Around a week ago, Hunter Harris made the new Gossip Girl reboot the most lifelike it’s ever been. In the second episode, Harris appeared in a cameo on the HBO Max show as herself, writing a profile of some of the characters for the fictional magazine The Spectator. And around a year and a half ago, Harris was assigned the same task—but in real life.
Working as a freelance writer, Harris penned an on-set profile of the Gossip Girl cast for Vulture. Now, as the show releases its sophomore season, Harris has a totally different role: She’s writing for the show, as opposed to about the show. Still, she’s a prolific journalist, cranking out newsletters about the World Cup and magazine cover stories while Season 2 rolls out.
“I’m applying to adopt dogs, and I’m like, ‘Oh, what do I say my job is?’ I write for magazines and for a TV show, but also I write a newsletter. Newsletters still feel nebulous in people’s minds,” says Harris, who writes Hung Up, her own personal newsletter for Substack, as we chat over Zoom. “I just say I’m a writer, and that I write across a couple different projects.”
Some of her very New York ideas while writing for Gossip Girl: a TikTok-engineered day in SoHo with trips to Reformation and Sadelle’s, Lucas Hedges weed ragers, and entitled teens whining over having to open the Resy app after their favorite table at Lilia is taken. (Unlike these teens, using Resy, Harris says, is one of her favorite pastimes: “It’s a game. I don’t do online betting, but my Uncut Gems is Resy notifications and getting tables.”)
“That’s the fantasy of Gossip Girl, the fantasy of a show about New York, you know?” Harris says. “All these doors are open for you, especially when you’re—not a nepotism baby, but that sort of tier of privilege in the city.”
As Season 2 rolls out, Hunter Harris sat down with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed to chat about the Gossip Girl reboot—but also wanting to be Nora Ephron, being banned from watching the original Gossip Girl, and the return of Georgina Sparks.
You have a journalistic background. Now, you’re writing jokes a year before they hit the public eye. What’s that like?
What I always appreciated about [Gossip Girl] is that it feels super timely. It feels of-the-moment. It’s a slight of hand, in a way. There are things that are always going to be topical. There’s a great joke in Episode 2 about Annette Bening’s hair. That’s not pegged to this week or last week or next week, it’s just a current reference to make—same with Substack, for example. That’s something that feels super of-this-time-period.
I was going to ask about Substack, because they make that joke in the second episode. Did you, a devoted Substacker, have to OK that quip?
Oh my gosh, no! Of course not. I didn’t write that joke, but I thought it was funny. Gossip Girl has joked about Vulture and New York magazine, and that’s par for the course.
Was writing for TV always a goal of yours?
I don’t think I’m alone in this, like everyone else, I wanted to be Nora Ephron when I grew up. The trajectory from writing for New York magazine to writing for movies was always a dream of mine. I went to Emerson College and I started as a Writing for Film and Television major. Basically, I took one film production course and was like, “Just kidding!”
Production is way too complicated!
I was like, “Girl, what do I look like? Setting up lights? I don’t know what I’m doing.” I quickly moved into journalism because I just felt like, “Oh, I know exactly what I’m doing here. This is coming a lot more naturally.”
It wasn’t until my last year at New York magazine that I started thinking about it really seriously, and that transition felt not so distant. People had done it before—Jessica Pressler, my friend Allison Davis. Then, the Gossip Girl job came very organically and surprisingly. I’d already known Josh from being mutuals on Twitter, and he was like, “How would you feel about coming into the room? I don’t think you’ve ever done this before.” I was like, “Ooh, OK! New adventure, let’s do it.”
You mentioned Nora Ephron. Would you ever venture into movies?
It’s funny, because Gossip Girl is the first TV show that I really, really, really watched and loved. I would truly tune in and watch every week—except by watch every week, I mean for the first couple seasons, I had to buy and download every episode on iTunes because I wasn’t allowed to watch it. The most trouble I’ve ever gotten into with my parents was reading Gossip Girl the book. I had to watch secretly. But that was the first show that I really identified with as a teenager.
