Tar Heel Tomboy
Ashlan Gorse reached the top of celebrity journalism, and is now looking for a new challenge
From the Print Edition:
Stanley Tucci, September/October 2013
Ashlan Gorse says she’s a “tomboy.” And a “Southern belle.”
“I’m totally into cars. Crazy about cars,” she says. Then she pauses, a brief panic in her eyes as if she might have forgotten some talking points, and rapidly adds, “And shoes. I love cars and shoes. And I’d like a glass of wine as well, but that’s probably not advisable behind the wheel. I’m a tomboy, but at the same time I can be very girly.”
Gorse, 32 years old, laughs before launching into a story about how she all but stalked BMW executives and the PR department in trying to jump to the head of the line two years ago to assure getting one of the few limited-edition, all-electric cars being manufactured. That didn’t work, but she didn’t give up.
“So I got online when the reservations opened at four o’clock in the morning, and I signed up and I got it. I love it. I love that little car. It’s the Active E, in white. They only made 700. It’s so fun to drive. All torque!” Gorse has to give the car back to BMW a little later this year. She has her eye on the new Tesla Model S. She previously test-drove the smaller Tesla roadster. “It goes zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds. You have to hold on to the steering wheel because of the force pushing you back into the seat.”
Gorse, who grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, is all about perseverance. She was, until very recently, what is broadly called a “TV personality,” but that would not be precise. Gorse was a correspondent and anchor on “E! News” and is engaged to Philippe Cousteau (Yes, of that Cousteau family. Jacques Cousteau was Philippe’s grandfather). The wedding is to be just outside of Paris.
“I’m an entertainment reporter,” Gorse specifies while puffing on a La Aurora robusto at V Cut Cigar Lounge on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, where she has lived since 2006. (She picked the cigar in honor of her late Siberian husky, named Aurora.) Gorse left the University of North Carolina in 2002 with a degree in broadcast journalism. She moved to New York City and got a job at NBC as a page. That led to gigs at “Access Hollywood” and MSNBC, where she learned the TV business as a field producer.
“I was the only woman doing that there, and I would go out and cover stories,” she recalls. “I would show up in these cute little outfits. I would not give in when it came to fashion.”
Gorse says she knew what she wanted to be the first time she saw Cindy Crawford front MTV’s “House of Style.” Gorse was 10 or 11 years old. The show, which debuted in 1989, featured a variety of supermodels and celebrities. It ran for 11 years focusing on models, music and youth culture. And she knew again when she saw another show.
“I was watching ‘Wild On’ with Brooke Burke, (Each episode featured a bikini-clad Burke sampling the food, culture and nightlife of exotic locales around the globe.) and I remember telling my parents, ‘That’s what I want to do, mom and dad!’ And they were like, ‘Um, okay, sure.’ I’m just so lucky to be able to do it,” Gorse told Beverly Hills Lifestyle magazine in November of 2011.
Gorse has done her share of modeling, and her looks and figure attract notice. She is 5’11” and has been featured in magazines that display the female form in relatively skimpy garb. At V Cut, Gorse is wearing wedge heels that add at least four inches in height. One of the patrons, a show biz agent, asks if Gorse plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, the local WNBA team.
While living in New York, Gorse bought her first cigar. She was in a shop on the Upper West Side getting a gift for her father. “The guy was really helpful in helping me pick out a few cigars for my dad and he gave me two for myself.
“I started smoking cigars with my dad. My dad is just an awesome, fun guy. He had smoked cigarettes, but gave them up and started smoking those Swisher Sweets.” Gorse laughs and recalls, “In high school, we would just sit in the backyard listening to crickets and I’d take a puff of his cigar every once in a while. As I got older, he’d start to give me my own. Once he was in Canada on a business trip and he brought back some Cuban cigars. For me, smoking a cigar reminds me of the times being with my dad and being in North Carolina with the crickets.”
On her own in New York, and with cigar training under her belt, good times were at hand. “I’d get with my girlfriends and we’d go on the roof of our building and smoke cigars and we thought we were so cool.”
