Wonderland.

WHITNEY PEAK

Set to star in the highly-anticipated Gossip Girl reboot, the actress chats secrecy around the show and why fame still feels unfathomable.

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and jeans

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Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and jeans
CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance and CHANEL Body Excellence Crea

Taken from the Spring 21 issue. Order your copy now.

Whitney Peak can’t talk. She can speak. And, to be clear, she’s very happy to. She turns up to the interview early — an extreme rarity — and is, from the off, candidly and rather refreshingly open. This is still one of her first-ever interviews and, as a result, she is in equal parts unguarded, engaged and engaging. Over the course of our conversation, she details in enthusiastic lilt everything from moving to Brooklyn at 17 with her mother (“ugh, the energy is the best, even when it’s shut down, because nobody gives a you-know-what about anybody else’s business”) to how she’ll be spending her impending landmark 18th birthday, in an unprecedented global pandemic no less (“probably just making dinner with my mum and having a really great conversation — she’s been waiting for this birthday to say a lot of important stuff to me”).
But the actress can’t talk about the subject in hand, the reason I am here to interview her: her role in HBO Max’s new iteration of Gossip Girl.

No official character descriptions. No plotlines. At the time of the interview, only character names could be disclosed. And those are newly approved territory. In fact, the names weren’t even revealed to the cast themselves until they signed their contracts. “I remember doing tests last year with some of the other actors and not even knowing what their relationship was to my character, and then I got the actual script and I was confused because everybody had different names to what they’d been told, myself included!”

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel Makeup close up
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel Makeup

(LEFT) CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Les 4 Ombres 372 – Bouquet Ambré and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Radiant. (RIGHT) ‘Comete’ Earrings in 18K White Gold and Diamonds by CHANEL Fine Jewellery. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Fleurs de Printemps Exclusive Creation Blush and Highlighter Duo, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Les 4 Ombres 372 – Bouquet Ambré and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny.

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel Makeup close up
CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Les 4 Ombres 372 – Bouquet Ambré and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Radiant. ‘Comete’ Earrings in 18K White Gold and Diamonds by CHANEL Fine Jewellery. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Fleurs de Printemps Exclusive Creation Blush and Highlighter Duo, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Les 4 Ombres 372 – Bouquet Ambré and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny.
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel Makeup

Peak’s confirmed character name is Zoya Lott. And there are myriad rumours around what this means.

“It’s hard,” Peak says of the confidentiality. Stops. Says it again, “It is hard,” emphasising the sentiment this time with an elongated ‘is’. She helps herself to a sliced orange from a teeming pile of fruit at a table on the roof of the New York apartment that she shares with her mother. I get the impression that she is going to say it a third time, but stops herself, adding, instead, “especially when you’re really excited about something. Especially when everybody involved is so excited. When it’s such a rewarding project and there’s so much going on and you’re in the middle of this really insane experience. We haven’t even finished filming the show yet and there’s already so much media attention and such a huge fandom. Everybody has something to say about it, and I can’t add to the conversation. It’s kind of overwhelming. But I’m so excited for the audience to be caught off guard!”

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and trousers
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and jeans

(LEFT AND RIGHT) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance and CHANEL Body Excellence Cream (MID) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Radiant and CHANEL La Crème Main and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and trousers
(LEFT AND RIGHT) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance and CHANEL Body Excellence Cream (MID) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Radiant and CHANEL La Crème Main and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing pink Chanel jacket and jeans

The original show, which ran for six seasons from 2007 to 2012 on The CW across 121 episodes, not only made movie stars of its original cast, but it was also a cultural reset with an influence extending beyond television. Peak’s favourite storyline from the original series — Blair Waldorf running into Chuck Bass in Paris, where he is living under a new adopted identity with a young French woman who saved his life after he was shot in Prague, ultimately resulting in Blair (dressed, of course, in an Oscar de la Renta gown) intercepting him at Paris’ famed Gare du Nord train station in order to convince him to return with her to New York — was watched the night it aired by nearly two million people, with ‘Chuck Bass’ becoming the top trending topic on Twitter. Of course, Peak doesn’t remember the real time response to this preposterous storyline, because she was only seven years old when it aired (as a notable aside, she was just four years old when the first episode ran).

