The jury is still out on whether Gossip Girl—the hedonistic teen soap opera beloved by the bobby-soxer in all of us—will rise from its slender-but-influential ratings share and turn the CW network from a caterpillar into a butterfly. And now it’s May. Game time. Sweeps month. Cliffhangers are ready. Fingers are crossed. Can the nation’s escapist mood that has been elevating box-office figures rescue the genre of the lavish television drama that has recently been in decline? Is Gossip Girl the end of the mighty nighttime soap or just the beginning?
One thing is certain: Gossip Girl itself is in no need of saving. The show has been picked up for a third year, and we know one prime reason why. This season, one of Gossip Girl’s biggest twists has been an unexpected victory of talent over mere beauty: The show’s two most lively, versatile, and engaging actors, Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick, have gotten more and more screen and story time. Virtue rewarded? It’s the kind of meritorious upset that would infuriate their characters, the show’s colorfully scheming on-and-off lovers Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass.
But it only makes sense. Westwick’s wealthy, unscrupulous Chuck—slippery as a shark and just as dangerous to cross—has crystallized into a junior J.R. Ewing, a fantasy figure that all parents fear and that all girls . . . well, you know. And Westwick is so convincing as a teenage American Psycho that most people don’t even realize that he’s English, born and raised, with the wit of a Brit and the heart of a rocker. (He’s even got a band—ish.) Known for some bad-boy ways himself, Westwick comes across as part Chuck, part Liam (as in Gallagher), and, somewhere in there, a talented actor just bursting to get out. If he can just outmaneuver the tattoos . . . This is a cliffhanger worth tuning in for.
DAVID COLMAN: You’re already at work filming the third season of the show right now . . . How’s everything on the set?
ED WESTWICK: I have the day off, so instead of the set, I’m on the couch.
COLMAN: Where do you live? I don’t need an address, obviously, although I’m sure everybody who wants to know where you live has found out already, right?
WESTWICK: I think it’s not the most secret information . . . I was at New York Comic Con doing a signing for the S. Darko movie I’m in, and one of the promotion girls was like, “Do you still live in The Tate?” I was like, “What? How do you know where I live?” It’s quite unnerving, to say the least. But I guess that’s why you have a doorman.
COLMAN: It’s funny, I was at the Armani store opening a couple of nights ago on Fifth Avenue. It was a mob scene. Then all of a sudden there was your co-star and roommate, Chace Crawford, fighting through the crowd. I had this weird moment where reality and Gossip Girl merged—is this Chace or Nate Archibald?
WESTWICK: Those kind of over-the-top party settings are such a point on the show. We spend a lot of time working out scenes and basing stories around them. Parties provide quite the dramatic setting.
COLMAN: The producers are good at making everything on the show seem very New York.
WESTWICK: That’s based on the fact that we can shoot in New York . . . Know what I mean? There was some tax break for it or something, and now, apparently, they may be taking that away. So for us to still be shooting in New York is fantastic. Quite frankly, it’s essential to a show like ours.
COLMAN: Gossip Girl really relies on this mix of realness and fantasy.
WESTWICK: The locations and atmosphere make the drama and the scandal and the characters and the sometimes outrageous fashion statements more believable.
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COLMAN: Chuck’s quite the dandy. Are your own fashion choices a bit more conservative?
WESTWICK: Well . . . conservative would be one word. I don’t go out of my way to wear something that’s just come off a runway.
COLMAN: It’s funny—your character talks with an American accent but dresses with a British accent.
WESTWICK: There’s something in that. There are a few things in Chuck’s wardrobe where he drops little hints. He has a pair of cuff links with the Union Jack on them and stuff like that. But even now some people still don’t know that I’m British. They’re shocked when they hear my accent.
COLMAN: What do you like about New York that you don’t get in London?
WESTWICK: It’s 24/7 here—it really is. It’s nonstop. I mean, I’m young, I’ve got the energy, and it just seems like everything is at your doorstep. You can have it in the click of your fingers, which can make one lazy, I guess. You don’t really have to leave your apartment for anything.
COLMAN: What’s the longest you’ve stayed in your apartment?
WESTWICK: Oh, god, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever spent 24 hours here. I need fresh air, you know? As fresh as New York air can be . . .
COLMAN: What’s the latest you’ve ever gotten home?
WESTWICK: [laughs] Probably like three days later.
COLMAN: That’s pretty good. So you are really taking advantage of the 24/7 . . .
WESTWICK: Look, there are a lot of cool things to do in New York, you know? You’ve got such a variety of . . . of fun to get involved in. And, of course, like anyone, you’re young and you like to . . .
COLMAN: Go to museums.
WESTWICK: Go to museums, exactly.
COLMAN: So what’s the worst trouble you’ve ever gotten into in New York?
WESTWICK: Wow, let me think. I’ve pretty much been under the radar. I don’t even think I’ve been kicked out of the clubs.
COLMAN: Goddamn it! What the hell’s going on with you?
WESTWICK: The kids today, man. We’re just not that scandalous.
COLMAN: When I was in boarding school in Connecticut we would come down to New York for weekends . . . So there’s a lot of weird nostalgia for me watching the show. A lot of it is actually frighteningly accurate. During my senior year in high school, two students at my school flew down to Venezuela for spring break and came back with almost a pound of cocaine to distribute. They got caught, and, like, about 15 students were thrown out. It was a crazy scandal. I think it made the cover of The New York Post.
