Imagine, for a moment, Rumer Willis' Blair Waldorf losing her virginity to Chuck Bass in the back seat of a limo, or Ashley Olsen's Serena van der Woodsen being drugged by Juliet at the masquerade ball.
There may be an alternate universe in which this is the reality because The CW originally pitched Willis and Olsen as the “Gossip Girl” BFFs to casting director David Rapaport.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Rapaport shared,
I love Rumer, she's grown into quite an amazing actress and person, but that, to me, was based on protecting the investment of a television show where creatively, these lesser-known girls [Blake Lively and Leighton Meester] really captured the essence of the show and carried it for six years.
For Rapaport, Blake Lively was the obvious choice for Serena from the start.
I had seen her in 'Accepted' and at that time, there were no Lena Dunhams or Zooey Deschanels — it was all about beauty and glamour, but being approachable and Blake was the ultimate It Girl. I was terrified we wouldn't get her or [the network] wouldn't like her because, honestly, [the] show lived and died on her… I think at the end of the day, we tested Blake, Katie Cassidy, who is now on 'Arrow,' and this girl who was [Serena] on the 'Gossip Girl' books... Blake was the front-runner. We did a screen test with her and the note we got back was that she was 'sunny California' and [the network people] said, '[we] don't think we'll buy her as an Upper East Side debutante.'
Luckily for Rapaport, “Gossip Girl” creator Josh Schwartz chimed in, recalling his decision to cast New Yorker Mischa Barton as a “sunny California girl” on his hit “The OC.”
So we did another screen test with Blake and all we did was straighten her hair to make her look a little more sophisticated, so to speak. What's ironic is, in the pilot, she ends up having the wavy hair.
Hair was a deciding factor in actress Leighton Meester earning the part of Blair, as well. Her ability to go brunette and embody Blair's signature attitude won her the role over a slew of hopefuls.
Of Meester's audition, Rapaport reminisced,
Leighton wasn't a bitch when she came in, but she wasn't overly nice or overly generous. She was professional and she did the job and played the role well, and what I liked about her is that she owned who she was. She wasn't going to kiss everyone's ass and that was very Blair. She was obviously playing a character, but I wouldn't have cast her as Serena because she's not open like that and that's what makes her interesting and that's why I feel like you go back and think, 'There is nobody else that could have played these characters.'
Even Ed Westwick, who played Chuck Bass to perfection for six seasons, nearly missed the yacht on becoming a cast member. The Brit originally auditioned to play Nate, yet shone far brighter when reading for the role of a privileged antihero.
The network had its heart set on Westwick to play Chuck Bass only to hit some last minute snags.
Rapaport remembered the struggle, sharing,
Ed's visa did not come through until, I think, the day they shot the pilot because he's from the UK, so we had to cast backups… I was in this standstill where I didn't know what the fuck to do because we needed to recast it, but [the network] wouldn't look at the tapes.
Praise all that is holy in the name of Dorota this cast came together in time for a show that will remain a guilty pleasure of many as long as sexy backstabbing and ornately costumed high schoolers remain staples of American television.
Citations: AN OLSEN TWIN WAS ALMOST CAST AS SERENA VAN DER WOODSEN (ELLE), Behind The Scenes Casting Secrets From “Gossip Girl,” “Arrow,” And More (BuzzFeed)