Johnathan Fernandez Talks Gossip Girl And Marvel's Morbius - Exclusive Interview

HBO Max's "Gossip Girl" reboot recently wrapped Season 1, and viewers will be relieved to know that Season 2 is already on the way. Actor Johnathan Fernandez plays Nick Lott, father to Zoya (played by Whitney Peak), on the show. And if you think you've seen Fernandez somewhere before, that's because he's appeared in everything from "Girls" to "Bull" to "Younger," and in 2019, he finished up three successful seasons playing Bernard Scorsese on "Lethal Weapon." 

While the parents on "Gossip Girl" don't get to have quite as much fun as the kids, Fernandez has relished being part of a well-thought-out reboot that's really taken diversity into account to help give a more accurate reflection of what life is like in New York City.

The List caught up with Fernandez as Season 1 of "Gossip Girl" came to an end to find out all about his time on the show, his role in the the forthcoming "Morbius" movie, and the many other film and TV projects he's working on right now.

Johnathan Fernandez on joining the new Gossip Girl

Obviously we're really excited to talk about "Gossip Girl." What drew you to the series?

It's funny, as an actor ... I feel like you have to be very popular, to be able to be like, "This is the project I'm going to do," and really throw your weight around, and be like, "I'm only going to do stuff that I want."

It's hard because you have responsibilities, whether it's a spouse or a family or other things you have to pay for. Then if you want to be a working actor, you try to control as much as you can, which is very little, and you work where you can. I've been very fortunate to have something like "Gossip Girl" come across the desk of my manager because it's so rare to be able to do something that you really feel good about also. If you haven't yet, at some point, another actor's going to have their first bad movie or their first badly written whatever.

I was super fortunate that this came from, not only a reputable place like HBO, but then also someone like Joshua Safran who is a very talented, very smart writer, and a rare person who also cares. He cares about people, he cares about the environment that people are working in. He cares about optics.

To be able to then be part of that world in any way where you're also playing a character who is really solid ... Josh told me very early on when we spoke about it, he's like, "He's basically modern day, Black Atticus Finch." I was like, that's a dream, especially when you're working on a show that is trying to be socially conscious, have its fingers [on] the pulse of society, and really concerned with what the world is at large.

Because this stuff mattered in the real world, what we present, and to work on a project that I could really stand behind the character and what the character means and what the character says and does, it ended up being a dream to be able to do that in any capacity. All that is to say that if I was in a position to choose all the work I want, this would be one of those. It's super, super rare to be able to say that.

It feels like a lot of thought has gone into getting representation right in the "Gossip Girl" reboot.

Because the original, I had only watched before my studio test. I had never seen it. Not for any particular reason, but I didn't cross paths with it. That show as it was, it will not fly today. It would make no sense today. There was no other way to do it. If it was going to be full throttle, let's do this thing so that it's successful. You can't have a bunch of rich white kids do a bunch of wild stuff with no consequences.

Just call him 'Mr. Reboot'

What was it like joining a franchise that has such a big fandom attached to it already? Did you feel any pressure?

What's super interesting about it as well, for me personally, is that this was the second reboot that I've been a part of, because I had come off of "Lethal Weapon." Now, my friends and I jokingly say I'm Mr. Reboot. You got a reboot planned? Please. You don't even have to ask me. ... I'm the guy. I'm going to make it work. But all jokes aside, actually my friend Chandler Kinney, who's also on "Lethal Weapon," now she's going to be in the new "Pretty Little Liars." I was like, "Man, what are we doing?" Yeah, also on HBO Max.

I think on both occasions, I've been very lucky, I suppose, that my character hasn't existed in the previous iteration. "Lethal Weapon," my character was a brand new forensic scientist. Then Nick Lott — obviously none of us were in the original. That gives you, as an actor, a lot of freedom because you're never going to be compared.

People obviously are comparing, like when the news first came out, they're like, "Emily's going to be like Serena or blah, blah, blah," and it's very obvious that she isn't, and none of us are. Even with Tom [Doherty] playing someone who's the spiritual successor of Chuck [Bass], which I don't think so. They're different enough in a lot of different categories. But there comes a lot of freedom with that, where you're like, "Cool. I can try to do good work. Hopefully people respond to that. I'm not worried about having to do an impersonation of something," because that never works. Anytime that there are remakes and reboots of things that end up being facsimiles of the predecessor, [they] don't work. Because also people are like, "Well, we already watched it. Why are we trying to watch this again in the same manner?"

