She's touted as the next hot thing in Hollywood. Kaleem Aftab talks to Gossip Girl star Blake Lively about her latest big screen role as a comic book incarnation and what else she has in store.
Given that nine months of her year is taken up shooting Gossip Girl, Blake Lively has to be very choosy about the one film a year she is able to make. This year the actress has joined the superhero bandwagon, playing Carol Ferris in The Green Lantern. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, the first human to be invited to join a group of immortals charged with using their powers to protect the universe. Ferris is the VP of Ferris Aircraft and Hal's long-term love interest, who becomes the super-villain, Star Sapphire. However, it's likely that the villain plot narrative will play more prominently in a sequel should the first film be successful.
The 23-year-old actress, it seems, is trying to broaden her following away from the predominantly female audience of Gossip Girl, in which she plays Upper East Sider Serena van der Woodsen, who is trying to change her wild ways. She is earmarked to be one of the big stars of the coming decade, and director Martin Campbell, who helmed Casino Royale, has admitted Warner Brothers were very keen he should cast the tall, leggy star opposite Reynolds.
Despite all talk of career trajectories and fanbase, Lively insists her choices are made using far more simple criteria: "People often ask me whose career I look at or whose I would like mine to be like, or if I want to break out of this or that genre and if the role I'm about to do can help me do that," she recounts, when asked about playing in a comic-book film.
"It's not really a suitable question because the decisions I make on parts come from a far more emotional place. It has to be a character that I connect with or someone I can have empathy with."
She says it helps if the part is not like her character on Gossip Girl. "I think it's important to play different roles because you want to challenge yourself; you want to experience new things and never get in a rut. When you are in a TV show, you play the same character every day, and so when you get the opportunity to play something different it's that much more exciting because it's not like you are going from film to film."
In last year's The Town she played a poor single mother from the wrong side of the tracks. Lively has a six-season contract on Gossip Girl and, having just completed season four, is happy when she can refute the claim that in real life she is just like Serena.
"I wear pretty clothes and live in New York so people think I'm very similar to her; they see her talk and interact in their homes once a week and they probably assume that is who I am, but it's not me." Instead she insists she's far more homely, preferring to cook and go on walks. She also claims to be great at decorating, although she doesn't have much chance to pursue these hobbies.
Nonetheless, Lively is a girl who lives up to her name. On both occasions I've met her she has been easy to chat with and seems to enjoy the benefits that come with appearing in one of the most popular shows on television. She looks immaculate in a dress and high heels. When commented on, she explains: "But none of it is mine. It's nice to play dress-up, it's like being a little girl and putting on makeup and outfits. I grew up in Burbank [California] and I love living in New York City so much [because of the shopping] and I now have a way better wardrobe."
One of the downsides to fame is that she has become a focus for the paparazzi. The latest gossip swirling the internet has linked her with Leonardo DiCaprio after a picture of them walking in Italy was taken last weekend. A couple of months ago the rumour mill had her attached to Ryan Gosling. It seems that life is imitating art as tongues get wagging on every occasion she is out with a beau, no matter what the nature of their relationship.
The actress became single when she broke up with her Gossip Girl co-star Penn Badgley last October. Her representatives shot down rumours that the romance was back on last month. So it's a surprise that Lively is not as damning on the paparazzi as one might expect. It's hard to complain about gossip when it's the modus operandi of her show.
"It makes sense to draw parallels between the show and what goes on in my real life. The characters on the show are somewhat famous in the world that they inhabit and they make stuff up and people are documenting what they do all the time and so being in the tabloids no doubt helps keep our ratings high, and if we don't like it, I'm sure our producers don't mind."
The paparazzi do overstep the mark on occasion and Lively has her share of horror stories, recounting how she was happy that photos of her on vacation only appeared after she returned home - as to have known photographers were watching her would have ruined her break - and how paparazzi will pay off Customs to find out what hotel she's staying in.
She's wary about her image and tries to be careful not to be shot in compromising positions. It's easy to see why, given how a slew of stars courted as the next big thing - Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton - have seen their careers slide. She says: "I was raised in a very rounded family from the south and was never much of a party girl, and if I were I would think of the obligations that I have to young girls. I feel that there are not too many great role models, although now some are emerging. In the last few years the paparazzi have played out the lives of these girls for everyone to see, and so many people make mistakes at that age in our lives and it all takes place in front of the camera."
Lively comes from an acting family. Her father was an actor and her mother an acting coach and a brother encouraged her to act when she'd set her heart on going to college at Stanford.
Ideas of college have now been put on the back-burner and the actress admits she doesn't know what she would study.
She says one of the benefits of being on the show is that her peers are all going through similar processes. "A lot of our cast have had great successes not only in our work as actors but also we have incredible musicians in our midst. It's really amazing because we are all really young, to be able to share that and to do that all with each other, it's been like our own college experience."
One of Lively's favourite experiences on Gossip Girl was shooting the first two episodes of season four in Paris last July.
"It was amazing to shoot in Paris. Paris is just magical: the culture, the history that you see at every turn is really unbelievable. Growing up in LA, the thing we are most proud of is made in the 1980s. In Paris there was this one building they told me had been there in the 70s, and I said, 'that looks very old', and they added, 'the 1570s'. One of the reasons I love living in New York so much is that it has more of a European feel than California because there is more culture and history. The icing on the cake was being there during couture fashion week."
And she has done a spot of designing herself. She was one of 10 celebrities, alongside Karl Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow, to create T-shirts for Uniqlo, with the proceeds benefiting the Japanese Red Cross. She created a picture of a butterfly with the Japanese flag in its wings that sat above the slogan, "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly".
Given her model looks. it's no surprise that Lively has been employed by Chanel to promote their Mademoiselle bags. Karl Lagerfeld shot the adverts which first appeared in March.
Lively dyed her hair red recently to play a role in Hick alongside Chloe Moretz and Alex Baldwin. In keeping with her desire to play completely different roles, she plays a southern woman who is also a meth addict and the mother of 13-year-old Moretz. It seems that the actress just can't avoid creating gossip.
Who: Blake Lively
What: Blake Lively in Green Lantern
In cinemas: June 16
- TimeOut / Independent