It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone starring in a teen series must be hot. The Gossip Girl reboot enthusiastically embraces this mandate with a bevy of beautiful newcomers and familiar faces filling out the cast. Taking advantage of the New York City shooting location, the actors playing parents include plenty of established Tony- and Emmy-winning performers ready to join the ranks of dreamy dads before them — Peter Gallagher, Kyle Chandler, and Matthew Settle. From his brief beanie-hat-wearing introduction in the first episode, 43-year-old actor Luke Kirby ticks all these boxes.
Rather than direct copies of the characters from the original 2007 series, Gossip Girl 2.0 serves up familiar attributes with a twist. So instead of a fading rock star (see Rufus Humphrey), who traded in sweaty clubs for family life in Brooklyn, Kirby’s single dad Davis Calloway is a successful music mogul whose daughter, Julien, is the most popular girl at Constance Billard. And like the parents before, the scandalous antics are not limited to the teenagers leaving a digital trail of destruction. Already, Davis has come face-to-face with the man his wife left him for when Julien was a baby and been forced to reveal a secret girlfriend during a screwball-worthy scene at the Public Theater.
Over the past decade, Kirby made his mark in some of television’s most critically beloved offerings, including hidden gem Rectify and awards-season juggernaut The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in a role that earned him an Emmy in 2019. Before Peak TV came calling, he starred alongside Rachel McAdams in the 2007 Canadian TV comedy delight Slings & Arrows, and he has a face you will no doubt recognize (or want to get to know). Similar to the man he is playing in the HBO Max series, Kirby also doesn’t use social media, but onscreen daughter Jordan Alexander has given him a taste of the enthusiastic audience response to the newest DILF on the block. Slightly unsure of the terminology, he tells me, “She’s showing me some great stuff. She sent me something recently, she said, ‘Stans love you.’” Having recently scrolled through Twitter to gauge the reaction to Kirby as Davis, I corroborate this sentiment, and tell him the Gucci cardigan he wears in the second episode only adds to the hot dad of it all. “It’s a nice cardigan,” he concurs. He’s equal parts flattered and bemused by the attention. “Better to be that kind of dad than the disgusting gross dad.” Kirby’s smile, which first caught my attention in Sarah Polley’s beguiling 2011 romantic drama Take This Waltz, is equally charming in real life.
He’s calling from his Brooklyn apartment on a day off from Gossip Girl. He recently finished shooting the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and he’s struggling with the specifics of when things happened. “I don’t understand time anymore,” he says. Behind him are a stacked bookshelf, a TV, and a large plant getting its fill of the early afternoon light. Since productions resumed last fall, Kirby has shot No Man of God (in which he plays Ted Bundy post-arrest), Maisel, an untitled Katie Holmes–directed movie, and Gossip Girl. On a couple of occasions, he shot Maisel and Gossip Girl back-to-back, but he is rather pragmatic about switching between smoldering comic icon Lenny Bruce in the ’60s and the ultrawealthy contemporary setting. “Thankfully, they’re both in New York City so you can kind of lean into that. Very different versions of New York, for sure.”
Originally from Guelph, a city in Ontario, Canada, Kirby revisited Degrassi: Junior High, the teen-TV sensation of his youth, at the start of lockdown. I have only seen a single episode, so Kirby takes great joy in recounting the plot of one episode he recently watched to give me an idea of the stressful antics that were a mainstay of his adolescent viewing. Called “Taking Off,” it includes an acid trip that goes horribly wrong and a cautionary-tale hitchhiking plot. “Watch that show, it’s a nightmare after nightmare after nightmare. It’s no wonder I have so many issues,” he jokes. “It’s not my parents’ fault, it’s Degrassi: Junior High.” This trip down memory lane occurred before he was cast in Gossip Girl, a part which came to him shortly before the series began shooting. Casting director Cassandra Kulukundis contacted him while he was in L.A. finishing No Man of God, and connected Kirby with Gossip Girl showrunner Joshua Safran, who painted a vivid picture of the character. “Josh has a very thorough backstory for him [Davis] and vision for where he’s going. And when I found out that he was a rich man, it piqued my interest because it meant I could wear some nice clothes,” he laughs.
From Chuck Bass to Max Wolfe, Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman has elevated men’s fashion onscreen since 2007. Scrolling through Kirby’s red-carpet looks also reveals a strong sartorial flair, which includes glitter Saint Laurent boots (“Those sparkly boots go a long way”). Not only does he relish working with his stylist Mary Inacio (“We have a similar equal parts fascination and contempt for all things aesthetic”), but he mentions growing up watching fashion TV with his sister and a shared love of runway shows with his wife. “It’s a beautiful thing. Men should feel good, men should know that it’s okay to feel good in pretty clothes,” he says.