In 2006, Gorse left New York, spent two weeks in North Carolina figuring things out, and then she and her father drove to L.A. Gorse didn’t have a job lined up, but decided it was time she “dove in.”
“I figured that if I was going to do it,” she says about pursuing her dream of becoming an entertainment reporter, “then I’d better go to where I could make it happen.” She had been on air some at MSNBC, but not much, and not long after she arrived in L.A., contacts she had made at her old job put her in touch with the people at Life & Style Weekly. She talked her way in.
“They didn’t have anybody representing the magazine out here. They had an east coast editor, but they didn’t have a west coast one and I convinced them to hire me. And they did. Literally, I became a talking head for the magazine. Anyone who wanted to know anything that was in the magazine that week, or if there was some breaking entertainment news, they would call me.
“I was on everything from the ‘CBS Early Show’ to CNN, Headline News, ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ ” Gorse laughs long and loud as she remembers. “It was the best experience. Awesome. The best experience possible.” Living in Southern California, the mild weather gives Gorse more time for cigar moments. “I love a good buffalo steak, a great Cakebread Cab, then go outside and have some Port wine with a cigar.”
“My go-to cigar brand is Davidoff. I always know what I am getting with them.” Davidoff is also Gorse’s dad’s favorite, along with Cuban Montecristos “when he can get his hands on them.”
“My preferred shape is corona or toro. I can’t do the really big torpedoes because I don’t have the patience or the time,” Gorse explains. “After an hour or two—with my Port wine accompaniment—I want to drift off to sleep. Plus, I do think it looks kinda silly to see a woman holding a cigar that’s twice as long as her hand and triple the size of her thumb.”
Gorse says that just going to buy a cigar can be interesting. “When I walk into a cigar store or a cigar lounge, everyone just stares at me. You could hear a pin drop. I don’t know if it’s the height or the blonde curls, but I do tend to look a wee bit out of place. It’s when I curl up next to the counter and start talking to the guy,” and Gorse says it’s always a guy behind the counter. “I put him at ease and he pulls out the reserves. I have three 20th anniversary Ashtons I’m waiting to break out. I think they’re going to finally be smoked over the wedding weekend in France.”
After a year at Life & Style, Gorse heard “E!” was looking for people for its online service. “I had been on ‘E!’ because of the work with the magazine, so they knew me. And when I went to audition, they called me two hours later and offered me a job.” After a year, Gorse got a big break.
“I was working at ‘E! News Now,’ the online video service of ‘E! News,’ ” Gorse explains, “and they asked me that Christmas if I wanted to substitute anchor. And I said, yes.” She makes “yes” sound like “Duh!” She was an anchor/correspondent from December of 2008 until mid-2013.
If you’ve been a devotee of entertainment news shows over the past few years, you’ve likely seen Gorse on TV or on the web. In the world of Hollywood reporting, the reporters are interviewed by other reporters about what they’re reporting on, and that’s why you can find the very adept Gorse all over YouTube today. It’s a cross-promotional, self-propagating kind of existence. You would not be surprised that over the past few years Gorse has said things like, “I love awards shows. Awards shows are what I live for,” she says on the video documenting a photo shoot. “It really is Hollywood at its best.” Gorse is asked probing questions like what her best interview was, and she tells how she reacted to it, “Holy crap!” Gorse says. “I just interviewed Meryl Streep and she said I was good.” She is asked what her worst interview was and sounds quite candid, saying, “Demi Lovato made me wait for her for six hours once.” In Canada. In the cold. And perhaps the most incisive question of all: “If you could home-wreck anyone . . . .” And before the question is finished, Gorse answers, “Johnny Depp.” Then she told of how Depp kissed her on the cheek after Gorse interviewed him.
At the 2013 Gracie Awards, honoring the accomplishments of women in media, Gorse was put in the position of answering what “inspirational” advice she would give the troubled celebrity Lindsay Lohan. Gorse didn’t miss a beat and stayed positive.