It's like when you see a play that is being revived, you're hoping to see something different, even though it is the same words. You're not sitting there being like, "I want to see the complete copy of the previous thing." Then there's also freedom in knowing regardless of whether the show's good or bad or somewhere in between, because of that built-in fan base, you know that people are going to watch it no matter what. That's a huge privilege in this business.

Because fighting to get your pilot seen and your pilot reviewed and your pilot to be taken seriously, is such an astronomically uphill battle, that you feel a lot of good fortune to be like, "At least people are going to watch it." If they are going to watch it, that means that they're going to inherently be giving it a chance. The fans have been very kind to us. They've been very positive, the most positive you can be. It's truly all you could ask for.

He's ready for Gossip Girl Season 2

"Gossip Girl" has been renewed for Season 2, so you know it's going well.

Yeah, everything about it, the way it came together, the timing of it. The pandemic has been awful for a billion reasons, but for something like this show, it allowed people to want it more, for lack of a better way to put it. Everything was pushed back, and it whet people's appetites to be like, "We're really excited for this thing that's going to come."

Then also knowing that HBO Max as a newly formed platform needed a show to work. You knew going into it, that's something else that you don't get all the time with a pilot. A lot of times you have no idea if someone, like the studio or whoever, if they really care about the show, if they really want it to work, or they want to throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.

Whereas this was a thing where it's like, "No, I think they're going to fire the entire arsenal to try to make it work." That's another, highly, highly privileged position to be in because you almost never get that. It ended up working out in a weird, cosmic way.

What's it like working with the rest of the cast, especially Whitney Peak who plays your daughter?

It's a dream. It's a dream in every direction. Whitney and I, I haven't really told this story publicly actually, but it was really interesting because when I first met her, [it] was at the studio test at Warner Bros. I was like, "No one's going to buy me as this dad." Right away, I was like, "This makes no sense." I play so many video games, I'm at the comic book conventions, I'm out at the video game conventions. I watch a ton of anime. I'm skateboarding, I'm motorcycling, and doing all this stuff that's very youthful.

When I met her, we instantly connected in a way that was like, "Wow, we could be very good friends." I met her mom, who I was hyper intimidated by. Usually I wear a lot of eclectic outfits, even though they are suits, but it's mismatched suits. But that day, I wore a suit that matched. Then I wore my most boring tie that had these stripes. Stripes is as far as I went.

Anybody who knows me would've been really laughing at my demeanor because I wasn't saying, "Cool." I wasn't saying, "Word." I wasn't saying, "Yo." I wasn't saying any slang or any of that stuff, just to have a little more older air. It ended up working out because I wanted to at least come off to people who were watching Whitney and I as parental, or, at worst, guardian, but not big brother.

It was clear when we went in there, and they allowed me to improvise a bunch. Because my background is also comedy. I've done pretty straight comedies. I've been fortunate enough to also do some dramas and stuff. But I think that's what ended up working out because I can't be serious for too long. In the room, we were improvising a bunch of funny little things that made it seem, "Oh, they have a rapport," because a parental relationship is not always castigating, and always yelling. Even though on this show, she deserves it. The kids are always doing outrageous things. But even with that, you still find room to be fun and have plenty of situations where things aren't always heavy, because that's not what life is like.

Johnathan Fernandez found a kinship with Whitney Peak

[On working with Whitney Peak for "Gossip Girl"]

Being able to figure that out with Whitney, honestly within five minutes, that's something that doesn't happen. There's plenty of times where I go to auditions and I'm like, "Man, I would never be friends with this person." Or, "We can work together for sure ..." It's not as easy as it is with some other people. Obviously that goes for relationships and real life as well.

But with Whitney, it was really easy right away. I think we instantly bought into each other, and the people who were in the audience, Josh Safran and Stephanie Savage, Cassandra Kulukundis, who was the casting director, and Josh Schwartz as well. ... But right away, they were like, "These people have known each other forever." It felt like that, which was really wild.

