Culture

Jordan Alexander Is in It for the Long Haul

My Zoom interview with Jordan Alexander happens to take place a little over a year since she was first spotted with the new Gossip Girl cast on the Met steps. The images spread like wildfire online, christening the new guard of Upper East Side elite in their remixed prep school uniforms. (There were oversized blazers and biker shorts, but not a headband in sight.) Alexander immediately commanded attention with her shaved head and knee-high white croc boots, sprawled on the staircase with terrifying levels of cool. That was months before the Gossip Girl spinoff would premiere on HBO Max, and Alexander’s life has changed a lot since. “Now I’m like, ‘What was life like before?’” she says, dressed down in a baggy red striped T-shirt and layered necklaces.

The biggest—and most immediate—change she noticed at the time was, of course, on Instagram. She had about 5,000 followers prior to those pap pics surfacing, but then “almost out of nowhere that just skyrocketed.” A year later, she has more than 151,000 (and counting). Coincidentally, Alexander would go on to play influencer Julien Calloway on the series, the wealthy daughter of a record exec with two BFFs serving as her publicist and stylist respectively, with a laser focus on her public image, follower count, and sponsorships. But when her long-lost half sister Zoya (Whitney Peak) enters her life, everything changes.

Gossip Girl premiered in July with six episodes, then three more episodes followed Thanksgiving weekend, and the final three are out now. Whereas the first half delivered petty drama, backstabbing friends, love triangles (even threesomes), and illicit parties, the second half amps up the drama even more.

“I feel like it goes from zero to 60,” Alexander says. “I think that the first six episodes were introductions and you got a little sense of the drama, but these next six episodes are insane. Everything is just so escalated. And then the season finale is crazy as well.”

The second half of the season graduates from teen turmoil to real-world crises. Julien’s dad is accused of sexual assault, and though one woman comes forward, there’s evidence of many more who haven’t shared their stories publicly. The Gossip Girl Instagram account, now run by the teachers at the kids’s private school, is the first to break the news. The episodes explore heavy themes: How do you hold someone you love accountable? What kind of responsibility do you have on a public platform to share anonymous accusations like these? And is Gossip Girl the right outlet for that?

Alexander says what she hopes viewers take away from these episodes is “how to be accountable and [take] responsibility for your actions.” She explains, “I feel like, as a society, we’re learning how to do that. You know, we had cancel culture, which wasn’t really the answer, but that idea of like, ‘Okay, what do you do when you’ve done something wrong? How do you properly atone for that and move forward, and how do we create an environment where people are able to do that?’”

Amid the serious plot points, the drama stays juicy. The show honors Gossip Girl’s legacy of dramatic Thanksgiving episodes, given they arrived on the holiday. One scene features nearly the whole cast gathered for turkey dinner, where an assortment of confrontations and confessions bubble up around the table—from Max confessing to pursuing his adult teacher, to Kate trying to steal his phone for Gossip Girl ammo, to Zoya finding out Julien and her boyfriend, Obie, slept together. You can feel the distant homage to the repeatedly viral Thanksgiving scene (season 3, episode 11 in the original), where nearly every attendee uncovers a bombshell reveal at the table, soundtracked by Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say.” Alexander knows the one. “It’s amazing. And somehow nobody can hear what the other person, like, two seats down is saying,” she jokes.

Luckily, even dramatic scenes were more fun to film than they look. “If one person caught the giggles, it was just a domino effect and everybody’s snorting and shaking. It was really funny, but we had to get it together. I remember Josh [Safran, the creator of Gossip Girl] came in, he’s like, ‘Okay! We have a very limited amount of time,’’’ she says of the scene shot at Zoya’s house.

jordan alexander

HBO

Such similarities are what can make and break the new Gossip Girl. The callbacks and the cameos are rewarding novelties for OG viewers but might also set up expectations for an entirely different show. To original fans who are still skeptical about the reboot, Alexander gets it. (And the memory’s still pretty fresh; she watched the whole series when she arrived in New York last year to begin filming.)

“I mean, I completely understand,” she said. “There’s nothing like nostalgia; it’s just a really, really good feeling, so I can understand people wanting to protect that. But I would say this will not steal any of your nostalgia.” You can have your cake and eat it too, in a sense. “You can still very much have the first Gossip Girl and then experience this new chapter or next era. It’s all of the elements that you love about that first show and stuff you haven’t seen before.”

It seems to be working, to an extent. Though some millennials remain apathetic and some critics have dismissed the remake as “dull” and not “fun,” there are still fan accounts and fancams for the new characters circling online—people are still stanning. In fact, Gossip Girl was renewed for another season, and the showrunner has plans for even more. When asked what she wants covered in season 2, Alexander blurts, “I want to do more balls, like, dramatic dance sequences.” She’s already mapping it out: “It’s like one person passes and then the other person, like they follow in this kind of maze sequence.” I mention it sounds a little bit like Bridgerton and her face lights up. “Yeah! Ooh, you know, the old Gossip Girl used to do these kinds of [vintage] flashback moments. I would be down for that.”

