Gossip Girl: Jordan Alexander on the Show's Secrets & Fashions
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the first four episodes of Gossip Girl.]
Developed by showrunner Joshua Safran, a writer and executive producer on the original series, the new HBO Max iteration of returns to the Upper East Side and the elite Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude’s School for Boys, with a new group of privileged, rich and beautiful students. There, new girl Zoya (Whitney Peak) tries to find where she fits among new friends and new romance, all while attempting to avoid the wrath of the reawakened Gossip Girl and her wicked ways.
During this virtual 1-on-1 interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, Jordan Alexander (who plays Julien Calloway, an influencer and the top trendsetter among the Constance elite) talked about what made her want to be a part of this series, her immediate bond with co-star Peak, exploring the sister dynamic, the fun of playing an unpredictable character, the fashion, what Julien thinks of Gossip Girl, and what’s still to come this season.
Collider: Now that the series has been available for a little bit, what has most surprised you about the reaction to the show? What are people most responding to?
JORDAN ALEXANDER: I’ve noticed that people have been responding to the soundtrack a lot, which I completely agree with. It’s absolutely brilliant and it is such an important part because it sets the mood and tone to have a music playing. Not that I was surprised, but I’ve been noticing a lot of that.
Have you been seeing reactions to your character, as far as the storylines go?
ALEXANDER: Yeah. I love seeing people being supportive and rooting for the sister relationship. I am also rooting for that, for sure. It’s weird because I don’t know if what I’m seeing is being tailored to me because I’m only seeing good stuff. Maybe Twitter is protecting me or something, but I’m really only seeing good stuff.
When the opportunity to be a part of this became a possibility for you, what was your reaction? Had you been familiar with the original series? Are you somebody who is typically interested in reboots, remakes, and reimaginings?
ALEXANDER: I typically really liked teen dramas, and things like that. I was really into Pretty Little Liars and I watched Gossip Girl as well. I was excited and I was down. As an auditioning actor, mostly you’re just really down and like, “Whatever it is, give it to me.” But this was unique and special. I already knew that Emily Alyn Lind was gonna be a part of it, and we had worked together previously on Sacred Lies, so it had that added element of knowing someone in the cast and thinking that it’d be a really fun opportunity.
What was the audition process like for this? When you audition for this, did you immediately have a good feeling about it, or are you someone who’s always convinced that you’ll never get whatever it is?
ALEXANDER: As long as I’m in audition mode, I am getting this role. And then, after you audition, you have to just forget about it. You’ve just gotta send your energy elsewhere. I definitely focusing all of my energy onto the positive outcome while it’s available. It was an interesting auditioning process. I heard about the reboot from Emily. She was like, “You need to audition,” so it started that way. That was about February, and then I heard nothing. But then, the pandemic happened. And then, in August, I went for a screen test, which was actually just a Zoom call with Cassandra [Kulukundis], the casting director, which was crazy. I remember sweating because I closed all of the doors in my room to make sure that it looked good and was quiet.
At what point did you meet Whitney Peak and how did you guys start to figure out the dynamic between your character?
ALEXANDER: Whitney is just such an incredible, wonderful human being. I was maybe the second to last to get cast. She had known that she was gonna be in it from maybe March or something. So then, when I got cast, she reached out to me immediately, gave me her number, and we had a phone call, which was really nice. It really felt immediate, the bond with her. She’s actually from the place where I was born, so there was all of this interesting stuff happening, even before we got into the script.
I read that you decided to shave your head when you were 18, which is a bold move at any time, since it’s one of those things where you just don’t know the outcome until you're actually doing it, and then it’s too late to go back. I also love that you still have that shaved head on this show. Did anyone ever suggest that you to try anything else for the role, or were you always clear that this is who this character is?
ALEXANDER: No, I don’t think that they had intended for Julien to have a shaved head. I don’t know that that was really in the write-up. In terms of doing acting, I’m very open to creating what the character is supposed to be, so I was like, “If you guys want me to wear a wig, I could wear a wig.” But they ended up going with leaving my hair shaved and I was so excited about that. I guess it was a risk when I did it. It definitely got commented on a lot, when I first shaved my head, but I feel like the comments are less now because maybe I’ve just had it for so long that nobody cares. It can be something that you’re discouraged from doing, so maybe if someone can see me and know that they can do it, if that’s what they wanna do, then that’s good.
It’s one of those things that just inherently has a certain sense of confidence to it because it seems like it would be really scary to do.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. Maybe it’s just hard for me to remember what I was feeling, but when I decide something, it’s very cut. I just don’t remember feeling any trepidation. I was like, “This is what I’m doing and it’s a hundred percent the right decision.” For whatever reason, I don’t know why. It definitely wasn’t because people were encouraging me to do it. It was quite the opposite.
