“God Knows I Had My Fun”: Chace Crawford on Life After Gossip Girl

Chace Crawford

Chace Crawford, photographed by Myles Pettengill.

In the late aughts, Chace Crawford hit it big when he landed a role on the prep-school soap Gossip Girl, which took off instantly and made overnight stars of its irrationally attractive cast. In his early twenties, Crawford became one of the most sought after people in New York during an era before social media ruined going out, and an actor’s worth was judged by more than how many followers they had. Gossip Girl ran for six seasons, and its end left Crawford in the uneasy position of trying to outrun the thing that made him famous. So in 2019, Crawford made a U-Turn when he was cast in The Boys, an ultra-violent comic book satire set in a world where superheroes are power-hungry assholes. As The Deep, a spoiled, sex-craxed aqua-bro with serious body issues who can telepathically communicate with underwater creatures (including the octopus he fucks), Crawford has often been the show’s comic relief lynchpin, a chance for him to flex his range as an actor. As he tells his friend and fellow actor Billy Magnussen, the rest is just noise.


CHACE CRAWFORD: Are you done filming?

BILLY MAGNUSSEN: Buddy, I am. Just got back to the States from London, but dude, it’s all about you today. How many years has he been in the industry? 

CRAWFORD: Oh god. I’ll be 39 in July, so I probably started when I was, I guess 18. 

MAGNUSSEN: You went to college at–

CRAWFORD: I went to Pepperdine, didn’t finish. Got me out to California.

MAGNUSSEN: So that’s where it all started, being out in California?

CRAWFORD: Yeah. I got to college and didn’t know what I wanted to do. Everything in high school was trying to get into a good school. I got there and kind of had a freak-out. I randomly got into this acting class that you had to audition for, I got into this Meisner technique acting class, and that’s what really hooked me. 

MAGNUSSEN: Which one came first, Gossip Girl or The Covenant?

CRAWFORD: The Covenant, but it wasn’t a massive deal, and please no one go watch it.

MAGNUSSEN: [Laughs] I was going through the same auditions with you when we were 20 years old. I remember hearing about you in The Covenant—you, Sebastian [Stan], Taylor [Kitsch].

CRAWFORD: That was my first real experience on set, and it was invaluable meeting those guys. That’s really what kind of hooked me on, “Okay, maybe I can give this a shot and do the audition circuit.”

MAGNUSSEN: You’re bouncing around, probably auditioning here and there. Where were you for the Gossip Girl audition?

CRAWFORD: L.A. I screen-tested for Friday Night Lights the TV show, as the quarterback. I was so young-looking, and Taylor Kitsch was testing for it, too. I wanted it so badly and I didn’t get it. I remember being devastated thinking, “That was the one.”  I think the year after that is when Gossip Girl came around.

MAGNUSSEN: Did you know when you received the audition for Gossip Girl that it would be that culturally impactful? 

CRAWFORD: No, I knew that Josh [Schwartz] and Stephanie [Savage] had their track record from The O.C., and that was a big deal. I thought the title was very stupid and that they were going to change it, but it was based on these books. It was, like, six different auditions for that role, by the way. It was an awful process. But yeah, that came around and sent me to New York. I was about 20, 21.

MAGNUSSEN: Probably on the biggest TV show of the time, right? 

CRAWFORD: Definitely. And it was an odd experience growing up in what was supposed to be my college years, being in New York and having that level of fame was really bizarre. 

MAGNUSSEN: What was the first moment you were like, “Oh shit, people are aware of who Chace Crawford is now?” 

CRAWFORD: Dude, it was me and Ed Westwick at a summer concert in Central Park. I think it was The Black Keys. It was sunny out, ww were having beers and watching the concert and people started coming up to us. We kind of looked at each other like, “This is really bizarre. This could be a pretty big ride.” After that, it was never really the same.

MAGNUSSEN: Maybe I’m leading you with this question a little, but was there a double-edged sword to being that successful at such a young age? 

CRAWFORD: Some actor said that anyone who becomes famous becomes an asshole for exactly two years. I don’t think I became an asshole, but it definitely affects you in a way that you can’t really process until later. I didn’t really enjoy being recognized that much. And being in the city, it was kind of like you’re Mickey Mouse at Disneyland or something. You’re walking around and people are like, “You’re this character.” They want to take photos, and I didn’t really enjoy all that attention. It definitely made me a little paranoid for a while. I overthought things, it made me think twice about going places and what I was doing at night.