But when I was talking to Whitney, I wasn't mentioning my Nintendo 3DS. I wasn't mentioning VR or skateboarding or any of that stuff. It was funny because since then, I've hung out a ton. A lot of it has been between me and her and her mom and my wife. The four of us went out a bunch when they first moved to New York. It really felt like I was taking on this actual parental situation.

Because she had been to New York, but never alone, never working on this massive show, it was nice to be like, "Anything you need, come to me. I'm from here. I'm freshly moving back from LA." But I've picked up Apple products for her at the Apple store when she hasn't been able to go. I've built furniture for her, I've picked up furniture, all this straight-up actual parent stuff. My wife and I, we don't have any children, and our running gag has been, "Whitney's enough. That's totally enough." She can call me whenever, I'll pick her up from wherever if she needs me in any capacity. I automatically am filling in that thing of, I don't know, worry. I worry about her, or I hope she's okay, all that stuff. It plays into our working relationship, and it's really nice to have that with someone that you really actually love and care for.

Then with the other kids, it's really interesting. I call them kids; they're not all actual kids, but we all get along very easily. We all can hang out very easily. It's a really nice group where no one also feels, not duplicated per se, but everybody's so individual and so different that we are able to jive by filling in these pockets that we don't naturally have, or whatever, as well as the parents. Everybody's such a unique individual that you put us all together, all the gaps are filled.

I love working with Luke Kirby. Luke is such a talented actor, and Laura Benanti as well. To be a part of that, especially because they're all Broadway legends too, between Adam Chanler-Berat and Tavi [Gevinson] and John [Benjamin Hickey] as well, and Todd Almond. I look up to them, and so to be a part of them also, and the kids too who have done such great things, it's those moments where you're like, "Wow, I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I'm here because people want me here, because they think I fit in with all these people who are already legendary." I really have a lot of love for all the people that I work with.

Working on Morbius was 'amazing'

You're set to appear in "Morbius." Can you tell us anything about that?

It's more like, can you tell me anything about it? ... I should write a letter to Sony or something and be like, "What's happening?" Because for so long I wasn't allowed to talk about it ... My character is still completely under wraps. I know that it was supposed to come out May of 2020. Now, the second "Venom" has come out, and I don't know what the plans ... I have no idea what's happening.

What I will say is that it was one of the best days of my life on the set ever. We shot at Sony, and I wish I could tell you all of it because it felt like my destiny almost because I'm such a huge comic book fan. Also, Spider-Man is my favorite. I have right here, this limited edition Conan O'Brien Spider-Man. ... He's my favorite character, between him and Batman.

But to be at all involved in the Spider-Man universe in that way ... Well, I'll say that in a second. But I'm dying for "Morbius" to come out, for people to see this.

I'm not trying to inflate my character because I'm in a very limited fashion. But if you were to choose a small role to be, it would be this one. Being there and seeing the props and being part of that world, and who I'm working with, I was like, "I cannot wait to talk about this," because it was this amazing, amazing experience.

Because everything we did was all secret. They haven't announced anything about the stuff that I was involved in and who I was involved in [it with].

It's really locked down, isn't it? You're not even on the IMDb page.

Super, yeah. I'm really dying for that to come out. Hopefully soon.

Johnathan Fernandez is ready to play Spider-Man

"Morbius" sounds really intriguing from what you've said. We need to see you in this role.

Actually, it ties in with I'm such a big fan of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and Miles Morales, and having an Afro-Latino Spider-Man. Actually, speaking of letters, I wrote a letter to [Phil] Lord and [Christopher] Miller to be like, "I know that I'm too old for this. I know that. But also, have you thought about doing an older Spider-Man? Because you guys haven't really done that yet." I was like, "Also, I'm Afro-Latino from Brooklyn, just like the character. I live and breathe this stuff. I've read so much of it. I've read all of the Miles Morales comics." In the meantime, my friend and I are slowly writing. We want to do a fan film that's me playing an older Miles Morales. Because Batman has barely done that, but most of the other platforms haven't done a superhero character where they've been it for a long time, where they've been this character for 10 years already, or 15 years.