Otherwise, I was watching movies, which is also why I love Gossip Girl. The episode titles are references to Katharine Hepburn movies, or Humphrey Bogart movies. Old, classic cinema—cinema! I just mean old Hollywood movies. I have a feature idea in mind, actually. But I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. We’ll see.
What’s been your favorite part about the reception for Season 2 so far?
I’m happy that no one’s dragging me for not being a very good actress. Selfishly, that’s my favorite part.
So, who thought of your cameo? Did you pitch it?
I did not think of it—I think the cameo was Fletcher Peters Josh [Safran’s] idea, maybe Josh and one of our writers named Eric [Eidelstein]. Gossip Girl is always grounding the socialite-y lives in the reality of New York media. Even in the first show, they would show the New York Times article that they were trying to get. Josh presented it, and I was like, “Uh, I don’t know. Is that allowed?” He was like, “Of course it’s allowed. I’m the boss.” So I was like, “OK!”
And thank goodness it made it to the final cut!
The way that things work in a room, we’re pitching ideas and trying to outline stuff out. Some things never make it through the end, some things are changed, just like anything, I guess. I half-thought it would never happen, but it stayed a part of the scripts. Then it just became time for me to think about, “Oh, what am I going to wear? What’s that whole thing?” I thought they’d give me a costume, but I guess for cameos you usually wear your own clothes so that it feels truest to you. I’d worn that exact outfit to a GQ party maybe a year ago.
What was your thought process when the idea came up in the writers’ room?
I was apprehensive, only because it’s Gossip Girl. I’m not cool enough to be on Gossip Girl! I’d spent some time around the actors when I was on set for New York magazine, so I knew everyone was so cool and glamorous. I was like, “I’ll do it, but only if I’m not embarrassing myself.” There was a line where Luna said a little drag, a little dig. I was like, “OK, I’m willing to submit myself to this. Being insulted by Luna is a dream.” If I was apprehensive, it’s only because I’m not an experienced actor—other than being in a production of Ragtime when I was probably 10 years old.
“The funniest reaction was when I was showing my mom when I was home for Thanksgiving. She was like, ‘Okay, will I be able to see you? Will you be in the background?’”
A lot of people were talking about the cameo. What’s seeing all the reactions like, for you?
I only told a couple of my friends, because it seemed weird to brag about it. Also, the Beyoncé school of social media is not to tease, but just to drop. The funniest reaction was when I was showing my mom when I was home for Thanksgiving. She was like, “OK, will I be able to see you? Will you be in the background? You’ll have to point it out.” I was like, “Uh, no. I have lines. I’m a character in it. I’m playing myself!”
Did she dig up the dirt on you for watching the show behind her back?
She was curiously mum on how I was right when, at 13, I said, “I love Gossip Girl and this is important to me.” [Laughs] We really haven’t talked about it. But I don’t know if she has really watched the show, outside of my scene, which is fine. It’s not in her demographic at all.
When you’re working on Gossip Girl, how do you balance quippy remarks about pop culture with comments that will actually sway the zeitgeist?
Maybe we’re just a very online group. Myself, as a writer, I don’t think you can really plan for that stuff. I don’t think you can prepare for that, something being a big meme or a big moment. You have to let the internet and the audience do what they will. If we could engineer for those things, I think that’s the secret everyone’s trying to crack. At least how I feel, with writing anything, really, is that if it’s funny, if it’s engaging to me, if I’m thrilled or moved by it, that’s what works. If you try to engineer for what the most amount of people will like or what will be a day after meme, it’s a recipe for disaster.
What was it like to write for Georgina, a Gossip Girl character we’ve all already met?
When I tell you—if there’s a rule for writing for Georgina, it’s that it has to be the most outrageous thing. She’s just Georgina. There’s no planning for her or anticipating her. Everything that Georgina says is so off-the-wall and so funny.
I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to her comeback.
Enough Georgina keeps the world in balance. You need it for equilibrium.
It’s easy to bring back beloved Gossip Girl characters, but who is someone you’d just be repulsed to see again?
[Laughs] Even if I was repulsed, I’d be like, “Wait, I want them to come back.” It’s Gossip Girl! I would love it if Carter Baizen, Sebastian Stan, came back. Like, what do you even have to do here? Any opportunity to have more drama is so Gossip Girl.
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