Leighton Meester: From High School Drama to Parenthood

Leighton Meester: From High School Drama to Parenthood

In an exclusive interview, V caught up with the actress to chat about all things 'Gossip Girl', NYC vs. LA living, parenthood, and her exciting return to television.

In an exclusive interview, V caught up with the actress to chat about all things 'Gossip Girl', NYC vs. LA living, parenthood, and her exciting return to television.

Photography: Milos Nadazdin

Styling: Yana Kamps

Text: AJ Longabaugh

The early 2000s seemingly gifted popular culture with everything it knows today i.e. cell phones, fashion, iconic celebrity beef, and instant messaging (remember when it was called that?). As a teenager during that era, nothing feels quite as timely than the hit show and now forever iconic Gossip Girl.

Among the cast of bright, talented young things, a bona fide standout was indeed, Leighton Meester. After 6 seasons of Gossip Girl, a successful yet brief stint in pop music, and a number of acting roles here and there, the acclaimed actress is now starring in the new, ABC sitcom, Single Parents.

In an exclusive interview, V caught up with the actress to chat about all things Gossip Girl, NYC vs. LA living, parenthood, and her return to television.

It’s August in the city so everybody is gone, and the office is dead quiet. The only things we have to honestly talk about is, like, The Kardashian’s Instagrams, and how smelly it is outside. So like, so much… How are you?

 I’m good! That’s actually, like, making me miss New York [laughs].

You’re in L.A. right?

I am. And, I love it. I love living here, but I love visiting New York and, amazingly, what gets me nostalgic is the smell. Just talking about that sort of urine-subway-smell gets me.

Oh it’s divine. I heard that Diptyque is gonna be making a candle out of it, so it can be right on your fireplace mantle. You can light that whenever you’d like.

Oh thank god... [laughs].

Ok I want to go way back: where did you grow up?

The bulk of my growing up was in Marco Island, Florida. I lived there from the time I was two until I was eleven. A lot of my family ended up staying down there and then I moved to New York when I was eleven. I still see Marco Island as my hometown.

And you moved to New York to pursue entertainment/acting?

Yeah, to act! I had gone to Georgia and met what you could call a "mother agent." It was a small town agency, and it’s kind of like an agency and modeling school in one. I didn’t live there, but I visited a lot because my mother was there. I started working with this woman named Sylvia and she would help cast young girls in local fashion shows and modeling shoots. And you'd basically go to, like, Belk at the mall and they would put on fall fashion shows and you'd walk in the fashion show, but like you’re only ten, and you're at the mall and you have no clue what’s going on, but it still feels like super glamorous and fun. She would also bring a lot of the kids to Atlanta and I that's where I had met my first manager who, the following summer, had me come up to New York and I started meeting agents and doing commercials and modeling jobs. I got a couple small acting roles and I ended up staying there past the summer. I ended up staying for three years, and had my middle school years in New York.

Ok so speaking of New York, let's just dive into the indie show that nobody has ever really heard of that you were part of called, Gossip Girl. How old were you when you got cast in the show?

Well, I moved to LA and I went to high school out here. And around 16, 17, I finished high school and graduated early. I got a couple of little acting things and then I ended up doing a show for about a year in North Carolina. I’m really giving you the TOTAL breakdown, you know.

The beef.

[Laughs] Basically, it went back and forth between LA and New York a few times. But, in more detail, I lived in North Carolina for a year and I came back to LA to audition for Gossip Girl, got cast, and then moved to New York when I was 20. I lived in New York for the entire run of the show, which was six years. And, it was the perfect time, I think. You know? If I could recommend to anybody living in New York, give it six years to fall in love with it. There was a young woman on our set for this shoot for V actually, and she was like, “I’m thinking about moving to New York, I’ve lived here in LA all my life, and what do you think?” And a couple of us were like, “It’s really hard, like, with kids…” because, you know, the city is tough. You sort of get more used to the convenience of LA, and you’re like, “It’s really hard living in New York”. I think the perfect time to live in NYC is during college or just after college because there’s so much culture and so many different types of people, it’s really easy to get around, and truly is such an amazing city. I love New York City, and getting to document my time there with Gossip Girl was a dream of an experience.

