"Gossip Girl," which is starting its second season on The CW and CTV, brings a new group of young Hollywood actors onto magazine covers, red carpet photo shoots and Monday night TV. Shot in New York City, the show's ever-growing fan base dutifully monitors and mimics character fashion and style. As the first season indicated, scantily clad actors in seductive situations simultaneously intrigue viewers and shock critics.
Jessica Szhor, a Menomonee Falls native, joined the cast midway through the first season. Now living in New York City, this 23-year-old hasn't lost her appreciation for family and Midwestern values.
We caught up with Szhor during shooting for the second season and asked to hear all the juicy details of life in the big city and working with some of Hollywood's hottest newcomers.
OMC: Tell me a little about your character on "Gossip Girl."
Jessica Szhor: I play a girl named Vanessa Abrams. She is this girl that grew up in Brooklyn and then moved away to Vermont with her parents and came back her sophomore year to confess her love to Nate Archibald, played by Chase Crawford. When she gets back, she realizes that he is totally in love with someone else, so she has to deal with all of that. She ends up staying there and helping out Mr. Humphrey with a gallery / coffee shop.
OMC: What was your "big break" for "Gossip Girl"?
JS: I came to the show on the fifth episode. I'd been in L.A. a couple years but last summer I ended up at a Memorial Day party with two of my friends. We were at creator Josh Schwartz's home and we're hanging out at the pool, eating food but not talking about work at all.
Two days later, my manager called and said there is this role on "Gossip Girl" and they want you to go to Warner Brothers tomorrow to audition. If you book it, you go to New York in two days. I got the role and was originally supposed to go for three episodes but I turned into a series regular.
OMC: You moved from L.A. to New York virtually overnight. How was the transition?
JS: People always ask how New York compares to L.A. and to me it's not even like apples and oranges, it's like apples and carrots. It's completely different. This city is so wonderful and the energy is so great.
Here, you can walk and go to the art museums and galleries and up to Central Park and you can see a different band every night of the week. It's just really, really such a neat city.
OMC: Growing up in the Midwest, was it difficult to break into the entertainment business?
JS: I started modeling in Milwaukee at Boston Store and Kohl's. I went from there to Chicago. And then at 13, went to New York to see a talent agent and there was a few times I went to L.A. for acting things if I auditioned in Chicago. An agency had asked me to come out to L.A. but it was just too much because I am the oldest of five kids and so we never really got to go for pilot season.
Right before my senior year of high school, I was getting ready to go to Columbia in Chicago and my parents and aunt and uncle sat me down and said if you want to go to L.A. to work with the agent who wants you to come out there, we'll send you with our blessing. It was like a green ticket for me.
OMC: Was pursuing a career in acting something you always wanted? Was acting a priority growing up?
JS: Acting came out of modeling. My first modeling job was when I was 6 and at that point, I definitely was not thinking of acting. When I did my first commercial and indie film in Chicago, I thought it was really, really cool.
For me, going out to L.A. and pursuing acting seemed really unrealistic. I thought, am I really going to leave my whole family and move across the country and become an actress? To me, it just seemed really insane. Even when I went, I thought I would stay a bit but then still end up going to school in a few months. But once I got out there and took a few acting classes with some incredible coaches, I started to get a whole different feel for it.
OMC: What was it like to move from Milwaukee to Los Angeles at 18?
JS: My mom came with me to L.A. for the first few weeks to get me set up. After I dropped her off, I was driving on the 405 with the windows open and I started thinking I was really on my own. But then a few weeks later it really sunk in; I didn't have any friends and in L.A., you can really live in your own bubble. Just about every time I would plan to move back, something would come along -- a guest star spot or commercial -- that was another reason to stay.
OMC: Was the entertainment industry something you were ready for?
JS: This is a business where you are told no 90% of the time and it can get really old. You are auditioning and auditioning and you are too tall or not tall enough, too Caucasian, not Caucasian enough. And that's not always it; it's not like you rock every audition, sometimes you're off. You try your hardest to prepare but you don't always land it.
OMC: Do you think growing up in the Midwest prepared you for Hollywood?
JS: I really feel there are certain Midwestern values or attitude. My experience with meeting people who are from the Midwest is that immediately you know they are from the Midwest and we click. But I also think that in the business and in L.A. you can find good people. I think it really comes down to how you're raised and your family regardless of where you're from.
OMC: How do you see Milwaukee now that you have lived in Los Angeles and New York?
JS: I think Milwaukee is a really great city. I never lived Downtown or on the East Side but when I come back, all of my friends do and so that's the part of the city I've really grown to like now.
For me, Milwaukee will always have a special place in my heart because of my family. And the cool thing about being in New York is the weather here reminds me a lot of Milwaukee. I definitely miss it.
OMC: What has the "Gossip Girl" experience been like?
JS: We're in our fifth episode of shooting right now. It's amazing. I'm really excited to finish out the second season and hopefully we'll go longer than that.
As long as I keep learning and getting better and better and having fun. As long as I can keep getting up every day and going to a job that I absolutely love doing, it's just a wonderful feeling. I've been reading scripts and looking at other projects and we'll just see what God has in plan for us.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.