The "Batman v Superman" movie did that a little bit because Ben Affleck was an older Batman. But that's really fascinating to me because, well, what if when you're Spider-Man, you're not a kid anymore? This has been a full-time job, and your body is starting to show some wear, even though it's way more slowed down than it would be for a regular human being.

But there's a lot of rich stories in there for, what about the guy who's been Spider-Man for 15 years? What's his outlook on life now that he's been around fighting crime for so long, he has bills that are now with a spouse, and with a kid? Other comics have touched on this a little bit, but that's what my short film will be doing. I was planning on doing it last year, but then obviously everything [was] pushed [because of the pandemic].

I even hired this woman, Jessie [Pridemore]. ... She's a costume designer that was on one of those cosplay competition shows on Sci-Fi. I had hired her to make me a Miles Morales suit. It's made for me, it fits me like a glove, so I already have that. So I want to do that.

I want to write a feature and maybe try to sell it, just like the gentleman who wrote the Apollo Creed movie did, where he was like, "I wrote the script. I thought it was good." Then somehow Stallone saw it, and then he's like, "We have to make this movie." I would love to have this Spider-Man be that, which would be great, along with another short film. That's where my headspace is at. I'm in the writer mode.

He's been busy with projects

I've been such in writer mode that I haven't really done other acting projects in the hiatus, except for a show called "Helpsters," which is a Muppet show on Apple TV+, a kid show. Honestly, compared to "Morbius," "Morbius" was No. 1 of my days on set, and "Helpsters" was 1-A. It's right there. Because I had never been around puppets before, and Muppets of Jim Henson's caliber. All of them are genius. The one guy, Marty Robinson, is also Snuffleupagus on "Sesame Street" right now, also Telly right now. Watching them work, especially with how it works, they are geniuses. I kept on telling them every five seconds, "Y'all are geniuses."

Also, you're performing. You're not only controlling this thing with two hands, and there's another puppeteer who's helping you out controlling the mustache that twitches or whatever, but then you're also so funny and so perfect as these characters, and I'm the human that's in it that's fumbling through everything. But that was a real dream.

I can't wait for people to watch that episode of "Helpsters." Because it's great. I don't have many nieces or nephews, but friends of mine who also have kids, I'll be like, "This is a thing that your kid could watch that I did." They're not going to believe that I'm the same person. "Helpsters" was cool.

Then there's another sci-fi short that I've written that I'm also in the middle of producing because the pandemic obviously screwed up a lot of those plans. But it's a sci-fi short that Tricia Helfer was going to be in and Chandler Kinney, who's in the new "Pretty Little Liars" that I mentioned, who's going to be in it as well. It basically is an episode of "Black Mirror," if it was "Total Recall" also. I'm itching so hard to get it done finally because I wrote it two years ago, and I've recently started to do the feature version of it. I'm writing the feature version of that.

There's another short that I did called "Lillian." That was me and Stephanie Beatriz.

The incredible compliment Gary Oldman gave him

I was going to ask you about ["Lillian"] because it's based on your true love story, isn't it?

Yeah. What's interesting is, I'll never forget this moment. It's the first time that I really realized, "I would love to play Spider-Man in a movie, and I don't know if that's possible," but it doesn't matter. Having that goal somewhere where that's the thing, and anything that serves that purpose, that's what I'm going to try to manifest.

This was on the evening of hosting the Art Directors Guild Awards that they had asked me to host. That was a situation where the prior year was Patton Oswalt. I was like, "Are you guys sure? You made a huge mistake hiring me." But it was such a blast, it was really funny. I wrote the bits with my friend who also writes for "Helpsters."

The night was a success, and Gary Oldman gave me a really big compliment that night. He was like, "Not every actor could also host." I was like, "Thanks. Good luck at the Oscars next week." ... I felt someone's hand on my shoulder, and I turned around and it was Gary. We had briefly met five seconds before that because I was going to introduce him on stage. The stagehand had said, "That's Johnathan, he's the host. He's going to walk you out." ... Then a few minutes later, I felt this hand on my shoulder, and I turned around and it was Gary. He's like, "Hey, I was watching some of the stuff you were doing ... You're good. Not every actor can do both and be so charismatic." Immediately I went into deflection mode obviously, and I wanted to be like, "You don't know what you're talking about." Or, "Well, what about you? Because blah, blah, blah." But I was so stricken by how wild it was that this was occurring, that I was able to sit in it and be like, "Thanks, Gary."

