Nate Archibald, the prep-school poster boy of all things physically right about American youth today, has a terrible father but a family legacy that keeps him afloat in Gossip Girl limos and designer cardigans. Last we saw Nate, he was headed to Columbia University, but not before he and Blair broke up at the prom and he headed off to Europe on a backpacking trip with his former flame Vanessa. Nate Archibald’s real-life counterpart, on the other hand, has an extremely supportive father—and mother for that matter, who during this interview was helping her son move from the apartment he shared with Gossip Girl co-star Ed Westwick to his own two-bedroom in Manhattan’s Financial District—but the 24-year-old actor had no Hollywood legacy to help him coast into the loafers of one of teenage fandom’s dreamiest heartthrobs. In other words, for all his innate good looks, Chace Crawford has spent the past few years working very hard to get where he is today. And this year, the Texas native is refusing to stand still and smile pretty, taking on two projects that he hopes will prove he’s serious about his craft. In the spring he wrapped up director Joel Schumacher’s dark thriller Twelve, in which he plays an impoverished teenage drug dealer who tries to figure out what caused the death of his cousin during the epidemic of a new street drug called Twelve (a drug favored by Upper East Side Gossip Girl types). And after much hoopla over Crawford’s replacing Zac Efron in the upcoming remake of Footloose, he gets a chance to show a little more wild enthusiasm—and breakdancing—than Nate usually summons during those tender walk-and-talk Gossip Girl street scenes. The eternally rich Nate Archibald is slowly growing up, it seems, but Crawford already has. He’s single, still in his early 20s, and he finally has his very own bachelor pad.
CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN: I hear you just moved out on your old roommate Ed Westwick.
CHACE CRAWFORD: Yeah. My mom’s here saving my ass, helping me out. She did a little pre-planning on the move, so it went smoothly.
BOLLEN: What prompted the move?
CRAWFORD: Well, I’m turning 24 in two days, so I think it was about time, you know? I mean, I was a little bit on my own in California but mostly living with fraternity brothers. So initially Ed and I became roommates here in New York because we didn’t know if the show was going to last or not. Ed had never lived away from home, let alone in a different country. We got along and figured it would be a smart move financially. And really, it was also just kind of out of laziness.
BOLLEN: Did you and Ed have different living styles? Was one of you the better roommate?
CRAWFORD: No. It was very much a give-and-take. Sometimes you fall into those kind of brother-brother arguments. But you know what? All this stuff about the place being messy is from people who haven’t even stepped foot inside the place . . . Personally I’m obsessive-compulsive about the placement and cleanliness of my things. But I’m not always the best, so I had a housekeeper come every two weeks. It was pretty immaculate, I have to say. It had its down points, but Ed and I ran a good ship there for a while. We have some good memories.
BOLLEN: Is Ed staying put in the old apartment?
CRAWFORD: I don’t know. I think it’s up in the air. He might knock down a wall, shake some things up. Hire a decorator. . . [laughs]
BOLLEN: So it wasn’t a matter of you two being tossed together by the show in some actors’ dorm?
CRAWFORD: No, it was much more casual than that. Much less thought out. I wanted to live in a really nice building, and he really didn’t care. I also didn’t want to be paying an arm and a leg for rent. They give you, like, a $7,000 relocation fee, which goes a long way if you’re like my buddy shooting Friday Night Lights in Austin, Texas, but in New York you have to deal with a $7,000 broker’s fee. It takes more than double that to move and set everything up. Ed’s girlfriend was in town most of the time for the pilot we shot in ’07. So we hung out a little bit and talked about getting a place. We talked to Penn, too, but he had shot a show in New York before and was living, I think, with Milo Ventimiglia. Penn said, “No, but good luck. I’m over the roommate situation.” So I called up Ed and was like, “Hey, man, I’m going to New York tomorrow. Do you want to room with me?” He’s like [faking British accent], “Yeah, why not?” So I looked around and sent him a few pics of the place I found and he said [faking British accent], “Is there any extra room for guest bedrooms?” I was like, “What are you talking about? This is New York. What do you want, a game room? Let’s just make space for a ping-pong room as well.” [laughs] Ed had no idea. But the apartment was in a nice building, and it had a great roof deck. We’d hang out up there all the time with our friends, and it was private.
