On Wednesday, June 30, I had the honor of attending the Gossip Girl red carpet in New York City on behalf of The Nerds of Color. I chatted with Josh Safran, Karena Evans, Eric Daman, Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Emily Alyn Lind, Evan Mock, Thomas Doherty, Zión Moreno, Savannah Smith, Johnathan Fernandez, Laura Benanti, Jason Gotay, Adam Chanler-Berat, Rana Roy, Megan Ferguson, and Lyne Renée all about their new series and so much more. Read below to hear everything that they exclusively shared with The NOC!
Developed by showrunner Joshua Safran, a writer and executive producer on the original series, this extension of the pop culture classic takes us back to the Upper East Side finding a new generation of New York private school teens being introduced to social surveillance nine years after the original blogger’s website went dark. The series is based on the bestselling novels by Cecily von Ziegesar and the original show, developed by Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage, which ran from 2007-2012 on The CW.
GOSSIP GIRL explores just how much social media — and the landscape of New York itself — has changed in the intervening years.
What does it feel like getting to work on this iconic series?
Karena Evans: Unreal is the word that I can use to describe it.
Evan Mock: I mean it feels pretty good, especially to be in New York and having the premiere in New York, it’s really special. I also heard that this is the first red carpet that HBO Max has done since forever, I guess. This is my first official red carpet that I have to do anything with. So that’s also iconic. Yeah, I’m just really, really lucky, humbled, and so honored to be a part of this amazing crew and cast. I’m feeling really good right now.
Megan Ferguson: Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it until tonight when everybody asked me, “How does it feel to be part of an iconic television show?” So now I guess I’m freaking out, but before tonight I just really love everybody I work with. It’s so exciting to have HBO so excited about it and now the fans so excited about it. It’s all good.
Whitney Peak: Incredible. I mean, literally, I’m like crawling up the steps because I’m the youngest one on the show– literally and in the show. So I’m getting kind of a good, warm welcome to the craziness of it all. Whereas my castmates are already like speaking the language and doing these insane things at 17. So I’m like, “Okay, I guess I’m gonna get up there soon too.” It’s definitely overwhelming, but also incredibly, incredibly liberating.
Laura Benanti: It’s so fun. You know what’s funny is all of my friends are losing their minds. They’re so excited. It’s such a joy; it’s really a joy to be part of.
How did you feel when you got the news that you had booked the role?
Emily Alyn Lind: It was great. Then I waited a year because COVID hit and it’s still great.
Thomas Doherty: I mean, I was flattered, honestly. To be honest, I was in New Mexico and my manager and team back in London, they called me and I found out. I guess it’s always very shocking to me– not shocking, but it can be quite overwhelming because you’re not someone watching the project, you know? But I was super excited to start and then COVID hit, which kind of fucked it all up. But yeah, it’s amazing to be here now. We’re still shooting, we got a lot to do.
Jason Gotay: I mean, when I got the news, it was bigger than I could even process because the name of the show is so synonymous with pop culture, and growing up in a world where Gossip Girl was just such a thing, I couldn’t really understand that I was going to be a part of it. Being in this world is just so amazing. It’s been such an incredible journey. I could talk for hours about it, but I’m still processing it, to be honest with you. And this is a huge part of me, like getting to understand how major it is. It’s epic.
Jordan Alexander: I think I went mute, to be honest. I was at my friend’s house and I went into the bathroom to take the call, and I came out and was like, just silent. Then I whispered like, “I got it.” They’re like, “What?” And I’m like, “I got it!” I was taking time to process that.
What can you tease about your character?
Jason Gotay: I play Rafa. He is a teacher at the school. He has many secrets and is an amazing gay man living in New York City. He teaches at the school and more to come on that.
Adam Chanler–Berat: I have to be very coy with you about my character, but what I can tell you is that he’s a teacher and that there is a sort of parallel storyline with the teachers and kids; they’re very much connected, but they kind of run parallel to each other. I’m going to leave it at that. He’s lovelorn, loves technology, and is a tech wiz.
