“I had a hard time,” reveals Jessica Szohr. “I was very lonely when I first moved. It was hard to meet people, everything’s so spread out, I wasn’t in college. I wasn’t old enough to go out.” She credits an emergency visit from her mom and a friend that gave her the strength to stay in LA, and eventually land her biggest role to date. “They sat me down and were like… we don’t think you should leave, we think you should stay out here a little longer… three weeks later I booked Gossip Girl.”
Jessica, a Wisconsin native from the small town of Menomonie Falls, is perhaps best known for her Brooklyn art scene character, Vanessa Abrams, on CW’s hit television series Gossip Girl. Jessica’s acting career started at the age of five when she was cast for Kohl’s commercials, which translated into various other commercial roles and modeling jobs until she reached high school, and her agency encouraged her to pursue further work and move to Los Angeles. “After the bell rang I went to my guidance counselor, and was like, ‘I want to take all my credits this semester. I’m going to go to LA for second semester just to see what this agent is talking about.’” Jessica didn’t grow up dreaming of Hollywood. “To me, it just seemed like a really weird dream to do. Like, you’re going to leave with no family there, no degree, and try to act?” Yet, sometimes destiny is inescapable, and talent triumphs over trepidation.
JESSICA SZOHR BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO – THE #GIRLPOWER ISSUE 8
Photography and Video Direction by Indira Cesarine
It was her down-to-earth nature that would open the doors for her breakthrough role as Vanessa Abrams, a character who appears in sharp contrast to the Upper East Side elitism in Gossip Girl. It was a chance meeting at an LA barbeque that would change her life forever. “I was in ripped jean shorts and no makeup, hair in a pony tail. I didn’t know anyone except for my two friends. Then, a couple days later, my manager called and she was like, ‘What did you do this weekend?’ I was like, ‘Went to a movie, went to a barbeque… Why? What’s up?’ She was like, ‘There’s this pilot for Gossip Girl that got picked up and you happened to be at the creator’s house. They want you to come in and meet tomorrow, but the role starts shooting on Friday.” Jessica landed the part, and her role was extended to a series regular after three episodes.
The popularity of Gossip Girl would secure other roles that allowed her to showcase her acting range, such as Gretchen Polk on USA’s Complications, a gay nurse with a rough background. “A lot of people have been asking questions about playing a lesbian and really, like, I didn’t know that Gretchen was going to be in a relationship or not. I approached it as, it doesn’t matter who she’s in love with: man or woman. I’m just happy she had a relationship.”
As her star presence grew Jessica eventually landed a role in Shawn Levy’s comedy, The Internship, starring alongside Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. She was cast as a stripper and had hesitancies about what they’d expect for the role. “When I read it I was like, ‘I’m not going to go in there naked and topless,’ and basically, Shawn Levy was like, ‘What if you’re fully covered? Will you come and do it?’” Jessica auditioned and got the part, but it turns out that being an Atlanta stripper isn’t as easy as it sounds. “I literally told my mom, I give strippers much more credit because that’s very hard [to do].”
With her upcoming DirectTV series Kingdom, Jessica returns to playing a character embedded in the art scene. “I play this girl named Laura who’s a photographer, and she’s part of the street art scene, and she meets one of the fighters and they have this crazy connection.” Despite her success, Jessica has remained down-to-earth, coming at her characters from a grounded place. She’s proof that you don’t have to sell your soul or compromise yourself to succeed in the cutthroat town of Hollywood. She may have left her small hometown, but she didn’t leave her values behind. “My family’s been very supportive. I couldn’t be in this situation without them.”
Photography and interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine #GirlPower Issue
Stylist: Kelly Brown
Make-up by Mai Quynh
Hair by Aviva Perea
Photographed at Mr C’s Beverly Hills
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015). pick up a print edition of the issue today!