Taylor Momsen Explains ‘Gossip Girl’ Exit on Penn Badgley’s Podcast, Details Pain and Darkness After Best Friend’s Death: It ‘Almost Killed Me’

Break out your headbands, Upper East Siders and Jenny Humphrey stans. Taylor Momsen reunited with “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley for the first time since the 2012 series finale of The CW teen drama, appearing on the Sept. 6 episode of “Podcrushed,” Badgley’s SiriusXM podcast with Nava Kavelin and Sophie Ansari.

During the hour-long episode, the pair reminisced about their time on “Gossip Girl” together; Badgley portrayed Dan Humphrey, while Momsen played his little sister, Jenny, for four seasons. She was just 12 years old when the pilot was shot, and says she didn’t really want to leave her middle school friends — but was “convinced” to do it.

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“Larger powers than me came down and went, ‘This is a great opportunity,'” Momsen, now 30, said during the episode, which was recorded before the SAG-AFTRA strike. It was then, filming the show, that she really leaned into music. “That’s where music became such a solace for me. Thanking back on my life, it was this place where I could just be — writing songs, emoting how I felt. I was by myself a lot. I didn’t have my own clique.”

Of the actors on the show, Momsen, who’d played Cindy Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” was the youngest — Badgley was 20 when he got the role of Dan, and most of the actors playing the show’s high-school characters were in their early 20s. Only Connor Paolo, who played Eric, the younger brother of Serena (Blake Lively) was even close to Momsen’s age. “I didn’t fit in with you guys, I didn’t fit in with Connor’s friends — I was younger than them,” Momsen said. “I was the new girl. I was ‘Grinch’ girl. I was always in this kind of weird, isolated world, partially of my own creating, probably.”

Momsen was in a band with her school friends before “Gossip Girl,” then moved to New York for the show, which debuted in 2007. Two years later, she founded The Pretty Reckless, the rock band she leads that’s still together today.

GOSSIP GIRL, (back row, l to r): Penn Badgley, Ed Westwick, Taylor Momsen, (front): Blake Lively, Chace Crawford, Leighton Meester,  (Season 1), 2006-. photo: Andrew Eccles / © The CW / Courtesy: Everett Collection
Penn Badgley, Ed Westwick, Taylor Momsen, Blake Lively, Chace Crawford and Leighton Meester

“It was a childhood thing that I got put into at two years old. I wasn’t making my own choices then,” she said of acting. “Literally, as soon as I got to an age where I could make my own decisions, it was like a click… I woke up one morning and went, ‘Wait a second. I don’t have to do this? I don’t have to do this other job? I can just play in my band and tour and write songs? I can just do that?’ Granted, a little more complicated to get out of a television show than that, but the answer was yes.”

With that, she said she “uprooted and changed my life overnight,” with the help of the “Gossip Girl” team.

“They went, ‘Well, we can’t let you out of your deal, but we can write you out of the show, so you can go on tour,'” Momsen said. “They really allowed me to follow my dream, and I’m forever grateful and thankful to them for that.”

Momsen, who admitted she’s never watched the show, was a series regular for the first four seasons of “Gossip Girl.” However, she appeared in only four episodes of the fourth season — due to touring — before her character moved to London. At the time, there were reports of her being difficult on set and let go. When Season 5 premiered, she’d permanently exited the show to focus on music, but came back for the finale, “New York, I Love You XOXO,” which aired in 2012 and featured a song from The Pretty Reckless.

The band just wrapped their “Death by Rock and Roll” tour, during which they promoted an album Momsen wrote after two big deaths in her life. In 2017, Chris Cornell died by suicide on the last night of his band Soundgarden’s tour with The Pretty Reckless. Less than a year later, Momsen’s “fifth band member” and best friend Kato Khandwala died in a motorcycle crash.

“It took me very down. I fell into a very dark hole of depression and substance abuse, and everything that comes with death and loss and trauma,” she said on the podcast. “I essentially quit everything. I stopped making music; I couldn’t listen to music. It bummed me out, for lack of better term. It was dark. It got very dark there for a while.”

Momsen shut herself off from everyone and “fell apart,” but was eventually able to turn to writing new music to honor Khandwala’s legacy. “I’m going to finish what we started, and not let this take me down entirely,” she recalled feeling. “It came very close to that. I had to make a very conscious decision at some point — where I was either gonna die or I was gonna move forward. I chose to move forward.”

Each night on tour, the band walked on stage to audio of Khandwala’s footsteps, which is the opening of the album’s title track. “It took something that was incredibly sad and devastating and almost killed me, and I tried to turn it into my power,” Momsen said. “He’s here with me every night. He’s no longer here but we’re still doing this together.”

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