It was wild, wild times. But all that is to say that after the evening's success, we went upstairs because we were in some hotel. Actually, we were in the ballroom of the [Dolby Theater] ... where they host the Oscars. We were upstairs in the hotel later and my brother was waxing philosophically about the things that were happening in my career at the time. Which, at the time, I was in the second season of "Lethal Weapon." I was like, "I need to start writing a short. I need to start writing something. Right now. This feeling that I have, I need to start doing something that is serving the purpose of being Spider-Man."

Because I'm very fortunate for where I was at the time, and doing something like that black tie event for the art directors, and then also "Lethal Weapon," and other things that were happening at the time. But then all of a sudden I was like, "I really need to do something for myself." The next day I started outlining "Lillian."

Johnathan Fernandez on turning his love story into a movie

What was funny is that I'm such a nerd, and I gravitate toward sci-fi, and the occult and things that, immediately, I was like, "I'm going to write something genre." Instead, I was like, "People always say write what you know." I don't know what drew me to it, but for some reason I was like, there's this one thing that happened, this one scenario that occurred in real life between my now wife and I, that was such a pivotal moment in my life, that I was like, "That could be something really special if we're able to write it and produce it the right way." That's what "Lillian" ended up being.

The broad strokes were my wife and I were together for six and a half years in college and out of college, and then we broke up for an entire year. During that year, a lot of bananas things happened obviously, between both of us, and between us and other people.

Four months into our breakup, my wife called me out of nowhere, and we hadn't spoken in ages. She was like, "I need to see you tomorrow. Be somewhere by Penn Station tomorrow at whatever time." I was like, "Okay." I was on a date at the time, and it ruined that date forever. There was no going back. I did have to go back into the date, but I don't even know what I said the rest of the night because I was so baffled by this conversation I had with Lauren [Fernandez].

Then we went to go meet at the Triple Crown, this fine Irish sports bar that I'd been to after many days at UCB. I'd been there a bunch of times. It was right around the corner from UCB. In she came, and we had this existential conversation where we were like, "What are we doing? What does anything mean?" Then she left.

Then a lot more heartache happened after that before we got back together. But the short [film] was that scene. The short is basically me at the first date, leaving the first date, and then having that conversation. Stephanie played my wife, Lauren. The stuff I like to write is very dialogue-heavy and kind of existential in a way. It lent itself to what I like writing, where it's like dramedy. Sometimes things are funny, sometimes things suck, and sometimes you're tearing your heart out of your throat as you're also laughing at something. That's what the short was.

Then when I asked Stephanie to do it, and she said yes, and now I can't imagine ... She's such a big departure from what Lauren is in real life, that it was really interesting to see Lauren's character come to life through Stephanie in this way, I would never have imagined.

Then Keesha Sharp directed it. I could focus on performing because I had never done anything like that at the time, that really had something so heavy that I needed to perform in a heavy way. Because usually it was always yucking it up with my friends doing a sketch comedy, or the character in "Lethal Weapon," very goofy. It was a very unique thing.

The actor is forming a production company

[On "Lillian"]

Since then, I've finished the full feature version of that, which is chronicling the entire year. Stephanie said she would do it. Lyndon Smith was in the short, Lyndon Smith said she was going to do it. Emily Rickards, who was on "Arrow" for a billion years, she would be in it as well. Now it's a matter of ... it takes forever for these things to come together. But it's really special.

I think it's a cool, romantic comedy that is not taking cheap shots at anything, and not being stereotypical in any way. All these things are percolating. It's a matter of which one starts first once the world opens up a little bit more for indie filmmaking and stuff. ... Part of the pitfalls I had in writing it were things where I'm like, "No one's going to believe that this actually happened." People are going to think that this is some dumb schtick that's being put in here for a plot device. But no, this Looney Tunes thing actually happened to us. On paper, how do you make that palatable because people won't buy it because it's so nuts?

I told some people the story of my relationship once, and they thought I was regaling a soap opera. Those are good stories, though.