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel underage masks and pink clips

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Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel underage masks and pink clips
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“I actually watched the show two years ago for the first time,” Peak says. “The whole thing all at once, from beginning to end. And I can honestly say I’m a fan — a big fan, a HUGE fan!” I assume this was part of the preparation for her audition, but Peak corrects me. “I watched it before I even knew about the new show happening. I actually watched it because of memes! There were a lot of memes born from the original show, especially with Blair, being the iconic character that she is. They were just everywhere, all across social media, so I thought ‘Hey, I might as well go to the source, right?!’”

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel trousers with blue handbag
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing long Chanel dress

(LEFT) HANEL Spring-Summer 11.12 bag and CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Fleurs de Printemps Exclusive Creation Blush and Highlighter Duo, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée (RIGHT) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Opportunity, CHANEL Body Excellence Cream and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel trousers with blue handbag
HANEL Spring-Summer 11.12 bag and CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Fleurs de Printemps Exclusive Creation Blush and Highlighter Duo, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Opportunity, CHANEL Body Excellence Cream and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing long Chanel dress

Gossip Girl’s new generation of New York private school teens are, as with the original show, inspired by the book by Cecily von Ziegesar. But, set eight years after the original show ended, the storylines will be grounded in a more contemporary New York, incorporating the dominance of app culture and social platforms rather than just the — now seemingly quite archaic — dominance of dot-com in the first series. Audiences’ desire for the dramatic will still be satiated, but, with this focus on the prevalence of voluntary surveillance in modern society, they will metabolise the show differently. “It’s a reflection of the times, as it should be. As I think, art should always be,” Peak says.

In March 2020 it was announced that Peak, the (then) 17-year-old actor known for her recurring role in Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, was joining a superlative (and very much Insta-famous) cast including the-original-fashion-blog- ger-cum-lauded-theatre-actor Tavi Gevinson and Louis Vuitton model, muse, and Frank Ocean- hyped skateboarder Evan Mock. The announcement, for Peak at least, happened as part of a wider whirlwind that she is only just coming to terms with.

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing red Chanel lipstick

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Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing red Chanel lipstick
CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, CHANEL Les 4 Ombres 372 – Bouquet Ambré, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Blossom. Opposite page: CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Le Lift Flash Eye Revitalizer, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir and CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance.

As is almost never the case, Peak actually secured the role after only one taped audition. She was 16 at the time. “Listen man, I’m as shocked as you,” she laughs, noting that it could be a TV show plot in itself, so easy it seems in reflection. She recorded the audition in 2019 one day after school, and then went to Uganda, where she was born, for her sister’s wedding. She stayed for Christmas and a little bit into January, before returning home to Canada. “I get this phone call from my manager,” Peak says. “And he goes…” — she adopts what perfectly represents a managerial voice — “‘Well, they want you for Gossip Girl. You booked it!’ And I said ‘OK, cool, when do I go test?’” She breaks the scene to laugh at her response in retrospect. “He was like, ‘No, you got it!’ The whole time I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever!’ I was shocked that I even got the opportunity to audition in the first place. I was 16! It’s not always the case that [actors get cast] true to age. But listen, there’s a lot of things changing in this industry that should have been changed a long time ago. It’s good to be some part of that.”

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing black Chanel chain dress
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel blue suit

(LEFT) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée. (RIGHT) CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Blossom and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.T

Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing black Chanel chain dress
CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Destiny and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée. CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream 390 – Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Blossom and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.T
Gossip Girl star Whitney Peak wearing Chanel blue suit

Peak flew to LA in February of 2020 to do chemistry reads with other actors with a view to filming in March, which is when the cast were announced to an extreme reaction in both volume and reception. “Because there was no context, really. Just ‘We are going to make a new Gossip Girl’. Nobody really knew at that point that it wasn’t a remake, rather a continuation set in the same world, and people started freaking out. There was an audience from the original series reacting and a new audience reacting. It was a lot!”

And then the pandemic hit on an international scale. “I 100% was prepared for the project to fall through,” Peak says. “100%! Because it happens. And not only that, I just didn’t even believe any of it was real because it was happening so fast, because it happened off the back of one video audition. I was sure someone else was going to come along and take the part from me. I spent the next seven months at home in Canada with my mum, sisters and my brother. School kept me busy, but the whole time I was just waiting for it not to happen for me. And then September came and they flew me and my mum to New York, so I guess that’s when I realised that this was real.”

