The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina resists easy categorization. An instant hit for Netflix, it has little to do with Sabrina the Teenage Witch—a show many millennials nostalgically remember from their childhoods—let alone the original Archie comics their parents and grandparents recall. Instead, it’s a sister show for The CW’s Riverdale, but with much more gore and explicit creepiness.
One breakout star from the series is Lachlan Watson, a seventeen-year-old Raleigh native who grew up in the Triangle’s theater community. Watson, who plays the title character’s friend Susie Putnam, is one of the youngest self-identified nonbinary actors in a new wave of queer representation in the entertainment industry.
Now with a massive spotlight, Watson must navigate between being a model for young LGBTQ people and avoiding tokenization in the film industry. In a phone interview, Watson reflected on their Triangle roots and the success of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which dropped a new winter special on Netflix today.
INDY: What was your acting career like before Sabrina?
LACHLAN WATSON: I started in the Raleigh community theater when I was nine years old. My family worked really closely with community theater, and my mom house managed for Burning Coal. When they had their season cattle-call auditions, Jerry, the artistic director, was like, “Hey, we need a kid, you should audition!” I was the only kid that auditioned, and nine-year-old me ended up playing Jeffrey Skilling’s daughter in a very raunchy production of Enron.
I just dove in head first and never looked back. I did a couple things with Raleigh Little Theatre, and I found a home at their theater for most of my teenage years. Then I found an agent in Raleigh with Terri at Kids Unlimited, and it just sort of took off from there. I would get one or two little roles here and there. I had a very different look from a lot of other kids in North Carolina. I was the only one in the room willing to shave my head for the role, so that ended up getting me places.
But it all really took off when I happened to receive an email for the national cattle call for Sabrina. I went out for it on a whim, and the next day, the creative director of Archie Comics was like, “Hey, do you have time to Skype later?” I was like, “Sure, creative director of Archie Comics! I can Skype with you!” [Laughs.] And so I Skyped him in my living room with my cats, in my pajamas, and the next day, I was flying out to Vancouver.
How do you think that your experiences in the Triangle theater community shaped who you are as a young performer breaking into Hollywood?
It has everything to do with getting where I am. I think working with such incredible, talented actors and production companies and directors as we have in Raleigh, being able to sit at the feet of some amazing people when I was so young and just sponge information—I think that was crucial in allowing me to figure out what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to go about making it happen. Whenever I tell people that I’m from North Carolina, they’re a bit like, “How did you get into film, then?” They just don’t realize the beautiful community that we have in North Carolina, and they underestimate us a little bit. But I think it’s an absolutely incredible place for any young actor to grow up in.
What do you think has made Sabrina so immediately successful?
I feel like it’s something not a lot of people have ever seen before. Even in terms of it being sort of a remake, in the same world as Archie Comics, in the same world as Sabrina the Teenage Witch from the nineties—I just feel like the style of the show and the artistic influences being put into it and the actors and the characters and the worlds being built, we’re really making something special, and everyone on set feels it. I feel like that really carries over to the audience. When you watch it, you feel like you’re part of something just as much as we are.
The show obviously skews a bit toward horror, but it definitely also seems to embody strong feminist and queer themes. Do you feel that way?
I feel like one of the really appealing things about the show is that it has this really incredible balance of genres. I think I almost fit it perfectly because it feels a bit hard to define, in that way that I also don’t really define myself. We’ve got this incredible mix of worlds and feelings, especially playing a mortal in a very heavily witchy show—you really feel the balance and the weight of everything. That’s something the mortals bring to the table. They sort of ground you in very modern and topical things that really need to be talked about. But then you also have this very otherworldly, absolutely fascinating experience in the witchy world. I think it’s incredible what the creators have done balancing this otherworldliness but also staying very true to the things that hit home.
What were your experiences like growing up in Raleigh as a nonbinary person?
It wasn’t half bad, to be honest. I grew up homeschooled by my mom, and I also grew up in the theater community, and those were probably the most supportive environments that I could’ve grown up in in Raleigh. I was never forced to go to a bigoted public school, I was never forced to be a part of athletics or anything in that world that probably would’ve introduced me to some hardcore bullying and some people who really don’t understand [me].
I was surrounded with really kind people who only supported me for who I wanted to be. Even when I didn’t understand how to label myself, they supported me no matter what: pronoun change, three name changes, I never had anybody think twice. I had people who just didn’t get it, but they understood that they could just come and talk to me about it, and they actually listened to what I had to say. I think that was a huge part of me being able to talk so openly about how I feel and who I am now, because I got really good at it, and people listened to me. So now, when people listen to me, I know how to speak.
[Watson’s mother interjects]
KELLY WATSON: I have something I want to share. The biggest thing that North Carolina is lacking, especially the Triangle area, is medical support for the queer and transgender community. When Lachlan first came out and said they wanted to transition, finding a physician to help us with that was unbelievably difficult. I can’t tell you how many physicians we had that said, “Oh, we can support you—actually, no, we can’t.” We finally found one clinic at The Children’s Hospital in Durham. They did excellent work, but their wait time was six months or more. For a lot of young people who have finally gotten up the courage to say, “Hey, this is the journey I want to go on,” waiting six months or more to get someone to help them is ridiculous. There’s just no one out there supporting these young people medically. I’ve always said that if I find the right person and I had enough money, I would definitely open a clinic to support the LGBT community—and especially transitioning young people, because having one clinic to support all of the area is just crazy.
INDY: It’s a huge issue that needs more attention. Thank you for sharing your experience. Lachlan, what’s next for you?
LACHLAN WATSON: I’m coming back to North Carolina, I’m hoping. I’m also working on a top-secret theater project that I might try to make happen in North Carolina sometime in the spring. We’ll see what happens with that. And then, hopefully, back to Vancouver to film another season [of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina]. And until then, just trying to raise as much awareness as I can.