"I know what I want."
It’s just a quote, but those five words could double as a motto for Taylor Momsen, the flaxen-haired actress whose real-life tabloid appearances almost—but not quite—match her trials and tribs as social nobody turned Queen B Jenny Humphrey on hit show Gossip Girl.
“As an actor, you always find similarities to a character so you can play them,” says Momsen. “Jenny’s creative, a fashion designer— she’s like me in that she’s really, really driven.”
Just how driven is Momsen? Consider that she began modelling at age two, and then—late bloomer that she is—moved on to acting at three. A million years ago, there was a role opposite Jim Carrey in How the Grinch Stole Christmas as Cindy Lou Who, and now, three seasons of OMFG-ing later, Momsen is a screen vet at 16, with her five-foot-eight frame atop an island at the centre of the world of TV socialites.
“Jenny is the most evolving character on the show,” she says. “She’s the youngest, so she’s figuring stuff out.”
This is good for Momsen; characters “figuring stuff out” are the funnel clouds that become the eye of the dramatic storm.
So look out Serena, look out Blair. Momsen has already eclipsed Blake Lively and Leighton Meester at Constance Billard, but will she soon take over their spots on the red carpet too?
Short answer: Yes. Tall and thin and charging into her own—along with the requisite famous-girl rumours of eating disorders, exhaustion and hospital stays—she’s fast becoming the talked-about face of the show that launched her. However, the queen mums of Girl may not have too much to fear from Little J in the future, as Momsen’s off-camera sights are set on a decidedly more Lower East Side dream.
While she admits she loves acting—“It’s a great job and a passion, but there’s a level of detachment because it’s not me”—Momsen insists “music is my everything.”
To that end, she spends her nights in lingerie with ragged hair and raccoon eyes (much like her look for FASHION’s cover shoot) flaunting a Hole-era Courtney Love vibe as frontwoman of her punk-ish band, The Pretty Reckless. “I get up in the morning for it, I live for it. It’s me onstage, not Jenny Humphrey or Cindy Lou Who.”
Momsen’s musical goal seems to be nothing less than to save pop music from itself: “Right now, there is nothing original. Nothing real. I don’t even turn on the radio.” It’s a statement worthy of the most proper Williamsburg hipster.
The band isn’t currently touring, and there’s no specific timeline for finishing its debut record (to be released by Interscope), but the demos are done. “It’s really heavy,” says Momsen. “Unexpectedly so. It’s going to surprise a lot of the fans.”
Girl purists, however, don’t have to fear losing Momsen right away; in fact, they might be pleased (or jealous?) to know her musical pursuits have actually seeped into the show. Momsen says that the show’s stylist and writers incorporate each actor’s personal style into the storylines.
“I cut my hair, and then the show had the arc where Jenny moves to the Lower East Side, lives with a model and cuts her hair. It’s really cool.”
But rocker-Momsen can go high-femme too. “I really like Chanel. It’s classic, feminine. Dior is fantastic, so is Alexander Wang. My fashion is inspired by New York City, by music, passion. I don’t really like bold colours. There’s something chic about black. Style is cool when it doesn’t scream.”
So what’s the next role for Momsen, then, when she’s not on stage, cool and screaming?
“Something different,” she says. “I’ll know when it feels right.”
With files from Darrah Blyss de Jour/Cool Hunt
First published in FASHION Magazine December 2009