Can you recall to me, a little bit about the beginnings of Gossip Girl, and some fond memories or some big moments where you thought “Ok, I’m gonna remember this forever” or when you recognized given advice in the process that still sticks with you?

I went into Gossip Girl, after filming a number of pilots that never got picked up, kind of going, “This has got a great shot. I believe in it. I love it, and I love the character.” When I got the script, at first, they were asking me, “If you had to choose Serena or Blair, which would you want to audition for?” Hands down, I wanted to audition for Blair. I thought that that would be more appropriate for me and was honestly such a better fit. Then we got to New York to film the pilot and there was this instant group feeling of, “Oh, we have something REALLY special here” and everyone just sort of immediately gravitated to each other like a family; we all buckled up together for the ride. The day after the show premiered, there were suddenly a lot of extra people around the set when were shooting on in the Upper East or West Side, you know? A lot of young fans who had seen the show the night before and came to watch the next day... literally the very next day.

I was there the next day.

Really?!

Just kidding. Probably cringing inside and wishing I could have been though.

[Laughs] But, probably the more personal and meaningful memories to me were being on set and forming lifelong friendships and relationships and being able to act with people that I looked up to. I mean getting to perform the dialogue itself was something I always had a lot of fun with. There was a lot of, at least for my character, funny, almost poetic dialogue. The rhythm that they wrote for Blair was so witty and smart, and she spoke with alliteration and this sort of larger-than-life word play all while descending the stairs in the most elegant of gowns. It was just so dramatic. Also, defining and exploring the relationships of Blair and her housekeeper Dorota, who I had so many amazing experiences with. I would say that with her, I worked with as much as or more than anybody. Defining that and figuring out that this character is kind of like my mother and my best friend and my sister and sometimes the only person who I could go to, was such a learning curve. And then, also I thought that the dynamic between Blair and her mother was really hearty, and being able to do that with Margaret Colin was really wonderful.

Forming the relationships I did on set was so easy because I was going to work at the same job, every single day for six years. The crew, the cast, the entire team, as I mentioned before, became a family. And you see them and then you see people you've gotten to know having children, and then you see their children growing up. Like, the camera operator had a two year old, and by the end of the final season, he has an eight year old.

I moved to LA pretty quickly after I wrapped the show because I ended up buying a house and wanted a clear break from my Gossip Girl/New York chapter. I have been really lucky to go back there often for work. Immediately after moving to LA, GG remained existing in my dreams like I was still filming it. It was weird ending the show; that this thing that I’d been doing for so long, that was truly my whole world, had ended. Obviously, when you go through something for that long, eventually, throughout that process, because of it, and separately, you just grow and do something different. I needed to decompress a little bit. I wanted to kind of cleanse my palette with other roles. And so the prospect of playing other characters was really exciting, but of course the reality learning a lifestyle other than having a five days a week filming schedule for six years was tough. Gossip Girl was a life altering experience. I can't even imagine what my life would be had I not had that and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Are you a fan of RuPaul's Drag Race? 

I.. this is terrible, but I’ve never seen it...

Excuse me?!

I’m a huge fan of RuPaul but...

You realize that Blair Waldorf is like a bona fide early 2000s gay icon, right? She could tell a joke and instead of taking a joke would throw snap-worthy shade and could read anything and anyone to filth. Would you ever consider being a guest judge on the show? Please say yes...

I mean, I'd obviously love to be a judge on the show.

BLESS! Shortly after, you began releasing music. Can you talk to me about some of your first memories of music in your life, and when you decided was something that you wanted to create?

I think it goes back probably earlier than I understand or know. Consciously, just listening to music or hearing music, growing up and swaying towards one style more than another and sort of developing a feeling was very real to me as a kid. And then, later on, I think it most likely started as me writing poetry, not music, just words. And then, ended up a few years after that, putting it all together and dabbling in the actual creation.