What can you tease about what’s to come?
Karena Evans: A lot of Gossip Girl.
How does it feel to be part of a series that is so inclusive and diverse?
Whitney Peak: It’s incredible in that we can have these interactions, you know, and that you can see yourself represented up there in whatever way. I think the original was very incredible in the time that it was made and what it was, but I do really, really, really enjoy the fact that I’m a part of this kind of new era of representing such a diverse and inclusive scale of human beings. So it is really incredible honor.
Emily Alyn Lind: I think that it means that it’s stupid it wasn’t before. I don’t like to celebrate the fact that we’re doing it now when we should have done it before.
Savannah Smith: It means everything to me. I’m a queer, Black woman, I’m Bi, and it just feels good to be part of a legendary show that makes it known that like, “Hey, you don’t have to stamp your queerness on your forehead to be valid, like you’re valid and you can just be queer.” It doesn’t have to be talked about, you know what I mean?
Evan Mock: I mean, I think it’s the only thing that the original was missing, and I think they’re also addressing very important topics that have been overdue to be addressed.
Jason Gotay: Well, as someone who identifies as LatinX and a queer person, a gay man living in New York City, that representation is major, especially in a world like this, especially on this sort of platform with HBO Max, and a show that can very easily be about gossip, rumors, and lies. For it to also be as inclusive and diverse as it is, and to be having the important conversations about wealth, privilege, relationships, family, and how we treat one another, it’s so amazing to be part of a show that does both; that is fun and juicy, but also ask the important questions. That’s been a joy for me.
Zión Moreno: It means the world. I think that it’s a very necessary thing to be seen by the masses because representation is part of human life and human existence. So we need to feel represented, as I know I didn’t when I was growing up.
Rana Roy: It is really incredible. I couldn’t see myself in the first one because I didn’t really see myself or anyone who looked like us in the first one. So it’s really exciting to see what they’re doing with it this season. All these different kinds of storylines that are representative of the world, you know?
Jordan Alexander: Well, I’m really excited for people that it means a lot too. I remember, this Black girl who’s one of my friends, was like, “Go, sis, go!” And that was like, holy sh–, you know? That’s like a big moment. That’s really important. I think that we are taking steps to get there and that’s really, really exciting. I only hope that this is just the beginning because there’s so much to do. And I understand that on a global scale, it does need to be kind of incremental, but I just hope that this is a stepping stone to create more inclusion, more diversity, and a place where everyone is welcome.
Johnathan Fernandez: I mean, it’s everything, it really is. To be on a show like this with so much inclusivity and so many people from so many different backgrounds is truly everything. I’m fortunate enough where maybe I’m like the good luck charm or something because Lethal Weapon was also like that, and it was like one of the more diverse, if not the most diverse on network TV at the time. So to move on to this, that then even expansive way further and has people from all over, all genders, all different dispositions, and everything is a huge privilege to set any kind of precedent.
Megan Ferguson: So, I’m really thrilled that Josh Safran, our showrunner, made that a priority. I don’t think you get a cookie for being diverse. I think our art should be reflective of the world we live in. It shouldn’t be performative. I know that he’s taking that into account in all aspects of the production. I’m just happy to be at a workplace that’s considering it.
Josh Safran: I grew up in New York City. I went to private school in the 90s and my private school is not exclusively white, and I just really feel like it’s very important to show the world as it is today. I’ve created three shows, none of them have had white leads. It’s really important to me to tell stories that are outside myself, just surround myself with writers who represent the world of the show, and to really look at those issues like it’s 2021. There’s enough shows till time with just white people and also that’s not New York.
What do you think is going to shock or surprise fans the most with this new series?
Rana Roy: I am gonna be as shocked as everyone watching because I don’t even know everything. There’s gonna be a lot of bombshells everywhere.
