Ashleigh Murray: An Inside Look At The Riverdale Star's Life

Ashleigh Murray's star is clearly on the rise. Since her early film and TV credits — including roles in the TV series "The Following" and "Younger," and the 2020 feature "Valley Girl" — she's gone on to some big projects in a short period of time.  For Murray, her breakout role came in 2020 when she was cast as Josie McCoy on The CW's "Riverdale," a dark and twisted take on the beloved "Archie" comics. In fact, O.G. fans of Archie, Jughead, and the gang will no doubt recall that in the comics, the lead singer for the all-female rock group Josie and the Pussycats was red-headed and white — both of which Murray is not. That, however, was not something that presented any sort of obstacle for Murray. 

"I'm embodying this character that is different than the way that I look," she explained in an interview with Teen Vogue. "Yet I still stand for the same things that I believe she stands for. I still believe that Josie... she's a powerhouse! And that's what I want to play up, that she's gritty and she's willing to dig deep and do whatever it takes to succeed."

With a bright future ahead, there's little doubt that TV and film viewers will be seeing a lot more of this talented young actor in the years to come. To find out more about Ashleigh Murray, read on for an inside look at the "Riverdale" star's life.

She had $12 in her bank account when she auditioned for Riverdale

Ashleigh Murray was about to pause her acting career when she auditioned for "Riverdale," she revealed in an interview with Collider. At the time, she divulged she was living in New York City, owed $4,700 in back rent, and was on the cusp of quitting for six months so she could focus on making enough money to bail out the sinking ship her finances had become.

"So, I went on the audition, and the next day, I was on my way home from the grocery store with $12 in my bank account. I had to call my mom and ask her for an extra $5 because the last of it went to food at Whole Foods, just so that I could get home," she explained. "If I didn't do something soon," Murray told PopSugar, "I was going to have to move back to Kansas City, which wasn't an option."

At that moment, her manager apparently called and told her to drop what she was doing and head to Warner Bros. NYC headquarters to audition again. From there, she became caught up in a life-changing whirlwind. "And then, 20 minutes after that, it was, 'Okay, they might be flying you to L.A. to test, so make sure that all of your travel information is up to date.' Twenty minutes after that, they were like, 'Okay, you're going to L.A.' I had never even tested before," she told Collider.

She's appeared in a few TV commercials

Prior to landing her career-making big break on "Riverdale," Ashleigh Murray booked a few commercials. One of these was a 2013 ad spot for AT&T, hyping the electronics manufacturer's promotion for the then-new Motorola Moto X cellphone. In the spot, Murray can be seen dancing at a party, where her celebratory antics are captured for posterity on another partygoer's Moto X. 

That same year, she also booked a role in a Coca-Cola commercial, centered around rapper Diggy Simmons. Simmons is seen chugging from a frosty aluminum bottle of Coke before taking to the stage for a concert. As he performs, the camera focuses on a clearly smitten fan grooving in the audience — played, of course, by Murray, who is later seen thirstily guzzling an icy-cold Coca-Cola herself. Thanks to her successful audition for "Riverdale," it's a pretty safe bet that Murray's days of appearing in commercials are in the rearview mirror.

She grew up loving Josie and the Pussycats

Playing Josie McCoy on "Riverdale" wasn't just a job for Ashleigh Murray, it was also an opportunity to embody a fictional character whom she had long admired. "Aside from literally living a dream, it's not just because I'm a working actress, which is beyond wonderful, but it's being able to be a character that I grew up reading and loving," she told Collider

"I get to play this literal icon, who's never lived and breathed or done anything, but has managed to change the way people view certain things, and even the way people view comics and women," Murray explained. "I get to step into this world, bring it up to date, and color it with the things we know to be true today and that we relate to as human beings, is behind amazing."

From an acting perspective, Murray said that the world of "Riverdale" offered a somewhat unique opportunity. "It's fun!" she said in an interview with Discussing Film, explaining how a show like "Riverdale" is set in a sort of heightened reality that reflects its comic-book origins. "You have to really kind of have a love for comics and bubbly weird situations," she said. "Everybody on the show brings so much of themselves to the work and it's a lot of fun, it's really easy."

