It only takes four seconds on the phone with Chace Crawford for my girlish crush on his Gossip Girl character Nate Archibald to return. Everything he’s doing now is much darker than the khaki-wearing prince of the Upper East Side, the one preternaturally attached to trouble. At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival he’s pulling double duty: In Charlie Says, Mary Harron’s movie about the women attracted to and destroyed by Charles Manson, he plays the killer Tex Watson; in Amazon’s outrageous superhero satire The Boys, he’s the douchey Deep, with powers that are Aquaman-adjacent. As Tex, he’s brooding and intense (it helps that both Crawford and the real-life Watson have the same bushy eyebrows). The movie shows the charisma that made Manson so beguiling, the red-hot charisma that convinced Watson to brutally murder seven people in 1969. The Deep is technically a good guy, but only barely: He’s a foulmouthed narcissist who thinks saving the day should be rewarded with a few million Instagram impressions.
But because Vulture is historically Gossip Girl’s paper of record, Crawford had to indulge a GG question or two: Does it strike him as a little ironic that both he and his former co-star Penn Badgley, now the star of Netflix’s You, are seeing success playing creepy murderers? “I think maybe it’s the career,” he laughed. “You end up wanting to stretch your legs a little bit; you want to try and switch it up and do darker things.” Chace told Vulture about researching the Manson murders for Charlie Says, his new Amazon show The Boys, and the Captain America screen test he thought we forgot about.
When you come back to New York does it feel like you’re back on Gossip Girl?
You know, yeah. We shot on every street corner in the city, so there’s a lot of nostalgia here, that’s for sure.
What drew you to the part in Charlie Says? It’s much darker than what you’ve done in the past.
I knew Mary Harron was doing it. She did American Psycho, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. And I kind of look like Tex Watson — when they sent me the sides of the script it was sort of a no-brainer. Obviously it’s a small role, but it was a really good time, you know, getting to work with this cast. Matt Smith, he was incredible.
What was it like to be directed by Mary?
She’s very nuanced. Her direction was incredible. Guinevere Turner also wrote the script, and she wrote American Psycho as well. I feel like I sometimes get along with female directors better almost. She was a dream to work with.
What makes you think you work better with women directors?
You know, I don’t know. I just feel like sometimes I connect better with them. I don’t know how to describe it. She was just very confident, very optimistic.
What was the hardest scene for you to shoot? You have two murder scenes that seemed pretty gruesome.
That stuff was intense. They covered me in blood, and I had to stay that way, like soaking wet with this blood for hours. But probably the driving scene was toughest because it was a bit of a monologue. They just kind of threw me in the car, and I was actually having to drive. It was in L.A., at like 2 in the morning, down some random side street.
Are you a good driver?
Yeah, I feel like I am. Maybe I’m not, I don’t know … Back in the day when I was in college I used to valet cars, so I was all good. But I had two or three other people in the car [in the Charlie Says scene]. It was some old 1972 — I can’t remember what the model was, but it’s like trying to chew gum and walk at the same time.
It’s kind of wild to me that we’re getting Charlie Says and the Tarantino movie that occurs around the Manson murders in the same year. Why do you think there’s renewed fascination with this era?
That’s right! I think those were kind of coincidental. I didn’t know about the Tarantino project when we were doing this, but I think they’re very different. Maybe it has to do with the anniversary of him passing away. I feel like people have always been fascinated by Charles Manson, though. I’ve listened to podcasts and read a few books when we were doing this movie, and I think it’s always been a fascination.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while you were preparing for this?
I can’t remember the name of the book, I think it was called The Family, and I think that was the original title of the movie. It was interesting to see and learn about how these people followed him. He was just so charismatic and obviously he wasn’t, on the nose, a bad guy. He seemed very charming and very charismatic. Everyone’s searching for something, so I think he preyed on people that needed a type of religion, and the brand that he offered was obviously very twisted.
Do you watch Game of Thrones?
God, so I’m one of those people that got through a few seasons and just always kept trying to go back. I’d be watching and pausing and Wikipedia-ing all these characters. I’m not! I’m still stuck on season four, so I have not been watching the new season. I’ve been meaning to go back and check it out.
Your co-star in Charlie Says, Hannah Murray, is on Thrones, so I’m wondering if there’s the temptation to ask her for spoilers.
No, I didn’t ask her about any spoilers. I do know she was on it because I’ve watched; I’m pretty sure I watched the seasons that she was on. She was amazing by the way; she’s such a good actress.
Have you ever had any run-ins with a Hollywood cult?
No, I’ve eluded the Hollywood cults.
I also want to talk a little bit about The Boys, which I saw a couple episodes of.
Did you? Pretty wild show, huh?
Yeah! It’s a lot of fun.
If nothing else, it’s definitely a shocking show. I read the sides, and I’m like, I think I get this character. I’m just going to go in there and go for it. And, you know, with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg doing it. I never read the source material, the graphic novel, but it was sort of a no-brainer. I’m not a big superhero-genre fan. I don’t really run out to see all those movies. But for my sense of humor, my sensibilities, it was making fun of that. It’s a satire, definitely a dark comedy.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you did a screen test for Captain America like ten years ago.
Wow. How do you even remember that?
Chace, I do a lot of research!
I love it. No, what’s funny is, I was on Gossip Girl at the time. Being on a network TV show, you’re shooting it nine months of the year, and I did get an offer to do a screen test. [Marvel] had no idea, if I remember correctly, that I was contracted on the show. We obviously had to tell them. And there was just no way, even if they wanted to cast me, that it would’ve worked out time-wise. So, couldn’t do it. Never ended up doing the screen test, actually.
But would you have given up Nate Archibald to play Captain America?
[Laughs.] Well, you know, seeing the way that those movies turned out … I didn’t have much of a choice it appears, but that’s life. That’s what it is.
Do you think the Deep is the fuckboy of The Boys?
Is that very hard to play?
It’s definitely a stretch. Let me get that on the record! The Deep’s kind of an idiot, and it’s fun to play, and make fun of the overprivileged guy who has everything. I mean, he’s obviously deeply insecure, and as the season goes on you see kind of his character arc, and gets a little bit dark.