Adam Chanler–Berat: Well, I mean the original Gossip Girl did not have social media. I mean, there was that app, right? There was like the tracker app, but we now live in a world where everyone could potentially be Gossip Girl. So, it turns the volume up and the stakes are higher.
Johnathan Fernandez: I mean, it’s just like so layered. I really feel in a pretty deep level, like a visceral level, when I finish an episode and I’m just like, “I can’t believe it’s all one episode.” Like so much stuff happens. Every single character is doing something, you find out more stuff about them, and they have something to do with the overall wheel of the entire show. It’s every episode you feel like you just ran a marathon and it just gets juicer, juicer, and juicer. It’s wild.
Laura Benanti: It’s fortunately way more diverse than the original in every way. I think so much has shifted in that time, you know? Instagram and social media, that’s a huge part of it. But also the awareness of privilege, which I think we can still have fun with this rich world, but I appreciate that the majority of the kids are sort of aware of their privilege in this and some are conflicted about it. It feels like it has a grounding to it that I appreciate.
Eric Daman: I think it’s how we’re going about the school uniforms. I think it’s such an outside the box world that I’m working with. Like the original Gossip Girl was very– the school uniforms were not square, but it was like the navy skirt, white blouse, and everything. They all had to be in flats. You never saw a sneaker or an oversize shirt. But with this generation, to play with the proportions and kind of throw pants to the wind. You know, you see Julien Calloway show up in her tiny biker shorts and her dad’s oversize Saleen shirt and it’s just like this moment of what this generation represents and also that she’s the queen and rules do not apply to her.
What made you want to be a part of it?
Lyne Renée: Well, I mean, it’s Gossip Girl. It’s just such an honor to have people rewrite this, remake this, and then look at you and go, “Oh, you’re actually a component that could fit in this model that we’re making again.” And it’s pretty surreal because I remember my managers calling me and saying, “What do you think of Gossip Girl?” I was like, “What do I think of Gossip Girl? I think that show is fantastic!” And they said, “Well, you have it. You booked it.” So it’s surreal. I’m absolutely honored. I mean, the new cast, they are amazing. They’re wonderful people. I feel like I’ve stepped into a whole new family. It’s been pretty special.
Karena Evans: I mean so many things attracted me to the pilot. I think that the original is so iconic for so many reasons, but for me, it was the opportunity to bring People of Color to the center of this story.
What is it like filming in New York?
Lyne Renée: Filming in New York is something truly special. I mean, it has so many hidden gems and secrets that most people don’t know of, and we absolutely get an opportunity to go and film in places where otherwise I wouldn’t go. So it’s pretty spectacular and also, I live here and to wake up and know that in two hours, I’m gonna be picked up and then I’m gonna go to set, it’s pretty special.
Whitney Peak: Fantastic. I mean, not in the heat because we’re filming like Fall in the heat, which is coats and sweaters in 90-degree weather; not fun, but it’s beautiful here. Every single day I just go on walks and every neighborhood feels new.
Emily Alyn Lind: It’s great, and now it’s really great because finally things are opening up and have been a little less closed off. It’s good to see people happy again, and the city to be very busy. It’s how it’s meant to be.
Jason Gotay: Well, I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and so, for me, being part of a show that is a love letter to New York City is amazing. To get to film in locations that I’ve passed a million times, but never visited, to shoot a scene at the Plaza Hotel, which is something I’ve passed for years, but never stepped foot into– it’s just iconic for me to step into these places as someone who was born and raised here. It’s so special.
Jordan Alexander: I mean, it’s incredible. New York is such an incredible city and I haven’t really traveled all that much, so I didn’t really know how different places can be and how that can have an effect on you and all the people around you. New York is such a creative city, like everyone you bump into is hustling and reaching for their passion, and I feel like that’s a really inspired place to be.
Adam Chanler–Berat: Oh, it’s a dream. I’m a theater kid and it’s a dream for every theater kid to be able to work in all the mediums. To work in the city that I live in and love so much– and it’s not just working in New York, it’s working in a show that like embraces, celebrates where New York is part of the story, you know?
