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Aaron Tveit: Playing a Gossip Girl Adulterer Is All in the Suit

Aaron Tveit has a full schedule: At night he sings and dances in the Tony-winning production of Next to Normal, and during the day he seduces Blake Lively's Serena Van Der Woodsen as young congressman (and burgeoning cheat!) Trip Van Der Bilt on Gossip Girl. He's also set to play Frank Abagnale in the upcoming Broadway adaptation of Catch Me If You Can. Tveit, who can still be seen nightly in Next to Normal, spoke to Vulture about the magical Gossip Girl wardrobe of his Waspy golden boy, being spotted by the avid GG fans roaming New York, and his upcoming movie love affair with James Franco.

How did you end up on Gossip Girl?
I’d actually auditioned for Gossip Girl a couple times over the past few years for different characters — one was a love interest for Jenny a couple seasons ago, and the other was a Skulls leader at Yale — but I think finally this character was better suited for me. I auditioned right at the end of our Next to Normal run in D.C., so I probably sent my tape in a year ago. January. Our closing night was on a Sunday and I literally had to be on set the next morning at 7 a.m. in New York.

What made Trip’s character seem right for you?
I knew right away who this guy was. I thought the Kennedy-esque story line they seemed to be setting up was interesting. I’m interested in history and politics as a hobby, so it piqued my interest.

Was the cast of Gossip Girl aware that you had this other life in musical theater?
Blake [Lively] and Penn [Badgley] had seen me in Wicked — they’re avid musical-theater supporters. And James Naughton, who plays my grandfather on the show, he’s of course from the theater, and Holly Fain, who’s my wife on the show, is too, so we had a lot to talk about on set. This fall a lot of the cast mates came and saw me in Next to Normal; then I think they realized, “Oh, this is actually what he does.”

You have the smarmy Wasp thing down pretty well. Are you basing Trip on anyone in particular?
That wasn’t really a conscious choice I made. It’s something about putting on those suits. I don’t wear suits in my everyday life. When I started last year, the first episode had the whole football scene [at the Van Der Bilt compound], and my joke with friends is that it was the scene from Wedding Crashers. I thought of that character Bradley Cooper plays. It’s very similar — the sense of an upper-class American society that we don’t think exists anymore, but it really does.

After this past week’s episode, where he unexpectedly showed up at Serena's house for Thanksgiving, we find Trip a little, well, creepy. Do you?
This is an argument I’ve been having with friends of mine who watch. As opposed to theater, where you learn about a character and do one thing every night, this is great because you get to live in the day-to-day life of the character, and you have to come at everything from a positive standpoint — I have to think what he’s doing is right and just. So I don’t think he’s a bad guy; I think he genuinely loves Serena. I immediately justify what he does without even knowing it!

Do you see a difference in the recognition you get from being part of a TV phenomenon versus being in a Tony-winning musical?
It’s funny, walking through the theater district, I get stopped from time to time about the show, but now I’ve been walking around and I just hear “Trip!!! Trip!!!” I kinda can’t believe it. Especially because I wear a jacket and a hat most of the time. At first I didn’t realize they were talking to me. It’s unbelievable how many people watch the show.

We experienced the Gossip Girl paparazzi one afternoon recently at lunch in Tribeca, when Blake and Chace [Crawford] were eating at the restaurant we went to. It’s insane.
I remember that day! They were in there with Chace’s mom, who was in town. It was crazy! I was shooting with them after lunch. It’s mind-blowing that they have to deal with that. For some reason I thought New York wasn’t like that.

You’re playing Frank Abagnale in the new musical of Catch Me If You Can, which is coming to Broadway, right?
I am. They’re working on the show now doing tweaking and fine tuning, and we’re hoping it’ll be on Broadway in the late fall.

And you’re also in the new Howl movie with James Franco ...
I play Peter Orlovsky, who was a beat poet at the time, and he was the man of Allen Ginsberg’s life; they were life partners. A third of the film is live action, a third is footage from the trial, and a third is really trippy animation. James was fantastic to work with. I think it’ll be really cool.

You have so much going on — how old are you, exactly?
You know, I always say, "I’m as old as they need me to be." I play 17-years-old onstage right now, so, there you go.

Photo: Getty Images