Alexander is calling from Scarborough, which is just outside Toronto, but the Canadian grew up in Ontario, mostly in Vancouver. She had just celebrated her 28th birthday a few days earlier. The night before, her partner Shane took her on a nature excursion—she loves the outdoors—and they explored different waterfalls and had oysters “’cause that’s like my all-time favorite,” Alexander says. She spent the day of her actual birthday with family: brunch with her two sisters and parents, followed by listening to music together and dancing. “We even did a conga train,” she laughs. Much more low-key and drama-free than Julien Calloway’s parties. The actress is the middle child between two sisters, with whom she’s close. The trio had even moved in together when the pandemic hit, and her older sibling, Sydney, was working as a nurse at the time. Looking back, Alexander says they were “really lucky” to have “each other to lean on.”

Onscreen, Alexander is one half of a very different kind of sister dynamic—one that’s rife with jealousy, secrets, competition, and betrayal, but there’s a familial bond deep down at its core. “I feel like the most important element of a sister bond is that basically, no matter what happens, no matter how bad your fight is, no matter if she ripped your favorite shirt or whatever, eventually, you are going to be back to loving each other.” The nature of sisterhood, and the ways it can be tested by a brutal teenage social ecosystem, is what makes Julien and Zoya more complex and perhaps more forgiving than Serena and Blair. But both duos still, in the end, want to fight for each other.

HBO

“With Blair and Serena, all of these things were happening and then egos get in the way and everything like that, but they were really still trying to be friends at the end of the day,” Alexander says. “They were always trying to be friends. And I think that that’s the similar chord with Julien and Zoya, is that these two people [are] trying to come together and it’s just almost like a chaotic friction that happens.”

In real life, Alexander and Whitney Peak have forged a strong friendship. “Whitney is an extremely special person,” Alexander says, softening. “She’s just so kind and wonderful and there’s nothing not to love. And then we get to have this experience together where I think we’re obviously going to be able to relate to each other a lot for what we’re going through.”

Alexander probably wouldn’t be on Gossip Girl if it wasn’t for her IRL big sister, who pushed her to start acting again. The actress started doing commercials when she was young but stopped to pursue her passion for music. It wasn’t until the end of 2018, after her sister Syd bugged her “for like six, seven years,” that she gave in. “And so she just took pictures off my Instagram and sent them to agencies in Toronto. And within a month, she had me signed with an agency. She’s incredible. And she was working as a nurse in the ER while she did this.”

Alexander was—and is still—serious about music, though. She released an album in 2016, The Lonely Hearts Club, and her latest single, the piano ballad “You,” last year. She wrote her first song at about 17 years old, and has been writing her own songs on her guitar ever since. Alexander’s past official releases have a pop-tinged singer-songwriter feel, but she admits, “The music that I create is very all over the place.” She likens one song in the works to a slow Blink-182 track that has a “little pop-punk element to it.” Another got Fiona Apple comparisons when she played it for music friends.

Her influences are just as eclectic. She says she didn’t have a punk phase, but loved Paramore, Blink-182, and Sum 41. She’s also a fan of Avril Lavigne and Willow Smith and gushes over their collab, “Grow.” Then there are the modern pop and alternative artists like Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek, and Christine and the Queens. Yes, she’s fangirling about their recent joint track, too. “Lost my mind. I’ve listened to it, like, 400 times and it came out two days ago.”

It’s premature to say when Alexander will be dropping her own music. “Soon would be relative,” she teases, but her sights are on it. She’s also producing her own songs and working with a friend to figure out what songs to put out. She describes the work in progress as “pop singer-songwriter and alternative in a sense.”

It’s apparent that Alexander’s rise, though immediate, is not over yet. On the way up, she’s already become a noted fashion darling, with an ambassador role at Fendi and a partnership with Tiffany & Co. But with more eyes on her, she’s learned to be careful in the limelight. (Julien would know a thing or two about that.) “For instance, on social media, not that I would super, super edit myself, but I find I think more about things before I post it, just to make sure,” she explains, “because there’s just a lot more people looking, and I’m aware of that.”

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Alexander is not unaware of her impact. As a young, queer, and Black artist, she’s taking over an originally white-dominated series with fellow actors of color where the characters are more racially and sexually diverse. She gets a lot of supportive messages and DMs, and surprisingly a lot are about her shaven head. “I didn’t really know that it’s so controversial,” she says, with her hair slightly grown out but still close to the scalp. “But I guess, at least for people who were maybe thinking about it and then saw Julien, [they] imagined they could be like someone, like a femme-presenting person or woman, and have short hair and just be whatever they want.” Because let’s face it: these notions were taught by film, TV, and media that portrayed It Girls in a specific way, often white and cis with long, flippable hair.

“Traditionally I would have been like the ‘edgy’ whatever, but they’re like, ‘No, you’re the Queen Bee high school girl.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Cool.’ Cause I think that’s great. I love that,” she says of landing the Gossip Girl lead. “I’m not really super interested in these manicured archetypes. Why? Anyone [can] be anything. And you can look how you feel most comfortable and be how you feel most comfortable and achieve whatever.” Upon further reflection, she adds, “I would love any effect that I have on the world just to encourage people to do what feels right for them and figure that out.”

Lofty words for an up-and-comer, but Alexander is barely one anymore. Ten years from now, she pictures herself “[making] lots of music with lots of other artists” and also dabbling in film roles. “I kind of am open to anything,” she says. “I feel like really dramatic and emotional movies would be fun, but I also love action and comedy. So I’m really down for wherever the wind of life is taking me because so far it’s been pretty good. I’m just riding it.”

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