Hundred percent, and that's why I ended up going to that. Because getting that out of my system then allowed me to get the sci-fi film done, or written. It was a nice base coat, basically, for whatever's going on internally, and in my brain, and emotionally, so that once that was out, it gave me more freedom to be like, "All right, how do I create a new world," but then also using real life experiences to funnel that through?

I feel if I started the other way around, it wouldn't have been as strong, because I didn't have that foundation yet for what I thought my voice would be for these kinds of things.

Also, I formed a production company, and that's where my first short was produced through. But we're currently in the middle of getting funding for development projects, and wanting to be this ground up diverse production company that produces for all people, by all people, and that doesn't focus on purely heavy stories.

Obviously there's a world, a very necessary world, for stories like "12 Years of Slave," and things that are very socially heavy. But at the same time, I'm constantly craving the non-white version of "When Harry Met Sally." I know things are happening ... You have Issa Rae's movie that she did, "The Photograph," and ["Always Be My Maybe"] with Ali Wong.

I want more stuff like that, where people are being people and it's not rooted in suffering. Basically for white people, and white audiences, that exists. They have the heavy stories, and they have the fun or frivolous stories. A lot of times the ones that are taken more seriously from non-white people, it would only be taken seriously if it is this heavy, heavy story.

He's ready to explore his heritage onscreen

I'm actually complete Afro-Latino and not African-American at all, so I speak Spanish at home. My father's Honduran, my mom's Colombian. Our stories of my parents' immigration is not a border crossing. Many immigration stories are not border crossings, and are not in a raft boat coming from Cuba or whatever. A lot of my focus has been as well trying to get more of those stories out there so it's not this myopic view of what it means to be Latino, or Latina, LatinX, any of those things.

Because everybody comes from so many different places. It's an entire continent, plus Central America. I want to have those stories where it's like, these are people being people in all walks of life, and not the heaviest moment of one type of person where you're trying to cross this border. Because that's such a small view, and I hope that studios started looking at the grand landscape of those things so it's not just Mexican stories, Cuban stories, Puerto Rican stories.

Or the other version of it, the white version of those things. A white Argentinian, a whiter Chilean, or people who aren't indigenous and all. That's where my focus is, trying to put together this development company to make sure that those voices have loud, loud megaphones, and can also be fun. Can be both heavy and also fun because you also need that escapism.

I understand the need for both. You want to see something documented in the most realistic way possible because the story hasn't been told before. But there's also room for the other side of things where, let's have some escapism because the real world sometimes is real heavy, and you want, at least for an hour and a half, to take me away from this thing.

On championing accessibility in Hollywood

I'm disabled, so I often have these conversations about why don't we have better representation for disabled people? It's exactly what you said. It's always the serious side of things. You rarely have a fun romantic comedy. So I think that's the way forward. Unless people start writing their own scripts, and getting those stories out there, we're not going to have accurate representation.

For sure. There was a movie I did with Sam Daley and Bill Crossland [called "Catching Up"]. Bill has muscular dystrophy, and he's in a wheelchair. He put me in his movie.

Basically I got a random audition from a random source through my agent. Then I found out that the film that they were going to do, the short went to Sundance. I was like, "Send me the short. I would love to see the short." My wife and I were at a wedding in the Berkshires, and we were sitting in the hotel. I was like, "Do you want to watch this short with me?" Then she was like, "Yeah, of course."

We sit down and watch it. Then when the credits roll, she sees Bill's name. ... My wife was like, "Oh, I had a neighbor named Bill Crossland." Then we watched the film, and she was like, "Holy s***, I think that's him. He's been in a wheelchair ... There's no way that this is a different one." I was like, "Really?" She used to babysit him. ... I emailed him. I was like, "Hey, I'm so and so. My agent blah, blah, blah. My wife is Lauren Fernandez." I was like, "Even if none of this works out, next time I'm in town, I'll say 'what's up.'"

Because from Lauren's father's house, Bill lives across the street. Literally across the street. We got along famously, and then he hired me for his movie. My trailer for this movie that had no money was my father-in-law's house. I shacked up with my father-in-law and my brother-in-law, who was living there at the time, for three weeks in small town Pennsylvania.

I would roll out of bed, go across the street to work. I was the only person who was in the cast that knew about the area because Lauren and I have been together now for almost 18 years. This is basically my second hometown, so I was telling people, "The CVS is over here. Make sure you go to Wawa," this grocery store, this gas station chain.

