Ed is hoping to strike gold again
Ed Westwick tells Susan Griffin why his role as a potty-mouthed Eighties double-glazing salesman may shake off his Gossip Girl past
For any actor associated with a successful TV show, there's always the chance of being pigeon-holed. It was no different for Ed Westwick, who played privileged bad boy Chuck Bass in the glossy New York-set Gossip Girl for six series.
"I had been offered things where I could play suave millionaires and I said no to every single one of them. You have to keep being consistent and persistent," says the British star.
On paper, his latest role, as double-glazing salesman Vincent Swan in early Eighties Essex, couldn't be further from the role that made him famous, but Westwick sees certain similarities. The wardrobe for one.
"One of the things I thought would be funny was if we put Vincent in suits; Chuck was always in suits, and I wanted that connection," explains the 29-year-old.
"I was so happy because I wanted to have these two looking almost identical, give or take a few years, and try and smash one out of the way."
He says this while making a shoving motion with his elbow.
"Though they are very dominant characters, they're two very different men, and I wanted to put another one out there."
The comedy, White Gold, has been created by Damon Beesley, who co-wrote The Inbetweeners, and stars two actors from that series: James Buckley, as Fitzpatrick, who can smarmily charm his way to any sale; and Joe Thomas as the shy Lavender, whose moral backbone tends to get in the way of sealing the deal.
Westwick received the script a year ago.
"I read it and it was the last thing I ever expected to do," he says. "The content, the genre, it woke me up because there's so much crap out there."
Ahead of his audition, he started "playing with the scenes they wanted me to do".
"I just started smiling to myself about Vincent's swagger," he recalls. "The way he can just turn it on and get the job done. I was like, 'Okay, I know what I can do with this'. You just feel a rush about it, which is great, it excited me."
And unlike the PC Gossip Girl days, there's a lot of swearing.
"I remember on Gossip Girl I would only swear in between takes, but now we are being green-lit for it. So it's different and I think we swear very well, us British."
Westwick is hoping the role will help the public see him in "a new light, maybe surprise a few people".
"I did Gossip Girl and people really associate me with that, so I thought it was important to make a strong statement, as it were, to do something very different."
He played against type in the recent TV series Snatch, in which he was cast as "a machine gun-toting, cocaine-sniffing Cuban gangster".
The two consecutive roles prompted him to return to Britain "to set up shop" after a nine-year stint in the US, five in New York and four in Los Angeles.
"I was ready to come back to England. I'd been spending a lot more time here," says Westwick, who was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
He's interested in period dramas ("You've got to be, haven't you," he laughs) and also getting behind the camera at some point. "I'd love to direct something some day. I don't know about right now, but I think I could do it. I'm good at bossing people around, crack some whips."
But his main objective is not to "pin myself to fixed roads".
"My experiences in life have shown me you don't know what kind of thing's going to pop up or what life experiences are going to lead you down another road," says the actor, who made his film debut in 2006's Children Of Men and starred in 2011's Chalet Girl alongside Felicity Jones.
"It's just about the quality of the material, and also just having something which gets you going.
"I won't do a job just for the sake of it. I want to try and carve out a career I'd be a fan of, where you've been inspired to do something and be involved in something that mattered to you."
And he has no interest in a Gossip Girl reunion.
"I would never be part of that, ever. I had such a great time with that character and got to do so much. The other people might feel differently, but it's had its life, it's done."
He insists the shadow of the show doesn't irritate him. "I don't mind it because I'm doing other things that I'm excited about," he says.
"I'm not stuck or forced to work in a way I don't want to, and even if I was, it's a pretty bloody good job if I had to play billionaires for the rest of my life. I still get to act. It's not a horrible or difficult job, is it?"
- White Gold airs on BBC Two, Wednesday nights