Gossip Girl star Blake Lively tells how she is guarding her privacy, despite rumours of a high-profile romance and her appearance in a blockbuster movie.
Blake Lively: 'I never wanted to be famous'
Blake Lively, the effervescent Gossip Girl, tells John Hiscock she treasures her privacy above all else. Now, with a summer blockbuster set to make her a major star and rumours of a romance with Leonardo DiCaprio, she has only one problem - how to handle the paparazzi.
Blake Lively is gesturing animatedly, waving her arms in the air. When she realises what she is doing, she drops her hands on the table in front of her and explains: "I'm just overwhelmingly expressive. I talk like this." She gesticulates to make her point.
"I was silly enough to watch my first appearance on the David Letterman talk show and I asked myself: 'Do I really talk like that? That's so embarrassing. I have to be still.'
"I think in real life I'm a really bad actor, and if I was on screen being myself, people would think I was so over the top and horrible, so I have to fight the urge to be myself on screen. I'm very over the top in real life." She laughs appealingly.
It would be difficult to find anybody more appropriately named than Blake Lively. The 23-year-old actress who became known through her role in the television series Gossip Girl and is set to become a major star in the expected summer blockbuster Green Lantern comes with an air of irrepressible fun and joie de vivre.
When she smiles, which she does frequently, she inspires everyone around her to smile, too. She has an endearing enthusiasm while managing to seem both sultry and sweet at the same time.
Despite having been brought up in a Los Angeles show-business family and raised mainly on film sets, she seems refreshingly normal.
"People think that acting and being famous go together, but I never wanted to be famous," she says. "I never knew I wanted to be an actor, but it's been such an incredible ride because every job has been very different. At first I was just excited to be on a set and get to travel and get free food, but the more I acted, the more I discovered the art and craft of it."
And Hollywood has discovered her in a big way. But although offers of major roles in feature films are pouring in, Lively is still locked into a contract to co-star in the weekly series Gossip Girl. She is far too diplomatic to say she wants to move on, but Martin Campbell, who directed her in Green Lantern, says bluntly: "She's going to be very big and she's stuck in Gossip Girl, much to her fury."
Lively is finding that fitting in her soaring movie career with the demands of Gossip Girl is exhausting, but exhilarating. "It's rare that I get any time off," she says. While working on Gossip Girl she managed to find time to appear - mainly by working on weekends and days off - in the sequel to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Cloverfield, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Town and now Green Lantern, which she filmed during her four-month break from the TV show.
"I finished Gossip Girl at 1 o'clock in the morning in New York and I was in New Orleans at 6am shooting Green Lantern and the day we wrapped I was on a plane to Paris to start the new season of Gossip Girl," she says.
Green Lantern is one of the lesser-known comic book superheroes and, in fact, started life not as one character but as an elite force of thousands of alien warriors sworn to keep intergalactic order. They first appeared in a DC comic in 1940 and have evolved over time with the introduction in 1959 of Hal Jordan, the first human Green Lantern, a gifted but cocky test pilot played in the film by Ryan Reynolds. In the adventure, which is destined to be the first of yet another superhero franchise, Jordan joins the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps to battle Parallex, an enemy threatening to destroy the balance of power in the universe.
Lively portrays a strong-willed fighter pilot, Carol Ferris, who runs her father's aviation company where Jordan works. "She's just as much a hero as he is and they are always challenging each other in the air and on the ground," she says.
"We've got explosions and fights and trips to outer space and back, but I love the fact the movie also has a great sense of fun and a hint of romance. And the Green Lantern Corps should appeal to women, too - representing virtually every species of alien imaginable, it's definitely not a men-only club."
Lively was always destined to be an actress, although it was not a career she had in mind growing up in Burbank, California, in a closely knit show-business family. Her father, Ernie, was a veteran Hollywood actor and director; her mother, Elaine, a model-turned-casting agent; and her two brothers and two sisters were all actors.
"For me, it is a business that my family was in and it was something I never wanted to do and never had any intention of doing," she says. "But when I was born I was taken straight from the hospital to my sister's movie set so I literally grew up on movie sets and I would go with my parents to the acting class they taught because they didn't have a babysitter so I suppose I was being groomed for acting without realising it.
"People would always say to my mother, 'Why doesn't Blake act?' and she would say, 'I would never rob her of her childhood. If she wants to do it when she's an adult, she can.'
"My family is so supportive and I wouldn't be here if they hadn't been doing this for so many years before me. All the ground they covered and all the respect they have has helped me immensely."
Lively finally made her debut when she was 11 years old in Sandman, but the experience left her indifferent and she decided she preferred to focus on her life at Burbank High School, where she was a cheerleader, class president and a member of the choir.
It was her brother Eric who pushed her back into acting, taking her on a two-month tour of Europe when she was 15, spending most of the time trying to talk her into trying acting again. Back home, without telling her, he persuaded his agent to send her out on auditions. "I was preparing to go to college. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn't acting. However, I didn't want to upset my brother so I went on a few auditions," she says.
She landed a leading role in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), playing Bridget, one of four friends who split up during the summer and pass around a lucky pair of jeans. As the group member who pursues soccer and love while spending her summer at a football camp, Lively spent two months learning football skills before going to Mexico to film her scenes. In an uncomplicated bit of casting, her father played her onscreen dad.
