When Leighton Meester asks, “Want to sit in the back with me?” you immediately dismiss motion-sickness worries and clamber up into the black SUV. Meester’s easy, friendly demeanour makes you feel like you’re hanging out like you always do, although you only just met for a ride-along interview en route to the airport.
This Toronto trip is a quick stop in a go-go-go schedule for the actress, part of a media tour she and her friend, hairstylist Charles Baker Strahan, are doing together for Herbal Essences, for which she is the spokesperson.
“I used to use it before, but Charles re-introduced the brand to me, and I fell in love with it,” she says.
Also part of her busy life is her fourth season of Gossip Girl, where she plays manipulative society-princess Blair Waldorf, and three movies she wrapped in recent months.
In Country Strong, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw and scheduled for widespread release in January, Meester, 24, plays a young, Texas beauty-queen singer alongside Paltrow’s self-destructive country music star.
Despite having music in common — the actress fits singing and songwriting into her schedule as much as she can — Meester highlights this role as one of the most different from herself.
“She’s secretive about a lot of her past, about her insecurities and shortcomings, and is very much a little girl in a woman’s body,” she says.
“She looks up to Gwyneth’s character so much, and is totally heartbroken when she’s not what she expected her to be.”
In February’s The Roommate, Meester is a Single White Female-ish roommate to Minka Kelly.
“That’s about as far away from myself as you can get, and the most uncomfortable role I’ve ever played,” she says. “Every day I had to do something completely the opposite of a choice I would make in real life.”
Most of Meester’s characters are a bit bent in some way, whether spoiled and scheming, uncomfortably needy or outright psychotic. The secret to playing them is not to judge, she says.
“You have to embrace and love them, and reach some part of them in yourself, whether it’s completely blurry, vague and distant, or something you can relate to.”
Teamed with Hugh Laurie, Katherine Keener, Alyson Janney and Oliver Platt in The Oranges, also due in 2011, Meester finds herself in another questionable-choices character.
“I’m the daughter in one family who falls in love with the father (Laurie) in the other family.”
The actress says she doesn’t have a list of I-Want roles.
“I’ve been really lucky that the characters I want to play are also in scripts that are wonderful and beautifully executed, and I have time to do it.”