She struggles with cystic acne

Television viewers who watch Ashleigh Murray in high definition probably have no idea that she's long battled cystic acne. As she told PopSugar, she stumbled upon a surprising cure for her recurring skin issues: "To address my cystic acne that basically became nonexistent, which is great, was birth control. I got on birth control and immediately, like within a month, I noticed that my skin was not breaking out anything like it was."

That led Murray to realize that her acne was the result of hormones, not her skincare regimen. In fact, her acne manifested as more than just pimples. "And it was really bad," she explained, "like huge blisters on my face." To baby her troubled skin, she told PopSugar that she uses a mild cleanser and then follows up with natural toner. "Then I tone with either aloe vera gel that I get from Whole Foods — the chunky stuff, like the actual meat from the aloe," she said. "I like to tone with that because it helps with brightening and hyperpigmentation. And if not that, I use some regular toner with witch hazel in it."

Murray has also opened up about her skin issues on social media, apparently when she was experiencing a flareup. "Yo. Cystic & hormonal acne is a B***H! Mine flares whenever it wants, hyperpigmentation & scars are a result. I have good days & bad," she wrote on Twitter

Her mother and aunt taught her to stand up for herself

To attempt a career as a professional actor is to set oneself up for a potential life of rejection, disdain, heartbreak, and poverty. Actors who hang in there long enough to persevere through the tough times may achieve stardom, but it's certainly not a given. In order to make it, however, an actor needs to develop a thick skin. Thanks to the rise of social media, the same imperviousness that actors must build up to handle constant rejection also comes in handy when dealing with haters online.

That aspect of Ashleigh Murray's personality, she revealed in an interview with Elle, could be credited to the strong women in her family. "Honestly, I learned it from my aunt," she said of standing up to deluded "Riverdale" fans who attack her on Twitter because they apparently can't seem to tell the difference between Josie and the actor who plays her. 

"You know, I was raised by women my entire life," she explained. "My mother is gay. She was married to my dad up until I was 9. She was just like, 'I'm tired of this, I'm just going to be with who I want to be with.' So I've been raised by women, through my mom and also my aunt. My aunt is bi, and most of her partners have been women. I was always surrounded by a very strong tribe of people."

She doesn't consider herself a singer

One of the central facets of Josie McCoy is that she's a vocalist and frontwoman of Josie and the Pussycats. Ashleigh Murray, however, doesn't believe she's particularly good at singing, which resulted in a somewhat fraught situation whenever she was required to go into a recording studio to lay down her vocals for a "Riverdale" performance. "I always get nervous when I have to record, because I'm worried about what people are going to think, and I'm really critical of it, the same way I am of my acting," she told Elite Daily.

Singing had never been something Murray had given much thought to prior to being cast in "Riverdale." "It's hard. Honestly, it's the one thing that I am the most afraid of," she told Build Series. "I am afraid to sing. I've never wanted to pursue it as a career, it was always acting first. I just happened to be able to sing, but I was terrified because I didn't think I sounded like anybody on the radio. I still don't, and I know everybody's like, 'Oh, that's kind of good.'"

Even though she's become no stranger to the recording studio, Murray recalled breaking once down in tears while recording her vocals. As she told the New York Film Academy's "The Backlot" podcast, "... it's still very uncomfortable for me to hear my voice through speakers. I can't explain it to you. It's just like a weird audio dysmorphia thing ..."

She reprised her Riverdale role in a short-lived spinoff but found the process 'scary'

While playing Josie McCoy in "Riverdale," in 2019 Ashleigh Murray received a rare opportunity for a TV actor: to take the same character she'd already been playing into a whole new milieu in a spinoff. That came about when The CW launched "Katy Keene," the network's second series inspired by the "Archie" comics. The series surrounded the titular Katy (played by Lucy Hale of "Pretty Little Liars" fame), an aspiring fashion designer trying to make her mark in New York City. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Murray exited "Riverdale" to bring her character to the new spinoff, granting her substantially more screen time than she received in the character-packed "Riverdale." 

