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Anjali Rao interviews "Gossip Girl" actor about his character, his other projects, his beginnings, and his future.

Aired July 20, 2011 - 05:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I followed my heart because I love you.

ANJALI RAO, HOST: This is one of the most popular shows on TV at the moment. Shot on location in New York, Gossip Girl tells the story of a group of privileged young American adults through a never-seen, but seemingly always present blogger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to think that "S" and "Lonely Boy" were the most boring couple on the Upper East Side.

RAO: The show's popularity has made its stars idols across the globe and hot property in the entertainment industry. One of them is British- born Ed Westwick, who plays bad boy, Chuck Bass.

ED WESTWICK, ACTOR: Very well indeed, thank you.

RAO: He first cut his teeth with small roles alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Jude Law and Clive Owen in the 2006 film, "Children of Men". Since making a name for himself with "Gossip Girl", the 24-year-old has become a man in demand.

He recently shared the screen with David Duchovny in the TV series, "Californication".

DAVID DUCHOVNY, ACTOR: Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes, OK?

RAO: And has branched into fashion by becoming the face of a clothing brand. This week, "Talk Asia" meets Ed Westwick in Manila to find out how he deals with his newfound fame. Plus, he shares his secrets to perfecting an American accent.


RAO: Ed, fantastic to have you on "Talk Asia" with us. Now, I understand that this is your first time to Asia and you have a massive following in this part of the world. Have you noticed?

WESTWICK: Have I noticed? A little bit, yes. It's been flattering, surprising - I mean, I don't know how you can really ever come to terms with being welcomed in such a fantastic way. In a part of the world that you're not from.

RAO: Now, "Gossip Girl" has been going since 2007.

WESTWICK: Correct.

RAO: And it focuses on this little, tiny pocket of American society, yet it shows -

WESTWICK: Seems to have gone everywhere.

RAO: I know, that's the thing.

WESTWICK: Exactly.

RAO: It airs all over the world.


RAO: How come it resonates so well?

WESTWICK: Well, I don't know, but I'm sure there are some population of the Upper East Side of New York that feel very self-important because of that, I'm sure. But, no, I mean, it's astounding. From my point of view, to give you a little bit of background, you know, I was acting in the U.K. And doing relatively small jobs and then kind of went and auditioned for this pilot of "Gossip Girl".

And, you know, you never really kind of can predict or kind of put yourself down the line and think what's going to happen, but it really just went from strength to strength, you know? And then, here we are in the Philippines having a conversation four years later about the show.

RAO: Now, you play bad boy, Chuck Bass. Chuck is such an odious character in many ways. But then he'll go and show this tender side.


RAO: And a little bit of insecurity. How do you get that balance right, so that he's not just a figure of hate?

WESTWICK: You know, we've had this long of a period of time where you can explore different shades for the character. And he has had that kind of quality, you know, just where you think he's gone off the deep end - I remember, I think it was in the first season, towards - in the Pilot, in fact, he attempts to, you know, sexually assault Blake Lively's character, Serena van der Woodsen. So, from the jump off, it's pretty - we're in pretty deep.


WESTWICK: I think you're more like me, you'd admit?

BLAKE LIVELY, ACTRESS: No, no, that was then. I've been trying to change.

WESTWICK: I liked you better before.

LIVELY: Stop it. No. Stop it.


WESTWICK: There was some, you know, there's been similar situations like that, scenes like that. But, you know, he has been given this kind of moral compass through his relationship with Leighton Meester's character, Blair. And the power of - which my fans will agree between themselves - that is true love, the power of true love. So, it's, you know, he is this very interesting character.

RAO: You, yourself, are nothing like Chuck Bass.

WESTWICK: That's what I say to you.


WESTWICK: No, I'm not. No. I'm a good boy, I'm a good boy.

RAO: Allegedly.



RAO: "Gossip Girl" has kind of picked up where "Sex in the City" left off in terms of its fashion forwardness.


RAO: And G.Q. named you, recently, as one of their best-dressed males of, I think it was, 2010.

WESTWICK: Right, yes.

RAO: And, also, the reason that you're here in the Philippines is as the face of a fashion label. What h as the show done for you in as far as the style states are concerned.

WESTWICK: Yes. That's an interesting question. I mean, you know, I think it's inevitable to be influenced by - for me to be influenced by the show and the whole fashion angle that it has. It's such an integral part of our show. And it's such an integral part of New York City, you know, which is one of the fashion capitals of the world.

So, living there and then being on the show, which fashion is such a large part of, you know, you feel yourself influenced, definitely. But then I've, on top of that, got this character who's so well known for his image and the clothes he wears. It's been amazing, you know. It's just been a complete kind of - just me soaking it all up like a sponge. And then going back to London and then kind of - in my mind, I'm kind of part of this whole kind of rock and roll indie London scene. But at the same time, I'm caught up in this whole storm of New York and "Gossip Girl" fashion. It's pretty crazy.

