'Riverdale' star from 'burbs survived drama of her own
Actress Marisol Nichols has played some tough characters in TV crime shows, but her own life story comes with enough dramatic twists to inspire a week's worth of Lifetime Channel dramas.
• She said she first tried drugs as a suburban 11-year-old and did cocaine at 12.
• As a 16-year-old living in Naperville, she discovered that the man who raised her wasn't her biological father. A Russian-Hungarian Jewish flamenco dancer was.
• She joined the Church of Scientology and credits the church with helping her kick drugs.
• She formed a not-for-profit group, the Foundation for a Slavery Free World, after becoming aware of children being exploited by the sex trade.
Then, there's her career. She made her movie debut as Chevy Chase's daughter in 1997's "Vegas Vacation," starred as Special Agent Nadia Yassir in the 2007 season of Fox's thriller series "24," and had roles in a variety of other shows.
Now, she plays Hermione Lodge in The CW TV series "Riverdale," a darker offshoot of the comic strip "Archie." It starts on Thursday.
Her character, Veronica's mother, is married to an imprisoned crime boss who continues to control her life, even after she moves back to her hometown of Riverdale.
Her high school boyfriend, Archie's father, is now available and attentive. But her old nemesis, Betty's mother, lurks in the wings. It's not your parents' Archie comic book.
Nichols, 43, was born in Chicago's Rogers Park but moved around the Northwest suburbs -- Woodridge, Lisle, Bolingbrook, Naperville, Hinsdale and Oak Brook in quick succession -- while growing up.
She attended Naperville North before graduating from Hinsdale Central High School. ("I only knew like two people at Hinsdale," she said. "I was only there for the last six months of my senior year.")
She had never been involved in theater. That changed when she went to the College of DuPage. On a whim, she tried out for Arthur Miller's "A View From a Bridge" and nabbed a lead.
"The second I got on stage, it was like oh-my-God! I love this! I love this!"
She credits two DuPage teachers, Frank Tourangeau and Marco Benassi, for changing the course of her life. Three months after the play, she and other DuPage thespians won a national speech and theater championship.
"They were the best teachers I ever had," Nichols said. "They not only taught me to be a good performer; they taught me to be a really good audience member."
Nichols went on to act in TV and movies. She was cast in such shows as "Law and Order," "CSI," "Cold Case" and "Criminal Minds," as well as starring roles on the short-lived "The Gates" and "GCB."
She continued using drugs even in the early years of her acting career. Then, Nichols' chiropractor recommended she check out the Church of Scientology. She did and became not only a member but a cheerleader for the controversial church.
"It changed my life," she said. "It got me off drugs. Then it kept me off drugs."
Something else changed her life as well.
Now married, she has an 8-year-old daughter named Rain.
"My view of the world changed completely when I became a mom," the actress said. "I'm suddenly like, 'Do pop songs always say things like this? How could they put that on the radio?'
"I'm such a parent! Then I listen to songs I listened to in the 1980s. It's the nastiest song! I have this responsibility to make the environment good for her."
And that means she'll be fast-forwarding through parts of "Riverdale" when they watch it together, she said.
-- Dann Gire
• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire want suburbanites in showbiz for their column. Know any? Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Premieres at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, on The CW