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How Skeet Ulrich Went From ‘Scream’ Killer to Happy Single Dad

Skeet Ulrich could have been Johnny Depp. He chose another path.

A decade can whiz by at speed. One minute, you’re the hot new thing. The next, you’re that guy from the thing. But that can be a good thing. The lack of sentimentality inside the entertainment industrial complex allows those who want to step away to do just that. Skeet Ulrich (yeah, that guy from Scream) did and it worked out fine.

In 1996, Ulrich was being hailed as the next Johnny Depp: brooding, moody, mysterious. In 2010, he was taking guest spots on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to pay the bills. That sounds like an IMDB slide, like some sort of failure. But it wasn’t. Ulrich designed his career to suit his life. He made some choices. He prioritized his two kids over his acting career because he felt strongly it was the right thing to do. After he got a divorce and custody of his kids, he could have hired a cavalry of nannies, but he opted to stay home as a single dad instead. He could afford it and he didn’t want to be replaced. He was happier guest-starring on CSI: NY than in the lives of his twins Jakob and Naiia.

No therapist is needed to parse that decision. Just context. A child of divorce, Ulrich come from a fractured family. When he was six, his dad kidnapped him, shuttling him around the country for three years. After that, he lived with his mom and his father disappeared. In a sense, Skeet reversed the act. He abandoned the critics and fans that loved him to be with his family.

Now, he’s back on screen, but on his own terms. Ulrich plays dad to Jughead Jones on the CW’s Riverdale. “It makes you feel old,” he jokes. But it clearly doesn’t. The show is popular and funny and arch and he enjoys being part of it. The thing about Skeet Ulrich is that he loves acting. He just loves his kids more. Fatherly spoke to him about his very un-Hollywood life in Hollywood.

What drove you to decide that being a dad came first, ahead of any work?

I won’t get into the details of how I grew up and the lack of parenting I had, but I would never let my kids feel unwanted. That was the prime motivation. You know, they’re just a lot of fun to be with and be around. I had an analyst in New York. When I went there, we went over and over and over my childhood. I came to the conclusion it would never be fixed. He told me when I had kids it would be. I didn’t understand that when I was 23, but he was right. I get to re-experience my own childhood in a new way and be the parent I wish I’d had. 

Instead of outsourcing parenting, you took a step back from work and did it yourself, as a single dad. What spurred to take the hard way, so to speak?

Being a parent has driven me to make the decisions I’ve made. I did work, but I would only work in Los Angeles until Riverdale. The kids would be there with me. I hired a nanny once when I was doing the first season of Jericho. They were starting kindergarten, and I hired a nanny once more when I did Law & Order. That’s it. A screaming kid is screaming for boundaries, screaming for something they know. They need a parent to step up. 

Damn. I feel like you were probably working around a lot of people with a lot of help.

I’m not placing judgment on anybody. These are my beliefs. And I’m reaping the rewards when I look at my two 18-and-a-half-year-olds. They still come to me and give me a kiss. We have a tight bond. Now that they’re 18, I can go on set and be away more. 

What was your approach to fatherhood? 

I’m not a disciplinarian. I’m not strict. I still remind them that I give them things so I can take it away when they don’t behave. I coached seven years of baseball, five years of soccer. I was the makeup guy for her cheerleading tournaments. I was always there as much as I could be. I had expectations and rules. I was never a spanker, never once. I did time outs and consequences. I tried to stay out of the way of what is their instinct anyway. The hardest thing of being an only parent — you don’t have anyone to put your head on the pillow with and talk about things. That puts a lot on yourself, a lot of overthinking. 

I’m an only parent, so I totally understand. At the end of the day, you’re it. 

You’re right. You don’t have that other person. It makes you a better parent. You have to come up with coping strategies and try other things. Read other things. I could not be prouder of these two human beings that I raised. 

And here you are on Riverdale, which is specifically aimed at viewers the same age as your kids and is immensely popular. How does that feel? 

It helps that I work with people admire and enjoy. My kids watched the first two seasons religiously and now they’ve moved on. They graduated from high school. They’ve seen it all. They were there the moment it aired. 

But surely you’ve won major cool points with your kids?

I think so. I don’t know. We’ve always had such a tight relationship. It’s part of being an only parent. It was interesting to see them have friends approach them in school and be astounded that their dad was on the show. It gave me a leg up for sure. It made me a lot cooler than I really am. 

What’s next for your kids, now that they’re 18?

My son is on the set of Riverdale, shadowing our DP. I’m putting his foot to the fire, so to speak. Ultimately I just want them to find something to do that doesn’t feel like work. The money doesn’t matter. Fortunately, I feel that way about my job. I could not imagine doing anything else. My daughter wants to act. I wouldn’t let her be in the business until she trained. She accelerated through high school. Now she’s entering the precious fray of auditioning. She’s always wanted to do that.