RAO: You are clearly a Brit.


RAO: Chuck is a New Yorker.


RAO: Apparently, the role almost had to be recast because you couldn't get a work visa for the U.S.


RAO: Thank God, it came through at the last possible second, because -

WESTWICK: Literally, the last possible second.

RAO: Yes. The names Ed Westwick and Chuck Bass never would have been mentioned in the same sentence.

WESTWICK: We would have never met.

RAO: Oh, my God.

WESTWICK: Catastrophe.

RAO: I know. It was clearly meant to be.

WESTWICK: Yes. Well, to give you a bit of background on that, actually, it was the day before I was supposed to start work.

RAO: Were you in shreds?

WESTWICK: I don't think I could have - I don't think I allowed myself to panic too much. Because, if I would have done, you know, I don't know - the whole world would have crumbled down around me. But, fortunately, what happened is I had a fantastic immigration lawyer who met me in Toronto, which is, apparently, the place you go to get quickie visas.

RAO: Is that right?


RAO: Good to know.

WESTWICK: Exactly. So, I was up there, and this guy was a great help. And it's really a testimony to the people at Warner Brothers Television as well. They - I think, when a big corporation gets behind you, you know, they can get things done. So, I was very lucky in that respect. I got the visa and then went down to New York - took a short flight from Toronto to New York and started working. And here we are.

RAO: I was very amused to watch a clip of you in my research where you're saying how you convince people that you're American, or that one is an American. Top three ways - One, talk very loud on a mobile phone in the airport. Two, eat a lot of steak. Three, talk very loudly on a phone in the airport.

WESTWICK: And I just got my green card, didn't I? I look pretty -

RAO: Anything you want to add to that? WESTWICK: God bless America.

RAO: Absolutely.


RAO: It is, actually, really hard finding any dirt on you. I think the most salacious thing that I could find was that occasionally you like to stay up past midnight.




FELICITY JONES, ACTRESS: I'm starting to discover this job definitely has its perks.

WESTWICK: And with that, she became a swan.

JONES: So, I used to be an ugly duckling, then?

WESTWICK: I know I'm lucky.

JONES: But I'm stuck in this cage. I just want to be a pop star.

WESTWICK: Rock star.

JONES: No sleeping with (INAUDIBLE).


RAO: You recently filmed the movie "Chalet Girl".


RAO: Which is billed as a "snow-mantic comedy".

WESTWICK: Snow-mantic comedy?

RAO: Yes, yes.

WESTWICK: Nice play on words there. There you go.

RAO: Sounds like a bit of a departure for you.

WESTWICK: A bit of departure for me, yes, in terms of that. But, you know, I mean, people have drawn comparisons with my characters, but my character, "Jonny", in "Chalet Girl", who also comes from a wealthy kind of background, but he's a very different character from Chuck Bass. And, I mean, the genre of the film was very different from what I've done so far, you know? It was, you know, a romantic comedy, very British. You know, they drew comparisons with "Bridget Jones" and stuff like that. Which was fantastic to be mentioned in those - you know, along with those kind of films.

But, it was a lovely experience. You know, we had a great cast and crew involved and yes. We were shooting in the Alps, so very different setting from New York, but equally as strong in terms of atmosphere, definitely.

RAO: So, you are from Stevenage, Hertfordshire.


RAO: In the U.K. Your journey into acting started when you were six years old and your mum enrolled you in drama classes.

WESTWICK: Yes, something like that, yes.

RAO: Did she see something in you back then, do you think?

WESTWICK: Yes. She saw a way to -

RAO: Get you off her hands.

WESTWICK: -- make money for her. Ruined my life. Never let me do what I wanted to do. No, I'm joking.

RAO: Horrid stage mother.

WESTWICK: Yes. Horrid stage mother.

RAO: She sounds exactly like that, from what I was reading.

WESTWICK: Mom, if you're watching - No, I don't know, I mean, my mother is an education psychologist. So, maybe she had some, like, amazing plan that it would be a great way to build self-confidence as a young kid. You know, it definitely sparked something within me. And we always used to have great times going and watching musicals or straight plays in the West End in London. And then I would always, you know, kind of sit there like that. Just like completely baffled by what was happening. So, definitely something that I caught an eye for pretty young.

I was actually - I was at school, when I was doing my GCSE, which is the qualification we have in England in Drama. And my teacher at the time told me about the national youth theater, which I wasn't aware of. I didn't really know where that was. And so, I pursued that because of what she said. Actually, a couple of years later when it kind of clicked that I wanted to really see what was out there a little bit more again. So, yes. So, it was her and then I went and joined the National Youth Theater.

