Spotted: 'Gossip Girl' Laura Breckenridge '10 drinking coffee in Chancellor Green
I sometimes feel like I’m living two lives,” admitted the petite brunette sitting across from me in Chancellor Green Cafe. Just getting through Princeton is hard enough, but getting through Princeton while balancing a professional acting career? For 25-year-old Laura Breckenridge ’10, that’s been her life for almost seven years.
After taking a total of four years off from Princeton to perform onstage, on television and in film, Breckenridge is back this year as a full-time student. If her face looks familiar, it’s probably not from your precept, but from her latest role as the unassuming new English teacher on the CW cult hit “Gossip Girl.”
When she first arrived on the show’s set, before she saw the final scripts, Breckenridge said she was shocked to find out she would be hooking up with a student. She recalled being in a clothes fitting when one of the members of the crew said, “Oh, this outfit is perfect for when she kisses him.” “I was like ‘I what?’ and they told me, ‘You kiss Dan.’ ”
Regarding that steamy hookup scene with Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) at the end of her second episode, Breckenridge admitted that it was a little awkward and “not romantic at all.”
“Coming from a dance background, a lot of times I just see it as choreography. It has to be technical because you still have to hit marks, and the camera is looking for specific things to pick up on,” Breckenridge explained of kissing on film. “I actually think it’s more vulnerable to do a really emotional scene than a scene like that.”
Still, I had to ask: Was Badgley a good kisser? Breckenridge hesitated, a bit self-consciously, before answering, “He was fine … I wasn’t like ‘Ew, he’s terrible!’ ”
Soon after starting Princeton in fall 2002, Breckenridge joined BodyHype Dance Company and, naturally, dove into the theater scene on campus. Sophomore spring, she took her first break from school to star in an Off-Broadway play called “The Moonlight Room.” Breckenridge was quick to note, “I never leave just to stay out; it’s always a job that I feel is equivalent to the experience of college in terms of learning and for my career.”
This past fall, after acting in 11 films as well as the short-lived WB series “Related,” Breckenridge came back to campus to complete her junior year. A classics major and a candidate for a theater and dance certificate, she concedes that a Princeton education is not exactly crucial for a successful acting career, but she emphasized, “[School] is something that I love and is very fulfilling for me.”
Despite taking classes and planning her independent work, the concept of a “routine” is still somewhat foreign for Breckenridge: Each semester, she gives her class schedule to her agent, who does her best to schedule auditions around class time. Up this week: confirmed auditions Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and possibly two others on Wednesday and Thursday, all for TV sitcoms. “It’s pilot season,” Breckenridge explained. If for some reason an audition conflicts with class, which occurs rarely, Breckenridge said she discusses it with her professors and preceptors, who are typically understanding. “I don’t know what it is. I just think Princeton really values being an individual and developing what you care about,” Breckenridge explained.
Breckenridge, a member of Ivy Club, splits her time between her apartment in New York and her single in Brown, but she said she prefers to be on campus when she really needs to get work done. “It’s amazing how the atmosphere at Princeton really makes you work,” she noted.
Despite her lengthy college hiatuses, Breckenridge doesn’t seem fazed by the age gap between her and most of her 2010 classmates. “Four years when you’re in college feels like a lot of time, because there are distinct markers — freshman, sophomore — but when you’re not in college, four years feels like a much shorter period,” she explained.
Breckenridge said she does notice the significant ways that Princeton has changed since she started her career here. The four-year residential college system, the construction of Whitman, grade deflation — none of these were a part of the Princeton culture when she arrived. She even admitted to having forgotten the names of some of the buildings when she returned last fall.
Growing up outside Philadelphia, Breckenridge started training as a ballet dancer, but she soon developed an interest in acting. By the time she was 15, she had a decision to make. “In order to do acting, I had to give up dancing and singing,” Breckenridge said. “But I had fallen in love with it.”
Breckenridge’s first big breaks came when she was still in high school at the Professional Children’s School in New York. She was cast as “Baby” in the production of “Dirty Dancing” being developed for Broadway and as “Girl in the courtroom” in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. The second-youngest actor in the ensemble, Breckenridge recalled walking into the theater on her first day thinking, “They’re going to fire me! Why am I here?” Miller himself was present for rehearsals, and Breckenridge said she remembers him as being gracious and supportive of the cast. “It was a master class,” Breckenridge gushed. “Just sitting with them and performing with them every night, I grew so much as an actor.”
When she auditioned in November for the role of Rachel Carr on “Gossip Girl,” Breckenridge knew almost nothing about the show. Two days before Thanksgiving, she was contracted for three episodes as “Miss Carr.” “The only thing I knew was that my character was from the Midwest, had done Teach For America, was new to New York and looked young,” Breckenridge explained. While many college students procrastinate by regularly watching “Gossip Girl,” for Breckenridge, becoming an expert on the show was suddenly part of her job. Over Thanksgiving break, Breckenridge said she watched every episode and “clearly got addicted.”
Off screen, Breckenridge said, the “Gossip Girl” cast is nowhere near as catty as infamous queen bee Blair Waldorf and her minions. “It’s really scary when you go in as a guest star because you don’t want to interrupt their flow, and you’re the new girl. But they were so welcoming: Within a day I didn’t feel like an outsider,” Breckenridge said.
She actually wasn’t a stranger to everyone on set: She and Leighton Meester, who plays the delightfully conniving Blair on the show, knew each other in high school and ran into each other a few times when they both lived in Los Angeles. “She is very funny, very upbeat, clearly not manipulative, clearly not Blair,” Breckenridge said.
The most striking feature of the “Gossip Girl” set? The number of dogs running around. Meester, Blake Lively and Taylor Momsen — to name a few — all arrive to work with a pup in tow. “All the dogs hang out in the hair and makeup room,” Breckenridge said. “There are always dogs coming up to you. It’s nice.”
Though the paparazzi aren’t trailing her yet, Breckenridge — much to her surprise — has been recognized a few times in New York and on campus since her first episodes of “Gossip Girl” aired in February. One of the funnier encounters with a fan occurred last week in New York. “I was walking down the street, and suddenly a guy pointed and yelled, ‘Gossip Girl! You’re awesome!’ It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me, and then I couldn’t help but laugh. Only in New York.”
For the first time in a long time — and certainly since achieving on-the-street recognition status — Breckenridge is now preparing to act on a Princeton stage. As a senior thesis project, she and fellow actor Adam Zivkovic ’10 are proposing to perform Neil LaBute’s darkly provocative play “Bash,” which involves three one-acts about seemingly average people who have committed extreme acts of violence. “LaBute is very good at showing the demons within us and how close they are to the surface,” Breckenridge observed.
As for post-Princeton plans, she may not know what her next role will be, but Breckenridge does know where she wants to be in 50 years. “I want to be like Vanessa Redgrave, acting when I’m in my 70s,” Breckenridge declared. “And maybe own a bookstore.”