MAGNUSSEN: Your awareness was heightened.

CRAWFORD: In a very negative way. It wasn’t debilitating, it was just a weird experience. People can act weird around fame. There’s a lot of people that come out of the woodwork, some hanger-ons. 

MAGNUSSEN: What was your perspective of acting? What was the joy? When you’re on a great show, you’re like, “Oh, the money, the fame, the attention’s fantastic.” But you’re an artist, so I want to know what you sunk your teeth into to keep developing yourself.

CRAWFORD: There’s definitely a thing about that show, which was a great opportunity, by the way, and great money, and it was great work. But it’s a bit of a formula there. There’s definitely some agitation of wanting to step outside the box. And the thought, “Are people always going to think of me in this certain way? Am I going to be pigeonholed as this type of actor?”

MAGNUSSEN: I think you successfully have not allowed them to do that.

CRAWFORD: Thank you, buddy. I remember feeling very conflicted and really wanting to break out of that and wondering if opportunities would ever come around to do that, like the prop. And that’s why I was really—I mean, shows like The Boys come around once in a lifetime. 

MAGNUSSEN: It’s the vulnerability of your character. You’re able to go to the depths of the character and play it so real and honest in a superhero-heightened world. 

CRAWFORD: That’s the name of the game with the character and with the show in general, is that vulnerability. You have to really go to those places. I found things I didn’t really know I had or was capable of, being able and given permission to do on a show like this. It was great to really be able to grow and stretch.

MAGNUSSEN: You used the word permission. Where did you find permission? Was it from someone you were working with, with yourself?

CRAWFORD: I guess it was the creator, Eric Kripke, the writing, it starts there. Eric directed the first couple [episodes], and he kind of let us have the freedom of doing exactly what we wanted to do and finding it in rehearsal. I never really had that. Gossip Girl was very much hit the mark, and it was great. It’s its own formula. It was working very fast, and this was slowed down. And actors like Antony Starr, who plays Homelander, he’s super intense and amazing to work with. Actors like that were totally bringing their A-game. I’m like, “Okay, this is the way we’re going to be doing this show.” 

MAGNUSSEN: Did you have any space to develop the story of The Deep further in later seasons? Were you throwing out ideas with the creators? 

CRAWFORD: Yeah, they’re so receptive, man. I don’t know if I sent them on one path or another, but I think they have the most fun writing The Deep because he’s hilarious and ridiculous. I did want to see The Deep go a bit dark, and they definitely did that in season four. The arc is really, really great in this upcoming season. They really wrote to it, and hopefully I delivered. 

MAGNUSSEN: Okay, so being on a show like The Boys and then Gossip Girl, are there any parallels or differences? Again, to be on two very, very successful shows, that is a rarity in our industry and you know that.

CRAWFORD: It is. It’s wild. But as you know, just being on set is a lesson in itself, right? I mean, you work more than anyone I know, and those first times being on set, you really pick up so much. And it can be this kind of crucible of working. Getting to do it, there’s a level of comfortability there. And I think once you become comfortable in that and know exactly what’s going on and what to expect, you can start to spread your wings a bit and start trying new things. But as far as the shows go, that’s kind of the only similarities. There’s a crew, and the lighting and you’re on set. 

MAGNUSSEN: As an actor living in Los Angeles, New York, on these hit shows, there’s still downtime. What are the biggest confrontations you have with yourself? We’ve talked about it, and I’m curious, as Chace Crawford, what are your biggest fears in this industry?

CRAWFORD: Dude, I know, it’s the double-edged sword, right? Idle hands are the devil’s playground. On a macro level, my biggest fear is never working again. I think every actor can relate to that. People see you have this ostensibly great career, but it’s a tough industry in a tricky town. You’re always reminded of the things that you’re not a part of, and if you used to get invited to things and you don’t anymore. You really feel it in this town. It’s interesting because we live this nomadic lifestyle and people come in and out of our life. Friendships are great in certain times and chapters in your life, but a lot of times those people can’t be around. They’re not geographically around you anymore. And once something ends or something begins, you have to make all-new friends in a sense.

MAGNUSSEN: What do you value as an older man now?

