Rolling Stone

‘Gossip Girl’

New York City’s sexiest, scheminges­t prepsters are back.

- By Brittany Spanos

Hello, Upper east Siders! You know you missed them. The hotly anticipate­d Gossip Girl sequel — a fresh take on the debauched YA series-turned-CW megahit — is finally here. Premiering July 8th on HBO Max, the show is set in the same world of über-privileged and über-troubled Manhattan prep-school teens as the OG iteration, only this time there’s a notably diverse cast and, as showrunner Joshua Safran promised on Twitter, none of the “slut shaming” or “catfights.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be drama. For months, plot details have been tightly guarded except for character names and short descriptio­ns. But Safran (who wrote and produced on the original, alongside creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who produce here) has teased that social media will be integral to how the new titular Gossip Girl spreads word of the goings-on in the rich-kid scene.

Whitney Peak, who previously starred in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, was one of the first actors cast. She plays Zoya, a newbie to this posh and cutthroat upper-crust setting — “kind of the Dan Humphrey” of the new group, Peak says, referencin­g Penn Badgley’s character from the original, who served as an audience surrogate. “She introduces the viewer to the world.”

quick to caution that Zoya isn’t like Dan — who was eventually revealed to be Gossip Girl — in all ways.)

The 18-year-old Peak, born in Uganda and raised in Vancouver, says she connected with Zoya’s sense of alienation. “A lot of things she’s experienci­ng I’ve already had a taste of,” she says. “Being an outsider in a new world and having to decide if you’re going to stick to your morals or try to change yourself to fit in, to make the adjustment less painful.”

Model and skateboard­er Evan Mock related to his character, Aki, too — though it would be weird if he didn’t. Safran had used a photo of Mock as visual inspiratio­n for Aki, which led to the 24-yearold Hawaii native securing his first-ever acting gig.

“I talked to Josh for the first time at the end of 2019,” Mock says. “He said, ‘I’ve been staring at your face the last couple months. It would be awesome if you just tried out for this part.’ ” It took over a year, but Mock was officially cast last fall.

Unlike Peak’s Zoya, Aki is already embedded into the high society, dating Audrey (played by Emily Alyn Lind), the daughter of a well-known athleisure designer whose boldface name sometimes appears in the local tabloids. But he’s still struggling to find his footing in many ways. Mock says, “He’s a skater and just figuring out his life, as I am.”

Mock and Peak’s co-star Jordan Alexander, however, had to do some deep diving outside of her own experience­s to prepare for her role. The 27-yearold actress and musician, who hails from

Toronto, plays influencer Julien, and for research made a “finsta” to follow influencer­s she wouldn’t usually seek out on Instagram. “Following a lot of those influencer pages can be toxic for me,” Alexander says. “I wanted to have it separate from my personal account.”

Virtually visiting the life of jet-setting, free gifts, and exquisitel­y Facetuned photos ended up being eye-opening. It also makes the strongest case for now being the perfect time to revisit Gossip Girl: Thanks to social media, the perfect-from-theoutside worlds of Serena, Blaire, Chuck, Dan, and Nate are easier to re-create and aspire to today than ever before.

“Living that high life is almost what everyone is expected to do with Instagram,” Alexander says. “Online, everyone is on the Upper East Side.”

Eli Brown, Thomas Doherty, Savannah Lee Smith, Emily Alyn Lind, Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Evan Mock, Zíon Moreno PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD OGBONNA
LEFT TO RIGHT Eli Brown, Thomas Doherty, Savannah Lee Smith, Emily Alyn Lind, Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Evan Mock, Zíon Moreno PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD OGBONNA
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