Forget about Gossip Girl and Blair Waldorf for a second. For the past several years, Leighton Meester has been the best thing in a number of movies, even if the movies themselves — Monte Carlo, The Roommate, Country Strong — weren't the best. Now she is finally in a film that seems to be worth it, the comedy-drama The Oranges. She plays a whip-smart, twentysomething girl who strikes up a relationship with the married older man (Hugh Laurie) across the street — a man who also happens to be her dad’s best friend. Vulture spoke with Meester about her new role, romancing Laurie, and why it's time for Gossip Girl to end.
You did a couple of episodes of House, in which you played a girl with a crush on Dr. House. And now this.
I think the only word to describe this turn of events, the fact that I did that show with [Hugh] when I was 20 and then now got to do this film with him, is cosmic. I've always admired him and thought he was really brilliant, but when I was 20, I think I was a little intimidated: I was on his territory, and it was his show, and he plays this kind of jaded, sardonic, macho, know-it-all doctor who always has funny one-liners. Then, with this character in The Oranges, I think he’s playing another facet of his personality that probably no one has seen: He's very open and sensitive and self-deprecating, and he has a dark side that is really intriguing and beautiful. He's not like a typical dad-type, you know? So it was very easy to understand why my character would fall in love with him.
The film takes place over a fairly long period of time, and you guys are in that relationship for a while. I liked watching how you gradually became so comfortable in it. How did you develop that kind of familiarity?
Before we shot the movie, we all were put in a hotel room together for two days. At first, we were going through a table read, doing some rehearsals, but then the director said, “I just want you guys to get to know each other.” So he basically pushed us in the room, and we stuck around for a couple days. And Catherine [Keener] was like, "Bloody Marys, anyone?" [Laughs.] So we all got to know each other that way. Then, during filming, we were in a house together down the street from where we filmed. So, you know, you can hear Hugh downstairs playing the piano, and I’m upstairs, playing the guitar and singing. And we would all have dinners around the table. It was just really very much like a familiar home environment. As for the relationship specifically, both of us really went into it with the point of view that this is not a relationship that’s meant to be lusty and inappropriate. It is a connection that the two of them have felt probably for some time; they've just never acted on it. He brings out the adult, grown, mature, developed side of her, and she brings out the free-spirited, happy-go-lucky kid in him.
How does doing a film differ from TV for you?
I’ve been doing Gossip Girl for six years, and the arc is ongoing — there’s never really a moment of release. It’s always just tension, tension, tension. Which can be good. But for me, creatively, it starts to get exhausting and sort of tedious. Whereas, doing a film, you do it, and then you’re done, and you can look back at it. With TV, though, I’ve gotten to experience being part of a show where the audience plays a huge part in what’s going to happen. The characters’ relationships are often determined by the audience and what they like. I think the writers are influenced by the audience.
When you’re a young actor, do you find that people constantly give you advice?
I wish they would give me advice more! [Laughs.] That’s the beauty of working with somebody who’s truly talented. A really good example is Allison Janney [who is in The Oranges]. She is completely humble and doesn’t seem to think that she’s got advice worth listening to. But I’m fascinated by her. I think she’s incredible. She’s in touch with her inner child, and isn’t boastful or jaded. She’ll do something so incredible and funny and explosive and fascinating onscreen, and then she’ll be like, “Was that good?” And you’re like, “Are you kidding me? That was inspiring.” But I don’t know what I would say if someone asked me for advice. Every time I think I want to change my approach to acting, I’m proven wrong.
If I have an audition and I do a scene — or if I’m, you know, acting and I’m doing a scene — and I do something different than what my instinct tells me, it’s wrong. And I always have just acted with my instinct. I don’t believe in spending a lot of time preparing a scene and doing it exactly the same way every time. I started acting at a very young age. But I feel like I’ve done the same thing for a long time, and I’m really excited and ready to do something new. You know, being comfortable doing a show is not really what I want to do for a long period of time. There is something very nice and easy and freeing about having a schedule and having a character that you understand and you never really have to think about it, but I don’t want to do that.
Is that one of the reasons why you think Gossip Girl is ending?
I think it’s ending at a beautiful, perfect time. But it’s because our contracts are up. I don’t think anyone wants to stay after their contracts. It’s been an amazing tool to learn from, and I owe pretty much everything — even this film — to Gossip Girl. But I could say, somewhat, [that] it’s my personal growth that has made me want to move beyond it. I was 20 when I started, and I’m 26 now, so you don’t want to be doing the same thing over a period that long. This has been one of the most awkward and great growth periods of my life. I’ve experienced a lot of different things, and it’s just time to do something else.