"I loved the experience and thought maybe I was wrong and I did want to act, but I was still learning what a mark was and was thrilled by the fact I got free food for three months," she says.
She postponed her plans to go to university and took a part in one of her father's productions, the thriller Simon Says, in which she starred with her sisters, Lori and Robyn, as the terrorised victims of a demented killer. Then she took a challenging role as a sexually abused beauty queen who dies of bulimia in the small, independent film Elvis and Annabelle, and her outlook changed.
"It was a very different experience," she says. "The movie was never really released, but it was the turning point for me because that was when I discovered and truly fell in love with the art and craft of acting, and realised it's not just a fun, easy job where you become famous and get your picture taken."
Then came the pivotal role of Serena in Gossip Girl, a demanding job, but one that she acknowledges has opened the doors for her to stimulating film roles. "The show has afforded all of us some incredible opportunities," Lively says. "I love working in New York City, but I've been very excited and appreciative of the films I've been able to shoot simultaneously with Gossip Girl. I think when you're on a TV show playing the same role so often, it's easy for a character to become stale.
"I don't want to get stuck in a rut and lose my ability to tap into different characters," she says, "so when I have another character that I'm excited about, it makes it refreshing to do both."
Her hair, once blonde but now auburn, falls past her shoulders and she is wearing a yellow summer dress by Chloé with Christian Louboutin heels as we talk in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. She is a fashionista who has developed a distinctive style of her own.
"I think fashion is a wonderful thing because it's a great way to express yourself," she says. "That's why I've never used a stylist because it's you presenting yourself to the world every day and saying who you are. It's very creative and very much an art form. I think your style has to reflect who you are. You can look to other people for inspiration, but never for a blueprint to copy."
It was her former model mother who instilled in her an interest in clothes when she was still a child, dressing her in garments from boutiques and vintage stores as well as tailoring adult clothes to fit her.
"She did it because she was creative and didn't want me to be dressed in big T-shirts like all the other kids," Lively says. "Now I love clothing and I love designing. I love interior design houses and I feel like fashion is the same sort of thing, you know - the mixing of colours and fabrics and textures. I also love mixing feminine with androgynous and I love it when a woman is strong and empowered and that's why I love pantsuits or men's blazers."
Lively says she owns about 300 pairs of shoes, some of which she has to keep in a storage unit. "Every pair that I put on and love, I say, 'I need these.' I don't know what's going to happen to me. I'm going to be just like a crazy cat lady, but rather than cats, it will be shoes engulfing my apartment."
For three years, in an instance of life imitating art, Lively dated her Gossip Girl co-star Penn Badgley, who portrays Dan. The pair broke up a year ago but remain friends. Recently she has been on several dates with Leonardo DiCaprio, although it is something she is keeping quiet about.
A major downside to her fame has been the attentions of the paparazzi, who have been even more frantic in their pursuit since she began seeing DiCaprio. "I'm basically a shy person so the invasion of my personal life is a problem," she says. "My whole family is in the acting business and they taught me from a young age that it's just a job. As glamorous as it is, at the end of the day it's just work and you need to leave it at the door when you come home. So trying to carve out my own personal life and keep it private and to myself is the biggest issue that I have."
Nevertheless, she says, "I am very happy. Sometimes I literally spin in the streets. I'm very strange that way. I get so happy that when I'm by myself I'll start twirling. I must look like a crazy person, but I can't contain it sometimes."
While she has the summer off from Gossip Girl she will be filming Savages for Oliver Stone, co-starring with John Travolta and Uma Thurman in the story of three young California drug dealers who are blackmailed into working for a Mexican drug cartel.
But at the moment she is still treasuring the memory of her role in Green Lantern. "I keep pinching myself," she says. "I can't wait for my nephews to see the movie because they are going to think I am so cool."
She laughs happily and it is impossible not to laugh with her.
Green Lantern is showing in UAE cinemas now.
The Lively file
BORN August 25, 1987, Tarzana, California
SCHOOLING Attended Burbank High School, where she became a choir singer, cheerleader and class president
FAMILY Father Ernie, actor and director; mother Elaine, talent agent; two brothers, two sisters
CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT Chocolate. Never gone a day without eating some.
HASN'T HAPPENED YET When she was nine, she believed she would marry Leonardo DiCaprio.
CRAZIEST ACT EVER Since she had left her acting career behind after Sandman, Lively had no recent acting experience to list on her CV. When there was an opening for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, she walked into the audition with nothing but her photo, handed it in and walked out. The judges thought it was a joke, but as Lively was leaving the room, they realised she was perfect for the role.
LISTENING TO Chet Baker (right), Edith Piaf
FIRST JOB Appeared in the 1998 film Sandman at the age of 11, directed by her father.
PERSON TO BE STRANDED WITH ON A DESERT ISLE Brad Pitt. "I hope he doesn't hear this. He's never going to want to marry me."
MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION My dog
BIGGEST FEAR Sharks
FAVOURITE DESIGNERS Jason Wu, Alexander Wang
STYLE ICONS Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth
FAVOURITE RESTAURANT Bombay Bicycle Club, Cape Town, South Africa