The new Gossip Girl reboot on HBO Max takes an admittedly wobbly approach to realism, given that the series documents the interpersonal drama between millionaire (and billionaire) teenagers. The show has yet to cement itself as a defining chronicle of the Gen Z experience, even for New York City’s storied elite. But nowhere is the realism less apparent than in the age of the cast itself.
Poking holes in the fabric of TV believability is a culture vulture’s favorite pastime, and frequent jabs surround the derided Hollywood habit of casting 20- and 30-somethings as teenagers. The miles-long record in this department stretches back decades: Stockard Channing was 33 in 1978, when she played high school student Rizzo in Grease. Andrew Garfield was 28 when he starred as a pubescent Peter Parker. Mean Girls featured a 25-year-old Rachel McAdams. More recently, the Riverdale crew comes to mind (Cole Sprouse, who plays teenager Jughead, is 28 in the first season), as does Outer Banks, where 16-year-old John B is played by 28-year-old Chase Stokes.
In Gossip Girl, the average age of the main cast members is slightly less egregious: 23 (or, more accurately, 22.888888, but let’s not be pedantic). The show proves that the casting trend is far from over: No matter the eye rolls from fans, Hollywood will continue to invest in older talent so long as they can swipe on lip gloss and pass for a really, really good-looking teenager.
In the casting directors’ defense, there are obvious hurdles to hiring real teenagers to play teenagers onscreen, including labor laws, rapidly changing bodies, and those pesky academic schedules. But perhaps the HBO reboot is simply following in the footsteps of its predecessor and honoring a long legacy of unrealistic teenage beauty standards. After all, Blake Lively was 20—as was Leighton Meester—when the OG GG premiered in 2007. Here’s how this iteration’s cast breaks down, age-wise.
Jordan Alexander (Julien Calloway)
Alexander plays Julien Calloway, Constance Billard’s most famous student due to her influencer presence and burgeoning beauty brand, à la Olivia Jade (who herself is 21). IRL, Alexander is a Canadian singer-songwriter and actress. You can check out her music here.
Alexander admitted in an interview with Nylon that returning to high school was jarring for her, especially since it had been a number of years since she’d experienced the anxiety and confusion of adolescence. “My sense of self comes from within, but it took a while,” she told the outlet. “I would say I probably had established it by about grade 11, because then I went to this really wealthy school in a very predominantly white neighborhood, and my response to that was not in the least to try and fit in or anything like that. I was like, ‘Cool. I don’t fit in here. I love that.’”
Whitney Peak (Zoya Lott)
Peak is one of two actual teenagers in the main revival cast, and her first Hollywood role came years before Gossip Girl: In 2015, she was only a child when she was cast as the younger version of Lara Vega in Minority Report.
Already a brand ambassador for Chanel and an ELLE digital cover star, she’s proof that Hollywood could pump its teen soaps full of actual teens, if only they knew where to look.
“Whitney’s was the first tape that came in,” Gossip Girl showrunner Josh Safran revealed in an interview with ELLE. “I got an email; we were so early in the process. I don’t think we even had a date when we were shooting, and the email was, ‘This is Zoya.’ I opened that, and I watched that audition, and I was like, ‘How does this person have this facility with the language?’ It was Whitney in front of a blue screen in Vancouver on a day off from [The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina]. [The lines] flowed out of her, to the point where every single line was perfect. And that was that.”
Tavi Gevinson (Kate Keller)
Tavi Gevinson’s appearance in Gossip Girl is undeniably the most meta of the show’s casting decisions, given that the young writer was once a teen icon herself. A member of the early internet vanguard, she founded the fashion blog Style Rookie at the ripe age of 12 and later created the online magazine Rookie in 2011. She became a fixture at fashion shows throughout her prepubescent and adolescent years.
The young feminist earned a lot of flack during her initial ascent to fame: “A lot of people on the Internet have a problem with a young person doing well,” Gevinson told the Toronto Star in 2012. Rookie eventually shut down in 2018, but Gevinson has continued to write often for publications including New York, and she’s slowly building her acting credits as well, the latest of which is Gossip Girl‘s Kate Keller. Ironically, Kate is one of the Constance Billard teachers, meant to be several years older than Julien Calloway and her crew.
But perhaps Safran saw something in Gevinson’s ability to bridge the age gap. He told Vanity Fair, “She has this thing where I can’t place her temporally. And what I mean is, is she 60 and the wisest professor at, you know, Smith, or is she perpetually 15 and asking the questions that you haven’t yet learned you’re not ‘supposed to ask?’”
