In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak chatted about how the HBO reboot reflects today’s society while revealing that her entry into showbusiness got off to a rocky start.
The Ugandan-born actress moved to Canada with her family when she was nine years old before attending her first audition (for the kid’s channel Nickelodeon) and signing with an agent — which quickly turned out to be a scam.
Nevertheless, the actress has gone on to star in Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the critically acclaimed film Molly’s Game and is now stepping up to the plate in the HBO reboot as Zoya Lott.
The character attends Constance Billard on a scholarship (much like Dan Humphries aka the real Gossip Girl) and represents a lower socio-economic class to the rest of her schoolmates.
“It’s fun because she’s in a stage of being introduced to this world where she’s still very authentic but also struggling with altering herself to fit in,” Peak told THR. “So there are moments where she gets to kind of tap into that [more privileged] world. I’m always like, “What’s the most Blair [Waldorf, from the original Gossip Girl] way that I could say this?”
According to Peak, the new series, which has been described as far more “woke” than the original, manages to strike the right balance between paying homage to its predecessor, while still updating the themes explored in order to appeal to a modern audience. Peak also revealed that was determined to portray Zoya in a way that properly represented Black culture.
“It manages to reflect today’s society without bashing the old show,” she said. “What I really like about it is we have two people of colour as the leads. And like, I was pretty adamant about Zoya sleeping in a headscarf.
“She has curly hair and that’s just what I do, so I thought, “She’s not going to just wake up with perfectly put-together hair, that’s ridiculous.” I was really nervous about putting it out there, but it was received so well.”
In a different interview with Town and Country magazine, Peak also shared the ways in which she feels the reboot has done a better job than the original series saying, “The new one covers a lot of bases in terms of this is now, and these are the types of people that exist, and they haven’t really been represented as much in the past. But, the first show did the extreme really well and the drama of it all.”
Explaining the ways in which the new version upholds the style of the original, the actress also said, “I think the eloquence with which the Constance students speak and carry themselves is very old Gossip Girl. The relationships and the different triangles and the entanglements within the friend group is also very old Gossip Girl. Third, the parental dynamics are also very old Gossip Girl.
“And then, new Gossip Girl, obviously, social media, representation, and very… aware.”
When it comes to her own relationship with social media — which is, of course, one of the biggest themes of both iterations of the show, Peak told Hype that, like so many other people, it’s complicated. “I hate it, but for some reason can’t seem to get away from it. And for some reason feel like it’s associated with my career,” she told the publication.
“Because I feel the more it becomes relevant to peoples lives – that it’s more tied into the entertainment business especially. So, it’s been a little bit of a journey for me on social media. I’ve been telling my friends to change my password and keeping me off of it – on and off for so long, but I’m just kind of learning that everything is better in moderation. And so that once you really learn to listen to how it’s affecting you, you learn to minimise the trouble of it all.”
So, what can audiences expect from Peak’s character in the reboot? “Zoya’s best and also her worst quality is she values the happiness of the people around her,” she told Hype. “She really wants everybody to be OK all the time – so that’s kind of great but also it affects her negatively sometimes because she’s not really listening to what she needs.
Gossip Girl is now streaming in Australia, only on BINGE.