This character is someone who is very self-assured and confident and centered, especially when we meet her. Where did you find the inspiration for that? Is that something that you find within yourself, or was that something you had to find outside of yourself?
ALEXANDER: I had to rework the way that my confidence works to channel it through Julien, but it is essentially the same thing. We have different outcomes because we believe different things, but it’s that idea that you know what you want and you’re gonna do it, and it’s not really about what other people are gonna say. Although she does get lost a little bit along the way. Luna and Monet definitely have a lot to say. The core of her character and where a lot of her confidence stems from is that she really believes that she knows best.
One of the things that I find most interesting about the show is the sister relationship at the core and how it’s constantly evolving. What are you finding most interesting about that dynamic and how it’s evolved since you started playing that?
ALEXANDER: My favorite thing about it, which I think is the truth about siblings and family and friends, is that when those people are your people, no matter what happens, you make it through. We’re only four episodes in and Zoya and Julien have had to deal with some insane challenges, in terms of maintaining their relationship and their love for each other. Every time, you see that love wins, above all of the drama and above all of the misunderstandings. I think that’s a really exciting lesson. That’s the thing that I love the most. Their love for each other is so resilient.
Pretty early on, there’s already a guy creating tension between them. How do you feel about that weird love triangle that’s going on? Do you think it shouldn’t be happening because they’re sisters, or do you think it’s fun to play?
ALEXANDER: I think it’s really funny and interesting. I feel like it is so bizarre to me because I just wouldn’t even register people who were with my sisters as anything. That would be so far beyond the realm of possibility. I do think it’s interesting because Gossip Girl is this heightened, imaginative fantasy world and the stranger the storyline, the more drama you get. I definitely think it is weird, but I’m sure it happens.
And they’re also technically strangers. They didn’t grow up as sisters that were in each other’s lives.
ALEXANDER: Exactly. That’s the other thing. They don’t have what I think repels people from their siblings’ partners, which is that deep-rooted connection. They don’t have that, so technically it is a little bit fair game. So, yeah, that’s a good point.
It’s hard to know sometimes what Julien’s true motivations are with anything because they do keep shifting. She seems genuine, but then it seems like she’s manipulating everything, and then she seems genuine again. Do you like keeping her unpredictable and unexpected, in that way?
ALEXANDER: Yeah, I do. It’s an exaggeration of how people truly are. I don’t think people necessarily oscillate quite as much as Julien does, in terms of her moral fixation. To a certain extent, we do contradict ourselves as humans. We can say, “I’m against this,” but then a certain situation happens and, hang on. We are vast and multitudinous, and Julien represents that in the ways that people just contradict themselves. You may care about something and want the best for it, but when something else happens, all of a sudden, that becomes second.
We haven’t really gotten too many details yet on their mother. Are we going to learn more about who she was and see how that is going to continue to affect things for them?
ALEXANDER: Yeah, definitely. The legacy of their mother is something that comes into play later in the season. I really hope that there will be more about it because she’s a very interesting character. As everyone saw in Episode 4, she ran out on my dad and me, and if that isn’t Gossip Girl-worthy drama, I don’t know what it is.
One of the big moments in the show happened in the first episode, with the fashion show. What was that whole sequence like to shoot, with everything going on from the runway to the incredible dress? What was that like to do?
ALEXANDER: It was amazing and it felt real. I don’t know what could be more real about it. There were cameras, there was the audience, and there was the catwalk. When we did it, we did full passes of it. You’d wait backstage, and then everybody would go out. It felt like a real fashion show, and there were real models. Those girls are not actors, they were real models who frequently work with Christopher John Rogers, so that was also really cool. It was great. Karena Evans directed it in a very beautiful way. It was a very long day and I was wearing Louboutin heels and walking back and forth constantly. At the end of it, we all came out and everybody applauded. We were all there for a very long time and it was nice to have that finale moment where it was like, “We did this,” and everybody congratulated themselves.
What was it like to also shoot the sequence at the party where Julien bullies Zoya with the video of her being bullied? That whole sequence was so impactful and emotional. How did it feel to shoot that scene, where Julien has that realization that she is also being a bully herself?
ALEXANDER: Personally, it was very stressful for me. I love Whitney. In the imaginary world of doing something mean to her, I was sitting there eating my lunch and she was asking me something, and I literally broke my fork. It was a lot. I had to do it so many times. I had to say those things so many times. Knowing that the intent of the first speech was to just hurt her as much as possible, I was just like, “Oh, God.” It was awful, but you do it.
It seems so tricky to do that, and then still have it come back around and have her redeem herself by the end of the episode. That’s a lot to do.