Evan Mock (Aki Menzies)
Oahu-born Evan Mock is a skater, surfer, model, photographer, Instagram influencer, and now, finally, actor. Typically sporting his signature pink hair and skateboard, he might not seem like an obvious choice when filling out the student body of an elitist, uptight Upper East Side prep school—especially given the fact that Mock is well out of high school himself. But Safran targeted him specifically for the role of Aki.
Safran told ELLE, “Evan wasn’t an actor, but I was watching Evan on Instagram and he inspired me to create this role. He’s never shown an interest in acting on any of his social media stuff. But [casting director Cassandra Kulukundis] went out, she got him, and she worked with him in a room. And then she called me, and she was like, ‘I think he has something.’”
Zion Moreno (Luna La)
Born in Texas and raised in New Mexico, transgender actress Zion Moreno appeared in the Netflix series Control Z before her recent turn in Gossip Girl. Although she’s in her mid-twenties, Moreno felt she could do teenage Luna La justice in part due to her own childhood days spent watching the original CW series.
“I grew up watching [the original Gossip Girl] pretty religiously,” she said in an interview with ELLE. “Actually, I was kind of obsessed with it in high school. I really wanted to be Serena. It actually kind of inspired me to want to move to New York when I was young.”
Savannah Lee Smith (Monet de Haan)
Currently an acting student at New York University, Savannah Lee Smith grew up in Los Angeles, where she first learned the art of standing out. “Even when we went to the grocery store, I’d dress up,” she told Town & Country in a recent interview. “My mom would tell me, ‘We’re just running errands,’ but I always wanted to put my best foot forward.”
So, while slipping into the high-fashion ensembles of a teenage billionaire wasn’t a challenge, embodying such a vicious personality was, Smith admits. She told ELLE, “Monet, she’s pretty evil. So it’s difficult, you just have to imagine someone very unlike yourself. But it’s almost fun playing a character that’s so different from anything that I could imagine—because then I get to just really play.”
Eli Brown (Obie Bergmann)
Born and raised in Oregon, Eli Brown spent the last few years launching an acting career in Los Angeles before making the cross-country trek to New York City for Gossip Girl. One of the younger actors on the series, he also seems to relate the most personally with his character, Obie Bergmann, the wealthiest of the prep school kids.
In an interview with W Magazine, he explained, “I’m a white, straight male, and I work on a TV show that pays me money, and I want to help people, but I think it’s easy to feel a little hopeless when you realize bad shit goes on everywhere…[Obie] tries to give back and goes to support the workers striking at big corporations by bringing them doughnuts and coffee, but he doesn’t realize he went out to a fundraiser dinner the night before and spent $2,500 just to show up. It’s like, dude, if you took that money and gave it to a solid cause, you’d be doing so much more. He’s stuck in limbo—he thinks he’s helping, but he’s not, really.”
Thomas Doherty (Max Wolfe)
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Thomas Doherty, now 26, plays Max Wolfe, the character in the revival who’s most like Chuck Bass in the original. Despite being several years out from his own teenage years, Doherty’s maturity gives him enough confidence to safely steer some of the more sexual scenes in the new show, which Page Six described as “soft porn.”
Unlike his extremely wealthy Gossip Girl counterpart, who’s likely never had to work a day in his life, Doherty picked up a number of odd jobs in his adolescence. This included stints at TJ Maxx and Hollister, as well as a gig as a maid when he was 17, according to a Q&A the Descendants actor participated in for Interview. Still, he can relate to Max’s party boy reputation: “I used to get fucked up on a Friday and I’d be working on a Saturday. I used to have to clean all these rooms and beds—so I used to go for a sleep. When I was cleaning the rooms, I’d give myself like five minutes in each room to sleep. No one would hire me because I didn’t have any experience in a bar. And I was like, ‘I know where I’ll get a job.’ So I started working in a gay bar.”
Emily Alyn Lind (Audrey Hope)
Other than Peak, Emily Alyn Lind is the only other actual teenager in the main cast. But most of her family is in show business, and she’s been working in Hollywood since she was 6 years old, when she landed her first role in 2008’s The Secret Life of Bees. As the daughter of One Tree Hill actress Barbara Alyn Woods, Lind rarely struggled to find roles as she grew up: Her credits include the film J. Edgar and the ABC drama Revenge.
Like her character, Audrey, Lind likes to keep her eyes open for new adventures. “I’m a creative myself,” she told ELLE in a recent interview. “So I write, and I’m developing a show right now. I just think that there’s a beauty as an actor to kind of go with it, I guess.”
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