The man behind Alex Parrish's attitude and Blair Waldorf's one-liners shares how his sexuality helps him empathize with his characters.

By Ruth Kinane
June 15, 2021 at 04:55 PM EDT
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Josh Safran
Credit: Karolina Wojtasik

At age 11, screenwriter Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl, Quantico) was already working in the entertainment industry as a script reader after a precocious visit to a production studio landed him a job.

"I was talking so much about movies while my mom was getting her hair done [one day] that the woman next to her said, 'Actually, I work at a studio. You should come take a tour,'" Safran tells EW. So along Safran went and while he was waiting for his mom's friend, he picked up a script from her office coffee table and started reading it. "When she came in - I don't know what possessed me- but I told her what I thought could be fixed," he says. From that day on, Safran worked as a script reader at TriStar, Paramount, and Fox throughout his teen years.

By 12, he was "obsessed" with the '80s drama thirtysomething. "It was the first time I'd ever seen a gay relationship on screen," recalls the writer and producer, who came out as gay at 19. Indeed, the ABC show's sponsor-pulling sex scene between David Marshall Grant and Peter Frechette greatly impacted Safran "as both a writer and a gay man."

Over the next few decades, Safran, now 47, worked as a writer and executive producer on the original Gossip Girl and was showrunner for SmashQuantico, and Soundtrack. He credits his homosexuality for helping him understand and write varied characters on all of those series. "I can write about myriad different things because of understanding what it's like to hide something, or to walk into a room feeling like somebody there doesn't think you're equal," he explains. "Obviously, I don't know what it's like to walk in anyone's shoes but my own, but it gives you a perspective that allows you to hold space for other people's points of view."

On each of his shows, Safran has found himself writing characters who represent a different part of his coming-out journey, from Russell Tovey's Harry on Quantico to a couple of characters on the upcoming HBO Max continuation of Gossip Girl. "I write more personally than one would think watching my shows," he says. "We just shot a love scene between two men that's intergenerational and their reactions to the love scene are both me. The younger character is more open and unfazed, and the older character is a little more reticent. It's all me. Gossip Girl is a fantasy and a heightened world, and yet there is so much of my life and history in the original and in the new one."

Sounds like Gossip Girl might be spilling some of Safran's secrets when it comes to HBO Max July 8.

To read more from EW's 2021 Pride Issue, order the June issue of Entertainment Weekly - with covers featuring Lil Nas XMj RodriguezBowen Yang, and Lena Waithe. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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