Kirby says that being back on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival (in Saint Laurent) was both strange and exciting. He also likens the experience to how filming Gossip Girl has felt. “One of the appeals of this show, and the whole thing around clothes, was we went for this year without getting to show off. Living in New York City and nobody got to show off. Not that I was beside myself about it, but I did miss it a little bit.” He mentions that, prior to lockdown, “I found these great Yohji Yamamoto vintage pants that I was all ready to start wearing, but I couldn’t wear them to walk the dog.” Gossip Girl proved to be an ideal reentry into fashion frivolity. “Working with Eric and getting to wear the clothes he has incredible access to, it was a great way to get back into the swing of things,” he says.
On the day of our call, he is wearing a moth-eaten Satisfy muscle tee. The curls he had to shave off for No Man of God are thriving once more (the shorn locks are mostly covered by hats in early GG episodes). His one errand of the day is to head into Manhattan to pick up a Bode jacket, a brand worn by his co-star Thomas Doherty in a recent episode. “I thought for once I was ahead of Eric,” he wryly muses.
The slow burn of Davis’s story line in Gossip Girl appealed to him, and he’s embracing the “hot dad” mantle with a dash of the self-deprecation displayed throughout our conversation. Whether playing Lenny Bruce or an interloper in Take This Waltz, Kirby’s palpable chemistry with his co-stars is potent in all settings. A sequence on the fairground ride in Take This Waltz is one of the most sexually charged scenes committed to film, featuring zero contact beyond a grazed arm. “The stuff I got to do in that movie with Michelle [Williams] is such a dream,” he recalls. “Their world, I guess partly because they’re so new to each other, is a bit fable-like — a heightened reality. I soaked that up, and it was a beautiful summer.” Williams, of course, got her big break on Dawson’s Creek, and Kirby recently worked with Katie Holmes, another former Dawson’s Creek star, in her yet-to-be-titled second directorial effort, which wrapped in May. Kirby previously starred alongside Holmes in the 2015 romance Touched With Fire. “It was great to reconnect,” he says. “She’s a good friend and a sweetheart.”
Holmes is one of several female directors he has worked with over the past decade-plus; filmmakers like Polley and Amy Sherman-Palladino have tapped into his brooding charm. It was only after meeting director Amber Sealey that he changed his mind about playing Ted Bundy (“I don’t think I want to do this,” was his initial reaction to taking on No Man of God). But Sealey’s deft touch with the material convinced him otherwise. “That whole thing came together because of Amber’s persistence,” he explains, and cites her guiding voice on the project as a determining factor (“that material is so disturbing, disruptive, and precarious in terms of how you handle it”), as well as the opportunity to work with Elijah Wood in such an intimate setting.
Going from playing Bundy to Gossip Girl’s Davis and then Lenny Bruce involves putting on very different hats (sometimes literally). Kirby’s Emmy-winning role on Maisel has turned into a will-they-won’t-they scenario, which was elevated further in season three, thanks to a steamy night of flirting and dancing. Overt yearning is conveyed through many intense stares, before Midge and Lenny walk back to his hotel room at dawn. But Midge doesn’t step over the threshold, much to the disappointment of shippers. One obstacle is that Lenny Bruce tragically died of an accidental overdose in 1966, and while the show isn’t a literal historical interpretation, Bruce’s legacy is a factor. “We also feel a bit duty-bound to address the reality of his [Bruce’s] experience,” says Kirby, who takes his time while talking about the delicate balance between the spark he shares with Rachel Brosnahan coupled with the real-life figure he is playing, and the consideration required to “deal with the right hurdles at the right time.”
As our conversation draws to a close, I ask about his pandemic reading and viewing habits, which eerily match my own. “I mean there’s a pile of books that have gone unread,” he says. Every Sunday night he would watch an episode of Columbo. “It’s so good. It’s great for the guest actors [who] are almost always legendary,” he enthuses, mentioning the John Cassavetes episode. “And the clothes are really good. I got it into my head that at some point Alessandro [Michele] from Gucci had been watching Columbo for the last five years. Except he decided to make it really nice material. It was all polyester then — now you can wear that same great look, but actually have your body breathe.” When I mention that Golden Girls is near the top of my list, he is equally effusive. “It holds up. In fact, it feels like they were way ahead of it. And Bea Arthur has incredible outfits.” Flashing that disarming smile once more, he says, “Well, we are the arbiters of taste. So glad we’re on the same page.”