All the children’s fantasy novels are turning into big budget Hollywood movies, from Harry Potter to The Chronicles of Narnia. The small screen has optioned the young adult drama series Gossip Girl. The title character is an internet blogger who chronicles the lives of privileged teens in New York City. Voiced by Kristen Bell in the show, she sets her sights on the return of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) after a year away in boarding school.
The show gives Lively her first lead role after ensemble films like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Accepted. Sisterhood was also based on a book, but the very nature of television makes Gossip Girl more of Lively’s own interpretation of Serena.
"It's very different," Lively told Dish. "With Sisterhood, I read all four books in the very beginning because it was a movie. So for three months we'd be telling the story of the first book. This is a full series. It could go one episode, it could go 100 episodes, we don't know. So I read the books of the Sisterhood but Gossip Girl I just read about half of it to really get to know the character. I'm very excited to dive into Gossip Girl. I've never done anything like this."
The juicy part is giving Lively more material with which to flex her acting muscles than her films have. Serena returns from boarding school to comfort a suicidal brother, face the friend whose boyfriend she stole, and the man who assaulted her. That’s all in episode one.
"I'm very excited because Serena is very complex. She was what you can call a bad girl before and now she's trying to be good, but she's still got this core to her. She's being pulled at all different angles from her mom to her brother to this new good guy, Dan, to Nate who she still loves, to her best friend. She's got all of these people pulling on her and she needs to find her place. So I definitely think there's going to be room to explore different areas because she's so complex."
Such complexities require a completely different approach to acting, because if all goes well, there is no end in sight. "My mindset was different [shooting the pilot] because in a movie, [after] three months it's going to be done. I have my whole character arc to do in these three months. The pilot, you can't have a huge arc in one episode. You need the change to be interesting, but you may have 100 episodes to find out really who you are."
Gossip Girl plagues Serena’s life because she catches every intimate secret. In real life, Lively tries to avoid such gossip. "I don’t really go on the websites. I sign onto AOL, there's always the popup of the entertainment stories of the week. They have a little paragraph there of what happened. I get it through that. If you're sitting in an airport and there's a magazine, I never read the stories though because they're so untrue, but the pictures are fun."
With celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan making tabloid news every week, Gossip Girl comes at a timely moment in Hollywood. However, the show is not blaming wealth for creating bad behavior.
"I don't think it's so much a life of privilege as it is how you're raised. I think parenting is very important because even the Humphreys on the show, they're privileged. You look at their apartment and anybody that's been to New York and looked at apartments knows that those people aren't struggling. They go to these expensive prep schools but they were brought up by really great parents and the family was so important to them that they have stayed grounded. They're very moral people. My [real life] family are all actors. I grew up with the business around me, but I have such a great family and such a great base, that was never an option for me to become a Paris Hilton type."
Between boarding schools and regular high schools, Gossip Girl explores a world that is familiar to Lively. She wasn’t one of those child actors schooled at home or on set her whole life. "I was in regular school my entire life. I home schooled for about a year just because I went to a prep school for a little bit and it wasn't a good match. It was too far into the year to go into any other school. But I was very involved with high school. I love math. I love English. It's just so exciting for me to solve problems. I was very involved with extra curriculars as well. I was in show choir. We were the number one in the nation. So that was one of my biggest passions."
With her acting career taking off, and Gossip Girl hopefully staying on the air a while, future educational plans will have to go on hold. "I've wanted to go to Stanford my whole life. I never planned on acting. So when it came up, it was in the summer between my junior and senior year, so I thought, 'Well, I'll try this out.' And I enjoyed it so much, but my agents and everyone were saying, ‘Now's the time. You've got to do a bunch of movies now’ but school is most important to me. So I finished my senior year of high school and decided I would just delay college for a year, but acting just took off. My producers actually said they might work it out so maybe I can go to school, Columbia, one day a week. So that would be really exciting."
Before beginning Gossip Girl, Lively also completed filming a second Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie. Her co-stars have blown up, with America Ferrera leading Ugly Betty and Amber Tamblyn and Alexis Bledel breaking into major movies. They are still the same Sisterhood though, with Lively still the youngest.
"Our lives have gone in different paths than they were when we first met but they're really great, genuine people. Nothing has changed about each of them as a person, so when we get together, it's exactly the same whether people believe it or not. No time has passed. They got to mothering me again. We make up dances and we have so much fun together."
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 comes out next summer. Gossip Girl airs Wednesdays at 9 pm et/pt on The CW.