Leighton Meester is the kind of girl who eats chocolate ice cream.
After six years of watching her fit into the finest of couture gowns on television's "Gossip Girl," we wouldn't have believed it ourselves if we hadn't witnessed it just before our interview. But, then again, Meester is on the cusp of a whole new chapter in her career, and that's exactly when surprises should be the norm, whether they be food choices or projects.
In her new comedy, "The Oranges," out in limited release on Friday, Meester is in great company – including Hugh Laurie, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt and Adam Brody – as Nina, a lost 20-something who returns home for Thanksgiving and hooks up with her father's best friend (Laurie). She's not conniving or devilish about it like we've seen her be on "Gossip Girl" and in "That's My Boy" and "The Roommate." In fact, she even makes you root for her unlikely romance as you laugh and even question the "rules" of relationships at any age.
So, after Meester finished her tasty treat, we quizzed her about those rules, hooking up with Dr. House and, of course, the end of the chapter in her life known as "Gossip Girl."
When you signed on for this film, was Hugh Laurie already attached or did that happen later? What did you think when you realized you'd be making out with House?
I would have signed on years and years prior because I met with Julian [Farino, the director], I would say in 2007 or 2008 … I don't even know who they were thinking for David’s character, but I told him, "I love this part, and I love this movie." And then he was like, "Well, you might be a little young for Nina," and then the movie didn't happen. So then, years later they came back and they were like, "Are you still interested in this movie?" I was like, "Yeah." And by then, they had signed Hugh and that made it even more interesting for me. I had worked with him before [on "House" in 2006]… He as that character is so much more dry and dark and jaded and really macho. This character is completely opposite.
In the film, it's pretty clear that his character is into because you're making him feel more alive and not because Nina is younger. In fact, she gives a great speech at one point when he's trying to break things off with her, saying that there are no rules when it comes to love. Did you agree with that sentiment?
I think the underlying theme of this movie is finding happiness however you can find it, and people find happiness doing weird stuff. I find happiness dancing around my living room; I find happiness sometimes cleaning. Who knows how you find happiness?
We call people selfish for wanting a certain kind of happiness, but if we prevent that then we are the selfish ones. So, at the end of the day, it's all about finding what makes you happy, and sometimes painful change is the only way to find it. You look back at a relationship or a painful breakup or a job you didn't like and say, "God, I am so glad that I went through that. Even if it was hard at the time, I am glad that it happened."
My character goes through a huge change in her outlook . She's sort of reckless in her flirtation and how she seeks validation from men and outside sources. Then she finds a true connection with David, but it might not necessarily be just about him. It's about her and finding a pathway back to her family and peace with them, and to stop running from anything – you need to stop and face your problems, face your fears.
Speaking of outlook, how are you feeling about the looming end of "Gossip Girl?"
I'm glad. The closer it gets, the more happy I get. It's funny because I think it was mostly just the fear of the unknown because I have been on the show my entire adult life – some of the most awkward growth periods of my life have taken place while shooting that. Now, I think I have grown up enough beyond what I am capable of doing on that show and I want to do something different. I think I had all that growth probably <i>because</i> I was on the show and I was capable of doing that <i>because</i> I had a steady work life, but personally I have grown. Creatively is where it gets tricky because you just sort of want to do something different. It's not necessarily the people you work with because I love the people I work with and there is the comfort and familiarity of being there – it's like being at home – but you just don't want to be comfortable anymore.
How would you like to see Blair's story end?
I don't know because I feel like every time there is that seemingly happy ending, it's not real. I feel like there should be a cliffhanger so everyone can know she has a life after.
You know if there's a cliff hanger, you're going to be stuck answering the "Gossip Girl" movie question for decades.
[Unlike a movie], in a show, the arc just continues and never really comes to a head during the six years you film it. Also, you have the influence of what fans like which is very strange. I think that has probably influenced the writing to some extent – who knows if it really would have gone down that road with Blair and Chuck so much if people hadn't responded to it so much… It's like you are acting with a knowledge that this is what people want and, when you do a movie, you just do it, and that's the movie.
I guess everyone else's happy ending would probably be that she ends up marrying Chuck. But I don't know the answer.
"The Oranges" definitely seems like the first page of a new chapter for you. What's an ideal role or direction you'd like to see your career go?
Absolutely, yeah … It's just funny that it would be coming out at the end of my show. I think it's perfect for me, because, if nothing else, it's sort of a confirmation to myself that this is more down the track of what I want to do, characters that are just very different.
I have actually read quite a few good scripts lately, which is rare. I would like to continue doing movies and that's pretty much all I can say. I don't have an ideal role because my ideal is doing a different role every time I work. I just want to be challenged – so probably not play a rich girl for a while.