MY NEW YORK: ZÍON MORENO

MY NEW YORK: ZÍON MORENO

MY NEW YORK: ZÍON MORENO

The 'Gossip Girl' star details her layered fascination with New York City and the importance of storytelling

The 'Gossip Girl' star details her layered fascination with New York City and the importance of storytelling

Photography: Nick Freeman

Styling: Sam Knoll

Text: Matthew Velasco

“Luna is who I wanted to be when I was in high school,” says Gossip Girl actress Zíon Moreno about her sassy, over-the-top character Luna La. “She’s how I wanted to be seen, how I wanted to come back at my bullies in high school. I love her, she represents so much.” 

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Moreno always had her sights set on the Big Apple. Watching iconic series like Sex and the City and, of course, the OG Gossip Girl, Moreno was captivated by the bustling energy of the metropolis. Yearning to escape the Southwest, Moreno made a whirlwind decision to move to New York City in 2015. “When I got off the subway into Manhattan, I saw with my own eyes what it was like to be here,” the actress tells V. “It was so gratifying to finally be able to see it with my own eyes after yearning for it for so long.”

Zíon wears Milk Makeup on skin Blur Liquid Matte Foundation & Hydro Grip set + Refresh spray, on eyes Kush Mascara & Color Chalk, on lips Lip Color in Wifey (Dusty Rose) & Electric Glossy Lip Plumper, on cheeks Lip + Cheek in Dash (Light Pink)

Unsure of a career path, the star tried her hand at several outlets when she first moved to New York—modeling, waitressing, odd jobs—before ultimately landing on her true passion: acting. Though you’ll most likely find Moreno hanging out in Bushwick or the Lower East Side rather than the haunts seen in the Upper East Side-based Gossip Girl, her role in the reboot is equal parts nostalgic and boundary-breaking. As a lover of the original series, the role felt natural for the actress: she took inspiration from her high school years to channel the ultra-mean girl energy into Luna, as well as the narratives witnessed in the aforementioned series.

Not only captivating audiences on the big screen, Moreno is finding solace amidst the chaos of New York City through a love of jazz music and poetry. Above all—whether it be acting, poetry, or other outlets—storytelling and engaging narratives are central to the actress’ newly found endeavors. “I'm very much a storyteller, which is why I got into acting,” Moreno admits. “Writing is the truth, writing is life, and that's why I love it.”

Check out episode 4 of V Magazine’s second season of  “My New York” created in collaboration with Milk Makeup.

Stay tuned for new episodes launching every Friday here on Vmagazine.com, the series will spotlight NYC's movers-and-shakers as they guide us through the formative spots in the city that have inspired and cultivated their craft.

Read the exclusive interview with Zíon Moreno below!

V Magazine: Can you tell us what it was like to film the first episode of Gossip Girl on the MET steps. What was the significance and just the all around vibes?

Zíon Moreno: I don't think I was aware of the magnitude of the MET steps when we were actually filming. I remember going to sleep the night before and being just excited to start the show. That's how I usually feel whenever I start something or embark on something new. But I didn't really think about the significance of it. I knew that the MET steps were an iconic character in the original series. But as soon as we were all in costume and dressed up and sat down, we saw a bunch of paparazzi and little kids freaking out. I think it really hit all of us because we were all in the same boat. We were excited to start working on this project that was still highly anticipated because we were originally supposed to start before COVID hit. So we were all just really antsy, but once we were sitting there and people were freaking out and taking pictures of us, I think that's when it really sank in how iconic it was. It's one of my fondest memories of the show.

V: I know that there was a whole media storm as soon as people saw that initial image of everyone sitting on the steps. How did you feel to receive that attention before the show was even released?

ZMIt was crazy, we were in every major publication. It was an overnight media frenzy and we were all just really shocked by it. It felt nice, but also being the introverted person that I am, it was overwhelming because you get that one bad comment from millions and millions of nice comments and you just focus on those bad comments. It was overwhelming, but I think it was also really exciting to see the anticipation that people have towards the show. It felt like something really meaningful.

V: What memories do you have of the original Gossip Girl? How did you come to know the series? Were you a big fan? Did you  know about it before? What's your relationship with the OG Gossip Girl?

ZM: I grew up watching it. It was something that I watched pretty religiously growing up. I knew it very well. Me and my best friend would compare each other to Serena and Blair. I was Serena and she was Blair. So it played a huge role in my life and it definitely fed into my fascination with New York even more. I had a very special place for the series in my heart and when I got the audition for it, I just felt like it was meant to be. It was super nostalgic and serendipitous.

V: What do you love about playing Luna?

ZM: I love playing Luna because she's just outrageous in every way. She's the fantasy I had, she's who I wanted to be when I was in high school, how I wanted to be seen, how I wanted to come back at my bullies in high school. So I harness a lot of those experiences and pain from being bullied and I give it to her and it gives me strength to be this badass being. I love her, she represents so much. She's overcome so much adversity, she's respected, revered, and looked up to. And I think that that's really important for kids. Luna can be a little crazy and mean, but she has a good heart.

V: I want to move to James Veloria. How did you stumble upon this place, this little gem in the city?