Watch videos of Chase Crawford filming in New York:
BOLLEN: Where is your new place?
CRAWFORD: I’m in the Financial District.
BOLLEN: That’ll be nice for you, because it’s really anonymous down there. It’s not the kind of neighborhood where the streets are packed with young people and everyone’s paying attention.
CRAWFORD: No, no one cares, no one gives two shits. There’s nothing going on. I like the quiet. And you know there are the traders and bankers and financial guys walking around and all of these women in pantsuits—which I find oddly attractive.
BOLLEN: [laughs] Really? Wow. So your mom came into town to help you move. She’s from Texas, right?
CRAWFORD: Yep, we’re from the big D.
BOLLEN: Dallas. Oh, man. Are you really close to your parents?
CRAWFORD: Yes, superclose. They were really young when they had me. You know, it’s a southern thing. They had me when they were like 21 or 22. My dad was going through med school while my mom was pregnant with my sister. So they’re still young now. I talk to my dad at least every other day. They’ve still got a little hipness left in them. I took my mom out last night. She said, “I want to know what all of the fuss is about.”
BOLLEN: Where did you take her?
CRAWFORD: Well, one of my buddies runs Butter, so he said, “Take her down here. Take her to a nice meal.” I hadn’t been there in ages, but she knew it because it’s been on our show. She was like, “Oh, show me one of those little Gossip Girl places!” I’m like, “All right, if we must.” I also took her out to some local bars that we normally go to.
BOLLEN: Well, I’m not going to put off the inevitable questions about Gossip Girl any longer. Obviously you must feel pretty happy about the show’s success. So, what would be great is if you told me something really shocking about yourself that you’ve never told anyone before—not even a close friend.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Just getting right to it. I love it!
BOLLEN: Or, if you prefer, just something awful about a castmate. If you can just tell me one really bad secret about one of them. . .
CRAWFORD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s funny. You’re the first person to ask any of that kind of stuff in an interview. It’s weird. [laughs]
BOLLEN: I bet. But seriously, it is rather strange to come to New York and in a matter of months find yourself one of the new symbols of the city. Do you find the attention the most extreme here?
CRAWFORD: Yes and no. When we shoot on the streets, absolutely. You know, the day before we started back at work for the next season, I had just completed a edgy independent film called Twelve that was shot in New York. It turned out phenomenally. I got spoiled because I looked different than I do on the show. I dropped some weight. I was pale and scruffy. No one even recognized me. It was much more of a low-key, smooth situation with Joel Schumacher running it. There were no big master scenes outside. It was more improv—just throw and go. Then I jumped back into Gossip Girl on a Monday, and I was so stressed the first day back. There’s the first shoot of the episode on location, and it’s triple the mayhem. Of course, it would die down in a couple weeks, but there were paparazzi guys flying around like wasps, completely disrespectful.
BOLLEN: I don’t know how you can act in those scenes outside, pretending a really emotional moment when there are a million people waving just off to the side.
CRAWFORD: It’s funny. There are always those Gossip Girl walk-and-talk scenes where you’re walking and just talking about life and death. You’re having a serious conversation, looking someone in the eye, but everywhere around you, it’s literally a circus. Sometimes I sit back and laugh. But it definitely drains your focus and energy. I came out so mentally exhausted, especially after being spoiled with Twelve, where I was incognito. Everyone on Twelve had the same small trailer. So it was really a different experience. It was just easier to focus. But coming back to Gossip Girl is like high school, too, in a sense. You see all of these people who you know from last year.
