Shortly after she turned 18, Jordan Alexander, the future star of HBO Max’s Gossip Girl, was frustrated. The young actress was traveling from audition to audition in Toronto, and every time she showed up at another one, a room of people who looked almost identical to her were waiting to be called in for their chance to read the script. “At that time of my life, I wasn’t prepared to go sit in a room full of people who were essentially me,” she said via Zoom one afternoon after a long week of filming scenes for Gossip Girl. “You need to have a sense of yourself, because that’s what castings are—you walk into a room and there are five other humans who essentially fit your bill, and that can be a bit much.”
Alexander grew up on Canada’s west coast before relocating to the Toronto area at the age of 12. The story goes, according to Alexander, that she once played baby Jesus in a play at church, and quickly became enamored with the arts. With her two sisters—Alexander is the middle child—she embarked on a journey of small auditions for cereal commercials. Then, she moved to the city when she turned 18 to act professionally. But deep down inside, it just didn’t feel right to keep running into different versions of herself at every audition.
So, she decided she would shave her head. “I think I was just having a moment,” Alexander revealed with a shrug. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted, and one of the things that I didn’t want was hair.” Now, at 27, the actress has kept to her word, and her head has remained shaven ever since. It might even be, at this point, a signature look. “I love Black hair and the experience, it's such a spiritual thing. But there's also a lot of money. There's also a lot of work. It's a lot of time,” she said. “I was just finding myself unable to keep up with it, and the solution for me was to take it off.”
For Alexander, shaving her head was more than just a cosmetic decision; it was the beginning of a new chapter in her career. Shortly after she quit acting, Alexander shifted her focus toward playing the guitar and writing her own songs, influenced by singer-songwriter folk musicians. She eventually performed as an opener for Kehlani in 2018 at Toronto Pride, and collaborated with fellow Canadian, Carly Rae Jepsen, for a Pride performance in 2019.
Around that same time, Alexander’s sister continued hounding her to get back in front of the camera. “I was working as a maid and waiting for the bus. My sister finally broke me down and was like, if you do acting, you maybe don’t have to do this anymore,” she said. Her sister then sent her headshot to agencies throughout Toronto, and in 2019, Alexander booked a role on a Facebook Watch series with Juliette Lewis called Sacred Lies. While filming that show, she also met Emily Alyn Lind, who is now her co-star on Gossip Girl. If it weren’t for Lind’s insistence, Alexander might have never auditioned for Gossip Girl in the first place. “It just seemed so far out of reach,” she said. “I was trying to invite something great into my world for myself, but I just never thought it would be this.”
When she finally took the bait, Alexander realized that the casting directors were looking for something particular, and that she might really be the one who could deliver it. “I liked that they were trying to hire a mixed-race Black girl with a shaved head for their show,” she said. “I was like, well, if they’re willing to do that, then this is something I’d be interested in because it’s so left-of-center.”
“Maybe it’s not anymore, but just the amount of times that people are so shocked that my head is shaved is just…” she added, trailing off.
The new season of Gossip Girl, which is being touted as more of a reiteration or continuation of life in the same world rather than a reboot of the original series that aired on The CW from 2007 to 2012, will follow all new characters on the Upper East Side. Alexander plays Julien Calloway, whose one-word character bio presented on the show’s proprietary Instagram account is “Influence” and whose face and outfits you may have seen popping up in the paparazzi shots of the cast as they film all over town.
HBO Max has been, as one would expect, tight-lipped about the new characters and what sort of drama they might get into when the show premieres this summer. But what Alexander can say is that she’s hoping to subvert some of the tropes that were presented in the original series. “I want to create an inclusive space where we’re not just reiterating the otherness of anyone who is not, you know, the list of things that people were allowed to be: rich and fabulous and famous,” she said. “[The original series] was a reflection of where society was, and in that sense, it did a very good job of doing that. That is the nature of doing a show like this, and we’re trying to catch the wave of the social current, so it’s going to be really reflective of life right now.”
Alexander also hopes that hardcore fans will be surprised, in a good way, at the new direction the series will take. “Nostalgia is such a powerful emotion,” she said. “If you try to fuck with someone’s nostalgia, the reaction will tend to be extreme. People are either down for it and ready for it, or are like, ‘Do not touch this thing that is very precious to me and connected to so many parts of who I am.’ I’m just glad people are feeling something.”
Much can be said about the fashion choices on the original Gossip Girl, and not all of it, in retrospect, would be positive (unless you’re just really, really into headbands). Alexander’s character, however, dresses “severe in a positive way” so that she can set a trend and be a force of influence with her clothes, which is an totally unlike Blair Waldorf or Jenny Humphrey, but is a unique expression of Gen-Z style in 2021. “When I put on Julien’s clothes, I stand up straighter,” Alexander said. “She’s kind of a diva. She did not come to play.”
That is all to say, don’t hold your breath for any of these characters to just be another Serena van der Woodsen—especially not Julien Calloway, who, according to Alexander, embodies a sort of popularity that we may all be able to relate to a little bit more in this day and age, now that social media is more ubiquitous than it was when the original Gossip Girl aired. “Julien has this effortlessness about her that causes people to listen and pay attention and want to do what she does,” Alexander said. “That is the essence of her character. She’s navigating that pedestal in a way that I think will be interesting for the target audience, being that most of them will have grown up on social media and have had the pressures of a lot of eyes on them.”
As for her own relationship with social media, Alexander is learning how to evolve with it. “I just want to solidify the message that I have because people are paying attention or will be paying attention, and I want to make sure that's articulated in a way that represents how I feel,” she said. “I don’t care so much about the aesthetic stuff. I'm concerned about representing the causes that I believe in, in an accurate and helpful way and making people feel okay. If I have a positive message to spread or can encourage people to be positive to themselves or with their life, that would be good.”
In between her long filming days on Gossip Girl, Alexander spends her time with the same people she works with because “We legit just love each other,” she said. She also writes in her journal and practices yoga when she has some down time. But more importantly, she’s thinking about what she looks for in any future projects that come her way after Gossip Girl premieres. “I need Black everything—producers, DPs,” she said. “I want a space that is inclusive and going into the future.”
Jordan Alexander photographed by Joshua Kissi and styled by Marion Kelly for W Magazine. Hair by Dana Boyer using Act + Acre at The Wall Group. Makeup by Ernest Rob using Pat McGrath Labs.