Chatting with Gillian Zinser, actress/artist/philanthropist and 90210 cast member, we were pleased to discover the exhaustingly talented 26- year-old is every bit as awesome as we had imagined.
Articulate, warm, switched on and straight-forward, the precocious performer is graduating from West Beverly Hills High to the big screen this year with high-profile parts in upcoming features Manson Girls and Oliver Stone’s Savages. A former student of NYU, Gillian continues to explore her studies off campus, which include the inter-disciplines of art, film and philanthropy. Creating self-reflexive portraits and volunteering with projects such as ‘Artists For Peace and Justice’ in Haiti, Gillian has built up a well-balanced CV and loyal following. Returning to UK screens this week as surfing tomboy Ivy Sullivan in Season 4 of 90210, Gillian Zinser speaks to i-D online about the revamped TV teen classic and her own adolescence, talks performance art and shares her top 10 artistic influences.
What was the all-American high school experience like for you? I had an odd experience in high school – remember that movie Mean Girls? Tina Fey adapted that from a book about my school written by someone that went to it… I wasn’t exactly the most popular and I didn’t have the best experience. I was itching to get out.
Did you watch 90210 back in the day? Yeah, of course. I wasn’t allowed to though – I used to sneak off to watch it.
Are you a Kelly or a Brenda? I can’t really tap into my bad girl very easily, I’m going to leave the Brendas to the AnnaLynne McCords of this world. Ivy’s not like Kelly either, she’s more of an Emily Valentine, that’s the direction I would have liked to take her in but they took me on a really different path.
What attracted you to the part of Ivy? She’s not your typical teen drama character… I think just that. I’m not one to watch soaps and, as I explained, my high school experience was very trying and tumultuous and often not a fun one. I guess, in short, I was attracted to Ivy as a character because she was more of a black sheep than anything else and even though she’s your average teenage girl who is riddled with insecurities, she’s found a way to be comfortable enough in her own skin not to conform. That’s a really fun and important thing to bring to television and our audiences in particular because we’re speaking to a large group of teenagers who for the most part are going through such a formative period of development.
What’s working with Tristan Wilds like? Had you seen The Wire before joining the cast? Tristan is the classiest cat around. He’s an extraordinary artist whose talents are far underutilised on the show.
Can you tell me more about your childhood growing up? I grew up in Washington, which I shy away from talking about because I feel so detached from the city because it was so devoid of artistic culture and I grew up in a family of artists. My father’s an architect and my mother’s a painter – we didn’t come from a family of politicians, and I often found that I couldn’t really relate to or associate with the city I grew up in. My Dad’s from New York and my Mom’s from Berlin so I spent a lot of time in between the city (NY) and DC, taking the $10 Chinese Fung Wah bus up every weekend just to hang out with people and seek out forms of inspiration that I could actually understand. The minute I could leave DC I did – I moved to New York for college and never looked back.
Did you study art or acting at New York? My parents didn’t allow me to go to Tisch so I went to Gallatin, which is a tiny school within NYU. They let you choose your own major so I decided to study the relationship between fine art, the entertainment industry and philanthropy and see where we can build bridges between them.