BOLLEN: Do you think everyone in the cast has handled the success well? I mean, is there anyone who is thinking, Whoa, I didn’t sign on to become the fantasy of every teenager in America, this is too crazy?
CRAWFORD: The overall statement is that everyone has handled it phenomenally. But all it takes is one person to sort of flip the switch and make it a more tense, toxic environment. And I would cite specific examples of other shows from the past, but I wasn’t part of them, so I don’t exactly know.
BOLLEN: You mean like having a Shannen Doherty–90210 situation on your hands.
CRAWFORD: Well, I was superyoung for all that, but exactly. You hear stories about that. But it’s funny because everyone wants to know what’s happening on set. There isn’t anything shocking to write about, so magazines want to stir things up, like “Blake and Leighton hate each other.” But the truth is, when we’re all done with work, it’s like, “Hey, what are you doing? Let’s go do karaoke.” The publicity factor is outrageous. They just want to shoot you down. So that can definitely wear on you a bit. A perception of you is created, and you really have no control over it. To some degree, you learn to adapt. But you also think, Eff you, you don’t know me. It’s exactly what you are saying about becoming a fantasy. Sometimes you think, I just wanted to express myself and be challenged. I didn’t sign on to be a novelty boy. But that’s a double-edged sword and certainly not a constant factor. Even if that feeling ever creeps up a little bit, it’s like, who likes a whiner? I’m not going to sit down and bitch about it, because you can’t.
BOLLEN: So no one’s demanding to have their hair washed with Perrier water like Shannen Doherty did?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, exactly! [laughs] Is that what she really did?
BOLLEN: I’d heard that. I don’t know. That may not even be true, but I remember as a kid watching the show and hearing that and thinking, Jesus.
CRAWFORD: Well, I demand Evian. But that’s okay.
BOLLEN: You do have a certain scented white candle that must be lit in your trailer at all times, right? And the trailer has to be exactly 72 degrees.
CRAWFORD: Exactly. I also must be carried from my trailer in the arms of a security guard.
BOLLEN: Right. And some fans don’t know that during those thoughtful Gossip Girl walk-and-talk scenes, you are actually stepping on people.
CRAWFORD: They’re on all fours. They make it look really natural, and they do such a good job I usually tip them a couple bucks.
BOLLEN: You shouldn’t have your feet touching New York cement. It wouldn’t be good for you.
CRAWFORD: It’s really toxic. I mean, who wants to be touching that?
BOLLEN: [laughs] But it must be hard, though, in general to live in a city where you can’t live a completely free life. I’m glad you’ve managed to find some way of making New York yours.
CRAWFORD: Oh, I love it here, to be honest. I was talking to someone the other day. They were like, “You can’t really plan any trips, can you?” And I was like, “You know what? No, I can’t. Because I don’t know our schedule out from a week in advance. You have these little days off, but they don’t really let you go—you have to get it cleared. It’s kind of a hassle, but what better place is there to be stuck? New York’s a big playground. I have a bike, and I’m really into just being outside. Especially in the summertime. The winters could eventually get to me, I mean, I’m a southern boy, so I like that humidity. It can get hectic here, but look, I’ll be 24 in two days. I’m single, and kind of loving it.
BOLLEN: Look, I don’t feel sorry for you. You’re famous, you’re young, you’re single in New York. You’re doing pretty well.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Not bad.
BOLLEN: On the show, you guys all finally graduated from high school, which is great because I was worried you’d be 30 and still breaking up with each other around cafeteria tables. What is the show going to be like now? It goes on to your college years?
CRAWFORD: And then med school. . .
BOLLEN: And then it will be sort of like a Golden Girls thing, where you guys are together in the retirement community.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Oh, we all happen to go to a few colleges next to each other! No, it’s great. I mean, god, if we were in high school one more year, it would get a little weird. Everyone’s pretty happy about it because it opens up a whole new can of material. And I burned that private-school uniform—it was great. We all burned ’em.
