A decade ago, Lucy Hale began her run on a little juggernaut that centered female friendship and a gay leading character as part of the quartet of teens on Pretty Little Liars. Now she’s back as the titular character on The CW’s aspirational Riverdale
spin-off Katy Keene, from creator-showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. In it, Katy is a hopeful fashion designer who places her career aspirations and friendships with her squad (which includes two queer characters) above romance.
“What I loved about PLL and what I love about Katy Keene is that there’s space for everyone. Why not encourage everyone to be their best self?” Hale says.
Shows with solidarity among women and LGBTQ visibility have proliferated over the past decade, but Katy Keene breaks new ground with the character of Jorge (Jonny Beauchamp), an aspiring drag queen named Ginger who also happens to be Katy’s roomie. It’s the first time a young character honing a drag persona has been placed front-and-center in a TV series aimed at millennial and Gen Z audiences.
Since starring on the trailblazing Pretty Little Liars, Hale’s outspoken LGBTQ allyship on social media — like speaking out against the trans military ban — has occasionally caused a stir with some more conservative fans. But it’s crucial to her to be a part of a project that moves the needle of visibility for marginalized people.
Johnny Beauchamp as Ginger
“This is where I’m at in my career of making strong choices and doing things that matter. What else am I doing if I’m not taking a stand for something?” Hale says.
Katy Keene is tonally closer to Freeform’s The Bold Type, with a dash of plucky The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel-esque energy thrown in, than it is to its noir-ish parent show Riverdale, but it seamlessly takes on issues around women’s agency, female solidarity, and gender expression. For one thing, Katy, while madly in love with her boxer boyfriend, K.O. (Zane Holtz), chooses to pursue her dreams even if they’re at odds with her planned future with him.
“So often in TV and film, women are chasing after a guy. We grow up thinking you need to get married, we need to have kids, we need to do X, Y, and Z,” Hale says. “I’ve never felt that way. I’ve always put my dreams first. I think Katy is that way too."
Another core storyline revolves around Riverdale alumna Josie (Ashleigh Murray) arriving in the Big Apple to pursue her pop music dreams and being buoyed by Katy and her friend Pepper (Julia Chan), whose character is revealed to be queer a few episodes in.
Finally, the series follows Jorge’s journey as an actor who faces discrimination from some Broadway producers for not performing masculinity to their liking. That’s when fashion whiz Katy helps Jorge/Ginger find her style and voice.
Doing a deep dive into drag culture that included a guest spot by Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race was a blast, if not eye-opening.
“I’m blown away at the artistry of it all. It’s going to be a big part of the show,” Hale says. “The second I start to complain about heels, I look over at Jonny who’s in a corset and seven-inch heels and I quickly shut my mouth.”
“I think that [Jorge/Ginger is] going to become an icon for people. It’s great that we’ve been given the freedom to sort of have these characters and let them be true and grounded,” Hale adds.