Given that Josie was trying to launch a music career in the Big Apple, Murray was expected to sing even more than she had in "Riverdale." "It's still very scary for me," she told Elite Daily of her insecurity about singing. 

"It's never been anything that I ever really wanted to pursue, and I know part of that is because I think that I won't really succeed at it," she added. "Like, I know I'm good at acting; I don't believe that I'm great at singing." However, she also admitted that her attitude toward her singing abilities could change drastically. "I could feel different tomorrow," she added. "Tomorrow I might be trying to record an EP in my closet."

She's starred in a Hallmark holiday movie

In 2021, Ashleigh Murray achieved a holiday-themed rite of passage when she starred in her first Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. In "Christmas in Harmony," Murray played a woman named Harmony who's been laid off due to a corporate merger right just before she heads home for the holidays. She winds up being tricked — by her own mother (Loretta Devine), no less — into auditioning for the annual "Holiday Hallelujah Chorus" at her mom's church. She discovers the reason for her mother's subterfuge when it turns out that her ex-boyfriend (Luke James) is directing it. Anybody who's ever watched a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie can probably guess how it all turns out. 

In an interview with WECT6 News, Murray shared what it was like to recreate Christmas in the middle of summer in Wilmington, North Carolina, where "Christmas in Harmony" was filmed. "I was walking around in a wool coat, in long sleeves and long pants and scarves and hats ... it was very, very hot," she said.

While the heat may have been a downside, Murray admitted she thoroughly enjoyed showing up to work each morning to partake in a Yuletide celebration. "This being my first Christmas film experience, it was really exhilarating to come to work and I could never be mad going to work because it's always Christmas!" she gushed. "There are trees everywhere and fake snow and garland and presents wrapped."

She's starred in three TV series on the same network

After several seasons of "Riverdale," Ashleigh Murray took her character, Josie McCoy, to the spinoff "Katy Keene." That show, however, was hardly the "Riverdale"-sized hit that The CW had been hoping for, and wound up being canceled after its first season

Murray subsequently reappeared on "Riverdale" in 2021. However, as she told Entertainment Weekly, her return was also Josie's swan song, with the character having finally reached the stardom she'd been chasing since the beginning. Asked if her final "Riverdale" episode could potentially set up a Josie and the Pussycats spinoff, Murray told Decider, "I went into it as being able to give this episode and give Josie the justice that we all feel she deserves, and whatever happens after that, happens."

What did end up happening was that she was cast in another CW series the following year, "Tom Swift." As Deadline noted, "Tom Swift" was not only based on the popular book series but was also a spinoff of "Nancy Drew," with Murray playing Zenzi Fullerton, best friend of the titular Tom (Tian Richards), a gay genius billionaire inventor who's drawn into a vast conspiracy while investigating his father's disappearance. "She's like his Jiminy Cricket," she told TV Insider. "She is his conscience. She is his guide. She is the one who is always going to make sure he's on the right path." Like "Katy Keene," "Tom Swift" was likewise canceled after just one season.

She still cheers on her hometown Kansas City Chiefs

Before heading to New York City and then Los Angeles in pursuit of her dream of becoming a working actor, Ashleigh Murray was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. When the Kansas City Chiefs made it into the Super Bowl in 2020, she couldn't help but cheer on her hometown team. That cheering became even louder when the Chiefs won. "MOTHERFXCKING KCMO FOR SHOOWWWWWWW!!! #kansascitychiefs #SuperBowl," she tweeted to celebrate the victory.

Of course, it took a Super Bowl run to get her to actually start watching football again. Admitting she'd stopped watching any NFL games after the San Francisco 49ers ditched quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the wake of his controversial take-a-knee protests during the national anthem, Murray told BUILD Series she had to watch the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV. "I'm down for the cause. I get it and I'm here for it," she said. "But the Kansas City Chiefs have not been in the Super Bowl for a very long time. I was the only one in the house screaming. I called my mom she answered screaming. She actually just sent me a text yesterday with a link to buy these fleece championship hoodies, and I think I'm gonna get the one in red and black."

