Jessica Szohr plays the best friend of Gossip Girl leading man Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley). Her character, Vanessa Abrams, is Dan’s childhood best friend who has returned to New York, realizing that she is in love with Dan. Naturally, this throws a wrench into his budding relationship with Upper East Side princess Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively).
Jessica spoke to BuddyTV today and promised us that there will be much more in store for her and the rest of the gang as the rest of the season of Gossip Girl continues. She also shared with us the unusual way she got cast on the show, as well as some other interesting tidbits about her life. Below, you will find the audiofile and a complete transcript of the interview.
This is Debbie at BuddyTV, and today I’m talking to Jessica Szohr, who plays Vanessa Abrams on Gossip Girl. Hey, Jessica. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. How are you?
I’m fine. First, I wanted to ask you how you ended up getting cast on Gossip Girl.
I have a friend that works at an agency and had called me and said, “Oh, on Gossip Girl, there’s a few episode, and it shoots in New York.” And at this time in my life, I kind of wanted to leave L.A. for a little while, and I was thinking of going to New York. And she goes, “You know should try to get in on it and see.” I didn’t have the attitude like, “Oh my God, if I get in the room, I’m going to book it,” but I was like, “At least I should try and see if they’ll give me a shot.” Things didn’t work out for a couple weeks, didn’t work out for a couple weeks, then they were going to do a local hire in New York. And then, I went to a barbecue with two of my friends, not knowing where exactly. It was just a few people at a house, and it ended up being [creator] Josh Schwartz’s house. Absolutely nothing comes up about work or about any of his work or anything. We were eating by the pool and hanging out outside. It was Memorial Weekend of last year, in May. Two days later, I left and my manager called me and said, “You know that role on Gossip Girl? Well, apparently the executive producers, they would like you to go to the Warner Brothers lot tomorrow, and then go on tape, and they’re going to send it to the other producers in New York, and if you book it, you start working on Monday.” I was like, “Okay.” So I went and auditioned and then came to do a few episodes, and now I’m here for good.
Cool. That’s awesome. Maybe to catch people up on the show a bit, since it was on hiatus for a while, can you talk about what your character is like?
I play a girl, Vanessa Abrams, from Brooklyn, who is Dan Humphrey’s childhood best friend. And she moved away with her parents to Vermont and comes back and confessed her love to Dan Humphrey, and realizes that he is on a whole other page from when she left New York. And she came back and is working on a documentary, and has a job at this little cafe in Brooklyn. She doesn’t really understand or get the whole world of these Upper East Sider kids, and that’s basically her in a nutshell. Where there’s a lot of stuff underneath the nutshell, but that’s the nutshell.
Actually, in the book series that the show was based on, there are a lot of difference right from the beginning. Have you read the books? Do you know if they are going to incorporate some of the things about Vanessa?
I took a couple of books to read on the plane to kind of make a backstory for her, and when I was reading the script, they took some of the storylines and obviously the names of the characters, but the writers and the executive producers were doing something different with the show than with the book. I read enough to know who these kids are and where they come from, and then I just went along with the script and what we were given with that. But yes, Vanessa was very different. Vanessa shaves her head in the books, wears combat boots and has a ton of piercings, and I have a full head of curly, frizzy hair.
Are you personally like Vanessa at all? Do you identify with your character?
I think out of all the characters on the show, personally, I could relate to Vanessa the most. I come from Wisconsin, so living in New York, and especially on the Upper East Side, is very different from where I grew up. Mostly, personally, I could relate to Vanessa, which is great because that’s who I’m playing.
So, she was first introduced into the series to sort of meddle in Serena and Dan’s relationship. Is that going to continue? Or will you be getting another love interest? Can you sort of give us a clue about what’s to come?
Vanessa, I think, finally had to support their relationship and knew that Dan was going to be happy with Serena. I think it was hard for her to swallow it, but you gotta do what you gotta do. And Vanessa ends up really enjoying Serena’s company and thinks that she’s making Dan happy. Vanessa does get to know someone that does go to their school. As she’s doing her documentary, she realizes that one of the guys isn’t totally that world. He lives there and comes from money and all that, but she realizes that he’s also different than them. And they start to hang out a little bit. I’m not sure if they’ll end up dating or become really good friends, but she really enjoys his company.
I can’t wait to see that.
Yeah, a lot of fun stuff is coming up.
Oh great. This is seriously one of my favorite shows, so I’m just excited for any details that you can give me.
All I have to say is, with the last five episodes before we end season 1. It was supposed to be originally nine episodes, so they’ve crammed nine episodes into five. [There are] weddings, people coming out with their sexuality, and a lot of stuff.
Awesome. So let’s talk about fashion. Vanessa’s style is very urban chic, as opposed to Blair who’s more preppy. How much influence do you get to have on what Vanessa wears?
When I first booked the role, Eric Damon and a couple of the other costume designers on the show said, “You know, she’s very piercings and goth a little bit, in the books and all that. Let’s make her Lower East Side, Brooklyn, funky, bohemian, earthy kind of girl.” I think it’s so fun because Vanessa dresses a lot different than I do in real life, so it’s fun when they give me all these patterns and bright shoes and all that. So there’s times when I see a certain outfit, and I go, “Oh, can we do this, or can we do that?” They try to tie it in a little bit, but they’re so good at what they do, so I always trust their instincts.
I was going to ask you next what your personal style is like when you’re off the set.
I really like jeans and T-shirts, to be honest. I had these moccasins that I got from Rite-Aid for two dollars. They were $1.99, and I lived in them to the point where, when I lost them, I got so upset. I thought, “I’m never going to find them.” Because you know when you where something all the time and it fits you perfect. But yeah, jeans and T-shirts is pretty much what I like. And flip-flops.
What’s it like filming Gossip Girl in New York?
That’s probably one of the parts parts about it. The city is so amazing. It has a different feel than L.A. does. It’s fun. There’s great energy here. And it reminds me a little bit of home, not because it’s a big city or anything because I grew up in a very small town, but just the weather. One minute, it’s really sunny, and the next it could be raining. You never really know. When you live in L.A., you take the sunny weather for granted a little bit. I was like, “I can go to the beach all the time,” and I’d go to the beach once a year. So, it’s been awesome, and the city has been so wonderful to the show, and letting us film all over. It’s been great.
Cool, cool. What scenes or project have you done that you’re most proud of. Not just from Gossip Girl, but from your past? What things have you worked on that you really count as one of your big accomplishments?
It’s hard as an actress because if I see work that I do, I always nitpick it apart so badly. So I don’t know. It was a big step for me when I first booked my first series regular job after going through all the testing with the executives and going in these rooms with 40 people in suits just staring at you. You’re so nervous doing it. I was shaking before. So, once I booked that, it was a big step for me. But I still have a lot to learn, and I want to keep growing as an actor, so I don’t know if that answers your question.
You just turned 23 about a month ago. Happy belated birthday.
Thank you so much.
How did you spend it?
A couple of my friends from New York got together for dinner and hung out. It was kind of low-key, and it was fun. Good friends, good people, good food, and it was fun.
Awesome. And finally, besides Gossip Girl, are you a fan of any other TV shows?
I was sent a bunch of pilots last year, so I got to see pilots before they were aired, and I really enjoyed Dirty Sexy Money. I really, really like The Office. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s my favorite show.” So now I have the DVDs and I’m catching up on all of them, but I think it’s really funny. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? It’s hilarious. So I want to say, those three right now.
Cool, cool. Well, I am so looking forward to seeing you on Gossip Girl. Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me.
Thank you so much.
-Interview conducted by Debbie Chang
(Image courtesy of the CW)