Laura Harring does not fit into a neat little box. Best known for her lead role in Mulholland Drive, the charming actress is also a globetrotting former Miss USA and Countess von Bismarck. With such varied and rich life experience, it’s no wonder she possesses an eclectic vibe and natural charm that make her so captivating on screen.
Recently, she has surfaced on Gossip Girl as the estranged, assumed-dead mother of Chuck Bass. Like Harring herself, there is more Elizabeth Bass than meets the eye and tonight Harring promises the mystery surrounding her character will finally be solved.
We had a few brief moments this afternoon to talk to Harring about Gossip Girl, Mulholland Drive and Raul Julia’s influence on her career.
You were born in Mexico and moved to Texas when you were 10. What was that transition like for you and how do you think this upbringing influenced you when you became an actor?
I think traveling around and getting to see different cultures – after Texas, I went to Europe and I studied in school in Switzerland. Then, after that, I went to India and became a social worker. Traveling around Asia, backpacking around Europe, it does something to your idea of the world. It expands your view of people and cultures. It’s the best education, to travel. I think because of that I’m able to play a diversity of people, cultures and characters. At least more than half of the characters I play are mysterious characters from different countries.
When did you decide to get into acting? How did you make that decision?
Actually, the producers on a NBC four-hour special called The Alamo saw me when I was Miss USA and they called the Miss USA people to bring me in for an audition. I came in and I was very confident because I’d spent years as Miss Texas and as Miss USA traveling around, answering questions, speaking in public, TV shows, all that. And I went in very poised and I was the character that they wanted opposite Raul Julia, his young wife.
They hired me. I took it. It was a no-brainer. But I wasn’t passionate about it yet. It wasn’t until I saw Raul Julia in a scene where he was planning an attack, because he was President Santa Ana, and his voice was so resonant. He was breathing while they did his makeup; he was so focused on the role. And when they yelled “Action!” and he started speaking, it was just music to the ears. It was belted out like a bird singing and resonant and just powerful. I got goosebumps and there was such quiet on set, such respect for him. He just created an ambiance of magic and I remember being really impacted by that and seeing how he transformed into this world just pulled me in. I thought, “This is what I want to do.” That was it. I made that decision that day.
You could see that with Raul Julia with the presence he had on screen.
Isn’t it amazing how some people manage to have that charisma and that power? That’s one thing I really enjoyed about working with Ed Westwick is that he has a very mysterious, aloof quality that is from the old days – it’s from James Dean’s days – that young actors don’t have much anymore. I loved witnessing that. I thought it was so magnificent.
We’ve got to ask you about Mulholland Drive. People say that was a breakthrough role for you and we would imagine it’s probably what you gets recognized from the most. What was it like being a part of that film, which was originally meant to be a TV pilot?
Yeah, it was originally meant to be a TV pilot that would unravel the mystery of who this character is – my character, Rita. It was so funny because that was one of those miraculous recoveries. That TV [show] had been rejected by ABC. David [Lynch] kept saying it was dead in the water and I kept having feelings and dreams and all these strange premonitions. I said, “It’s not gone. I just have this feeling, David.” Sure enough, an old friend of David’s said, “I want to see it.”
David said, “No, it’s not finished.”
He didn’t want to show it, but he was like, “I want to see it.” So he saw the TV version and Pierre Edelman, that was his name, he fell in love with it and said, “Here, we’re going to give you” I don’t know how many more million to finish it and David wrote another 18 pages and then he recut it and he let Naomi [Watts] and I read it together. We couldn’t leave with a script, he made us read it right then and there. And we were both in awe. We had no idea what it meant. (Laughs.) And we worked on the movie knowing full well that he had a vision and a plan that we weren’t exactly sure how it was all going to unfold because he had it in his head.
That’s the mystery that I love about working in television also is that you just don’t know how the storyline is going to end up. They can tell you it’s going in one direction, then they have a meeting and they change it to a complete other direction. So you have to be very flexible and adaptable. And be in trust. You always have to be in trust that they know what they’re doing.
On Gossip Girl, I really felt that they did. I felt like they wrote my character really well and they kept the mystery. They really did. Nobody knew on set what was going to happen. Everybody was asking me. Tonight, people will know.
With Gossip Girl, like Mulholland Drive, do you get people on the street constantly trying to pry you for information?
(Laughs.) Yeah, you know when you work on television, sometimes the fans are very adoring. So if they don’t like what your character is doing or whatever – I remember working on Sunset Beach, they shook my shoulders and were like: “Why don’t you do something about that?” because I was such a good girl on Sunset Beach. They were upset that I wasn’t standing up for myself.
On Gossip Girl, people have come up to me and just told me that they really are enjoying watching me – that they love my character and that they think there is great chemistry between Chuck and I as potential family members. So they do talk to me but they’re not like shaking my shoulders like they were on the other show. And it doesn’t mean that they’re not adoring fans. There are so many adoring fans on Gossip Girl. I find that it’s got the same kind of intensity of loyalty that David Lynch fans have for David Lynch. Just that love, that bearing all love and adoration for the show.
What was it like coming into a show that was already established and had a younger cast? Was it welcoming on set right away?
Very welcoming. The first night “breaking of the ice” was a little difficult because they were running late. I think it was the last day of the episode and they were just running late. It was a new director and we had the graveyard scene and they brought me in at like five in the afternoon and I didn’t start working until 5 a.m., so 12 hours in a graveyard.
I did talk a bit to Ed and he was so nice. Then we did the scene. From the very beginning, there was just a familial kind of energy to it. When I actually started working on set and more in the city with Leighton [Meester] or whoever, they never made me feel like I was older. I definitely got taken in as if I was part of the gang, like a Gossip Girl not a Gossip Woman. And that was kind of nice. I really enjoyed that because that’s how I am in my life.
My friends are every age range and I feel like age is really irrelevant. It’s how old your spirit is or your soul is. I never felt like I was an outsider or that I was an “adult,” I always felt like I was part of the crew. I was very happy about that because it makes such a difference to your experience of filming especially on TV when they’re established and they’re a family and you come in and you’re the outsider. That was never the case in Gossip Girl and that’s why I think they’re so successful. That chemistry that you see on screen is definitely what I felt off-screen.
Do you think fans will be satisfied with the big reveal tonight? Will they see everything they’ve wanted to see?
(Laughs.) You are so funny. Yeah, I do. I think that people will be very, very happy. I was very happy with how it was written. It’s excellent writing. That’s all I have to say. They really did a great job with the arc and the character and portraying this story. You definitely have to watch tonight because tonight is the big night.
What’s next for you? Where can we see you after this?
After this, I’m actually writing something in Spanish. I speak Spanish fluently and I went to Argentina to work on something. Argentina has amazing filmmakers. They have the most amazing dark films. I’m doing an abstract film. I have 10 more scenes to finish it. Then I’m heading to Argentina and Brazil to start producing this movie, which I will actually star in also.
And I’m working with the David Lynch Foundation as a goodwill ambassador, so I’m meeting with David and the rumor is that he’s writing something. So we don’t know what the future holds. I see another movie in David’s future, that’s for sure.
That you might be a part of?
(Laughs.) I can say no more.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. The Gossip Girl episode “The Empire Strikes Jack” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW. For more Laura Harring, visit her official website.