Easygoing, funny, and above all, a regular guy, the bad boy of ‘Gossip Girl’ would rather be kicking soccer balls than clique-ing out. Enjoying off-time at Central Park South’s 6 Columbus Hotel, the British actor shows how it’s done, the old-fashioned way (you know, politely).
He may only be seen for a few minutes in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar—playing a soft-spoken, low-level FBI agent taking dictation for a curmudgeonly Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover—but that’ll work.
“There’s no such thing as a small part in a Clint Eastwood movie,” says the debonair and old-before-his-time, 24-year-old actor, whose droll, purring Cheshire cat of a natty-attired character on “Gossip Girl” has come to personify more than even Blake Lively’s entitled Upper East Side brat-hood. “I’m just glad I got some time to get up there with two generations of great actors,” he says, referring to DiCaprio, and of course, the unstoppable Eastwood.
He praises the director for not forcing him to audition face to face. Eastwood, knowing how intimidating he is, and having been on the other side of the camera, only asks for reels of his actors, says Westwick, who grew up in the west London suburb of Hammersmith, far removed from the rarefied world of debutante balls and drinks at Swifty’s and Crown.
“Clint was an actor, and knows about being rejected. He’s such a nice guy.”
It’s how Westwick, in real life, comes off. “Grateful” is not a word one attaches to Chuck Bass, the one-time Iago of “Gossip Girl,” whose character this season has developed, interestingly enough, from a what’s-it-all-mean death-wisher (crashing motorcycles on Mulholland Drive with a stunt girl) to the contemplative “voice of reason” on the show. A show, it should be said, he’s anything but embarrassed of.
Moving “Gossip Girl”—now in its fifth season—from the insider-y New York City settings to unpredictable L.A., he says, was a breath of fresh air, both for his character and for himself. “The character has had a complete evolution,” he says, “from the dandy, campy brat to a more controlled and determined individual.
“Of course, it’s a constant struggle to keep the material fresh. I think we’ve achieved that. It’s still infectious… or contagious, if you like,” Westwick says, laughing. “I like that we include that old-school style of what New York once was, and how it’s passed down from generation to generation. That’s sort of what’s intelligent about it.”
At the premiere of J. Edgar, he says, it became evident how much the TV drama’s original demographic of aspiring teens has changed. Though it’s no surprise that he’s cougar bait. “Women in their 40’s come up to me and say things like, ‘I feel like such an idiot—I shouldn’t be watching your show.’ It’s such a great thing, to me. Nobody should be ashamed.”
Of his upbringing, Westwick says “I grew up just outside [central] London. I didn’t have money and I wasn’t allowed to venture into the city. My kind of socializing was kicking a soccer ball around, going to a friend’s house to play video games, and dabble on his guitar.” In his teens, Westwick had a band called Filthy Youth, of which he’s still doing some studio time with its old members, still friends.
The actor says that from an early age, when he considered acting, his parents were “very supportive and nurturing. My mother teaches psychology, my dad’s in economics. He’s a lecturer. They’re both creative individuals.”
If he had grown up rich and pedigreed, he says, he likely wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing in his Chuck Bass bow ties. “The world in ‘Gossip Girl,’ playing a character like that, has been an absolute adventure, a playground, and a license to play,” he says. “Anybody would kill to live that kind of privilege. And I get to play-act it. If I had known all about it, I may have found the role a bit boring. I mean, this is ridiculous, fantastic!”
The typecasting couch would have had him settling in comfortably in the Hollywood Hills, or in a hipster zone like Silver Lake, but in fact, Westwick has recently bought a place in Brooklyn. “I love it in New York City, even more than England—although I miss home, the nuances of British culture.”
He doesn’t diss L.A., however, like so many New Yorkers, and those in “the business,” tend to. “It’s not dead or non-intellectual,” he says of Hollywood. “It’s all in the perspective of the individual. I love hiking Runyon Canyon, the beaches up beyond Malibu…” He trails off, his enthusiasm getting ahead of him.
Enthusiasm. That should get Ed Westwick far ahead of the jaded Young Hollywood pack, both those in the audition lines and the ones, like him, who’ve made it, and will continue to.
—Steve Garbarino Photographs by Francis Tulk-Hart