ZM: It really is a gem in the city. I just love Chinatown so much, it's so whimsical and it shows different aspects of what you see everyday. One of my very good friends, Juan, who is my stylist, took me there. We're great friends and he knows me very well—he knows that I'm very whimsical and I love living in this imaginary world. So that was the first time I stumbled upon it with him. And it's been a very special place since then. And I just love thrifting and clothes in general. I know it's cliche, but it's a great way to express yourself, you know?

V: And if you could describe James Veloria, how would you describe it? What kind of treasures have you stumbled upon or bought?

ZM: James Veloria is a whimsical otherworldly thrift store that you'll never really experience if you don't go to it. There's nothing else like it. It's wonderful, you can't describe it. It's like this alien wonderful little hole in the wall, literally so difficult to find, it's a gem for sure.

I'm a big jean girl, I love denim. I've bought some jeans from there and then just some cute blouses. They have good designer clothing that I've been able to buy. I haven't bought too much, it's just fun to go there and the people working there are always so fun and welcoming. It's a nice little escape. 

V: How do you think your fashion sense has evolved, if it at all, since moving to new New York in 2015? Have you seen an evolution?

ZM: I definitely feel like there has been a rooted understanding of my style ever since I was young. It definitely has evolved, it's elevated. I've always been extremely feminine with my clothing, very girly. I've been more comfortable and confident in who I am and I'm more comfortable in [wearing] show stopping pieces. And I've also been more comfortable with the darker side of things now, because before I was very much into pastels and the pinks. And I still very much am that girl, but now I'm more comfortable with showing the more dominant side to me as well.

Jacket Canada Goose and pants Mugler (Courtesy of The Webster)

V: I also want to talk about your infatuation with the subway. What do you like so much about the New York City subway?

ZM: The first thing I love about it is the accessibility. I love that you're able to get wherever you want to go in such a convenient and rather quick way. But more than anything, I just love the juxtaposition of this really dark underworld. It's like the underbelly of New York, but there's so much art, it's so vibrant. There's always music playing, there's always performers, stories to be told, people to meet. The subway is the heart of New York and that's why I love it so much. I've always loved the underdog and I feel like it's the underdog of the city. Once you reach a certain point in your career, I feel like it's frowned upon to take the subway, but I will always take the subway. I love it so much.

V: And what line do you frequent the most on the subway?

ZM: Definitely the L. The L is my best friend for sure.

V: What do you love so much about the L?

ZM: It's just so convenient and also very close to me. I also frequent the G. I stick around in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, so it makes sense.

V: How did you get into writing poetry? What age were you and when did you start taking it seriously?

ZM: I started taking poetry seriously when I first moved here after my first heartbreak. It started to flow out of me as something that I couldn't control. It naturally escaped my body and I couldn't stop writing after that. And then I realized I was good and I really enjoyed it, I found it extremely therapeutic and I haven't stopped since. Eventually I want to write my own poetry book because writing has always been a great source of inspiration for me.

I'm very much a storyteller, which is why I got into acting. Writing is the truth, writing is life, and that's why I love it. Whenever I write or read my writing out loud, it transports me to the place I was when I was writing that or when I was feeling that. And I feel like in life that's ultimately all you have, your memories. And I love comparing my growth. I find that's what's therapeutic about it. I understand the woman I was, I acknowledge her, I applaud her, and I move on.

V: What do you like to write about in your poems?

ZM: There is certainly a pattern, heartbreak is usually the main focus of it, or love. But as I've become older and I'm growing more into understanding who I am as a person, I've started to write about the human experience and what it means to be me. What it means to be human. And I'm not shying away from writing about love, but more so just expanding my writing into other outlets. Love will always be my main source of inspiration. I'm a love addict, but I definitely want to showcase what it means to be human. And love isn't everything. It is, but it isn't.

V: When you moved to New York in 2015, what was that transition like? What was your mindset like and how were you trying to adapt?

ZM: When I first moved to New York in 2015, I had no plan, I just needed to get out of Albuquerque. I spent most of my life sheltered there and it was a great place to grow up in. It's quite large, there's a lot of space, my family's so wonderful and supportive. I couldn't have asked for a better family, but I was itching to get out of there. While my family was great, I felt like I wasn't understood or welcomed there very much. I had no plan, I felt there was something bigger than myself waiting for me elsewhere. So I just took a leap of faith and everything unfolded in a beautiful way. I look back at that time fondly and if I hadn't have made that leap, I wouldn't be where I am today. I'm proud of that brave, crazy girl for doing what she did.

My life was extremely different back then, I had no stability whatsoever. My life in New York now is so comfortable, it's very privileged and I enjoy it in a very different way. Even though I had no money back then, I had no housing, I really had no friends, I think I had a much better time than I do now because I was constantly hustling. I was trying to find money, housing, [an] opportunity. It was different, tough, challenging, [and] dirty. I met some horrible people [and] some wonderful people. It was what I saw in movies, I was literally living a movie. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. I wouldn't encourage other people to do what I did, but it was wonderful, messy, and beautiful.

V: Why did you ultimately decide to move to New York? Where did that interest come from? Was it media or things that you read?

