Wetpaint Exclusive! Gossip Girl Director Norman Buckley: “Dan Is the Soul of the Show”
Every once in a while we need a reminder that our favorite CW drama is about more than just fabulous fashion, crazy conflict, and catchy music. Fortunately for us, Gossip Girl director — and all-around genius — Norman Buckley has given us the needed wake-up call, taking the time to illustrate what’s truly special about the series and its stars. According to him, the actors are remarkably talented and wonderful to work with, and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage know what makes for captivating TV. Nothing to dispute there! Read on for his insightful take on all things GG.
Wetpaint: What's it like directing Gossip Girl? Norman Buckley: I've been involved with Gossip Girl since early in the first season and it is certainly one of my favorite shows to direct. I just finished my 10th episode, so, by this point, I’ve grown very close to the cast and the crew. It is a great group of people — every single one of them — cast, crew, members, producers, writers, editors. I am always happy to go back there, and I miss them when I’m away for a long time.
Wetpaint: Is the cast close behind the scenes? Do they all get along? Norman: Everyone gets along great, though I really don’t know how much they socialize outside of work. Obviously some of them have had personal relationships outside of work, but I try to respect their privacy and don’t know any details about any of that. It is a very congenial group of people and I have never sensed anything but a great deal of mutual respect amongst all of them.
Wetpaint: Do you have much interaction with the actors, outside of directing them in scenes? Norman: I have a very warm relationship with all of the cast, and I socialize to some extent with some of them. But I am a great deal older than practically everyone so we don’t hang out at bars or nightclubs together. I do see some of them outside of work, but our relationships are primarily professional.
Wetpaint: Of the episodes you've directed, which is your favorite? Norman: I think “The Age of Dissonance” is my favorite episode, followed by “The Handmaiden’s Tale.” I think both of those episodes are unique and give a sense of my personal style. Both of those scripts particularly inspired me.
Wetpaint: Do you enjoy working with Josh Schwartz? What's it like working with him? Norman: I am very close to Josh Schwartz. I worked on all four seasons of The O.C., first as an editor — I edited the pilot — and then as a director, starting in the second season. I directed six episodes of The O.C. I owe Josh and Stephanie Savage a great deal — they believed in me and gave me my first directing opportunities. I also edited the pilot of Chuck and have directed several episodes of that, as well as Josh’s web series Rockville, CA. I hope to work with them for years to come. We all share a similar aesthetic — both dramatically and musically. They believe in pushing television toward a more cinematic style and they both provide for me a real opportunity to collaborate. Josh and Stephanie both have a great sense of humor, and a deep sense of feeling. I feel lucky to be part of their team.
Wetpaint: Which Gossip Girl character is your favorite? Norman: An impossible question and one that I would resist, even if I had one. As a director I think it’s important to give due diligence to all characters. I would never choose one over another, but I think various characters serve different functions in the episodes.
Wetpaint: Do you prefer working in New York or L.A.? If you have a preference, why one over the other? Norman: I love working in New York, but would never want to live there full-time. I have a permanent home in L.A. and it is indeed home to me. But I’m very fortunate that with my work on Gossip Girl I am able to spend several months each year in New York. It is one of the greatest cities of the world and I think everyone should try to spend some amount of time there.
Wetpaint: Are you slated to direct any upcoming episodes? Norman: I just finished shooting an episode for Gossip Girl — “While You Weren’t Sleeping.” But no more for Season 4.
Wetpaint: What's your read on the show: Will there be a Season 5? Norman: I feel certain there will be a Season 5 of Gossip Girl, but I have no first-hand knowledge at this point. I will probably find out at the same time you do.
Wetpaint: Lightning round: Tell us what comes to mind when you hear the following names: Josh Schwartz Norman: No one word responses, but I’ll say a few words. Josh is a prodigy — a brilliant mind that is very attuned to the zeitgeist.
WP: Stephanie Savage Norman: One of the most talented, hard-working people I’ve ever met. Her fingerprints are everywhere, her attention to detail is amazing, and I’ve learned very much from her in the years I’ve known her. She inspires me.
WP: Blake Lively Norman: A wonderful, generous, warm presence. Plays full-out — wonderfully talented. It seems to come very easily to her. She needs very little direction. Bigger than life.
WP: Ed Westwick Norman: Extremely polite, well-prepared, mind-blowingly talented. I’m always staggered by how he can assume the American accent at will. A great guy. Completely different from his character.
WP: Chace Crawford Norman: A fellow Texan so we have a lot in common. (We’re from the same area in Texas.) Very humble for such a good-looking guy. Very easy to work with, open, funny, and has developed real depth as an actor.
WP: Leighton Meester Norman: Brilliant, funny, creative. Her mind is like a computer — she can play multiple things at once and she has expert timing. Remarkable skill and a wonderful singer as well. A great friend and I think her career has no bounds. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
WP: Penn Badgley Norman: Terrific, intellectual, generous, genuinely interested in the people around him. His style of acting really appeals to me. I like him as far back as The Mountain. In my own opinion, I think the character of Dan is the soul of the show, because he is basically the point of access for the audience.
WP: Taylor Momsen Norman: I love Taylor. She’s remarkable, particularly considering her age. She has always been extremely professional and has given me as good as she’s got. I read stories about her in the media that make no sense to me because I don’t recognize who they’re writing about. I know that her music is very important to her and I think she is very talented. I love working with her and have missed her this season. I only wish her well and hope I work with her again soon.
WP: Jessica Szohr Norman: I directed Jessica’s very first episode and that has given us a great bond. I think she’s a wonderful actress and that the show has barely tapped what she’s capable of doing. She’s great at subtlety and I think what she brings to the show is often overlooked because she’s an extremely giving actress.
WP: Connor Paolo Norman: I feel the same about Connor. His work is so good that he is often overlooked. I think what he does is also very subtle and he’s always looking for ways to make it better.
WP: Kelly Rutherford Norman: Kelly is remarkably creative. She will put a spin on a line that I would never have expected and I think she is a delightful person. I love being surprised by her. She is very trusting and very open to trying things. I adore working with her and love it when she has a strong storyline in one of my episodes. She’s also a great mother. I love watching her with her kids.
WP: Matthew Settle Norman: Warm, expansive, and like Kelly, is enormously creative. Their scenes are fun because they are willing to try things, to find what will make it work, and they’re great together. Matthew also has a great sense of humor.
WP: Michelle Trachtenberg Norman: Hilarious. She makes me laugh just thinking about her. I have also been a big fan of her work on other shows. I’ve had some great Michelle storylines and she had a monologue in one of my episodes earlier this season that was daunting. She nailed it on the first take. She has a great perspective on work and life. I adore working with her.
WP: Sebastian Stan Norman: Sebastian is a very smart actor who is able to play the ambiguity in his character very well. I wish I had more opportunity to work with him, as our episodes together have been somewhat limited.
WP: What's your favorite TV show? Norman: I love a lot of shows, but Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Wire are among my favorites of all time. I could watch any episode of those shows again and again.
WP: Movie so far this season? Norman: I am Love, The Fighter, The Social Network — all were great movies this year, amongst others.
WP: Of all the TV shows you've directed, which one has been your favorite? Norman: No favorites, but Gossip Girl is certainly up there at the top of the list. It has been a great experience working on this show in every respect and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to do more episodes than anyone else. It’s been a great gift.
Norman will be heading back to Pretty Little Liars in Season 2, so stay tuned for his creative genius!