CRAWFORD: Well, when you’re in your 20s, it’s very surface and you’re just trying to enjoy the ride. Especially with Gossip Girl, I had the keys to New York City. God knows I had my fun. I hopefully got that out of my body a little bit. But as you get old, man, you’ve seen me. I got the grill outside. I like to just cook, chill with my dog. I’m definitely a lot quieter these days. It really is about the boring things, the friendships, those relationships. I got three nephews. It’s about enjoying the small stuff and not being so precious about your career. I think as young men, we want to be Marlon Brando and we think we have to take this thing super seriously, and there’s that fear there, “Oh, if I’m not hitting these marks, if I can’t do these certain projects or these roles, I’m not cool.” We always want to be Christian Bale. So I guess as I get older, the point there is that the lens kind of shifts up to what we value and what we’re drawn to, and we’re not putting on airs all the time of being this actor and taking things so preciously and pretentiously in a way, right?

MAGNUSSEN: How does your family come into play with that? Because no one in your family is in the entertainment industry, is that correct?

CRAWFORD: No, they’re not. They raised me with really great values and my parents are just amazing people. They’re young parents. They had me when they were like 20, 21.

MAGNUSSEN: What was the conversation when you were like, “Hey, I’m going to do this acting thing”?

CRAWFORD: Oddly, they were very supportive, which was a shock to me because my dad is pretty A-type. He’s highly intelligent. He’s a doctor. And I think we all were very naive. Now I’m a little bit jaded. I don’t know if I would tell my son or daughter, “Yeah, go for it.” I’d honestly probably tell them, “You’re not effing doing this.” 

MAGNUSSEN: I know you’re joking, but that’s based in truth.

CRAWFORD: I think it’s more the industry side of things. It’s not a meritocracy, right? You don’t have that much agency, until you do. I’m very privileged to be who I am and work on the jobs I’ve worked on, but you don’t have a ton of agency—as much as it looks like you might on the outside—of what jobs you pick. 

MAGNUSSEN: There’s a lot of no’s, right? That’s what I’ve realized.

CRAWFORD: There’s a lot of rejection.

MAGNUSSEN: But there’s also people looking at you and being like, “You have everything.”

CRAWFORD: Totally.

MAGNUSSEN: That realization, the feeling that your value is always on the line, who you are is always being judged—that, I would say, is the hardest part about. How do I separate myself from the artist I want to be and the identity of who I am as a human being? Those lines get blurred.

CRAWFORD: You can’t help but have this identification because it really is who you are. You are the commodity, the job, the business. So you nailed it, man. That’s the core of the tension, that rejection and judgment and battling that. It’s always like you’re swimming upstream a bit.

MAGNUSSEN: But also, let’s be honest, Chace, you’re in impeccable shape now. How are you doing it? 

CRAWFORD: You’ve been out there in that backyard with me, buddy, hitting those backyard workouts. And listen, in 2020, the world’s on a standstill. I got these adjustable dumbbells, an adjustable bench, and a dip and pull-up bar. And I realized that’s really all you need.

MAGNUSSEN: [laughs] Be a superhero. That’s all you need.

CRAWFORD: Well, that was the impetus for making me say, “Okay, here’s a reason to try and get shredded.” It was a challenge, almost like a game for me. It was kind of fun to put in the work and it’s just consistency, you know what I mean? And for me, it really is the feeling. I sleep better. It’s a mental thing, it really is. For my mental health, whatever you want to call it, it’s a part of my routine and a part of my lifestyle. Obviously with the show, yeah, I’m trying to hit a certain look, but for just Chace, it’s definitely something that I’m never really going to get away from. And we’ve been biking too. I got into biking. I got the bike and the full lycra suit and everything. It’s fun. You’ll like it too, buddy.

MAGNUSSEN: You really committed to it. I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to take a break.” 

CRAWFORD: You’re like that too, man. If you’re ready to experience something, you’ll just dive into it. That’s why I think we’re friends. You have that thing for life where you just want to jump in and try new things and travel and do some crazy stuff. And that’s sort of what I like to do as well.

MAGNUSSEN: No, we’ve talked about it before. It’s like, as an actor, a lot of times you are just a color in someone else’s palette. You don’t get to paint and be that kind of artist. Yes, you could bring the character to life, but it is fun to create the world and see where the characters go.

CRAWFORD: Absolutely. And the funny thing about this business is when it’s good, it’s phenomenal, right? And when it’s bad, it’s tough. It’s a little bit like a drug. But there’s nothing like being on set on a project you love with people that you love and admire creatively. It’s hard to beat that family. It really is like a family. And that camaraderie, when the ride is good, it is just like rarefied air, man. It feels so, so good.