Attention, Upper East Siders! The scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite almost didn’t involve Serena van der Woodsen or her bestie Blair Waldorf — well, at least not how you’ve come to know and love them. The CW casting director David Rapaport opened up in a new interview with BuzzFeed about what went into selecting the show’s biggest stars, and who the powers-that-be wanted instead of Blake Lively and Leighton Meester.
“I think the network initially pitched us Ashley Olsen and Rumer Willis for Blair and Serena,” Rapaport said. “I love Rumer, she’s grown into quite an amazing actress and person, but that, to me, was based on protecting the investment of a television show where creatively, these lesser-known girls really captured the essence of the show and carried it for six years.”
Rapaport, who has also helped cast the CW 90210 reboot, Arrow, and The Flash, revealed that Lively was his first choice to play troubled socialite Serena.
“I had seen her in Accepted and at that time, there were no Lena Dunhams or Zooey Deschanels — it was all about beauty and glamour, but being approachable and Blake was the ultimate It Girl,” he recalled. “I think at the end of the day, we tested Blake, Katie Cassidy, and this girl who was [Serena] on the Gossip Girl books. Not even her face, just her legs.”
Cassidy went on to appear in the role of Columbia University student Juliet Sharp later in the series before moving on to Arrow.
Almost none of the main roles went to actors with well-known credits to their names. Rapaport also noted that star Meester’s demeanor during her interview solidified her spot in the cast.
“Leighton is a little bit colder than Blake but I like that,” he said.” Leighton wasn’t a bitch when she came in, but she wasn’t overly nice or overly generous … She wasn’t going to kiss everyone’s ass and that was very Blair.”
But when it came time for the team to find Blair’s main love interest, Chuck Bass, they hit a legal setback. British actor Ed Westwick was struggling to get a visa, which ended up not coming through until the very day the cast shot the pilot. But he was such a shoo-in for the part, the other casting directors refused to watch any of the extra audition tapes for a possible replacement.
“We read him initially for Nate,” Rapaport recalled. “He’s menacing and scary, but there’s a twinkle in his eye. You want to hate him, but you would also probably sleep with him. It’s funny because on a network like The CW, where beauty does come first a lot, and you’re selling the fantasy of this world, it was a lot about the looks, so we had to balance that out with the guys and Ed Westwick wasn’t as traditionally handsome as Chace Crawford, but I found him much sexier and darker and edgier.”
Tell Us: Can you imagine Gossip Girl with Ashley Olsen and Rumer Willis?