Having grown up under difficult circumstances in Florida with a family that had a “crazy history,” Leighton Meester began living a very different kind of life as Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl. It wasn’t just getting to live in New York, it was also being able to have financial stability – something she had never experience during her entire life. “I haven’t had the easiest life but I grew up feeling loved and even though we struggled for money it makes you want to work harder to realise your dreams,” Meester explains. “I’m a happy person. I could be happy working as a florist. But I’m also lucky that as an actress I’m doing something that I love and lets me lead a good life.”
Now that Gossip Girl is shooting it’s sixth and final season, the 26-year-old Meester is hopeful that her film career will be equally successful. Over the last few years, she’s begun to shed her posh TV persona with roles in “Country Strong,” “The Roommate,” and “Monte Carlo.” Her new film, THAT’S MY BOY, takes Meester in an entirely new direction as part of a typically manic Adam Sandler comedy. Shot in and around Boston and Cape Cod, the movie centres around a deadbeat dad (Sandler) and his opportunistic decision to re-enter his wealthy son’s (Andy Samberg) life on the eve of his wedding to his dream girl (Meester).
It’s the first time that Leighton has had the chance to test her acting mettle in a wacky comedy, but she more than holds her own against Sandler and Samberg and admits to having had “such an incredibly fun time on the set.” Meester was born into a family where both her mother and father had brushes with the law. She remains close to her father but has cut off all contact with her mother after being forced to go to court last year when her estranged mother demanded money from her .
Leighton grew up in Florida and moved to New York after a talent scout saw her at a models convention in Atlanta and signed her to a contract when she was 10. She remained in New York with her mother until she was 14 and she moved to L.A. to work in TV and film before moving back to New York when she won the role of Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl.
Meester recently returned from vacations in Brazil with a group of friends and a family trip with her father and various cousins in Thailand. In person, Leighton is even more beautiful than her glamorous GG alter ego, wearing little make-up and a floral print summer dress. As her role in Country Strong revealed, Meester is also a talented singer and she recently concluded a 5-city U.S. tour with her band, Check in the Dark.
Q: Leighton, an Adam Sandler comedy is a big change-of-pace from your Gossip Girl world. How comfortable were you doing this kind of a comedy?
MEESTER: I loved doing this. I play a girl who you think is very sweet and wonderful at the beginning and then she gets crazier as the story evolves. Adam has a terrific way of creating the kind of atmosphere where everyone is very comfortable on the set and you’re able to improvise your lines and jokes if the situation warrants it. It was a great experience for me and a lot of fun.
Q: What interested you in this kind of a film?
MEESTER: The biggest selling point for me was working with Adam and his crew and this really raunchy, over-the-top screenplay. It was so funny. There were lots of funny, weird, dirty jokes, cussing, and all of that. I’ve seen almost all of Adam’s movies and I wasn’t sure of how far I could go with the jokes and he would keep telling me to go for it. That was the kind of wonderful encouragement he would give you to take your character to its limit.
Q: How do you keep a straight face during the shooting?
MEESTER: You don’t. We were always cracking up during the shoot and even though my character keeps more of a straight face it was so hard sometimes and Adam and Andy (Samberg) would deliberately try to make me crack up with an odd gesture or expression.
Q: Adam Sandler’s comedies are known for being over-the-top. Is he that way in person?
MEESTER: No. Adam is incredibly polite and soft-spoken. His comic side is this wilder extension of his playful nature but he works very hard and is such a gentleman when you get to know him. Adam has totally changed my perspective about him…I grew up watching his movies like Happy Gilmour and Punch-Drunk Love. His performance in (Punch Drunk) is so inspiring and I admire that versatility. He has a rare ability to connect with his audience. He’s also so nice on the set and he’s always calling you and asking you how things are going. He is such a genuinely good man.
Q: You’re about to shooting the final season of Gossip Girl. What are your thoughts about your time on that show and what it’s meant to you?
MEESTER: I‘ve grown up so much because of the show and being able learn the business and understand what it takes to be a professional. You learn the discipline that comes from working long hours on a set and being prepared to change your emotional register from one moment to the next. I owe so much to my time on the series and the opportunities it’s given me. I’m also grateful for all the friends I’ve made amongst the cast and in New York. I love the city.
Q: Are you sad at all when you think your Gossip Girl family is about to break up?
MEESTER: I’m sure I’ll be sad during the last week of shooting. But right now we’re all ready to do our own thing and move on with our lives and careers. I think we’re ending on a high note and everyone is ready for change.
For me, it’s exciting to be able to work in movies on a full-time basis and get to play many different kinds of characters. I really crave that process of transforming yourself into someone else and being able to live in another character’s world. That’s the escapist side of acting that most actors I know really enjoy.