BOLLEN: Did you really?
CRAWFORD: No, I’m totally kidding. But that was the main thing we were so happy about—we don’t have to wear those uniforms anymore! But the show’s material has always been more mature than high school. So now it’s like, Okay, let’s move on a little bit and get into some more mature, cooler storylines.
BOLLEN: Your character’s going to Columbia. But you actually went to Pepperdine, outside Malibu.
CRAWFORD: For like a year and a half. It was gorgeous. It’s kind of hard to believe there’s actually a school there by the beach.
BOLLEN: Or that anyone attends classes. What were you going for?
CRAWFORD: I went into broadcast journalism. I loved every class I took, I just got anxious becauseI came to the realization that you’re groomed in high school to get good SAT scores to get into a good college or else you’re done for. I didn’t have a career path so I switched to business and didn’t like it. I got nervous, like, If I’m really going to buckle down and study one thing, I better do something that I love. And my parents saw me panicking. They said, “Listen, take a semester off.” I was like, “Okay, I’m going to come back and do business.” I’m actually good at math, I tested out of all my math classes, except that in business, you have to take some really high-level calculus ones. So, I was just thinking, Oh god, I need a little break so I can gear up and kind of tackle that. I was living with some friends just valeting cars in Malibu.
BOLLEN: You were valeting cars? That’s awesome.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I loved it. I love cars to begin with. It was right on the beach next to some really nice restaurants, so you got some pretty nice cars. We’d get to just put it to the floor on the Pacific Coast Highway, then we’d have to pull a U-ey and gun it back up, park on the shoulder, and run across the highway. It was a lot of fun. And then a friend tried to get me to meet a commercial agent, but I was like, Nah. I did the modeling thing a little bit when I was younger and I hated it. But she talked me into it.
BOLLEN: Had you acted before? So many actors say, “When I was a child, I knew I wanted to be an actor.”
CRAWFORD: “I wanted to be famous.”
BOLLEN: Right, “I knew I was destined to be an actor because I played with my sister and we dressed up and put on plays.” But it’s like, every kid does that.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Exactly. “I had a stage built for me when I was four and I knew right then.” But you know what, I think that might be why I had a bit of an advantage over other people because I went in with such a cynical attitude—almost a realistic skepticism. I was kind of wary of people. The smaller boutique agencies starting sending me to these classes, and I thought, Jesus, 90 percent of these kids aren’t really balls-to-the-wall trying to learn this craft. I got into a couple of serious classes, and that’s when it started clicking, over the course of a year. My dad—he’s the coolest guy I know. This was all on his dime, after all. I remember I went back to school part-time and I got frustrated, classes were tough, and I was commuting back and forth, trying to make these auditions. Finally my dad came up and he said, “How you doing?” and I was like, “Listen, I’m half-assing both things, Dad. I’ve got to be honest with you. I really need to give one thing my all. I’m really bummed.” And then he said, “Well, then quit school.” I was like, “Wait—excuse me?” He said, “Chace, just do it, man. Just go!” That’s what it took. He was confident. I don’t understand how people do it without some moral and emotional support, you know?
BOLLEN: Because it takes a lot of love to tell someone not to do the safest thing possible, which is to get a college degree and then figure it out from there. It takes real trust and belief in someone to say “Okay, just drop out and follow the dream.”
CRAWFORD: Yeah, then I kept getting great feedback and finally landed a peripheral role on this supernatural thriller called The Covenant back in ’06.
BOLLEN: Wait, one night I couldn’t sleep and I turned on the television and saw you in your first role [Long Lost Son (2006)], where you were kidnapped from your mother by your father and taken to a Caribbean island.
CRAWFORD: Oooh, god! You turned on the Lifetime Channel!
BOLLEN: No, it wasn’t even cable! It was regular TV. But it had the most fantastic plot.
CRAWFORD: Yeah—males are devils.
