In the premiere of the highly anticipated Gossip Girl reboot, a group of scheming, underpaid, and disrespected Constance Billard teachers take up the mantle of the Upper East Side's most prolific gossip. With an Instagram account akin to Deuxmoi, their first order of business is to dub the school's new Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen. You know, in order to tear them down.
The title of Queen Bee goes to Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander), a curated cool girl with a shaved head, disenchanted boyfriend, and pack of fawning social media followers. If she's our Blair, then the Serena coming in to shake things up is Julien's own half-sister, Zoya Lott, the wide-eyed scholarship student with a keen sense of justice and an all-too-similar taste in boys.
Though Zoya's middle-class status gives her a Jenny Humphrey sort of edge, breakout actor Whitney Peak considers herself more of a Lonely Boy. Born in Kampala, Uganda, Peak attended boarding school until fourth grade, when her family moved to Canada.
“I related a lot to the Humphrey clan in general, in terms of being an outsider looking in,” she tells Glamour over Zoom. “Obviously, when I came to Canada, it was a very new experience going into public school and having to figure that out. I was a little bit of a Jenny there. But as I grew, I became more of a Dan in that I wasn't really drawn to that world. I was very comfortable with where I was and focused on the stuff that I wanted to do.”
That “stuff” included acting. Thanks to a love of Disney Channel, her first foray came with one of its casting calls, though Peak credits classes with Matthew Harrison at Actor's Foundry in Vancouver as “the most helpful thing I could have done for my career.” Her first role came in the 2017 film Molly’s Game before appearing in multiple episodes of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in 2019. Now, at just 18 years old, Peak's about to face a whole new level of fame, the kind that comes with picking up where actors like Blake Lively and Penn Badgley left off.
Gossip Girl is so engrained in the zeitgeist that fans have been poised to criticize the new iteration before the series could even air on HBO Max. From concerns the reboot will be “too woke” to one head-scratching interview with showrunner Josh Safran that suggested the teens of Constance Billard won't be engaging in “wealth porn,” some have wondered, “What's even the point?”
Though Peak tells Glamour that press has been the most overwhelming part of the process and her biggest learning curve, she responds to these critics with the confidence of a seasoned pro. “I feel like if it wasn't woke, then that would be a problem, and now that it is woke, it's too woke,” she says before pointing to the difference between being aware of privilege and actively working to dismantle systems of oppression. “Unless something directly affects you in a negative way that you're uncomfortable with, you're not going to take action or feel like you need to do something about it.”
All this is to say that rumors of the new Gossip Girl's lack of opulence, at least, have been greatly exaggerated. The premiere's extravagant fashion show—especially compared with the runway shows featured in the original—should put that particular concern to bed. (As for where it lands on the progressive politics scale, we'll let you decide for yourself.)
Sitting in front of her camera in a Chanel button-down, an Off-White blazer, and a “vintage little mini tie” courtesy of her friend Connor, Whitney Peak certainly looks as if she'd be perfectly comfortable on the Met Gala steps with the rest of Manhattan's elite. Of course, there's more to Peak than meets the eye. Get to know the Hollywood up-and-comer in Glamour's latest New Here column.
Glamour: Were you a fan of the original Gossip Girl before getting this part?
Whitney Peak: I actually watched it just a little over three years ago. And then I continued to go back to it over and over again whenever I had to do schoolwork and needed background noise. I would just kind of leave it playing. I've watched it three or four times.
What’s your favorite way to spend the day if you’re not on set?
I really like to sleep. I think that's an underrated pleasure. I really enjoy the art of sleeping. But when I'm not working or I have weeks off, I really like to cook. I really like to bake and make recipes and drop off treats and stuff for my friends.
Did you bake for your G.G. costars?
When we took that hiatus for Christmas break into mid-February, I'd make lemon squares, cookies, and these vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free muffins and stuff like that. Zión [Moreno] and Eli [Brown] lived really close to me, so I'd just deliver them and then just run away. And then I'll be like, “Hey, check your door!”
What was your idea of what it means to be a successful actor when you were a kid?
Being on a Disney Channel TV show. I really wanted to be like Rocky Blue in Shake It Up or Raven in That's So Raven or China Anne McClain in A.N.T. Farm. I was like, This is the pinnacle of acting! This is success! But I didn't really know it was a career path until I came to Canada and was like, Oh, I can do this.
What is it now?