I started out musically, playing around with friends and making lo-fi songs. And then, after moving to New York, starting the more official production side of things and working with a few producers who I met through working in the city. I started going down a path that, ultimately, I didn’t pursue for very long: pop music. I had a lot of fun with creating pop, but it wasn’t where my heart or sound identified with. Just the whole world of it wasn’t what I really wanted to pursue, long-term. So, I started working by myself a little more and listening to my own voice and what I wanted to say.

Now onto your newest project, Single Parents. It premieres end of September, yeah?

 Yes! September 26th.

Congratulations! Can you tell me a little bit about how the project came to you, and a little bit about your character/the show?

 So, the show is about a group of friends, unlikely friends at that. They’re together because their kids are all in the same class, but it also just so happens that they’re all single parents. My character Angie is a single mom and she has a seven-year-old son. Angie is kind of a "no-bullshit-doesn’t-have-time-for-hardly-anybody-including-herself" type of character. She’s lost her vulnerability a bit only because she’s had to harden herself due to having zero time for anything and everything and ultimately, she's afraid of getting hurt. She’s formed a bond with these other parents for the sake of having someone else watch her child so she can have one day off every couple weeks so that she can be by herself. The fellow parents help each other out, but then Will comes in, played by Taran Killam, and he is the exact opposite. He’s so gung-ho, doing just the most for his child and he’s the classroom parent. He does the arts and crafts, his house is like a toy store, and he's ultimately focused his entire life for his daughter and doesn't have an identity outside of being a dad. Angie and Will's relationship is special because the both of them bring out the best in each other and force each other to open up or toughen up. I think this show has a lot of heart, but it also is really funny and is a really good way to sort of disarm people and reach them.

And you, yourself are a mother. Can you talk to me about taking on this role and the way you've used your own experiences during the process?

I have a three year old and it’s definitely been helpful to walk into this with the experience being a mother myself and understanding the nuances only someone who is parent knows, like being truly sleep deprived and diaper duty and stuff like that. I’m not a single mother, but I BOW DOWN to single parents because even me being alone with my child for an hour or a day is the hardest thing. I mean doing it with a partner is hard, but being completely on your own and dealing with all the difficult times, all the scrapes and the tears, i’m can't imagine how hard it is to go at it alone. I also think all the good times are really hard too because you sometimes want to share how much you love this little human with a partner, you know? The other person who’s part of this little person's life. I think, with each other, these characters in Single Parents form this special group as a support system for each other in that way. Like I said, I hope I’m doing it justice. It’s the ride, you know? I think that a lot of people feel as though they’re not doing this parenting thing well. They’re not doing badly, they’re just feeling.

And, I think that that’s kind of how Angie has been and I'm excited to see how she develops throughout the season. I’m really happy that I get to play this character. It’s really fun and Single Parents is definitely not just for parents. I think what it is, is it’s about a group of single people that happen to be parents. So, of course, you get all the realities of family with this show, but you also get adult friendship and romantic dynamics. It's for everyone.

My younger sister just had a baby this summer and she's a teacher and has to go back to school. And I was like, “Maggie how does it feel? You’ve been with her for three months, every single day, and now you’re gonna have to go back to work?” And she said, “I’d like to tell you that I’m really sad, because I am very sad, but I’m also really excited to hang out with adults again.” So, I think exactly what you said is a beautiful way of thinking about it and I think that’s the key and the importance to the show and the relevance of what it is. It’s adult people who happen to be parents.

 Which is a lot of people in the world.

A lot of people... a lot of people [laughs].

And it becomes a huge part of your identity and I think it’s important to have separation and obviously have connections and conversations with other adults, because otherwise you will go insane. I love being a mother and I honestly consider it the role of my lifetime.

Credits: HAIR STYLIST DALLIN JAMES (THE WALL GROUP), MAKE-UP ARTIST NATASHA SEVERINO (FORWARD ARTIST), MANICURIST MELANIE SHENGARIS (FORWARD ARTIST), LOCATION BEAUTY & ESSEX LA

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