Johnathan Fernandez: A long time ago, not that long ago, I did a guest star on a show called Bull here, and that was the first time I’d been back in New York in a while. I remember getting out of my trailer right on Bleecker Street wrapping for the day at like 10 PM, calling my friend I was like, “Hey, is this still too late?” And she was like, “No. Too late?” Cause in Los Angeles, that’s like midnight, that’s like three o’clock in the morning, 10 PM. So, we got some empanadas, like 30 blocks away. We walked there and were out until like four in the morning and I was like, “Being on a show here is everything.” Such a gorgeous opportunity, especially something that’s so truly rooted in New York the way Gossip Girl is. Like Gossip Girl is New York. There’s no way they could have shot this at like Toronto or anything like that. People would have figured it out immediately. So it really is such an honor and so fun.
Laura Benanti: I feel so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to film so much in my hometown. So there’s just nothing like it. The energy is utterly different than any other place. So to be here tonight, celebrating a show that celebrates New York is really amazing.
Megan Ferguson: Filming in New York is very special. Anytime your backdrop is Central Park and one of any number of the restaurants, it just breathes a real life into it that you can’t get from a set.
Is there a lesson or message you hope your character gives fans?
Savannah Smith: Oh, she’s not– don’t look up to Monet, just right now. We’re going to peel back the layers as the show goes; she’ll get some humanity, but in the first few episodes, I would say, do what she doesn’t do. She’s kind of a bitch. [We do love those characters.] We love them, she’s the classic mean girl, but I will say she’s very work-driven. She’s very like one-track mind and I do relate to that.
Zión Moreno: Don’t be mean. [We gotta love the mean characters through.] We do, they’re pretty iconic.
Emily Alyn Lind: I think that Audrey can teach audiences to make yourself a self priority. I think that Audrey is a very empathetic and nurturing character to the people she loves. And I’m the same way in a lot of ways, not to flatter myself, but I know I am. I also know that my fault a lot of time is not taking care of myself. So take care of yourself.
Evan Mock: Watch more films. Watch more important films, even if you heard that they suck, probably should still watch them cause you can come up with your own opinion on them.
Thomas Doherty: I hope that Max can teach people to be a lot more kind of free-thinking, a lot more liberated as individuals, and a lot more expressive.
Jordan Alexander: I would say that the lesson people would get from Julien is how damaging it can be to hide parts of yourself, whatever that may be; whether it’s just any flaw that you perceive to be something that you don’t think anyone should know, that’s not the case. People should be accepted in their entirety. You don’t need to curate some type of facade for Instagram or the people around you, you know? Just be genuinely yourself and that will attract people who are like-minded, and that will feed your soul and be good for you.
What made you feel like it was the right time to revisit this show?
Josh Safran: Well, I didn’t think it was initially because it was 2019. Josh and Stephanie came to me and I was like, “It hasn’t been enough time,” but they were like, “It’s an open road;” meaning it’s not the original cast, you can do whatever you want. And I just had this idea and I couldn’t let go of it. What’s so fascinating to me is that idea, actually– the show was supposed to come out in 2020– I actually think now is the moment for the show. So it’s very odd, I mean, it’s just odd that it’s still relevant after its initial genesis of two and a half years ago. I think it’s even more relevant now. So I don’t know. I’m really excited for people to see it.
Will there be some small tributes or easter eggs to the original series?
Josh Safran: There’s many Easter eggs, not just references. There’s cameos from supporting players of the original cast. There’s also some cameos from people referencing the original that you never quite met. There’s a lot.
How would you describe the costumes?
Eric Daman: I can describe them as fashion fantasy, serving the fashion fantasy of Gossip Girl that everybody would want.
I also asked the talent behind the new HBO Max series to give me their best Gossip Girl impressions! Watch my video below and remember, Gossip Girl premieres on July 8, XOXO.