Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, and Emily Alyn Lind
You’ll never be Blair or Serena. It is both an observation and a criticism that Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, and Emily Alyn Lind have contended with since the premiere of their HBO Max series, Gossip Girl, a reboot of the beloved CW teen drama. This comparison is not unexpected; the original was a cultural phenomenon much remembered for its soapy storylines, buzz-worthy fashion moments, and launching the career of movie star Blake Lively. But what these critics fail to see is that not only are the leading ladies of this Gossip Girl, not replicas of the socially obtuse and privileged teens of the original series, they don’t want to be.
Like a younger sister anxious to be adored on her own merits, HBO Max’s Gossip Girl takes bigger strides, particularly in its commitment to inclusivity. This time around, the rivalry for queen bee status, once monopolized by the porcelain-skinned Blair and Serena, is occupied by Alexander and Peak. They portray Julien and Zoya, half-sisters, with their fair share of secrets hidden inside their Louis Vuitton handbags. Another update is the broader scope of romances visible in the reboot, as observed by the love triangle between socialite Audrey (Lind), bi-curious boyfriend Aki (Evan Mock), and pansexual paramour Max (Thomas Doherty).
Ting Magazine’s creative director Justin Campbell sat down with Alexander, Peak, and Lind to discuss rebooting Gossip Girl for the Gen Z generation, their favorite fashion moments, and why it was vital for them to be a part of a show that diversified the teen soap genre.
How did you first get into acting?
EAL: I was very stubborn, and I asked, begged my mom (actress Barbara Alyn Woods) – because I heard an agent say to my mom how beautiful her children are and that they should get in the business. And I was like, “Mom, I’m doing it.” I remember it was Raleigh where they’d shoot commercials. I did one state fair commercial, and I loved it.
JA: I was acting from a young age, then I stopped for a very long time and focused on music. Then end of 2018/2019, my sister convinced me to go back into it. It has been a great experience, I must say. I was a little hesitant. I was like, “No, I’m doing my music.” And she said, “You can do both.”
WP: I started doing background acting when I was around 13 or 14, maybe 12. I booked a very small role on Minority Report, the TV show, because it films in Vancouver. From there, I got my agent. Then I did Molly’s Game, and that’s when it all started for me. And now I’m filming Gossip Girl.
What was the audition process like for Gossip Girl?
WP: My audition process was very humbling. I didn’t have to go through the waiting of did I get it or not. I did the tape late, late 2019, and then completely discarded it from my brain. Then I got a call in late January telling me that I booked it. I’d only done a tape, so I was obviously in disbelief. I couldn’t come to terms that I was going to be in the new Gossip Girl.
EAL: I remember getting the meeting and not knowing what it was. It was the most under wraps thing I’ve ever done. They gave fake scripts, I remember that. It had nothing to do with Gossip Girl. It said that HBO Max was going to be distributing it. And I knew HBO, but HBO Max hadn’t launched yet. It was one of those things where I have no idea about this; I’m not going to try to have an idea about this; I’m just going to do how I feel I’m going to do it. I’m going to see this script, and fuck it, whatever. And yeah, then a month later, Cassandra [the casting director] called and said, “Can you come test?”
JA: It was pretty regular because I heard that a Gossip Girl was being made through Emily Alyn Lind. We were actually at the premiere of the show we did together in 2019 called Sacred Lies. And she said, “I’m auditioning for Gossip Girl, and you should totally audition for it.” And I was like, “Okay.” I made my bid, kind of bullied my way into the audition room. Then I never heard back. I was like, “Alright, c’est la vie.” Then the pandemic happened, and it completely left my mind. Then in August of 2020, I got a call for a screen test, and that just happened over Zoom with the casting director Cassandra. Then I was in New York the next month.
The original Gossip Girl was such a cultural phenomenon. Is it something that you watched growing up? Were you a fan?
EAL: I remember I watched it when I was younger. I really liked it. I really did. I thought it was a really fun way to escape. I thought the characters were so fun to come back to.
JA: Yeah, I was a fan. I loved it. My sisters and I watched it. We’d even quote it to each other. It was very funny, a very dramatic show, and very entertaining.
Having seen the original show, who did you identify with more Serena, Jenny, or Blair?
WP: Either Dan or Jenny, I was a Jenny. I was fifteen, just watching the show and going to high school and dealing with all of that. I’ve always identified with Jenny.
JA: Maybe the closest to being a Jenny, in terms of being an outsider. Yeah, I definitely don’t relate to being in very much. And I feel like Blair and Serena were very in.
EAL: I think Blair because she was such a complex character. There’s such beauty in a villain being your favorite character because it’s like an onion with her where you are just peeling back; you get to see her past and make conclusions. You get to be a viewer but also really view a character; the decisions aren’t being made for you. That made her such an intriguing character. She was brilliant.
Representation has been such a meaningful conversation around this show. It’s such a large conversation going around in Hollywood and an important one. At what point did you realize this show would be different from the original in terms of inclusivity? Did that have a big influence on your decision to take the role?
EAL: I think I did realize it because when I talked to Cassandra and Josh before I tested for it, that was part of the explaining of the show and why it was important to the creators.