Q: Can you give us any clues about who Blair will finally wind up with when Gossip Girl ends?
MEESTER: No. And I don’t know and I won’t know until we get the final scripts. I’ve always loved the dynamic between Blair and Dan even though she’s constantly going back and forth with Chuck. Blair finds Chuck to be much more sexually provocative and they have always had this very erotic chemistry. With Dan it’s different. They have more meaningful conversations and she finds something so attractive about that.
Q: You have a reputation for leading a very quiet life for a young star despite getting to live most of the past six years in a city like New York?
MEESTER: (Laughs) I’m not big on going out and getting wild. I’m not into the club or restaurant scene at all. I really prefer to have quiet dinners with friends and usually I like staying at home by myself when I’m working on the show. I spend a lot of time writing and working on songs. I’m not someone who likes being in the limelight and going to the hottest clubs or bars. That kind of life has never interested me. I can be very happy staying at home for two weeks without going out on the town.
Q: What kind of things do you like to do for fun?
MEESTER: I love the outdoors. I enjoy hiking and being in nature. I love the beach and swimming in the ocean and lying in the sand. I grew up in Florida where I was always playing outside and spending time with friends on the beach. That’s why even though I love New York I prefer it during the day when I can go shopping and exploring all the different neighbourhoods which have their own style and flavour.
Q: You’re often descreibed as one of the most attrative women in the business. Are you much of a workout person?
MEESTER: No. I like walking or swimming for exercise although I rarely find time to swim in the city because I prefer the ocean to pools. I do yoga whenever I put my mind to it. My biggest fitness regime is eating very healthy foods and a lot of fresh smoothies and juices.
Q: You turned 26 in April. What did you do to celebrate?
MEESTER: I went to Brazil with some friends. We spent time in Rio and it we had a fantastic time. Travelling is one of the purist pleasures in life. There’s this sense of being free and removed from your regular routines and you learn a lot about yourself by having that space to explore and spend a lot of time thinking. I also took a trip to Thailand with my dad and my cousins. That was also an incredible experience and I would love to go back there.
Q: Do you like taking romantic trips with boyfriends?
MEESTER: (Laughs) With the right guy, sure. I don’t know. I don’t always find it easy to be with someone. I love romance and I love being in love but it’s always hard to see so many people fall in love and then break up.
I’ve thought a lot about how difficult it is sometimes to be in a situation where you might spend a long time with someone and then find out that maybe you don’t love that person anymore. I think that’s what happens to most marriages and why it’s hard for people to stay together. I’m still trying to figure that out.
Q: Having played in a series like Gossip Girl where clothes are such an important component, how big of a fashionista have you become?
MEESTER: A bad one! (Laughs) For the most part I like to wear comfortable clothes. I like jeans and T-shirts when I’m just doing my own thing. I rarely wear makeup when I’m not working and I like a more natural look because I think that suits my nature.
My friends are constantly trying to get me to wear a lot of designer outfits and sometimes I love doing that when I have an event to go to or a film premiere. But otherwise I love wearing bright summer dresses or a loose top with shorts. Nothing too elaborate.
When you grow up with not a lot of money to spend on clothes, you really hate spending a lot of money on an outfit. I love going to small shops and being able to find clothes or accessories for twenty bucks ($20). I get a kick out of that and if you look good in something and it makes you feel happy to wear it shouldn’t matter what it costs.
Q: You’ve also developed a passion for music. How is your musical career evolving?
MEESTER: It’s going well. I’ve realised that I love touring. and I went to Vancouver and Portland and connected with audiences there doing songs that I wrote where I talk about deep things in my life.
Looking back, doing Country Strong (her 2010 movie that co-starred Gwyneth Paltrow – ED) was a great inspiration for me and Tim McGraw gave me his guitar at the end of that film and that led to me play guitar and start writing my own songs. I don’t do country music myself, but I owe my musical inspiration to my experience making that movie.
Q: Do you have a favourite song?
MEESTER: I love Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. It makes me cry. I find it so deeply nostalgic and beautiful. I can listen to it all day. I love songs that create a deep emotional connection to you, that’s what’s really beautiful about music for me.
Q: Do you use your music as a way of talking about some of the more difficult times you had growing up?
MEESTER: The strange is that despite what’s been written in the press I enjoyed my time growing up. I always felt loved and protected and I have a very close family. There were some difficult times just like there are in every family, but when I think about my growing up I have a pretty good feeling. There were more good times than bad and if you look at my career I’ve been so fortunate.
Q: Do you feel you’re at a turning point in your life now?
MEESTER: It’s exciting. Being able to work in films and working with my band and being able to sing and write is something I’ve dreamed about being able to do for many years. Now I have to see what’s going to happen. /Viva Press