using the sun as her own personal ring light. But zoom out, and Mendes becomes just another girl relaxing at the beach, taking solace in the fact that it’s a beautiful day, and the ocean is bigger than any girl’s doubts—even if that girl is famous.
Photographer: Tyler Joe; stylist: J. Errico; hair: Owen Gould at The Wall Group; makeup: Kara Yoshimoto Bua using N°1 de Chanel; Special thanks to Faena Hotel Miami Beach