RAO: When you were in the National Youth Theater, then you got roles in big movies like "Children of Men", "Breaking and Entering" -

WESTWICK: Yes. I got my first job, "Breaking and Entering", through the National Youth Theater. There was an open audition casting call sent to the company and they put it out to all of their members. And I went along and just openly auditioned and got the job, so - and that was really the start of anything.


WESTWICK: She's taken back the laptop.




WESTWICK: She says she's going to talk to him. Do some sort of deal.


RAO: Did it feel like things were going really fast at the time?

WESTWICK: Not then, really. I mean, it was an interesting experience because I had no idea what I was getting into. You know, my first job was with the late Anthony Minghella. And so, all of a sudden, you're 17 years old and you find yourself on this film set with an Oscar-winning director and film stars, Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright- Penn. And it was just like, OK, this is pretty cool, you know? And everyone's super nice, you know. And it's fantastic. And you're just like, "Wow, this is great. It's summer and I'm 17. I'm turning 18 on set". And they bought me an iPod for my birthday. And I'm like, "This is great".

And then, I got an agent after that. But after that, I mean, it was kind of more - I was, like, learning about what was actually kind of happening, you know. And then I had to go on more auditions and so on and so forth. So, yes. But, you know, I'm still very - I'm 24 and I'm, you know, very much at the beginning. I'm very much learning. Taking it all in, still.


WESTWICK: Look, I need to know if I'm a writer.

DUCHOVNY: Oh, Jesus Christ, kid. Who am I to tell you that?

WESTWICK: Well, you're my teacher. I respect you and I think you're an awesome writer.

DUCHOVNY: Thank you.

WESTWICK: I've read all your books. Cover to cover. I love your picture on the back, by the way, it's very handsome.

DUCHOVNY: Thank you.


RAO: In 2009, you were in an episode of "Californication".


RAO: Was it as amusing to film as it looked in the finished product?

WESTWICK: It was. And one of the reasons why I'm so happy I did that was because I'm a huge fan of that show.

RAO: Yes.

WESTWICK: And David Duchovny, as an actor, I think is amazing. He's effortless in his style and it's fantastic. So, yes. To be part of that was a trip. I really enjoyed it and, you know, I'd love to go back at some point.

RAO: You mentioned that your mum was an educational psychologist.


RAO: Your dad's a lecturer, right?

WESTWICK: Yes he is, yes.

RAO: So, they are these fairly unassuming academic types.


RAO: What do you think about -

WESTWICK: But if you get my dad, he's quite the player. Quite the - quite a flamboyant one at times.

RAO: So, I suppose they're sort of like, "Oh, yes, yes, we can see our son doing this".

WESTWICK: No, they loved it, they loved it, they loved it. And I remember, you know, when I was little, they'd always, like, run lines with me if it was for, like, a school play or something like that. And my mum will tell me she's better than me, still. It's up to debate.

RAO: Do they still grill you about everything that's written about you on the net? Whether or not it's complete twaddle?

WESTWICK: No, they don't really do that, because I think they know their son. And they know, you know, we all fall by the wayside once or twice in life, especially when you're young, you know. But, the point of the matter is, if you've - you know, I think if you've got a good sense of self and you know right from wrong, then, you know, you're never really - you're not doing anything too bad.

RAO: It is, actually, really hard finding any dirt on you. I think the most salacious thing that I could find was that occasionally, you like to stay up past midnight.

WESTWICK: Occasionally I do.

RAO: What on earth would Chuck Bass say?

WESTWICK: And that's usually because of the jet lag.

RAO: Right, exactly. Is it true that you really are this nice boy?

WESTWICK: Ah, well, you know, a magician never reveals his -

RAO: True, true.


RAO: Coming up, the future of "Gossip Girl". If it were up to you -


RAO: How would you want it to end? The final episode.

WESTWICK: Oh, wow.





RAO: You've also been the lead singer of a band, "The Filthy Youth".

WESTWICK: Yes, yes.

RAO: But you're not doing that any more, right?

WESTWICK: No, I'm not. Yes, that's a bit - you know, it's kind of - there's a little bit of heartache with that, because I was - I enjoyed it very, very much. And it was actually one of the things that was happening kind of in between doing acting jobs. You know, you've kind of got this time to fill and music's a huge passion of mine. It excites me, inspires me, does everything for me. As I'm sure it does with, you know, a lot of people.

RAO: Can you see yourself doing the rock star thing, like, full time? Eventually, one of these days?

WESTWICK: No, not right now, you know? You never say "never", right?

RAO: Yes.

WESTWICK: And I think what - It's a really interesting thing. I mean, if you look back - and the reason why I said this is because I read a book about Jim Morrison and "The Doors". And it's quite a - what I'm trying to talk about is how the arts, I feel, should be interdependent. They shouldn't be independent of one another.