It was wild to work with Bill and being like, "Dude, [how we connected] makes no sense." The movie, I don't know what happened with distribution. Now it's everywhere. But it's one of those movies that when you watch it, you're like, why wasn't this a sensation? Why wasn't this like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" where every single person knows this movie?

Because it's such an achievement from this kid. I forget how old Bill is. He's maybe 10 years younger than me or something. But either way, he directed that movie. He starred in that movie. He wrote that movie and really was more than capable of doing it. The movie's good. It's really charming.

But also I really love the fact that it had high moments of comedy and also high moments of gut wrenching. There's these moments in the movie you want to throw up because it's so awful. But the way it intertwines is great. If Hollywood were to make that movie, especially before people had proper conversations about ableism, for sure it would've been some able-bodied actor playing that character. It defeats the entire purpose of that whole situation happening. Because then it's so fake.

Diversity behind the scenes is just as important

All that stuff, folks in marginalized communities for so long, have been not used for acting or writing because people don't want to figure out a ramp. Silly stuff. I really started thinking about that a few years ago in hearing ... There was this one thing I heard, this was in the early, early days of the pandemic. It was a SAG-AFTRA panel.

This one actress was talking about how she's so worried about what working is going to be when she gets back on set because she's deaf, and her primary mode of communication is lip reading. But everybody's wearing masks. The tears fell instantly from my tear ducts. So many people have so many issues that make their lives so challenging. The least you can do is give them a chance to be the awesome person that they are, that everybody else knows.

But you're like, "What, we're going to have to print the scripts in braille? How much is that going to cost? Let's hire somebody who can see." Those are what the conversations end up being. It's not for capability. It's not for talent or any of that stuff. It's someone being lazy and they don't want to figure it out, and keep on pushing, pushing other people out. I'm f***ing tired of that in every single direction. ... Don't say that it's going to be easier to hire someone who's not autistic to do an autistic thing. You haven't even tried. Because if you try, you'll obviously find people that can do that. But hopefully the tide is slowly turning with that stuff.

I want to be, if nothing else, a big impetus to keep on pushing that forward. I don't want to make Black movies for Black people. I don't want to make Latino movies for Latino people. I want to make movies about people for all people, giving everybody the chance that they haven't had. Because I've been lucky enough to have a chance. That's, a lot of times, all you need.

The fact that you're working behind the scenes to make that happen is really exciting.

None of it has happened yet. Well, besides my short film. At least with "Lillian," I did make a speech that was like, "Everybody look around the room. It doesn't look homogenous at all." You have a Black female director, and you have a Black Latino lead. Stephanie is a Latina, queer lead. Then you have Lyndon who's white and Eastern European, I think. That made up the core cast.

Then you have a female AD, and we had an Asian cinematographer. I was like, this is what the f*** it should be like. I know this is a small movie that has $0, but it all comes from the top. If someone prioritizes that, it will happen. If someone at the top is like, "I want to hire these types of people," then it'll happen, instead of the insular thing that always happens where, "I want this cinematographer and I'll tell them to hire whoever they want."

If that's the case, they're going to say, "Well, I don't know any Black camera people," and be like, "All right, well, whatever." I guess they just don't exist?

Johnathan Fernandez would love to work with these stars

Are there any dream actors or directors that you're still wanting to work with?

Man, that's a good question. I think it's really hard to say. Because my taste is constantly shifting sands. There's people that I would've said five years ago that I would want to work with, and now I don't know if I feel the same way.

I really like Edgar Wright. I always have liked Edgar Wright a lot. Really want to work with Denzel [Washington], especially Denzel directing something. It would be really, really great to be directed by someone like Denzel. I don't know, someone like a really actor-y actor because you have such a different experience from being directed by somebody who was an actor first.

I'm not saying that directors that are straight-up directors don't do good jobs. They definitely, obviously do. But there is a different kinship and trust that you automatically have because you know that this person knows what it's like to be on this side of things. It was really great working, Kenny Leon, who's one of those people. He directed Episode 8 of "Gossip Girl."