ALEXANDER: Yeah, it’s a full 180. That’s exactly the contradictory nature of Julien. All of a sudden, she’s a hundred percent, or a thousand percent, sure that she wants to absolutely destroy her sister, and then something else comes to light and it’s like, “Oh, actually, I’m a hundred percent, or a thousand percent, gonna expose myself and save her,” in the course of 10 minutes. She’s young, and maybe that’s how those types of things happen when you’re young. You really get convinced in one aspect, and then you realize, “I might’ve been wrong about that.” I feel like that’s what that moment was. She really thought that she was right to do what she was doing, and then realized that it was really fucked up.
Can we also talk about that outfit you wear at that party, the sheer sparkly mesh dress? When you’re wearing wardrobe like that, does it even affect how you carry yourself?
ALEXANDER: Completely. I couldn’t walk properly and I couldn’t really sit down in it because it hurt. A lot of Julien’s clothes and her character, in general, makes me hold myself differently and have different mannerisms, which is very fun and interesting. She’s a very curated and crafted individual.
Fashion was a huge part of the original series and it seems like it’s also a pretty defining characteristic of this series. How do you feel about her wardrobe? Everything from how she styles her school uniform to everyday life to what she wears when she dresses up, do you feel like there’s one way to describe her style, or is it more of a mix of things?
ALEXANDER: I feel like it’s definitely a mix of things. There’s the diamond dress and the shoulder pad catsuits, but then she also has a more low-key, streetwear-inspired, oversized, androgynous side. And then, she also has that cutesy, tall boots, little miniskirt thing. So, I feel like there are three things happening and it’s dependent on her mood.
On set, does the cast of students and the cast of teachers stay separate, even though you guys are all approximately the same age, or do you all hang out together?
ALEXANDER: We definitely hang out together, if we’re all on set together. The thing about it is that the teachers have their scenes together a lot, so they’re there on days that we aren’t. But if everybody’s there at once, we’re all together, for sure.
How does Julien feel about Gossip Girl? Does she care about finding out who Gossip Girl is? What was your reaction to finding out how that was going to be set up for the show?
ALEXANDER: That was so interesting. For me, I felt like it was the right thing to do. You spent all of the first Gossip Girl trying to figure out who Gossip Girl is, so it really make sense to flip that on its head, where you know from jump. It makes a distinction between each of the Gossip Girl eras. Julien, I feel like she hasn’t gotten to the point yet where she’s wondering who Gossip Girl is. I feel like, especially in this day and age, there’s so many accounts and nobody really knows who it is. You just accept it as living on the internet. So, I don’t know that she’s started to think about that, but that is really interesting, starting a plotline where it’s like, “Wait a second, who is this?” I feel like everyone’s just accepting that it’s some online troll, but behind every online troll is a human, usually. Unless it’s a bot, I guess.
Do you get excited about the connections between the original series and this one? Do those get pointed out to you ahead of time, or do you just have to catch them when the script comes?
ALEXANDER: I catch them sometimes, and then a lot of the times, I get it from online. I get it from Twitter. There was a scene in the first episode where I take a scarf and put it around Zoya, and there was a scene just like that with Blair and Serena. A thousand percent, the writers and creators are doing that on purpose because it very much is a union. This is an extension in the next era. It’s not taking Gossip Girl away from what it already was. So, leaving those Easter eggs for the fans of the original show is really fun, and I love it too.
It’s fun and I think it’s a cool way to connect the two for the first season, so that you’re not necessarily waiting for any of the original cast to show back up. It allows you guys to establish your characters and have your moment, but still pay homage to what came before.
ALEXANDER: Definitely, yeah.
What can you say to tease what’s still to come in the first season? What do you think are the biggest ways the audience will be surprised by the story you’re continuing to tell?
ALEXANDER: Every episode could be so contained, in terms of the entertainment value of everything that’s going on, with the different plotlines and the events and all of the extravagant drama. It’s more of that. Every episode, I feel like leaves you [gasping] the whole time. There’s definitely a lot of that. A tease about the next episode is that there will be a lot of costumes, which will be very fun.
We also have seen Julien looking for at least some kind of romance, in all the wrong places. Will she find anything more right for her?
ALEXANDER: It’s definitely still up in the air. There’s a lot going on in her life that causes her to focus a lot on herself, and that doesn’t necessarily bode well for having a deep, intimate connection with someone, as we saw with Obie. He was like, “I don’t even feel like I exist to you,” and that’s true of where Julien is at. She’s just very focused on herself and trying to create this online image. I feel like it’s gonna take her some time still to deconstruct all of that.
It certainly seems like it’s challenging to have a genuine connection with someone when you don’t even fully know who you are, and while that’s changing and evolving.
ALEXANDER: Yeah. It’s very much that.
Gossip Girl is available to stream now on HBO Max.