"Gossip Girl’s" Jessica Szohr appears to be right at home
in the spotlight, it’s probably because she was practically born
there. The Menomonee Falls native began modeling for local department
stores as a toddler, and is now building a career that not only
includes starring on one of TV’s hottest hits, but acting in
independent films as well. But Szohr, 25, is still right at home
sitting in the cozy kitchen of her family home in The Falls, catching
up on local gossip with her sisters and cousins.
Viewers of the
CW Network’s "Gossip Girl" series, now in its fourth
season, recognize Szohr as "Vanessa Abrams," a documentary
film student from Vermont who works in a New York coffee shop. Vanessa’s
middle-class background makes her an outcast among the silver-spoon
characters on the show, where money equals power. Szohr describes
Vanessa as a "hippie Bohemian Brooklyn chick."
enjoy playing her," Szohr says. "She never changed her life
for anyone and she always goes after what she wants."
Szohr notes that
Vanessa is also very opinionated and is the "most reliable"
friend among the characters on "Gossip Girl." "All
these things add up to (Vanessa) being screwed over," she says.
Vanessa may be a
character that teen audiences can identify with, Szohr says, because
of her background. "You can relate to having a normal job at
17," she explains.
As the character
develops, Szohr says she would like to see Vanessa have more of an
edge, "but it’s not like I want to make her a horrible
parental watchdog groups have criticized the show for its adult
themes, Szohr believes the writers are doing "a good job" of
incorporating issues that are drawn from everyday life, such as the
loss of a parent and drug abuse. She says parents can watch
"Gossip Girl" with their teens and talk about the situations
and consequences of the choices made by the show’s characters.
type of relationship Szohr has with her mother, Sharon. "I could
always go to my mom with anything," Szohr says. "I feel like
the woman I am today and the woman I want to grow up to be comes from
my relationship with my family and my mom."
Szohr is the
"big sister" to Megan, Danielle, Nick and Sadie. During a
recent trip home to Menomonee Falls, she was looking forward to a
cookie-baking session with her sisters and cousins at her grandparent’s
house, just two doors down, and taking in a Green Bay Packers game.
good role model for all her cousins," says grandmother Karen
Szohr. "They all look up to her. She’s so sweet to all of
On her first
night back home in Wisconsin, Szohr sat up chatting with her
grandparents until 2 a.m. Karen Szohr is proud of her granddaughter’s
success, and says it was fun to visit her in New York during Fashion
Week, when she found herself saying "hi" to the E! News
I’m most proud of is that she’s still the same Jessie, very true
to her friends," Karen Szohr says. "She never lets it go to
her head. She remembers her roots."
favorite memories of growing up include building bonfires in the
backyard, "and I really liked my room upstairs — it was like my
own little apartment," she says.
says her daughter was always "a little ham" and seemed to
enjoy being in front of the camera. Roach, a freelance hair and makeup
stylist for local department stores, says Szohr started modeling at
the age of 3 or 4 and began to get bookings through Arlene Wilson
Model Management at the age of 9. That led to assignments in Chicago,
New York and Los Angeles for major advertisers throughout her school
lights up the room, but she never had a mean or jealous bone in her
body," Arlene Wilson says. "She would always be bringing in
kids from school who told her they were interested in modeling."
Szohr wisely saved her money from modeling so she had a "nest
egg" when she was ready to strike out on her own.
models are often tempted to leave school to pursue their careers,
Szohr finished her studies and graduated from Menomonee Falls High
School one semester early.
She enrolled in
Chicago’s Columbia College, but her Chicago agent convinced her to
go to Los Angeles for pilot season auditions. She found more
commercial work and appeared in "My Wife and Kids" with
Damon Wayans, "CSI: Miami," "What About Brian"
"Joan of Arcadia," "What I Like About You" and
"The Reading Room," a made-for-TV movie.
Szohr also took
a class taught by acting coach Howard Fine. "Taking that class
made me say, ‘This is what I want to do,’" she says.
She landed the
"Gossip Girl" role almost by chance. A friend invited her to
a barbecue and, although she really didn’t feel like going out,
Szohr says the friend insisted, so she went. The next day, her agent
called and said the creator of "Gossip Girl" had been at the
party and wanted her to audition, even though the show’s pilot had
already been completed. Two days after the audition she was on a
flight to New York to start filming.
exciting to play a girl in New York and be in the city and that whole
world," Szohr says. "And it was surprising how quickly the
show had a ‘buzz.’"
of that buzz, the show’s stars can turn up in tabloids, but Szohr
says the rumors "kind of go in one ear and out the other."
She says she was taken aback when a friend called and said, "I
heard you got married," after reading an erroneous tabloid
article. Her relationship with fellow "Gossip Girl" star Ed
Westwick was a prime target of celebrity magazine fodder, and a
December trip to a Milwaukee Bucks’ game with Green Bay Packers
quarterback Aaron Rodgers still has gossip-mongers buzzing.
There seems to
be no limit to the lengths some will go to get the goods. As she was
leaving the set one day, Szohr says a "fan" handed a
security guard a Hello Kitty keychain to give to her as a gift. When
the guard snapped off the head, a microphone was found inside.
That kind of
pressure is sure to heat up as Szohr launches her film career. After
last summer’s action thriller "Piranha 3D," she went on to
New Orleans to star in the romantic comedy "Love, Wedding,
Marriage" with Mandy Moore and Kellan Lutz. Upcoming movies also
include the independent film "Art Machine," where she is
cast as another Brooklyn girl, an outsider artist, opposite Joseph
Szohr says she
would love to act in a film with a political theme, be cast in a role
as a mother and work with Johnny Depp. "If it’s great material,
it’s the most fun," she says. M
bought a home in Los Angeles, and also has a place in New York.
Although she is now officially bi-coastal, Szohr says it’s always
good to come home to Wisconsin.
nice about growing up in the Midwest is that it keeps me
grounded," she says. "Once I leave the set, I’m just
Jessica from Menomonee Falls."
styling by Jordan Dechambre
makeup by Scott Yance and Michael Weiss for Erik of Norway Salon
Spa, Mequon and Milwaukee
and jewelry provided by Lela, Milwaukee