BOLLEN: I actually never quite understood why your father made it look like you died just so he could run off with you to an island. Did he just not like your mother?
CRAWFORD: At that point I’m obviously taking anything I could get. I’m thinking, Oh god. How do I even, like, craft this into something believable? The woman they cast as my mom was like, 36 and smoking hot. She still is! She’s on Burn Notice. Her name is Gabrielle Anwar, and we’re still friends. I thought, This is going to look like I’m attracted to her—like when she finds me, I’m not supposed to know she’s my mom, you know?
BOLLEN: Yeah! [laughs] I actually was waiting for that plotline where you make a move on her in the scene when you’re in a boat together in your swimsuits, and she asks you to take her somewhere deserted. I kept thinking, Lady, he’s 16, you’d better tell him he’s your son before he tries to make out with you.
CRAWFORD: It could have been a better movie. [laughs] But yeah, that’s embarrassing that you saw that.
BOLLEN: So in Twelve, where you play something of a down-on-his-luck drug dealer, was it important to take on a different role like this one from Nate Archibald on Gossip Girl? I mean, you easily could have made a career playing. . .
CRAWFORD: . . . the rich, preppy Upper East Side kid. Absolutely. I’m in awe of Joel. He’s an artist. And he has such a vision that he makes you feel comfortable. Obviously, the role is a bit of a risk for me -personally, but he gave me this confidence when he set a certain kind of tone or energy on the set. Joel’s the man.
BOLLEN: But it is important to take risks with your roles because it’s easy to get stuck in a type.
CRAWFORD: That’s what was nice about doing a shoot like the one I did for Interview. It’s good to switch things up. I did all of this
stuff early, and they always wanted the same thing, the same look, the same deal, and I’d think, That’s not what it’s about. It’s the same microcosm for taking on film roles. You have to be realistic with yourself as to what your range is going to be. I look at the veterans of the game and what choices they made. You need to know what your threshold is and what you can take on and what gets to a point where the audience doesn’t believe it. I actually apply that to my personal life, too. I’m the biggest believer in not talking. I don’t Twitter or MySpace or Facebook. I want to keep to myself. I don’t want to be out there. You have to keep some kind of control over who you are.
BOLLEN: Your next project is Footloose. Did you dance before?
CRAWFORD: I absolutely did not dance. [laughs]
BOLLEN: Are you taking dance classes? I can’t imagine having to get up there and do those moves if you don’t know how to dance.
CRAWFORD: It’s like you’re naked up on a stage or something. But you know what I will say, I am confident because I knew I had rhythm—and I’m athletic. I know I have rhythm, I have it in my brain. And I’m a quick learner. I’m better at doing something by imitation than being told. So if I’m working with the dance coach who tries to explain it, I say, “Just do it and I’ll get it.” That’s how we’ve been working. I’m taking these private lessons. It’s been unbelievable.
BOLLEN: So it’s pretty intense training? You’re going to be in amazing shape.
CRAWFORD: I’m going to try to get shredded. And my flexibility has already gone up like double. Really, what it’s so much about is core strength and flexibility. Its not just dance practice, I mean it’s a lot of movement work. There’s some kickboxing, some Muay Thai. And I’m learning fundamentals like breakdancing,
BOLLEN: Well, what’s great about Footloose isn’t just the dancing. It also has a beautiful message. It’s about youth fighting against an oppressive town that won’t allow them freedom—specifically the freedom to express themselves. That’s not a message that falls away no matter what the dance sequences are.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I’m glad you said that. People keep asking me about the dancing and the music. But you know Susannah Grant was nominated for an Oscar for Erin Brockovich . She did a page-one rewrite. And she interwove this beautiful story. It is a musical, and there is a bit of singing, but the message of the movie really hits home for me. Because I know about the megachurches and how they work and how they can be like brick walls. It definitely means a lot to me.
Christopher Bollen is Interview’s editor at large.