“Stick with it, babe. You can do it.” Very graceful and gracious.
Now, Gorse is intent on reinventing herself as an “adventurer” and “content producer” in developing a travel show with Cousteau, who is a special correspondent for CNN International, as well as an environmental activist and consultant. The plans are not concrete yet, but Gorse says, “I just want to go and explore the world. This is the time to do that.”
Gorse says she met Cousteau in 2010 while attending a speech he was giving at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “He was giving a speech about the BP oil spill and my girlfriend was invited. Fortunately, I lived around the corner and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go.’ We walked in the room—and I’m a very tall person—and when he walked into the room, he was very tall and very handsome. I didn’t even realize—my girlfriend hadn’t told me who was talking—so I didn’t even realize it was him. So, then we started talking and he asked me where I was from and I said, ‘North Carolina.’ And he said, ‘Oh, did you go to Duke?’ And in the middle of the Four Seasons—in the middle of the Four Seasons—I go, ‘Fuck Duke!’ And he said, ‘Oh, so you went to Carolina?’ And then he followed me around the room all night.”
Spoken like a true Tar Heel deeply invested in the rivalry with Duke. While at UNC in Chapel Hill, Gorse, who says she looked up to Diane Sawyer because she was able to blend hard news coverage with entertainment reporting, was not shy about sharing what kind of journalism she wanted to pursue.
“When I was in college, I wanted to be an entertainment reporter. And nobody else wanted to do it. Even my professors said things like, ‘There’s seven of those jobs in the whole country.’ These days, I get an e-mail, a message on Twitter or a question from a friend of a friend who says, ‘Oh my God. I want to do what you do. How can I do it?’ ” But Gorse says the whole thing has gotten a bit old.
“So, it boomed. The saturation of pop culture and entertainment has completely exploded since I’ve been doing it. And it’s great and it’s fun, but you can only talk about Justin Bieber a certain number of hours in a day. And when I go to dinner parties all anyone wants to talk about is the Kardashians and Bieber and Amanda Bynes and Lady Gaga, which is fine, but that’s what I talk about at work all day and I don’t want to talk about it after that.”
Gorse says she loved every bit of her job. She got to interview all the big stars: Johnny Depp; Meryl Streep; Cher. Gorse used her public perch to help with different charities and to visit children with cancer at the local children’s hospital in L.A., telling the kids stories about their favorite celebrities.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it, but if you just walk in the door and talk to them about your day, about interviewing celebrities or some of the stories I’m working on; if you can make them forget they’re in the hospital . . . They’re just kids. And I think everybody forgets they’re just kids. They’re very sick, but they want to still go out and have fun. Let them forget for a day that they’re sick.”
After working seven years covering show biz, Gorse says she wasn’t “going to grow any more. I had done everything.” She liked being on the red carpet interviewing the glamorous celebs attending awards ceremonies, but she hated the 22-hour days she had to work.
“You know, like with any job, you want to do something new. I wanted to do adventure. I love meeting new people. I want to learn about different cultures. I’ve gone shark diving. I’ve jumped out of airplanes. I really want to go on a safari. And I want to go see the pyramids [in Egypt]. I want to introduce people to places they wouldn’t think of going even if it’s not that far away.”
Gorse explains that the show she and Cousteau are developing will explore the world with a focus on environmental responsibility. She says her relationship with Cousteau caused her to think more about that.
“I was always a responsible person when it came to the environment, but some of those environmental problems that I wouldn’t have thought about before—and I don’t think I would’ve—I have access to them and the research and a whole encyclopedia of knowledge through Philippe, who is really good at answering all my questions. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll find it.”
Gorse is also searching for her own answers. She knew early on which career she wanted and got it. Now she has decided she wants something else.
“I want to go out and I want to tell people how cool our world is. Real reality. Cool reality. And if that’s something I can do for a living, that’s cool.”
Ideally, that will leave little, if any, time to talk about Bieber.
Alejandro Benes lives and writes mostly in Southern California.
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