‘Gossip Girl’: Dirty Pretty Things
Honestly, every interview, someone asks me, ‘Are you really friends with Blake?’ ” Leighton Meester says. It’s a frigid afternoon in New York, and the 22-year-old Meester, who plays Gossip Girl‘s headband-loving mean girl, Blair Waldorf, is sitting in a booth at La Bottega, an Italian restaurant near Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. She’s dressed in a gray sweater and jeans and is wearing a pair of chunky black librarian glasses that would surely be mocked by the uptown snob she portrays on the show.
“No, of course you’re not friends with Blake,” says Blake Lively, who is snuggled up to Meester’s left. An energetic whirl of blond hair dressed in a soft blue sweater, the 22-year-old Lively plays Serena van der Woodsen, Blair Waldorf’s best friend and the bad girl gone good(ish) who serves as Gossip Girl‘s wobbly moral compass.
“We’re very close. We’re friends,” Meester says, rolling her eyes. “I can’t even remember a reason why people would say we’re not.”
But come on, this is America. Everyone knows that when a female-heavy television show becomes a success, the rumblings that the stars hate each other’s guts must start. Grey’s Anatomy? Those women chase one another around the operating table with chest saws. Desperate Housewives? Poison one another’s Botox. Sex and the City? Regularly clubbed one another with Hitachi Magic Wands.
Isn’t it just old-fashioned sexism? Gossip Girl‘s high-cheekboned trio of male actors – Penn Badgley, 22, Chace Crawford, 23, and Ed Westwick, 21 – have become heartthrobby sensations themselves but have largely sidestepped the gossip attacks. (Except for the predictable rumors that they’re all gay.)
“Of course,” Lively says. “You never hear that Ed and Penn are jealous of each other, even though they are complete frenemists.” She laughs at her freshly coined word. “Actors can be just as competitive as girls.” “
Their hair,” Meester says. “The guys are all about their hair.”
“Eyebrows, too,” says Lively, waving a fork. “And they pout their lips.”
“Ugh, I hate it,” says Meester. “I can’t watch when a guy does it.”
Still, it’s good to be a Gossip Girl. Outside La Bottega, New York is imploding, gutted by a financial catastrophe of its own doing. Day traders are now delivering pizzas, and real-life Upper East Side socialites are brown-bagging it out of Hermès, too embarrassed to be seen luxury shopping. But like insects preserved in amber, Gossip Girls occupy a fantasy world where young people don’t blanch at $18 cocktails or $700 Christian Louboutin pumps. It’s the spring of 2007, running on repeat – New York remains a boundless, optimistic place, in which the Dow is topping 13,000, Bernie Madoffs collecting clients and the velvet-rope VIP party never stopped. Right now, you’d rather be Blake Lively or Leighton Meester than the head of Goldman Sachs.
Not that they haven’t felt an occasional pinch. “I was in Barneys for a shoe sale,” Lively says. “And there was this pair of boots I’d wanted for a long time that were really cheap, and there was another pair in a different color, and this woman says, ‘You shouldn’t dare buy a second pair of boots in an economy like this. You should be ashamed.’ Meanwhile, her face looks like she’s just gone through a crazy wind tunnel, she’s got on big rings and a Hermès scarf. She looked like she’d just rolled around in diamonds and gold. I was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this to me.'”
For those avoiding the human race completely: Gossip Girl, based on a sharply written teen-book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar, is a one-hour television drama on the CW Network executive-produced and created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who previously collaborated on another teen soap, The OC. While The OC followed sun-kissed rich kids brooding in the California sand, Gossip Girl is set in a more volatile hornet’s nest: private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its characters, most from Park Avenue privilege, attend a pair of fictitious single-sex schools, Constance Billard (for girls) and St. Jude’s (for boys), separated by a leafy courtyard. Lively’s Serena is a former queen bee who mysteriously disappeared from campus, only to return and find her spiteful ex-best friend, Blair (Meester), in charge. There are crested-blazer-wearing nice boys (Badgley’s Dan Humphrey), pretty boys (Crawford’s Nate Archibald) and charismatic snakes (Westwick’s Chuck Bass), precocious kid siblings (Jenny Humphrey, played by Taylor Momsen, and Eric van der Woodsen, played by Connor Paolo), lusty parents, a put-upon Polish maid (Zuzanna Szadkowski), a mysterious unseen narrator (a.k.a. “Gossip Girl”) and…truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. Gossip Girl may lay on the complex, Wire-thick plotlines, but fans love it for its unapologetic decadence: beautiful kids spending lavishly, dressing fabulously, stabbing each other in the back, romping in limousines, snorting coke and boozing like teenage Peter O’Tooles. Gossip Girl is conspicuous and practically subversive in its lack of moralizing; there are few purely bad or good characters (“No heroes, no villains” is one of Schwartz and Savage’s mottoes), no prissy sermons from parents (the folks tend to be more screwed up than the kids), no After School Special-style tidy resolutions. And then, because it’s 2009, everyone goes home and trashes each other on the Internet.