GRACE VICTORIA COX AT MOXY TIMES SQUARE IN DECEMBER 2017.
Jawbreaker’s sadistic Courtney Shayne. Cruel Intentions’ scheming Kathryn Merteuil. Mean Girls’ popular Regina George. At the expense of glamorizing the vicious high school queen bee—the archetype at the nucleus of the teen film at large—we can’t deny our collective obsession with the mean girl. As for 22-year-old Heathers star Grace Victoria Cox, who plays Veronica Sawyer in Paramount Network’s 2018 TV series, Cox says she can “think of one person in particular who was that girl for me.”
“I feel like the mean girl is so prevalent in pop culture because it’s something that everyone has experienced,” she explains over the phone. “Everybody knows who that mean girl was in their school and you wonder why they are like that, or what it would be like to be that mean girl because she’s so popular. While you dislike her, you’re curious about her. She’s fascinating.”
Growing up amid the horse farms and racetracks of Lexington, Kentucky, Cox attended both a “normal high school” and boarding school before finishing her senior year online. The unique experience was “typical, but pretty good,” she decides, adding that as an introvert, she often struggled to keep up with the big personalities of her arts school peers. “You have people that are your good pals and then there are people that are mean to you just ‘cause they’re mean to everybody. I feel like that’s just high school, you know?”
When it comes to the titular (and diversified) Heathers of her upcoming show, which is loosely based on the 1989 film of the same name, Cox “couldn’t have asked for a better group of people.” The rising actress, who moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17 and was recently cast in Joe Berlinger’s Ted Bundy film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile, emphasizes the strong messaging behind the dark teen comedy anthology, which was ordered to series back in January 2017.
Despite being packaged in surrealist, neon-bathed satire, the universal importance of the core issues Heathers tackles—suicide, mental health, self-image, empathy—is not lost on Cox. “So much of Heathers is exploring how terrible people can be, and how the signs that someone needs help can be there, and people just don’t reach out.”
The innate duality of character and self-presentation—even when it comes to the mean girl—plays another major role in the show’s unsurprisingly timely narrative: “We tried to explore what it actually means to be a good person, but in a very extreme, not-grounded-in-reality way. Everybody has shortcomings and things that they’re doing wrong. And everybody, for the most part, is trying to be good, but sometimes they don’t realize they’re being hypocritical. Heathers definitely explores all of that but from the standpoint that everyone is a little bad, and I think that’s really interesting. Heathers will make people feel for people that they don’t want to feel for.”
Meanwhile, for diehard fans of the original cult classic, Veronica Sawyer 2.0 promises that she’s not, like, trying to kill your best friend. “I totally understand people being nervous. It’s always a scary thing whenever something that you love is being rebooted or remade because that’s just terrifying,” Cox empathizes.
“Our show is very much a love letter to the original. In no way are we a replacement, though, or a remake—it lives in its own world. I think that for Heathers fans, when they watch the show, they will feel relieved and also excited because it’s something that contains a lot of pieces of what we know and love, but it’s different. I think it will give them something new to enjoy.”
And while it’s hardly reaching to say that an entire generation of little girls grew up wanting to be just like Winona Ryder, ultimate cool girl and star of movies like Edward Scissorhands and Girl, Interrupted, for Cox, her approach to filling the iconic actress’ shoes was less about starry-eyed emulation and more about paying homage.
“I watched Heathers for the first time when I was younger. I watched it again when I found out I was auditioning for the role … And then I tried not to watch it anymore because Winona was the perfect Veronica Sawyer. I just didn’t want to compare myself to her too much … I could use what she had done as a good blueprint when I needed something to draw from, but I didn’t want to study it too much because I am in no way trying to be like Winona—I would fail miserably!”
HEATHERS PREMIERES ON PARAMOUNT NETWORK ON MARCH 8, 2018.