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Interview: Adam Chanler-Berat Talks Gossip Girl, Social Media, and Teaching Emerging Actors

The Broadway favorite stars in the new HBO Max reboot of the fan-favorite TV series.

Adam Chanler-Berat
(© JJ Geiger)

XOXO!

In HBO Max's Gossip Girl, Adam Chanler-Berat's character sweeps his fears under the rug where they belong. This isn't to say he's totally fearless, but he saves those fears for another day.

Chanler-Berat plays Jordan, one of the teachers who feel disrespected and powerless, and revives the old blog (now an Instagram account) to gain social control. Right now, he's happy to chat about ways to make social media a better place and working with and learning from his soon-to-be Assassins co-star Tavi Gevinson.

"I'm drawn to data, facts, and science. My proximity to Tavi has also enriched me as a person, and she's so full of great resources. She pointed me to Amplifying Activists Together when I was phone banking for the presidential election and wanted to incorporate that activism beyond the presidential election. She's an amazing artist and human being!"

In this conversation with TheaterMania, Chanler-Berat also discusses living his Gossip Girl fantasy, favorite social media accounts, and advice he shares with his students.

Tavi Gevinson and Adam Chanler-Berat in Gossip Girl
(© Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max)

Peter and the Starcatcher was an ensemble piece and Gossip Girl is too. Was this part of what made you want to join the show or was it the material?
Being part of an ensemble is one of my favorite things about the theater and being an actor. We're all working towards a common goal that is bigger than any particular part. But it was my relationship with showrunner Josh Safran because I did an episode of his show Soundtrack on Netflix. It was the summer of 2019, and he was also in the writers' room for Gossip Girl, so I asked if I could be in it as a joke, and he agreed. I've come to learn that Josh is a loyal collaborator and a man of his word. Months later, he sent me a photo of my headshot on a wall and told me he was writing me a part. It's such a charmed story, and I thought I would be able to live my Gossip Girl fantasy in just one episode, but it turned out that he was writing me as one of the operators of the Gossip Girl account.

How did you develop your character, Jordan, and your relationships with the other characters?
One of the great things about Josh is when she has the opportunity to write for specific actors, to focus on someone he collaborates with often. He's done in the past with Megan Ferguson, who plays Wendy. There's something about your essence that he sees and can distill that. I'm not playing myself, but there are elements of me in there.

Do you mind sharing what those similarities are?
There's a romantic nature and geekiness to Jordan that I'm familiar with. To continue with your previous question, part of the process of creating a character on set is figuring out, turning up the volume on specific characteristics, and turning other volumes down. Josh finds a very economical way to give you a lot of information about your character, so it's an adjustment as opposed to thinking that I have to completely rethink my ideas of who that person is or constructing something out of nothing.

The Internet is a character in both iterations of Gossip Girl. What was your relationship to the Internet growing up?
So much of our world now takes place digitally, and our version of Gossip Girl really grapples with that. One of the most exciting things about my role is that I was part of the generation that watched the original show when it aired. Now Gen Z is discovering the show, but it still speaks to my generation. Another interesting thing is how these two generations behave and deal with social media and its massive presence in our lives. We use social media differently, and the show leaves room for that discussion and cultural critique about how these two generations interact.

What types of social media content are you currently into?
I'm interested in environmental justice and social justice. I think we have to work hard now to harness the enormous power of social media and use it for good.

Your former co-star Celia Keenan-Bolger is someone who does a stellar job of using social media to enrich the Broadway community.
Yes! Broadway Advocacy Coalition and Broadway for Racial Justice are also examples of how social media can be useful and educate followers and foster connections to improve the world around us instead of using it for destructive purposes.

You play a teacher, and you often teach with Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott Oliver at Actor Therapy. Tell me about one piece of advice you often share with your students.
I teach many students who are just coming out of conservatory programs and moving to New York City. What I often find myself telling them is not to forget to live their lives. Conservatory programs are great, but they're all-consuming. In some ways, those are the profession's demands, and you have to be good at so many things, but they should be curious about other things other than their performance skills and how they will enrich the work in ways they're not even aware of. I tell my students to go to museums, go to performances, listen to music, go for a long walk in nature, go dancing, get your heart broken, things that will make you a well-rounded person. No shade to these programs, but sometimes they don't have the time to teach you how to be a person. When you're in a rehearsal room creating a part, you're bringing all of yourself, not just the skilled technician; you're bringing the human that you are into that room. That human needs to be nourished the same way you're nourishing your craft.

Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Christian Borle in Peter and the Starcatcher
(© Tristan Fuge)
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