“I find the woman you become in your most definitive years stays with you,” says Blake Lively, her soft voice echoing over the phone in a mix of sweetness and sadness, a familiar tone to anyone who followed her from brunches to ballrooms during her six-year run on Gossip Girl. “From the teenage years to your early twenties, midtwenties, and late twenties even, you’re changing from a young girl to a full-blown woman. Those are very definitive years.”
The 27-year-old is talking about her role as Adaline Bowman in the whimsical romance The Age of Adaline (in theatres April 24), but she could just as easily be talking about herself. She’s calling this evening from British Columbia, her husband Ryan Reynolds’ home province, just three months after welcoming their daughter, James, into the world. The actress has done a lot of living in the past two years: wrapped Gossip Girl; wed Reynolds in South Carolina (with styling assistance from Martha Stewart, no less); launched her company Preserve, an e-commerce and lifestyle site; and became a new mom—a subject that remains off-limits during the interview at her request.
In The Age of Adaline, Lively plays a woman born in 1908 who is rendered forever 29 through a freak accident, winkingly explained away by a scientific theory that will be discovered in 2035. In the film, her story picks up in present day when Adaline allows herself to love again at a youthful 107. The film’s central conceit—that inside Adaline’s 29-year-old body is a woman who has seen a century come and go—hinges on Lively’s performance, one she renders entirely believable. To prepare for the role, Lively studied how women lived in every era featured in the film, but as Adaline came of age in the 1920s, the era held special significance. “If you’re raised in the ’20s, there will always be something more prim about you,” she says. “If you were raised in the 1960s, you might be a little bit more free-spirited and open.”
It’s an observation that comes through in Lively’s performance. In one scene, she gets into a cab while trying to escape a suitor at a New Year’s Eve party and utters a polite “Thank you, sir” to the driver. “Back then, there was so much etiquette,” she says. “I imagine it would be very defining on your character.”
It’s her first role since taking a year-long hiatus, a creative reboot after six years of soapy shenanigans on Gossip Girl as Manhattan’s It Girl Serena van der Woodsen—the sugar to the spice of Leighton Meester’s Blair Waldorf. “I dressed like my character and I lived in Manhattan and dated the same guy [Penn Badgley] for a few years as my character,” she says. “People have a hard time differentiating the two, which is completely understandable. But I couldn’t be less like Serena van der Woodsen.”
Playing an Upper East Side socialite whose limitless personal drama is chronicled with cruel schadenfreude by an anonymous blogger, Lively became a lightening rod for online gossip herself in much the same sort of television-versus-reallife blur that gets weather forecasters blamed for bad weather. After eight years of scrutiny, Lively is clearly frustrated. A question about how she reconciles her love of baking with maintaining her figure triggers memories of interviews past that she feels misrepresented what it’s like to live like Lively.
“I said something like I have to start and end my day with a piece of chocolate,” she recalls. “And they paired that with another thing of me saying I don’t need a trainer because I have an active lifestyle, but they took out the active lifestyle part.” In reality, Lively cites bike riding and hiking as favourite activities. When in Manhattan, she tries to walk rather than drive whenever possible, and dance classes—hip-hop and salsa—have been part of her routine. “But they didn’t print any of that nonsense,” she says sweetly. “They just printed that I start my day with hot chocolate and I don’t need a trainer. People pick and choose, and make you seem like a jerk.”
Throwing her heart into her onscreen roles can be similarly frustrating. “I don’t get to see it for a year,” she says. She compares it to baking, which she’s famously fantastic at (Reynolds nicknamed their home “The Blakery”). “It’s like making a cake and then putting it in the oven for a year. It comes out and someone else has decorated it for you, and someone else has added a few of the flavours and taken some of your ingredients out, and you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Her professional frustrations are part of the reason she launched her company Preserve, a lifestyle and e-commerce website, last summer. At Martha Stewart’s American Made Summit in November, Lively called acting “a career that I don’t control,” explaining, “That’s part of the reason I created Preserve: I need a world that is my own.” The site is stocked with boho finds such as vegan hot fudge, California desert-inspired yoga mats and a loose-fitted orchid-print blouse that sold-out in 24 hours after she wore it in the first photo of her baby bump last October. If Serena van der Woodsen accidentally clicked through to Preserve, she wouldn’t even know what to do ” I just love people who tell great stories and people who have gone on adventures. “ with herself (or her credit card).
Lively feels this new venture is the most authentic glimpse yet of who she is at heart. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop—which Preserve is often compared to, more for its ability to stoke an aspirational desire to replicate the good taste of its actress founder than any particular similarities—Preserve focuses on elevating small-batch brands and under-theradar artisans. The aesthetic leans towards traditional pieces that feel homespun, even if the clientele seems more likely to be e-browsing from Bushwick than the actual bush. “More of my personality will come through over time,” she promises. “But it’s definitely more me than anything anyone else has seen. My taste is much more rustic and antique than Madison Avenue.”
When reminded of a 2008 W magazine profile, which surmised that Lively can “sound like a 50-year-old woman trapped in a hot young body,” she laughs. “I have definitely aged to my 70s at this point,” she says. “My husband always jokes that I only make friends with septuagenarians. I don’t know why, I just love people who tell great stories and people who have gone on adventures.”
One of these influences is her fellow L’Oréal ambassador, 77-year-old Jane Fonda. “She was such an inspiration [for The Age of Adaline]!” Lively says. “I watched so many videos of Jane Fonda and I wanted Adaline to speak like her. But that woman speaks with such elegance and strength; she’s both feminine and yet entirely masculine. Her voice, the way it can be delicate yet it’s completely full-bodied.” Alas, there is a reason why there is only one Jane Fonda. “I tried to speak like her and I failed miserably, so I stopped,” Lively laughs.
She credits her fellow L’Oréal faces among her personal fashion and beauty icons, mentioning Julianne Moore and Freida Pinto. “These women are really elegant,” she says. Lively famously works without a stylist, and given the taste she’s shown on megawatt red carpets from Cannes to the Met Gala, she clearly doesn’t need one. She credits her mother, Elaine, a talent scout and, by all accounts, a wicked cake baker, for her taste. “All my style and beauty tips are from my mama!” she says.
As good as those tips may be, a crafty skincare routine only gets you so far. But Lively loved that the role of Adaline celebrated the beautiful side of growing older. “It’s something everybody pursues, to feel young forever, to look young forever,” she says. “This is a woman who actually is young forever. And you see the tragedy in it. How do you find love and stay open to love when everyone passes on and you’re alone? It’s a really beautiful commentary.” Eternal youth is only a reality on the silver screen and, luckily for Lively, she wouldn’t have it any other way.