WP: I don’t think I was in a position to pick and choose what job I was doing. I was like, “Want to work, and if this goes my way, then that’s awesome.” It was obviously very entertaining that they were even thinking of auditioning people of color. I was like, “this is Gossip girl. All the original cast was fully white.” But it was awesome! It was incredible when I got it, and I realized we are actually playing a true-to-life version of New York City’s elite right now. That was really refreshing and kind of a step in the right direction.
JA: I guess my approach to acting since I started it is, well, any show that is going to consider me as I am, is probably a show that I’m going to want to be a part of. They weren’t trying to change me. I was like, “You want me with my shaved head to play the popular girl in high school. Clearly, you are doing something different that I think will be fun and cool for me. Because that was my big thing with acting in general, I don’t want people to change me. So far, I haven’t experienced that. People have taken me as I am. I think it might attest to a change.
What is the biggest difference between the two series? And also, what is the biggest similarity?
EAL: There are comparisons, but the reason there are comparisons is not because they wanted to do that but because they’re still kids in the same universe, with the same privilege, going to the same school.
JA: The biggest difference is time. They are siblings, you know. The original and the new era – they are siblings. Gossip Girl OG was born in 2007, and this Gossip Girl was born in 2021. I feel like the biggest difference was the landscape of our society at these given times.
WP: I think social media is the biggest difference and how much access we all have to each other. The biggest difference besides it is eight years later, and the two leads are sisters. The biggest similarity is how much fashion carries the show.
Fashion is almost a character in itself. What has been your favorite outfit to wear on the show?
WP: I have a few. I wore this three-piece tux for an episode. It was a men’s suit that I (my character) stole for purposes of the show. But I end up wearing a suit, and I have cornrows in, and I’m wearing high heels. It looked super, super sic with a big black trench. I just felt like Wesley Snipes. I felt so cool.
JA: I’d be hard-pressed to say something I didn’t love wearing. But something that comes to mind, in the first episode, after I come out from the fashion show, I’m wearing this red dress, and it was just so beautiful.
EAL: I’ve had a couple of Saint Laurent pieces that I’ve loved. There’s a custom outfit for Halloween that was wonderful. They made it by hand. They made all of the Halloween costumes by hand. And there was a wonderful silk dress in episode 2 at the benefit that I’m throwing. It is very beautiful and classic, and I love it.
Do you have a favorite designer?
JA: I really love LaQuan Smith. I really love Christopher John Rogers. I really like to do spectacle fashion, you know? You can’t make it campy, make it really extravagant and strange. I find that really fun.
WP: I don’t know. It changes with the day. I kind of just wear whatever. I’ve been introduced to so much more fashion than I ever thought I would be because I didn’t really think of big-name brands as being stuff that I could wear and turn into everyday clothing. Now, working with Chanel, it’s weird because they will send me samples for interviews and things, and I’ll catch myself wearing them out for a night. And I’m like, “this could actually be a statement piece in my closet.
E: I love Gucci. I’m a big fan of retro, so they have a tinge of that. I love the story behind Gucci. I also really love Saint Laurent. Saint Laurent really stood out to me when I was younger because I would dress really androgynous. I like boys’ clothes as well. There’s different sides. People have a million different sides. You don’t have to pick just one. I remember reading about Saint Laurent, and I think my grandmother had a scarf, and she told me about it. They were a step in the feminist revolution. They made the first lady suit. It was very androgynous and very masculine.
Is there one staple piece that you can’t live without?
WP: I have these Tommy Hilfiger overalls that I wear all the time. They are vintage, and they are like my favorite item of clothing right now.
JA: Dresses for days when you don’t know what to wear, then all you need is a shoe and maybe a bag. Cause sometimes, I feel challenged by fashion. I think this doesn’t feel right. But usually, I can feel okay if I just have a dress.
EAL: I love a suit jacket, like a blazer. A while ago, I just purchased this candy striper blazer. I got it at this vintage store in New York. It’s from 1930, and it was actually a man’s jacket. It’s interesting to me because it fits me so well and it’s very tiny. I’ve been wearing it everywhere.
Jordan – You identify openly as part of the LGBTQ community. You are an advocate and an incredible example. I’m thinking back to when the original Gossip Girl was made, that was still a time where actors were encouraged to not be out there with their personal preferences and sexuality. It’s so amazing to see how far we’ve come in ten years. What has this experience been like for you?
JA: Yeah, honestly, if there aren’t remnants of that, I would be surprised. It is something that is so deep-seated. I had a music manager, maybe four or five years ago, recommend that I not say anything. I was like, “What?!” You know what I mean; there’s still remnants of that old-school mentality.
Whitney – Here’s a fan question for you! Kiss, Marry, Kill – Thomas, Evan and Eli:
Kill Thomas because I’m 18, and he’s 26. Kiss Evan and marry Eli.
Emily – This is a cheeky question… The fans want to know: who is a better kisser, Thomas or Evan?
EAL: I don’t know. I can’t say! I’ll say, from a character’s point-of-view, from Audrey’s point-of-view, that when you start making out with new people, after a long period of not making out with new people, Audrey feels that Max [Thomas] is because there’s that electric-ness, and even kissing is like, “wow.” But they are both good kissers in real life.