I love, love, love, love, love, love, love Viola Davis. I think she's such a powerful actress and presence and human being in general. You can feel her. I think she's really, really incredible. If I ever got to work with her, I’d probably drop dead.
What was your audition process like for Gossip Girl?
It was a pretty ephemeral experience, honestly, because I got lucky. I got the long end of the straw or the stick or whatever because I did the tape and they really liked me and then they made me Zoya. It was pretty surreal. It was pretty fast.
How did you celebrate getting the role?
I don't think I did because I didn't really believe that it was happening. And then, of course, COVID happened, and I was like, Well, now it's definitely not going to happen. So it was sitting in the anticipation of what the next move was. I never really had, like, a moment where it sunk in. I've had multiple little moments of, like, Wow, this is my life right now. It's really humbling.
How do you relate most to Zoya?
Past me relates to her, and I think the future me is gonna relate to her very different experiences. Obviously, I have dealt with the whole new school, new country, new world…being the only light-skinned girl in Uganda at a boarding school and the attention that comes with that. But then coming to Canada and receiving a different type of energy was very weird—it's kind of like an amplified idea of being an outsider looking in.
I think future me is gonna relate to her because this is my first major recurring role in television. So the reaction that's going to come with that is really scary, which I think Zoya feels when she goes to Constance and the Upper East Side is this fear of losing herself in all of it.
I just want to keep a good head on my shoulders. I think I have a really good support system around me, to hopefully hold me down.
What was your favorite G.G. scene to film?
The Thanksgiving episode. That was nuts. Everybody should be really excited to watch that.
Please tell me about your favorite look—there are a ton to choose from.
I had cornrows in for an episode that were kind of tucked back and I was wearing this three-piece suit or two-piece suit with high heels. It was a very big boxy blazer, and it was so sick. I felt mega fly in that outfit, so I hope when y'all get to that episode you'll understand what I'm talking about.
This feels like a good time to ask about your first big purchase.
This blazer is Off-White and was my first major purchase. I didn't really have many coats because I was a hoodie type of girl, but I bought this, and then Chanel was kind enough to gift me this super dope button-down.
How did you mentally prepare for this part of the process, given Gossip Girl’s place in pop culture history?
I feel like I haven't even dealt with the worst of it in terms of losing anonymity. I'm a very private person by nature, and I really like my little quiet moments. When I'm out with people, I love talking to my friends and socializing. There's a time and a place for that, but sometimes you have to go home and spend three days in your house and just deal with yourself. So, you know, having to kind of let people in and talking about myself a lot is different. It's something that I'm getting used to slowly but surely. Choosing what you put out there is a battle in and of its own.
This new version uses social media as a vehicle for drama. How do you engage online?
I use Instagram a lot. That's the only social media platform that I use because I'm not really on Twitter. People get mad at me for it, but I'm sorry, guys! It's overwhelming. You go on there and there are so many things going on and you just need to get off.
Right now social media, especially for young kids, is very unforgiving. It's like you're not allowed to change your mind. If you say something, you're really expected to stick to that. People change their minds every five minutes, you know what I'm saying? You grow and your mindset changes and your goals change and your values change.
I do feel that pressure that I have a kind of a platform now, so I should speak on this and speak on that, but you need to take the time to really educate yourself and understand what you're talking about before you put it out there.
What products have you discovered in hair and makeup on set?
Amy [Peak is on-set makeup artist] and I have been experimenting with a lot of things because the weather changes so much in New York. You have to go with it because your skin reacts differently. There’s humidity here, then it's dry and whatever. But right now what's been working for me is the Sunday Riley U.F.O Face Oil. I use that and pimple patches.
There are these really cute ones with stars and you just put them on your pimples! I haven't used them yet, but I see them on other people and I'm like, ooh. I wouldn’t want to take it off. I will just wear them out. It's cute.
But also the clear ones are interesting because you can, like, see this stuff come off your face, which I love. I need to know that it's doing something.
What would your on-set superlative be?
Probably most hyper. I'm at that place still—and I hope I stay here for a very long time—where I love going to work. Even though early mornings can be a little bit treacherous, once I get on set and am not dealing with other stuff mentally or emotionally, I'm really happy to be there and I have a lot of energy. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, so I try to hinder it whenever I can. I read the room, you know? But if there needs to be energy, you best believe I got it.
The new Gossip Girl drops on July 8 on HBO Max and will air new episodes every Thursday.
Originally Appeared on Glamour