For someone facing major career upheaval, Leighton Meester is cool, calm, and collected. To most, Meester is synonymous with Blair Waldorf, the almighty overlord of the Upper East Side on Gossip Girl. While fans have been emotionally preparing for the harsh reality of the show’s final season, Meester’s focus is squarely on her future. In her new film The Oranges Meester plays Nina, a globetrotting party girl from New Jersey who returns home and gets tangled up in a scandalous affair with her father’s best friend, played by Hugh Laurie. We recently sat down with Meester to talk about the film, life after Gossip Girl, and Blake Lively’s wedding, obviously.
The Oranges deals with finding happiness in unexpected ways and places. How do you relate to that and what does happiness mean to you?
I think happiness comes in many forms. I think this film explores that in a really interesting and approachable way. Sometimes catastrophic and seemingly awful things have to happen before you can truly understand your growth and what happiness means. I think that a really good example is David is in a relationship that he’s not happy in, and Nina is traveling around and with all the wrong people doing all the wrong things to try to escape her home, and she had to go home to find what she truly wanted and he had to end a marriage that was comfortable in order to find happiness and things can’t always stay the same. Change is actually what brings happiness the most because if you’re staying the same and you want to find happiness in your situation and you’re not, you need a change.
Hugh Laurie is obviously quite a few years older than you. Was it at all uncomfortable approaching those romantic scenes?
No. I can’t imagine anyone else being able to play that character because he is either this really funny British dude, or on House, he’s is this sarcastic, jaded, macho badass, and he’s not either of those things in this film. He is playing a completely different facet, I think, of his own personality, which is sensitive and open and a little dark, self-deprecating and charming. I think I understand him and I think I understand that facet of this personality now and I like it. And aside from the fact that he’s charming and amazing and handsome and all these things, it made it very easy to understand why you would fall in love with him and to be able to portray that in a non-creepy way is great. I think that from my point of view I root for that love, and it’s not a love that you go, Oh, this is some older guy and some younger girl. I like that. They have a familiarity, they have a friendship. It’s completely understandable why they would seek each other out and why they would be with each other.
West Orange, New Jersey plays a pretty large role itself in this movie just as New York plays a massive role in Gossip Girl. How did working off these two locations inform your role and how were these experiences different?
I’m from Florida, so I think I understand suburban life. I’m from a small island where the streets are really small and clean, and it sort of represents the American Dream, which is you go and you live in a perfect little house on a perfect little street with your perfect little family and you live happily ever after, and that’s not really what it is. I think everyone can relate to that. Even if you live in a big mansion you’re not going to have the happiness that you expect. So I think that’s kind of what it means to live in West Orange. That’s why this movie is set there. It’s these perfect little houses where you live across the street from your best friends, and it seems like it would be your dream to live that way forever, but they’re not happy. As for Manhattan, it’s a beautiful backdrop. I didn’t grow up in New York and I didn’t grow up in the New York that they grew up in.
Few people did.
I know that there are some people who have though, and I don’t relate to that as much but I do understand it.
The last season of Gossip Girl is coming up. Have you filmed the final episode yet?
No, we’re filming the 8th episode on Tuesday and there are 10 episodes, so I have three more episodes.
That’s exciting. Do you feel any trepidation approaching the last episode?
No. I think at first when I started the season, I was like, Oh my god, this is going to be strange, but I think it’s going to be good. I’m happy and I feel like everyone who watches is probably going to be happy. And it’s just time. I think personally I’ve grown a lot. I started when I was 21, and I’m 26 now, so I’ve grown. It’s familiar and comfortable, but it’s time to change that. And creatively more than anything is where I’ve felt the need to expand. It’s going to be very strange. It’s funny how that’s been my destiny over the bulk of my 20s—to do that show in New York. I remember being 12 and being like, I’m going to go to New York and buy flowers to put in the basket of my bicycle and live in the West Village! That’s what I thought was going to happen.
Do you know how you want Blair to end up?
Ya, in a show people go, “I really like you romantically involved with that person” and it sort of influences how you see it and I think how the writers have been seeing it. People like Chuck and Blair together so they’re gonna be like, “We’re going to make them end up together.” I mean, I don’t know, I never get to know what’s happening and they’re keeping it a secret.
What do you think you’ll miss the most about being on set and being involved in that project?
The people. But I know I’ll be able to see them again because everyone is just going to get new jobs. Like when I did this movie I worked with a bunch of the same people, the sound people and stuff. I see those people more than my own family. I think I’m just really excited because it’s like the last six years of my life have been determined by the schedule of Gossip Girl. I get two weeks at Christmas because that’s how much time we have.
What are your post-Gossip Girl plans?
I mean, this was an amazing experience and if I can do movies where I feel this good from now on I would like to do that. Obviously I don’t want to play the same characters again, like a rich spoiled girl. I just want to be uncomfortable and in unfamiliar places.
I think that’s it, unless you want to talk about Blake Lively’s wedding.
Are you from Canada?
Yes! How did you know?
Can you comment at all on Blake’s wedding?
I think they don’t want to talk about it.
We’re not allowed. I had to ask!
I know, I know, everyone has to ask.