Blake Lively is a starving artist. “I’m hungry. You hungry? Let’s meet at Sant Ambroeus,” she says, by way of cell phone introduction. Within minutes she’s stepping out of a taxi, an endless stream of legs and golden hair. The pint-size ristorante in New York’s West Village is, on a Saturday afternoon, predictably packed with the type of diners who are too cool to freak out about the numero uno Gossip Girl but not so jaded that they don’t notice her. Over the course of the next hour and a half, only a mother and her trembling tween daughter openly fawn over Lively. Sure, a guy at the next table chats her up, but that’s only because he really, really needs to know if he should order the eggplant appetizer that the gorgeous 21-year-old is digging into with gusto.
Considering the week she’s had, it’s easy to understand Lively’s need for a little comfort food. Five days earlier her father, actor Ernie Lively, was in a major car crash, and Lively rushed home to Los Angeles to be with him. A cascade of scheduling changes was set off by her departure: Television scenes, a magazine interview and a cozy dinner party she was planning to host in her downtown Manhattan apartment all had to be postponed. After winging back to Gotham on the red-eye, she went directly to the set at 5 a.m. Thursday and worked 16 hours. Friday was another long day of portraying perhaps the hottest senior ever to roam the hallways of the fictional Constance Billard School for Girls. Saturday kicked off with a crack-of-dawn photo shoot, and now lunch with a reporter. Still, Lively is in high spirits for the simple reason that Dad’s okay. “He’s doing great, all things considered,” she says. “It was very serious. And it’s hard to be on the other side of the country from him. I’m so used to being within 10 minutes of my family.”
A tight-knit bunch, the Lively clan also includes a talent manager mom, two older sisters and two older brothers—all of whom are connected to the entertainment industry in some manner. “My mom and dad always taught acting, so instead of getting me babysitters, they would just bring me to class,” Lively recalls. “And I’m a naturally shy person, so it really helped. I would’ve just been hiding under the table, pulling on my mother’s dress if I hadn’t been in their classes. It forced me out of my shell.” And out she stayed—Lively is warm and ultrachatty, dispensing the type of cheerful anecdotes that make clear she leads a charmed existence.
Growing up, however, she wasn’t convinced that showbiz was for her. Actually, to hear Lively tell it, her brother Eric, 27, practically forced her into her current vocation. An actor who recently had a recurring role on The L Word, he yanked his little sister out of school for two months when she was 15 and took her on a low-budget grand tour of Europe. Somewhere between Cambridge and Cologne, he told her that she should really start thinking seriously about an acting career. “He was trying to get me to make life decisions at 15!” she says with a laugh. An AP student who was also a cheerleader, class president and a member of “show choir” (a mash-up of singing and dancing in which Bon Jovi tunes figured prominently), she told him she was more interested in attending Stanford University than movie premieres. But a year later Eric secretly contacted his agent about her anyway. “I was really busy at school,” she says, “and I would have these agents calling and saying, ‘We have an appointment for you.’ It was really hard to say no, because I didn’t want to make my brother upset.”