Speaking of Denzel, Leon directed Denzel in "Fences," and is a theater person, and was originally an actor. Working with him is so different. Because he knows. He knows what you're thinking, knows what the traps are for an actor. Knowing that Denzel has directed some stuff, it'd be really cool to work with somebody of that caliber. Because then the whole time, you almost don't want to work. You want to watch this person work. Even shadowing him as a director would be really interesting.

I shadowed Eric Laneuville on "Lethal Weapon," and that was mind-boggling because I really want to direct as well. I'm hoping to be able to shadow at some point in the near future, but the sets have been so closed, and you haven't had too many visitors and stuff. But I think that's my longish short answer. Someone like Denzel specifically, being directed by him would be bananas.

But then also the other side of it is "Scott Pilgrim" is one of my favorite movies, as is "Shaun of the Dead." I watch a lot of British television. I like a lot of British comedies.

Do you know who Rich Fulcher is? He's an American, but he was in "The Mighty Boosh," and then he did a show with Matt Berry, called "Snuff Box." He's the resident American comic actor in Britain. I'm like, "I want to do that," and work amongst those kind of people. Because I gravitate ... All those people, like Richard Ayoade, and "The IT Crowd," and "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" is one of my favorite things ever. I instantly got "Fawlty Towers" the first time I saw it when I was a kid. So many Americans especially were always like, "It's so different." I was like, "I'm so into it."

The amount of times I've watched "People Just Do Nothing," the series, now, it's obscene. Like I said, my wife and I watched it so many times. That's Part B of the dream. The dream is to be the resident American actor in British television.

Johnathan Fernandez is proud of his Gossip Girl role

Before we wrap up the interview, anything else you need us to know about "Gossip Girl," or any other projects you're working on?

I feel very proud of being able to portray a very loving single Black parent on ["Gossip Girl"] with a Black child. Both of us are biracial, of course, but showing that, where nothing about it is caricatured ... Everything is pretty realistic. I think in that way, I feel very fortunate, where amongst all the hijinks of "Gossip Girl," especially in our scenes together, we play very grounded characters that are a great portrayal of these relationships, that are not a dime a dozen on television because they don't really exist like that. Or they do exist, but not in any ubiquitous way.

I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity from Josh Safran, and the people at HBO, and Cassandra Kulukundis in casting, to be able to do that, and write it in such a way that feels powerful, and not some joke, or some thrifty version of what seems it could be the real thing.

My wife and I started a foundation. ... The business exists, or the non-profit exists, but we're trying to basically rewrite curriculums in school. What we really want to do is have racially motivated staff development for existing teachers so that they know how to teach these books that have diverse characters.

Because a lot of teachers in general, but especially white teachers, they don't have the vocabulary, or the experiences, to even disseminate the information from the books to the kids, because it's awkward for them. They don't want to feel they are racist themselves. They probably are and it's not their fault. It's just their socialization. That's the thing that we're trying to do, is how do we get to that root level so that teachers can feel comfortable teaching stuff?

We were ahead of the game because now everywhere you're hearing about racial theories and not teaching them in schools, and it's this whole battleground, like everything else is in America, all this. We were already talking about that before that even became a topic of discussion nationally.

We're trying to figure out the best way to do it because there's such an unfortunate resistance to that in this country. Nobody wants to learn, nobody wants to talk about things that are so obviously awful, and the basis of what this country and the world has been built on. We're trying to figure that out, but it's called the Johnathan and Lauren Fernandez Foundation.

The genesis is hilarious because we were like, "Let's just donate diverse books to elementary schools." Then we realized, my wife is a former educator, and we were like, "Wait, we can't do that because the teachers don't have the language on how to use these tools. What good is giving them these books when they don't even know how to use them, or they don't feel comfortable using them?" Then we were like, "Well, that means we have to get to the teachers." Now we're in the nascent stages of trying to figure that part out. It's like my father always says, and he is not at all the first father to say this, but, "If you want to do something, you got to do it right." The Band-Aid is donating books. Anybody could do that. But then it's the education behind the books, and if you're really trying to work on social reform from the ground level, it's not as simple as that. But then you need to create the platform, and then open up the ears. That's the part. Nobody wants to welcome it with open arms.

"Gossip Girl" is exclusively available to stream on HBO Max.