However, with many varied health measures in place to try to minimise chances of being exposed to COVID-19, it wasn’t always a regular or easy experience once filming did begin. “I think the part that I miss most [when filming in a pandemic] is the social aspect of it,” Peak says. “Just getting to hang out in the trailer while other people get their hair and makeup done, talking to the crew and getting to know them. It’s harder to become friends and build relationships when, the second they say cut, you’re sent back to your zone or your dressing room so that, with distancing measures, the other people can come on to the set.”

I can attest I’ve seen this myself. I tell Peak about the Reddit threads and YouTube accounts I’ve found that platform and stream iPhone-shot 10-15 minute passerby videos of the actors, Peak included, shooting scenes. It’s not only notable how small the assembled cast and crew is, but also that these inarguably uninformative and uneventful, mostly silent or inaudible videos have average viewing figures in the tens of thousands. “It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? But I know where they’re coming from. I understand what it’s like to be that excited.”

CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance, CHANEL Body Excellence Cream and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.

CHANEL Spring-Summer 2021 Ready-To-Wear collection. CHANEL Hydra Beauty Camellia Water Cream, CHANEL Baume Essentiel Transparent, Le Volume de CHANEL 10 – Noir, CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom Chance, CHANEL Body Excellence Cream and CHANEL Le Vernis 883 – Pensée.

The excitement is also making fans DM Peak in increasing numbers, often trying to get more information on the show. “I’ve never been subject to this much attention before,” she says, sounding overcome, “so I’m just kind of taking a step back and not letting it overwhelm me too much because it is pretty crazy. You can’t get back to everybody and then you feel bad because they’re just trying to show you how much they love the project that you’re working on, even though they haven’t seen it yet. If it was a question that I could answer aside from the show, just about life, I’ve tried to respond, but it’s not easy to keep on top of. Most of the time it’s just fans giving you love, and you just have to appreciate it and say thank you because this could go one of two ways and I’m glad that it hasn’t been negative.” Peak is actually staying off social media for the time being to focus more on filming and finishing school. “One of my really good friends was kind enough to change the passwords to my Instagram,” she says, “and the pressure has been buffered a little bit in that it’s not in my face every day. She can alert me to anything I’ve missed and need to know.”

Upon airing, the press will essentially become an IRL Gossip Girl for her, I say. Her day-to-day moves will no doubt make the Daily Mail. Peak’s identity will be on merch, people will have her image stretched across their walls on posters (or, in 2021’s version of this, used as laptop and iPhone wallpaper), and people will wear her face across their chest on t-shirts, sweaters and the like. It will be that level of fame. “I just feel like that’s so uncomfortable for me to even think about,” she says, takes a beat and then bursts into a laughter that reads as incomprehension. She loved Willow Smith growing up. I say, “You’re going to be Willow Smith for a large number of people.” She stops, eyes wide as plates and responds, “Oh my goodness, you can’t say that to me. It’s unfathomable. I can’t think about that. For me it’s just fascinating that people even care about me in that way!” Once the show comes out, will she Google herself? She screws up her face as tight as a fist at the thought. “I don’t know. That’s a danger zone. I feel like that’s just basically standing on the edge of the pit of self-deprecation and self-judgement…”

It’s clear Peak’s pursuit of acting is not fame-seeking. She squirms or laughs at every mention of it, its minutiae and machinations. She’s not doing this so that people will gossip about her — it’s almost in spite of this repercussion that Peak acts. It simply makes her happy. “It’s fun. I love it. And I’m just gonna keep doing it ‘til it’s something I don’t want to do anymore,” she neatly surmises.

Photography
Heather Hazzan
Fashion
Britt McCamey
Words
Hynam Kendal
Hair
Naeemah LaFond at The Wall Group.
Skincare
Ingeborg at Call My Agent using CHANEL Rouge Coco Bloom.
Nails
CHANEL Le Vernis 883 - Pensée and CHANEL La Crème Main.
Art Direction
Tessa Lund at Lund Projects
Set Designer
Hans Maharawal at The Wall Group
Producer
Des Magness.
Photography Assistants
Jingyu Lin, Sydney Pensky and Luis Burgos
Styling Assistant
Alexa Levine
Hair Assistant
Tiffany McRae.
Equipment
Alex DeMarco at Pier 59 Studios.
WHITNEY PEAK