Things are getting intense at the Van der Woodsen home! Gossip Girl was right when she said, “the truth always comes out,” on Monday’s shocker of an episode — especially when Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) is in town! Not only did she out young Eric Van der Woodsen (Connor Paolo) at the dinner table, she also blackmailed his sister Serena (Blake Lively) by threatening to tell their dark and dirty secret. But pushed to her limits, Serena ultimately confided in her best friend Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and revealed a truth more shocking than a sex tape. “I killed someone,” she said. Looks like Serena’s in for a rough patch thanks to her frenemy, but coming out and confronting the truth may actually be a good thing for her little brother. In his first interview since the show aired, PEOPLE spoke with Connor Paolo, 17, who plays Eric and asked him about portraying a gay teenager on television, what will happen next with Georgina’s reign of terror and how Eric’s coming out also brings out another truth: Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) may actually be a nice guy. –Liza Hamm
How does it feel to be playing a gay character on a popular TV show?I’m an actor and it’s a part. Being gay is nothing but another way to live your life. It’s just who he is.
A lot of gay teens will be excited to see someone gay on the show. Are you ready for that?I guess it’s a possibility that fans could take Eric’s coming into his own as a source of inspiration. He does it with a degree of gentility and self-respect. He doesn’t make apologies for who he is.
Did the fact that he tried to kill himself earlier have anything to do with being gay?As the actor portraying Eric, I don’t believe that I tried to commit suicide because of that. Eric is 14 so his decision to be gay could be permanent. It might not be. It’s about finding yourself. At the moment, this is who he sees himself as … that’s very empowering.
How will the news play out in the next few episodes?My issues get swept under the rug in the face of Georgina. She has information about my family that no one else is privy to. Dealing with Georgina becomes the main focus because things become very, very hairy.
How will the other characters react to the news? Everyone okay with it?Each character has their own reaction. It does seem to create a rift between me and Jenny. Chuck steps up as big brother though.
So this brings out the nicer side of Chuck?Eric’s relationship with Chuck is a vehicle for seeing that he does have a good side. He can be a good person when duty calls. Chuck seems to really care about Eric. It’s a time when Eric feels very alone. Chuck does not push him away as many other are inclined to do. Eric gets to have a good time with Chuck. Most have been coddling him because they think he’s a suicide risk, Chuck is totally open to let Eric enjoy his life rather than try to preserve it.
But there are going to be some intense discussions about the fact he’s gay, right?Is there ever a Gossip Girl episode without them?
When did you find out your character was gay?I was told about a month ago. Two of the producers explained the situation. It seemed like a good thing. Up to this point, I’ve had a volatile role on the show. Sometimes, I’m there. Sometimes, I’m not. It’s the producers giving me more screen time and a chance to prove myself as an actor — so I wanted to make sure I delivered.
Did you have to keep it a secret?We tried to keep it under wraps as long as possible.
How did that go?Pretty well, actually. The cast has as much to lose by secrets getting out. There’d been a lot of conjecture but no real facts had been slipped.
What helped you prepare for this episode?I feel like I know Eric better than most so I drew on my knowledge of the character. I did have some conversations with Stephanie Savage, the executive producer and Joe Lazarov, also a producer working out the ins and outs of how this developed. CW