You know, often you find skeptics who will talk about, oh, musicians shouldn't be actors and actors shouldn't be musicians. But, if you look at it in the larger -

RAO: It's just creativity, though, isn't it?

WESTWICK: Yes. If you look at it in a larger scale, they are so interdependent, you know? We get inspired for films through music. You know, you only have to look at Quentin Tarantino, who said whenever he's having an idea for a film, what he does is he'll go through his record collection. You know, and lay back and he'll start imagining the narrative and the story and characters and it all comes through. And I think that's a very interesting thing, you know? And we are inspired, you know, acting and the stage and, you know, all different types of art are inspired through music or inspired for a film. You saw a film and then you wrote a song about it or something like that.

So, I feel like it should be - I don't feel like anyone should feel or should have any reservations about pursuing another art form just because they're established in one or - yes, established in one, really. So, you know, never say "never", but at the moment I'm kind of doing some things that I feel really good about within acting so, so far, that's that.

RAO: You're starting work on the latest screen adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet".


RAO: And you shall be playing "Tybalt".


RAO: Juliet's fiery cousin.


RAO: How are you going to make that character different from Tybalts gone by?

WESTWICK: Well, that's a very interesting question. I shall - you know what?

RAO: Am I making you think?

WESTWICK: Because, yes, I'm in a very early stage of putting my character together, so I'm not sure, at this stage, to be completely honest. You know, there are - for hundreds of years, people have played Tybalt. It's an incredibly interesting character. You know, his fire, his loyalty. His tribalism, you know. It's going to be an interesting one to play and, you know, I'm going to be around fantastic actors and actresses. Hailee Steinfeld is playing Juliette, who was amazing in "True Grit". So, I think it's going to be an interesting experience.

RAO: So, you said that you're not only ready to do something else, but really ready to do something else. Do you think that you've taken Chuck as far as you can?

WESTWICK: Well, I mean, when I say something like that it's - you know, I'm just referring to, you know, I'm somebody who is ambitious and somebody who wants to go on a kind of different creative journey, you know? And do something else?

RAO: Yes.

WESTWICK: But, at the same time, you know, I have so much fun playing this character. You know, you really have to look at -- you have to look at people who have done it in film, you know. I recently just went and saw the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film. And then I saw Johnny Depp was doing a small interview when he was at the premier for it in London and he was saying - they were asking him, "Are you going to do another one?" And he was saying, you know, if the story's right and we have somewhere to go - we can keep telling a story about this character and see where else it can go, then why not, you know?

And that's the same way I feel with "Gossip Girl", you know? If we can keep telling a story that's relevant, that's interesting. And, you know, you're not beating a dead horse, then I'm more than happy to be part of that. So, yes. But, of course, you know, as an actor, as somebody who wants to play different roles, you know, I want to do other things.

And recently I finished the film called "J. Edgar", which I got a part in, which was Clint Eastwood's new film. And I play a young FBI agent. It's the story of J. Edgar Hoover. And, you know, for me that was, you know, a chance to - whilst I'm on a break from doing "Gossip Girl" to go and do something else and be part of a different story.

RAO: What was it like working with Clint Eastwood?

WESTWICK: Really, really, great. As you can imagine. Super relaxed, intuitive man who knows what he wants, knows it when he sees it. You know, reminded me a lot of Anthony Minghella's film set, which was quiet - everyone focused on the work. And, you know, the atmosphere of just being there was enough.

RAO: "Gossip Girl" is getting into its fifth season.


RAO: Which is a really good innings, I think, for any TV show in this day and age. Because they're just so fleeting and transient.


RAO: How far do you think the show still has to run?

WESTWICK: That's the million dollar question, really. I don't know. You know, as far as I know, we're going to start work on July seventh doing the fifth season and we'll do that and we'll see what happens. I mean, it's not up to me. It's really not.

RAO: If it were up to you,


RAO: How would you want it to end? The final episode.

WESTWICK: Oh, wow. Wow. I don't know. I've survived being shot. I've done a bunch of stuff. I don't know. I think Chuck Bass should lose all his money and then there's, like, this really interesting end to whether or not Blair and him can put a life together as normal people are doing. And getting normal jobs.

RAO: I was thinking a sort of a -

WESTWICK: Please tell me you've got something better, because I wasn't too-

RAO: No. Mine's plagiarized. So, I would think Blair is about to become Blair Bass.


RAO: Everybody's in the church.


RAO: "Dynasty" - style death fest.


RAO: Yes.

WESTWICK: OK, OK, well, I'll pitch it. We'll see what happens.

RAO: Yes, yes. Get back to me.

WESTWICK: I'm sure they'll like yours more than mine, but we'll see what happens.

RAO: Ed, this was such fun. Thank you very much, indeed.

WESTWICK: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

RAO: Lovely to meet you.

WESTWICK: Nice to meet you.