She's getting tired of being mistaken for Yara Shahidi

If Ashleigh Murray has a pet peeve, it's being mistaken for other Black female actors of a similar age. She's made that clear on Twitter when she was tagged in photos of Yara Shahidi and Alisha Wainwright. "Pro tip: we're not all the same," she tweeted in response. "Sigh. Still not me," she tweeted after being tagged in another photo of a woman who is clearly not her. "Maybe I should start an album," she added. "Frivolously Tagged Black Girls: the Ashleigh Murray Edition."

"It happens all the time," she said in an interview with Teen Vogue. "It's something that I have dealt with for a while ... There's always this underlying perception and that joke of every Black person looks alike. You can label that for any race, but it tends to happen a lot with people of color. Specifically, with Black women." 

She continued by pointing out the obvious, that not all Black women are the same. "If you care that much, if you're that invested in us as artists and the changes that we're trying to make and the work that we're putting out there, then at least give us the same decency and respect to know that I am not Yara Shahidi and never will I be," she declared.

She experienced racist bullying over a Riverdale storyline

A "Riverdale" storyline that briefly feaured Ashleigh Murray's Josie McCoy becoming romantically involved with Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) didn't go over with some of the show's more racist fans. Murray laid it all out when she retweeted a news story about fellow Black female actor Grace Seif revealing she'd exited social media when she was hit with hate-filled backlash from supposed "fans" of the show who didn't appreciate her "Riverdale" character, Ani Achola. "People have literally called me a monkey, trash, sloppy, classless darkie and told me to jump in an oven because....Josie kissed Archie," Murray wrote in a powerful tweet. "So, yeah, don't blame her."

As a Black actor portraying a character who'd been white in the original comic books, Murray admitted she was fully expecting racist online hate. "When I actually was testing for ["Riverdale"], my aunt asked me, 'How are you going to deal with it, if you book this? How are you going to handle people having an issue with it?' And I was like, 'We'll just worry about it when it comes,'" she explained during a panel discussion at PopSugar's Play/Ground Festival, as reported by ComicBook.

However, she added, "I have seen people say some really unfortunate things, but there was so much happiness and gratitude and support outside of that negativity, that it kinda outweighed it. And now it's just white noise. I don't even notice it or see it much anymore."

She starred in a virtual play

While in New York to launch her acting career, Ashleigh Murray studied at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. It was there, she told the New York Film Academy's "The Backlot" podcast, that she studied the Meisner method, an acting technique devised by Sanford Meisner. In fact, she revealed, she still sits in on acting classes whenever she can, "just to keep, you know, the machine oiled."

She put that machine to use in December 2020, when she became part of the cast of the production of the play "School Girls." What made this particular production thoroughly unique, however, is that it took place at a time when the pandemic had pretty much shut down film and television production, in addition to live theatre. As a result, "School Girls" was presented as a standalone virtual event, with all the actors performing their roles from their respective homes via Zoom.

As Teen Vogue noted, Murray was part of an A-list cast of female Black actors that also included Cynthia Erivo, Storm Reid, Lovie Simone, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Lyric Ross, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Gabourey Sidibe.

She was cast in a provocative series for Hulu

With "Tom Swift" canceled in June 2022 after its freshman season, the question on the lips of Ashleigh Murray's fans was, "What's next?" Those fans didn't have to wait long for an answer. Just four months later, Deadline reported that Murray had signed on to "The Other Black Girl," a new series for the Hulu streaming service through its Onyx collective

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, Sinclair Daniel stars as Nella, an editorial assistant at a publishing company who's frustrated by the fact that she's the sole Black female employed by the company. Murray plays Hazel, described as "an unapologetically Black and Harlem-cool assistant" who's hired by the publisher. While Nella is initially thrilled by Hazel's hiring, her feelings change when Hazel becomes the office superstar while Nella's workplace popularity declines.

That high-profile role in a series focused on women of color aligns with the goal that Murray set out for herself to inspire young Black girls to have the confidence to pursue their dreams. "It's almost like it's in our DNA to survive," she said of Black women in an interview with Teen Vogue. "We're caretakers, we're strong, fierce mothers. We rear people like nobody's business, and we succeed. So I think that's going to ring true especially to people like my niece. I want to be able to give a positive image for people to look up to."