WESTWICK: Well, I won’t be making any trips to Venezuela to pick up a pound of cocaine anytime soon. I’ve pretty much been good. The biggest trouble I got in was being hit by a cab when I was playing soccer in the street outside a bar somewhere—which is foolish, but that’s about it.
COLMAN: What do you miss about London?
WESTWICK: I’m a big fan of London in the summertime. English people are dependent on weather to change our attitudes, and, provided it’s a decent summer, everyone’s spirits are uplifted and the whole place is in bloom. It’s a magical transformation. London in the summer, going to see bands play outside, watching football . . .
COLMAN: Are you pursuing other roles in movies?
WESTWICK: Yes. Right now is a crucial time in terms of what decisions I make. I want to pursue other roles; I want to pursue different characters. I’ve been really, really pleased with what’s been happening, but I want to do other things. I’ve learned so much playing this character, but there’s so much more out there. You have to do things that excite you; you have to have a passion for your work. Otherwise you’re just a face on the screen. We’re trying to be raconteurs here—we’re trying to tell stories.
COLMAN: What character would you love to play?
WESTWICK: Being from England, and being a lad, I have to say James Bond. It would be wrong of me to say anything else.
COLMAN: You’re in the sequel to Donnie Darko . When did you first see the original?
WESTWICK: I probably saw it two or three years ago. I think it was a boring night, and we rented a movie. Obviously I’d heard a lot about it . . . This was before Gossip Girl. When I first saw it I didn’t really get all the hype. Then, of course, you look closer. Richard Kelly did a great job, and so did the cast. But the original is not the most watchable movie. A lot of people just don’t want to think too much when they see a film, you know? They just want to be taken on a story and get some laughs and, when the film finishes, be able to know what happened. The original
Donnie Darko was quite confusing at times.
COLMAN: The whole thing is confusing. What kind of character do you not want to read another script for?
WESTWICK: Well, for right now, I don’t want to do something where I play a kid in a school. And I don’t understand these spoof movies. I’m actually a big fan of the first Scary Movie
, but it just kind of dragged on to things like Not Another Teen Movie  and Meet the Spartans , and you just end up thinking, “What the fuck? Is anyone going to watch this stuff?” It’s just a waste of money and energy.
COLMAN: What about 300 ?
WESTWICK: I loved 300. It was great. The story was something we’d seen before. But, visually, it was unique. It really manipulated the visual experience the audience has.
COLMAN: Yeah, I’m at the movies to be manipulated, for god’s sake.
WESTWICK: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I’m paying my money and sitting in a chair.
COLMAN: I think that they actually did paint in the little individual abs on those guys.
WESTWICK: Oh, I’m sure they did.
COLMAN: How about buffing up for an action feature, are you ready for that?
WESTWICK: It’s a good reason to get in shape, I guess, isn’t it? I think it would be exciting to be involved in an epic 300-esque thing.
COLMAN: Maybe there’ll be a 301. They could make it a musical.
WESTWICK: I’m sure they could. They’re doing a Broadway musical of American Psycho .
COLMAN: You’d be good for that.
WESTWICK: I know, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I had to ring my manager when I heard about it. I’m obsessed with that film.
COLMAN: What do you like about it?
WESTWICK: Just the story. I think it’s hilarious.
COLMAN: Would you want to do a Broadway musical?
WESTWICK: Nah, I don’t think musicals are my thing. I’m not a big fan. Definitely have to get on the stage and do something like a straight play.
COLMAN: But you do sing in your band, don’t you?
WESTWICK: Yeah, well, the band’s not really a band right now. I’m just far too busy to do that. It’ll always be my backup, because I like music a lot.
COLMAN: When was the last time your band performed?
WESTWICK: Back in June . . . Something like that.
COLMAN: That’s a long time ago.
WESTWICK: Yeah, it’s just kind of falling apart. It’s very difficult to juggle two careers, unless you’re going to have someone put it all together for you. Because you’re on TV, somebody just gives you a record deal—that’s not how I’d want to get it, because it’s just not real, you know? There’s nothing I can’t stand more than that whole manufactured kind of thing.
COLMAN: You could be the male Britney Spears.
WESTWICK: “Fuck that” is my response.
COLMAN: What bands do you like? That’s a good response, by the way.
WESTWICK: Kings of Leon, The Strokes . . . the older stuff by The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Cure . . . I’m a rock ’n’ roll guy, really. I’m a big fan of Elvis, man. I got “Heartbreak Hotel” tattooed on my chest.
COLMAN: Oh, do you?
WESTWICK: Yeah, and I’ve got “21 Grams,” “Love Me Two Times,” the song by The Doors. I have “I Heart Romance” on my forearm and “You Make Me Feel Like the One” across my shoulder.
COLMAN: What does “I Heart Romance” mean?
WESTWICK: I saw it in a bathroom stall in a bar in Brooklyn. I thought it was cool, so I got it.
COLMAN: Any more plans, or do you think you’re tattooed up?
WESTWICK: No, no. Way more—they’re addictive. Get one. You’ll never look back. Live fast, die young. Be a good-looking corpse. Leave a good-looking tattoo.
Photo: Ed Westwick in New York, January 2009. Jacket: Marc Jacobs. Shirt: Pringle of Scotland. Hair products: Matrix Men, including Clean Shine Pomade. Fragrance: Marc Jacobs for Men. Styling: Ryan Hastings. Hair: Andre Gunn. Makeup: Stevie Huynh.
David Colman is a New York Times columnist and freelance writer who covers art, fashion, and design. He is a frequent contributor to Interview.