ZM: I think a combination of the two. Obviously Gossip Girl, Sex in the City, and books. But also people that I met that had lived here, they would tell me their stories. I love hearing people speak their truth and it just felt so magical. It sounded so magical and it sounded like I would be embraced there. It was the stories of people that I knew that had lived here that really instilled in me that desire to come here and try it out.

V: And during this time when you were figuring it out, how did you stumble into acting and landing bigger and bigger roles?

ZM: I didn't start acting until about 2018. In 2015, I was discovered by Wilhelmina Models and then I started an actual professional career. I had a path to follow finally, it came out of nowhere. And then I modeled for a while and I was assigned to Elite Models in LA. I moved to LA and modeled there for a while, but I never felt like my heart was in it. And I was terrible, I would miss every casting, I never felt good enough, I never felt pretty enough. It wasn't good for my mental health. So I stopped doing it and I completely quit. People thought I was crazy because those were the best agencies in the world.

I just couldn't do it, so I started working odd jobs. I was a waitress, I was a receptionist at a boutique hotel, and I was a maid. All these jobs that weren't fulfilling. But through those jobs in LA, I met a lot of people and I met a friend who was an acting manager. And he's like, 'you have something in you, you should try acting.' And I'd never acted before, I had no training. I'm like, 'you're crazy.' But he kept on insisting and so eventually I caved in, I went to my first audition, and I booked it. And when I was on set for that, it was the first time that I felt like I really knew what I wanted to do with my life. It felt bigger than who I was, and the ball just kept rolling. I kept booking, booking, and booking after that. And I haven't looked back and I just hope to keep being able to storytell the way that I have been and to touch people with my art. 

V: Now that you've lived in New York for a couple of years, what does being a New Yorker mean to you?

ZM: Being a New Yorker is being everyone. It's living in this great megacosm that is inexplicable to anyone that doesn't live here. It's living everywhere at once, it's being everyone at once. Being a New Yorker is art.

V: What do you love most about living in New York City?

ZM: I love New York for a lot of reasons. I love New York for fashion, I love seeing people walking down the street in the most intricate, beautiful outfits. I love meeting people everywhere, I love seeing people everywhere. The energy's palpable, it's something unlike anything else. The best about New York is the inspiration that it grants me. I don't think I've ever been more creative anywhere else than I have been here.

V: Have you had a favorite moment on set so far from Gossip Girl?

ZM: There were so many good moments, we shot at so many iconic locations, and I love my cast members so much. It's a privilege and very rare for all of us to get along as actors. I loved shooting at the Plaza Hotel [and] I loved going Upstate for the final episode, that was really fun. And we went to these random little small town dive bars after we finished shooting. I love going to low-key dive bars with the people I love. Obviously there were lots of great moments on set, but my favorite moments have been offset with my cast members. 

V: What does it mean to feel anonymous in New York?

ZM: There's no r feeling or answer to describe it. When I moved here, I loved the fact that I was anonymous for the first time. I came from a very small city, everyone knew me and it was a different time then. As a trans girl, I wasn't accepted. Trans people still aren't, but things are getting better. I felt like I was looked at through a magnifying glass. And to be anonymous was freedom for the first time, it was everything I wanted. I felt full of hope and full of opportunity. And I was just a normal girl walking down the street that nobody knew.

Being anonymous now is a very different experience. Solitude is a very important facet of my life. Now I'm constantly surrounded by people and working all the time. I love people so much [and] I love collaborating, but to be anonymous now means peace [and] creativity. I always live in a fantasy world, so it feeds that fantasy for me, which ultimately recharges me and helps go back into the world to create art and collaborate with people again. To be anonymous is one of the most wonderful things because to be gawked at, to be looked at, [and] to be criticized is not the most fun thing. Even though I'm criticized and gawked at now for a very different reason, I'd rather it be for my art than for something that I can't help, for something that is who I am.

V: What is the difference between modeling, acting, and writing?

ZM: It's a feeling that you really can't put into words whenever you feel like you're being nourished creatively. And that was something that I never felt with modeling. I was always just told that I was not good enough and that was a very familiar pattern in my life up to that point. I decided to break that cycle, and once I did, I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating beyond that. And not all the projects that I've done as an actor have been my favorite in terms of storylines or in terms of the characters that I portrayed. But they've been nourishing in the sense that I've been telling someone's truth and instilling in any spectator a sense of hope, a sense of visibility of being seen, and of being understood. And I hope I can continue doing that.

V: Can you describe the chaos of New York?

ZM: New York is an alien, dirty, all inspiring, beautiful, welcoming place. And there's really nothing quite like it.

See Zíon in Gossip Girl, season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max!

Credits:

Series creators: Sam Tracy & Czar Van Gaal

Director: Joshua Charow

Executive producer: Kala Herh

Video editor: Nick Freeman

Fashion: Sam Knoll

Makeup: Nanase

Series Beauty Director: Mitch Yoshida

Hair: Matthew Davey

Production Assistant: Carlos Chinn

Special Thanks:

Vision-LA

The Canary Club

Purple PR

James Veloria

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