Gossip Girl heartthrob, Chace Crawford is graduating to the big screen with Twelve and stepping up to remake Footloose. He to Marshall Heyman about making it in Hollywood.

When the actor Chace Crawford removes his baseball cap and pulls up a chair at the Belmont Lounge, a relatively low-key Young Hollywood hangout in the center of Los Angeles that’s akin to a high-priced dive bar, it is impossible not to get lost in his eyes. They are so electric, so transfixingly ice blue that they deserve their own colour in a box of Crayola Crayons. They are such showstoppers that on the set of Twelve, Crawford’s upcoming film and his first big screen starring feature role since Gossip Girl became a worldwide phenomenon, his co-star, the rapper 50 Cent, joked that Crawford has “Skyline Eyes.”

“I’m not going to say it’s hurt me,” Crawford says of his boyish features, which also include his now signature bushy eyebrows. “I’ve got to thank my mom, though. She’s a beautiful woman. She bestowed on me some good genes.”

Indeed, this summer, Crawford’s good genes earned him the much-coveted title of People magazine’s Hottest Bachelor for 2009. Not bad for a college dropout who, just a few short years ago, was earning money by valeting cars at the oceanfront restaurant Geoffrey’s in Malibu.

Crawford, who turned 24 in July, grew up near Dallas, the son of a dermatologist (his father) and a teacher (his mother). (His sister, Candice, just graduated from college and hopes to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.) The story of Crawford’s first encounter with acting is right out of High School Musical or the new Fox sitcom Glee. In high school, Crawford was a football player, even if, he says, he was into art and painting. But during his senior year, the drama teacher asked him to audition for a role in a production of The Boyfriend.

“I sang the National Anthem,” Crawford recalls. He got the part. “It was a good little role and something about it was just fun, but it didn’t even really trigger anything in me.”
After high school, he landed at Pepperdine, a small Jesuit college on the beach in Malibu. A year later, he dropped out to do some soul searching. “I was just sort of confused and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Crawford explains. “Everyone there seemed like they knew what they wanted to do, which is, of course, complete bullshit. So I took off.”
During that time of — a time when he was valeting cars, “flooring down the street and back” — a friend convinced him to meet her commercial agent. “I didn’t realise how much money one commercial could give you. I’d done minimal modeling in Dallas and just hated it. I met him, and he goes, ‘Can you do improv?’ And I’m like, ‘What’s improv?’”
Eventually, Crawford wised up to the vocabulary of Hollywood and started going out on auditions. “Finding someone who will push you and believe in you, that’s the first big step,” Crawford says of starting out in the business. “And I started getting really good feedback right away.”

In 2005, he landed a peripheral role in the post-pubescent horror film The Covenant, a box office bomb about warlocks. Still, it was a particularly strong showcase for up and coming teen idols, including Sebastian Stan, who now dates Crawford’s Gossip Girls co-star Leighton Meester, and Taylor Kitsch, who went on to snag a role in Friday Night Lights, a show Crawford particularly wanted, considering his Texas hometown and his passion for football. “I’m still best friends with all those guys,” he says.

Rather than Friday Night Lights, however, Crawford landed Gossip Girl. He plays Nate Archibald who is continually caught between the female leads (Meester and Blake Lively), not to mention many of the other women who appear regularly and even irregularly on the show, in various states of undress. Needless to say, the show is pretty racy — including Nate’s affair during season two with a much older woman.

“People ask, do I feel guilty about the influence Gossip Girl has on teenagers?” Crawford says, posing and answering his own question. “Look, we’re actors. I’m not an expert in how to raise a child. The show’s going to steamroll right ahead if I don’t have the part.”

Crawford is also transitioning as fast as he can back onto the big screen. First up is Twelve, directed by Joel Schumacher and based on a novel by Nick McDonnell. It’s set in a similar milieu to Gossip Girl: Manhattan’s posh private schools. In the movie, Crawford plays White Mike, a drug dealer, who’s selling a potent new drug called Twelve. “It’s totally different,” Crawford explains of Gossip Girls versus Twelve. The film, he says, is both funnier and darker than its television counterpart. “Also, I dropped like ten pounds and my hair was greasy and not flat-ironed.”

Crawford has also signed on to star in a remake of Footloose, the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon about a town that outlaws dancing, which will begin filming next spring. Once Zac Efron dropped out, Crawford quickly was ushered in, in part, the Hollywood rumor goes, because a studio executive asked his daughter what she thought of Crawford and she squealed with excitement. Still, Footloose remains mostly a carrot dangling in front of our faces at the moment: we will have to wait months and months and months to discover if indeed, Crawford can sing and dance.

“God, I hope so,” he says, with a broad smile. “The guy’s not a dancer per se. But I’ve played sports all my life. I’ve got some balance and agility. It’s going to take a lot of practice. But, put it this way, there’s no gymnastics pole swinging or dancing with cigarettes. I’m starting to find my rhythm and I’ve got to polish it.” (This time to audition, rather than the National Anthem, he sang the song “Footloose,” with piano accompaniment.) For the record, when he first started acting professionally, his mom insisted he take dance classes. “I got there and just walked out,” Crawford says. “Now, she could not be happier [that I’ll be learning to dance.]” As for singing, “I’m a habitual car singer,” Crawford admits. “I actually go karaoking all the time. We get pretty competitive.” Some of his favorites include Elton John and “Patience” by Guns ‘n Roses.

On the personal life front, Crawford says he’s single. While most of the cast of Gossip Girl is now dating each other, creator Josh Schwartz warned Crawford early on that he should “Avoid at all costs dating a co-star.” As of now, he’s listened. “We get to shoot in New York and have that as our playground and do the insane things that we get to be a part of. There’s a part of me that wants to share that,” Crawford says. “But I’m having fun living the bachelor life right now. It’s a good time to be single.”
He recently moved out of the Chelsea, Manhattan apartment he shared with co-star Ed Westwick for his own downtown bachelor pad. “Frat time’s over. I’m just turned 24, I need my own space,” he says. Rumors abounded that chez Westwick/Crawford was especially rowdy and messy. “I don’t know why anyone wants to read about the condition of our apartment. It cracks me up,” he says. ‘It was actually pretty immaculate. I’m OCD. I had a maid come twice a month. We have a few roof deck parties from time to time, but that’s all.”

Despite the People magazine cover, for instance, it still seems to shock Crawford that people are interested in his life. In fact, sometimes he’s mystified that of all his friends who were trying to be actors, somehow he has risen above the pack.

“You get dealt a certain hand and it’s about playing that hand to the best of your abilities,” Crawford says, by way of an explanation. “Maybe a big advantage is I do have an affinity for people and I love networking. That’s it’s own game in itself. It opens up certain opportunities and doors.”

Meanwhile, he believes, members of his peer group might act entitled. They don’t want to ask questions. They think they know it all. “But me,” Crawford says, twinkling those Skyline eyes. “I acknowledge that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Photography: Alexi Lubomirski
Fashion: Way Perry
Words: Marshall Heyman

A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #19, Sep/Oct 2009