Hayley Law wants to make people laugh: the Vancouver-born actress has been working on a secret comedy script with tentative plans to co-direct the film next year, she tells me. It’s a sharp departure from her breakout role as Valerie Brown on Riverdale—a show known for its flair for melodramatics, but one that feels right for the 28-year-old. Like the archetypical laughing and crying masks of ancient Greek theatre, Law’s pursuits, in comedy or tragedy, are a lesson in human drama.
“Comedy is such a hard thing to do and to even want to do because you have to be so vulnerable,” she says from her home in L.A. “People put a lot of their personal life into comedy, so anyone who is doing it, I’m all in. I want to watch them; I want to learn from them. I look up to anyone who’s taken a risk with comedy.” When asked about her comedic inspirations, it seems fitting that she claims a soft spot for Seth Rogan, a fellow Vancouverite. “If everyone’s in a room and they’re like, ‘What movie should we watch?’ I’m always gonna say Superbad.”
Her script—Law is keeping the details close to her chest—is her first foray into screenwriting, but she plans on creating a lot more. “I’m all over the map,” she laughs. “I want to write comedy, horror, drama—but comedy is definitely where I gravitate.”
“People put a lot of their personal life into comedy, so anyone who is doing it, I’m all in. I want to watch them; I want to learn from them. I look up to anyone who’s taken a risk with comedy.”
Law has a steadfastness in the way she talks about her goals; there is no hesitation in her cadence. It’s a confidence, perhaps, driven by the distinction of the first acting job she landed in 2017: a recurring character in Riverdale, the anticipated live action series based on characters from Archie comics. “The show changed my life in so many ways. That was the first TV role that I had, so it was incredibly shocking when I booked it. But I wasn’t super nervous; I felt like I booked it for a reason and I was ready for it,” she says, alluding to a natural preparedness that’s followed her career even since departing Riverdale—a career that’s seen her star alongside the likes of Michael Shannon in the crime drama Echo Boomers and Jessica Barden in the comedy The New Romantic.
“My first agent said one time, ‘You say you’re gonna do it, and you just do it,’ ” she notes of her ambition. “You know what it was? It was because I booked Riverdale, and I never thought I could do that so now I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what else can I do?’ I just want to find out things that I don’t know about myself.”
In many ways, Riverdale flung open the doors of possibility for Law at the earliest stage of her career, but she’s kept the momentum going, whether by performing on stage as Hayleau—a moniker pronounced “halo” for her sultry R&B-singing alter ego—or through her new-found love for indie filmmaking. Her latest role as the titular Mary in Hannah Marks’ indie film Mark, Mary & Some Other People is one that feels closest to what the actress wants to achieve. “I feel like that movie made me grow the most out of anything that I’ve done, really,” she says, reflecting on the intensity of the shooting schedule. “I really do like that they [indie films] are more of a grind. I love the big machine of Warner Brothers, it’s great to have a huge studio, but it’s also incredible to see what you can make from not very much.”
The film, which premiered at Tribeca, traces the intense highs and lows of a young couple’s decision to open their marriage. Despite being a comedy, the story has moments anchored in the heaviness of life as Mary and Mark (played by Ben Rosenfield) deal with the pitfalls of both marrying way too young and the rash decision to allow their partner to see other people—a decision born out of Mary’s fear of feeling too old after getting married.
Though the film was written before the pandemic, the theme feels particularly relevant to the times, with so many young people fearing for their lost youth in the midst of lockdowns. I ask Law if she feels similarly to Mary, if she too feels a pressure to reach certain milestones by certain ages. She doesn’t. “I’ll work my ass off to hopefully get everything I want by the time I’m 30, but if I don’t, that’s fine, because I know it’s going to happen as long as I keep working,” she says with headstrong certainty.
Still, Law says, it’s constant work to be proud of herself or to not be let down when things don’t go as planned in her career. “I think that comes from loss. I’ve lost friends and family members [so] I’m grateful to be here and be able to do anything,” she says. “And I have to constantly remind myself of that because I still get, you know, sad.”
Like the archetypical laughing and crying masks of ancient Greek theatre, Law’s pursuits, in comedy or tragedy, are a lesson in human drama.
Despite the flurry of her successes, Law, like many artists, can’t shake a tendency toward melancholy. “You know what sucks, and this is so sad and I still feel like this sometimes: [I feel] like if I can do it, it’s probably not that hard,” she says with a laugh. It’s a self-deprecating inclination reminiscent of the infamous Groucho Marx line (by way of Freud): “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”
But as with Groucho Marx, Law’s gnawing self-awareness makes her affinity for comedy all the more suitable. What better way to respond, when faced with our most vulnerable moments, than with a joke?
Hair: Johanna Libbey. Makeup: Paula Lanzador for Nobasura. Assistant Photographer: Marilyn Olynyk. Assistant Stylist: Kristine Wilson. Producer: Ayesha Habib.
Pre-save Hayleau’s latest song “Go On” here.