For someone who’s about to become the queen of the Upper East Side, Jordan Alexander doesn’t really feel like she’s gotten to know New York. Or at least, the Canadian actor, who's spent the last few months on-and-off in the Big Apple filming the HBO Max reboot of Gossip Girl, feels like she hasn’t seen much of the city. “I've more so been acquainted with the inside of my apartment,” Alexander tells Refinery29 over Zoom, fittingly from the confines of said apartment.
If this new version is anywhere near as popular as the six season-long OG series, she’ll have lots of time to explore. Picking up eight years after the end of the original show, which followed Manhattan’s most elite (ie: obnoxiously rich) high schoolers as they navigated love, underage drinking, and the pre-Instagram version of Deux Moi, the 2021 iteration of the teen show promises to be just as over the top, but more importantly, more diverse than the original. And Alexander is at the centre of it all.
At least, we think she is.
The series' stars have been incredibly tight-lipped about details of the reboot. Aside from Alexander’s character’s name (Julien Calloway, c’est chic!), and the fact that — judging by paparazzi photos from set — this reincarnation of the show is going to be similarly fashionable with a capital F, fans know relatively nothing. And Alexander isn’t telling if she’s 2021’s answer to Leighton Meester’s Blair Waldorf. “Julien is very much the influencer,” is all she'll share of her role. “I don't know if I’d say she’s like any of the characters from the past, but she's a very empowering and fashionable young lady and I'm so excited to play her.”
One thing we do know: Alexander is about to be everywhere. In addition to GG, the 28-year-old Toronto-based actor and musician, who has opened for stars like Kehlani and Carly Rae Jepsen and toured with Bif Naked, is continuing to write and record new music (sometimes penning songs on her way to set). She’s also the star of Holt Renfrew’s spring 2021 campaign, which is why we’re chatting today. The campaign is all about empowerment and self-expression and it’s the perfect role for Alexander, who’s been using songwriting and singing as a means to express herself since she was 12 — performing for her family whether they wanted to listen or not.
Here, she spoke with Refinery29 about her favourite fashion moment from the show so far, representation in Hollywood, and the very specific reason fellow Canadian Karena Evans gives her chills.
Congratulations on the campaign! It’s stunning. What was it like for you to work with an iconic Canadian brand like Holt Renfrew?
It was really exciting. My grandma is so into fashion, and she used to take me into Holts and teach me little fashion dos and don'ts, and we’d go window shopping; so I have really fond memories of that. My grandma is very, very excited about the campaign.
You sing in the campaign. Who are some of your musical inspirations? I heard you love Phoebe Bridgers.
I really loved Phoebe Bridgers at the time. I may have overdone it, though. I spent the entire year listening to her [Laughs]. I really like The Childlike Empress right now. But I find that I get a lot of inspiration [for my own music] from the things that I feel; and I guess that comes through the filter of people that I'm inspired by, but it's hard to nail that down. Even stuff that you don't choose to listen to, but you heard it in the car or somebody else played it and you just soak it in.
What prompted your move into acting?
My sister, Sydney. She’s very much a stage mom. She's always sending me Kris Jenner memes saying, “you're doing great, sweetie!” She was adamant for the past six years that I try acting, and her persistence broke through...well, not really. I didn’t actually do anything, so she took pictures from my Instagram and sent them to agents in Toronto, corresponded with them and then forwarded it to me.
[Laughs] Oh, she’s probably also doing that.
It worked out though, obviously! Where were you when you found out you got the part?
In the car with my best friends. I was in the backseat. I was overwhelmed and then quietly said, “I got Gossip Girl.” And they were like “What?!” I couldn’t believe it. I almost didn't want to jinx it or scare it away or wake up from the dream. When exciting stuff happens to me, I tend not to be the screaming type, I’m more like [covers hands over her mouth]. Definitely one of those moments for me.
Did you watch the show growing up?
My sisters and I watched it. I just rewatched it during the pandemic and I felt like it was exactly what I needed to turn it on and feel okay. And I really feel that this extension of it is also going to have that effect. You’re really going to connect with the characters and they're going to become this ensemble of friends; they become real people.
I rewatched it as well and I found I relate to different characters now. I used to love Serena and now I’m weirdly team Blair...
I love Blair. There's just something so sure about being so evil. With nice people, you never know why they're being nice and it might not be a pure intention. But if someone's being mean to you, you know exactly where you stand.
The Christopher John Rogers was truly an incredible moment. You take on a new persona when you wear something like that, you're taking up so much space; it's almost like one of those mindfulness things, where they tell you to “take up your space.” Literally, people have to move around the dress. It's very much a power move — and I liked that a lot.
Who or what inspires your style off-camera?
I get a lot of inspiration from random places. If I just see someone on the street who has great style. My girlfriend is also incredibly fashionable, so anytime I can ask her for fashion advice I do.
Like a breath of fresh air. Like, finally we're here. I think that it's just reflective of where we are socially. And that’s exactly what Gossip Girl is, it picks up on the beat of what's happening today. Back then, that was kind of what was happening. So I'm just really excited that, as a society, we have elevated ourselves and continued to do so towards inclusivity.
I’m sure that impacts the show and the stories that you get to tell.
We’re telling the stories of so many more people now; so many more people are going to be able to look at this show and see themselves. And I think that's really important, especially when a show is geared to young adult audiences, to really empower people to think they’re being represented. And you can be anything. I'm really excited that that's something we're putting into the world.
Fellow Canadian Karena Evans directed the first two episodes of the series. What was that like being on set with her?
She’s just absolutely magic. She's such a force. I remember calling my parents and my friends and saying, ‘this woman is so incredible.’ She takes her time and owns her space. It's such a peaceful aura around Karena and you're able to calm down and empower yourself to give yourself the best performance, because that's what she's doing. She's not letting all of the hectic craziness impact her. Oof, I get chills thinking about how calm she was.
Did she give you any tips for navigating the industry?
We talked a lot about that in terms of grounding yourself and manifesting the kind of future you want to have. She's always sending me guided meditations.
There's a lot of ongoing discussion here in Canada about the fact that creators, and most often Black creators, aren't supported here. They have to go to the United States to find success. Is this something that you've found?
I tend to be someone who's kind of content. So I didn't feel like “hey, I'm not getting that thing.” I was just like, “well, I'm doing what I'm doing.” But, I had been doing music for a very, very long time and nothing was really happening. But I would say that hasn’t necessarily been my experience. I felt like there were quite a few people [like Sean Jones and Ebonnie Rowe of Honey Jam] supporting me. I feel very inspired by that. Anything that I get, if I'm able to bring other people on, especially Black people and women of colour, I want to do that. Because it’s important.
I read Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, and that has been haunting me in the most beautiful way. I just can't stop thinking about it. But I feel like I oscillate between sitting on the couch staring into nothing and doing a bunch of yoga and working out. I let myself breathe; if I want to eat a bunch of cinnamon buns one day, I'm gonna do that, and if I feel like running the next day, I'm gonna do that.
Last q! If you had to pick a song that encapsulates this period of time in your life, what would it be?
"By Your Side" by Sade. I feel so comforted by this song! You stick it out for people you love. It was my alarm sound for the whole month of October.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.