White Gold interview: Ed Westwick on new BBC sitcom role, ‘It woke me up’

“It woke me up,” Ed Westwick says, a note of reflection in his voice. “The tone of it, where it was set. It was completely different from anything I’d been reading.”

Any fresh talent signing on to a successful TV show must learn to embrace it all, both the glories and the curses. And, though Westwick’s stint on Gossip Girl as troubled rich boy Chuck Bass made his face instantly recognisable to the public, what most saw was not Ed Westwick, but the character they had grown so attached to.

Making that next step, the escape from the frustration of typecasting, is always a tricky manoeuvre; yet Westwick may have struck gold with his latest project. White Gold, to be more precise: the new BBC Two series from The Inbetweeners co-creator Damon Beesley, in which Westwick plays Vincent, a cocky salesman fronting a double-glazing showroom in early ’80s Essex.

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“It excited me,” he says of the opportunity. “I just clicked with it, you know?”

It’s a move that has plunged Westwick, more used to dramas like J. Edgar and 2013’s Romeo & Juliet, into the very centre of the British comedy scene. In White Gold he shares the screen with James Buckley and Joe Thomas of Inbetweeners fame. However, it’s a transition he found surprisingly easy.

“It was really welcoming,” he enthuses. “I think a lot of the crew had worked with Damon and Joe and James on the Inbetweeners, so people aren’t necessarily trying to figure out how everyone works all the time. I was probably the only new person there. I just kind of rolled with it.”

He largely credits, too, Beesley’s own work as a major factor in both his initial interest in the show and in his later ease into the role. “Damon’s so tender and warm,” he says. “And so smart as well. The way that Damon writes, his wit, is how me and my friends speak.”

“[The show] wasn’t too far from my sense of comedy. And it does have a quite dramatic arc through the whole series. You’re really taken into these people’s lives and some of the behaviour that goes on, and the consequences of that behaviour. It makes for stuff that’s not funny.”

In fact, what’s so immediately striking about White Gold, especially to those familiar with the teenage antics of The Inbetweeners, is the sobriety of Beesley’s new project.

Though sitcoms centered on male companions who riff with and bully each other, yet remain bonded for life, can prove surprisingly accurate portraits of masculinity, White Gold sees Beesley delve into the masculine culture with a far greater complexity than before.

This is a show ostensibly about, as Westwick hesitatingly tells me, the world of the “man’s man… this testosterone-filled kind of guy”. He hesitates over the words “man’s man”, since, in his opinion, it “makes men sound like they’re all rooting for a dickhead, when they’re not.”

Westwick’s conflict over the term seems to stem from the fact Vincent’s portrayal is far from straightforward; it’s an attempt to create a fuller portrait of that hyper ’80s masculinity, which tussles always with the appeal of swaggering confidence, and the toxic extremes it brings.

“One of the key things was to make Vincent likable,” he explains. “So that you wanted to tune in each week and root for him, because if you didn’t, then it would fall apart.”

“He’s a smart guy who, deep down, loves his famil. His ambition comes from wanting to provide a better life for them. So his fundamental motivation is a good thing.”

“Yes, his tactics are bad at times, and the thing is he doesn’t get away with a lot of his behaviour,” he continues. “He is punished or knocked back. And then, at the very end of the series, he literally loses his ability to sell, because he’s fucked everything up and he’s going to lose his family.”

“You see that he’s not bulletproof. And he needs to fix it. You’re on a journey with him. He’s someone trying to make amends for what he’s done and he just about pulls it off.”

‘White Gold’ airs Wednesday’s at 10pm on BBC Two and the full series is available on BBC iPlayer. The DVD is released on 3 July

Source: Independant