When we first met “Gossip Girl’s” Eric Van Der Woodsen, he was in a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt. Now, four years later, he’s determined to keep his head above water. Zap2it caught up with Connor Paolo to talk about his character’s journey. Tonight’s (Feb 21) episode is centered around Eric’s 18th birthday party.
“True to form, we can not have a birthday on this show without some sort of catastrophe,” Paolo teases.
How exactly is a kid supposed to celebrate when his family is in shambles, his love life is a mess, and everyone he considers a friend has let him down? Well, an Upper East Sider never turns down a party. We chatted with Paolo about the impending return of Eric’s father, William Van Der Woodsen (Billy Baldwin), the Jenny issue, whether Eric will ever experiment with the opposite sex, and, of course, our favorite manipulative drug dealer, Damien (Kevin Zegers).
Eric has been getting a lot more screen time lately, which, on this show, means he’s been through some pretty brutal situations. He recently told Rufus about using prescription drugs and he’s definitely back to scheming. Do we have to worry about the darker side of Eric taking over again?
Eric is absolutely committed to not going back to the place that he was when we first met him. He made that commitment when he wasn’t successful in his suicide attempt. I don’t think he was ever at risk of going back there. Those feelings aren’t feelings that are totally gone, and there are things that he still struggles with that happened a couple of years ago that are still fresh in his mind as much as his family would like to forget about it. Certainly what happened with Serena going to the same treatment center this year brought all of that rushing right back to him, which is why he was so involved and got so protective of her. The last thing he wants to do is see someone else in that place. I think that was a terrifying thing for him, seeing his sister in that place. She’s somebody that, despite all of her problems, he looks up to.
Lilly has made some bizarre and misguided choices when it comes to her children. Will she try to fix things in time for Eric’s birthday? Will the family dynamic improve at all?
Things may be on the upswing, a bit, but then we have Daddy Van Der Woodsen coming back. That throws a wrench into things, because that’s a really tough thing for Rufus, which makes things very difficult in terms of the childrens’ loyalties. Serena has always been more attached to William, whereas Eric is much more attached to Rufus, so that creates a bit of a rift there. This season with the family you really see Eric building much tighter relationships with the Humphrey end of his family. In the last couple of episodes, he’s confided in Rufus a bit, and we’re going to see his relationship with Dan get a lot stronger in the next couple of episodes as well. In the Van Der Woodsen Humphrey joint situation, the Humphreys are more positive, and that could be a good thing for him.
How do you think Eric will react when Jenny inevitably returns? Their relationship has always been mercurial, but they’ve managed to pull through.
I think that in a lot of ways, losing Jenny was really tough on Eric, especially under the circumstances that she left, with everything that happened with Chuck who was up until that point someone that Eric really had looked up to. Chuck was someone that Eric thought he had a bond with, and then Chuck went and did that to the only girl that Eric has in his life, really, someone in his family who he really loved. Still, Jenny has a lot of her own issues and Eric knows that. He’s really given her the space to get back on track, so when she does return, hopefully they’ll be in a place where they’re free of their own insecurities.
One of the gay characters on “Glee” has an episode coming up where he experiments with bisexuality. Do you think they’d ever go there with Eric?
You know, I thought maybe they might go that way in the first season, when Eric was dating Elliot, because Elliot was bisexual, and I thought that Eric might go that way because his boyfriend was involved in it. I think it would make sense, in a lot of ways, but only because as we’ve seen from Eric, he’s very much still figuring out who he is and trying on different hats. From the blonde hair to the change in clothing, Eric has consistently been very aware of the scrutiny of people around him, and he’s still nowhere near being assured with himself. Every relationship he’s had, since he’s coming up, has been very messed up, so he’d have more than enough reason to give other things a try. I think he’s still very much in that place of trying to see who he is.
What is happening in Eric’s love life right now? There was a bit of a tease with Damien, but that didn’t pan out.
Even though the relationship that Eric has with Damien was not romantic, I think it was, as any relationship is, platonic or not, it was still built on trust, or an illusion of trust. That like pretty much every relationship Eric has ever had, was totally shattered. After Damien, Eric is now in a place where he doesn’t want to go back there. He wants to be sure that the next time he gets involved with somebody, he knows where he stands. He’s not going to let them push him around, be it Jenny or Jonathan or Elliot or Damien. I don’t think he wants to be a reflection of anybody else anymore. He’s going to take some time by himself. When it comes down to it, Eric doesn’t want to be his sister. He’s watched her make a bevy of mistakes and because of that he’ll really try to make an effort to not go down that road, as much as he loves her.