Leighton Meester: City Girl is Country Strong
By: Lynn Barker
We know pretty brunette Leighton Meester as NYC socialite Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl. This year, while also working on her TV show, Leighton went to Nashville to play a stage-shy country music wannabe in the new romantic drama Country Strong even though it meant a really tough schedule filled with music rehearsals, constant plane flights and character confusion.
Kidzworld is meeting with Leighton in Beverly Hills. She looks all glam/country in a cute denim Derek Lam dress as she tells us how she did a lot of YouTube research on both female country singers and beauty pageants (her character Chiles claims she’s “Miss Dallas”). Leighton finally turned “a bit evil” to watch titles like “Beauty Queen Falls” or “Beauty Queen Buys her Sash on E-Bay”.
Kick back and let’s visit with Ms. Meester who tells us first that she’s single now but hasn’t given up on love.
Kidzworld: Let’s talk one of the major themes of Country Strong. Do you feel that love and fame can co-exist?
- Leighton Meester: I would like it to. I haven’t really been faced with that yet. I’m just doing work and that’s what I focus on now. But, I love, love and I want it in my life. I have a lot of it in different ways. When it comes, I welcome it and when it isn’t there, it kind of sucks to be honest [she laughs] but you have inspiration coming from other places.
Kidzworld: Do you think love has to be the foundation when you are hoping to go out with someone else in the same career field?
- Leighton Meester: Yeah. If it’s just that you have your careers in common, [it won’t work]. People say to me, ‘Well, if you have trouble, don’t date actors.’ Well, who else am I gonna date when I work 24 hours a day? [we laugh]
Kidzworld: Which character do you identify most with? Blair or your Country Strong character Chiles?
- Leighton Meester: They are completely different. I think Blair is larger than life and does things that I would never do. She’s very manipulative and conniving in this heightened reality whereas Chiles feels like somebody who I know or maybe a part of myself. She’s a lot of things I want to be.
Kidzworld: You and hot Garrett Hedlund play a couple in the film. Did you know him beforehand? How was working with him?
- Leighton Meester: I had met him. We have the same agent, but we had a chemistry reading together. I walk in and he’s sitting on the floor. I felt very drawn toward his character. Obviously, Beau is the knight in shining armor but [Garrett] lends a totally different flavor to it with his sweetness and his vulnerable side which changes the character completely to suit him. He’s great and wonderful to work off of.
Kidzworld: You have a couple of scenes with Gwyneth Paltrow. Did you two get a chance to talk and bond before, during or after?
- Leighton Meester: Yeah. As an actress, I really admire her because she is incredible but, as a person, everybody loves her because she is so generous and, off camera, she’s very funny and down to earth. She’s just a down, cool chick.
Kidzworld: Kelly [Gwyneth’s country music superstar character] gives Chiles seven or eight pieces of advice. What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten and who did it come from?
- Leighton Meester: Well, not necessarily from my family. Anything that would come from my family would be like ‘Okay, cool. You’re working. Go take out the trash’. I think the best advice was from this director Julian Farino [/The Oranges/] who was very supportive of following your heart. If you are doing what you love, it doesn’t matter if a smaller percentage of people like it. At least you like it.
Kidzworld: Were there any young country singers that you took moves or sounds from to play Chiles?
- Leighton Meester: Yeah. We would go to lower Broadway in Nashville and see singers [there] and [my director] Shana is like ‘Now that’s the beginning’ then we went to the Ryman [Auditorium] and saw Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood; these huge stars, very comfortable in that atmosphere.
Kidzworld: You have performed your music. Would you be happier in the small club or on stage in a huge auditorium?
- Leighton Meester: I don’t know what’s more nerve-wracking; standing in front of a small crowd and having everyone boo you or having to stand in front of a crowd of ten thousand people with them all cheering and you have to be really confident. This movie has taught me to sing and write from my heart though.
Kidzworld: Chiles starts out frozen with stage fright. Can you relate to that?
- Leighton Meester:Yeah. It terrifies me when I have to go up on stage.If I ever have to do any kind of public speaking or be up on a stage in front of people, my hands are sweating just thinking about it, honestly. It really terrifies me.
Kidzworld: You had to fly back and forth from NYC and Gossip Girl to Nashville to shoot this. What was the most difficult thing about that pressure? Slipping back and forth into two characters quickly or just the exhaustion?
- Leighton Meester: I rarely find myself physically tired because I do get a decent amount of sleep. It’s putting your priorities in order. I’d be going back and forth and be on the plane and say “Where am I going? Who am I now?” But I chose to do that and I enjoyed it. Luckily we had a lot of rehearsal time [on Country Strong] that got my head switched to the [Chiles] character. The thing about Gossip Girl, I’ve been doing it for about four years so the dialogue comes so easily.
Kidzworld: You grew up in Florida so how hard was getting the Texas accent right?
- Leighton Meester: I had a dialect coach. He seemed to say I got it pretty easily. It was hard on set with everybody doing their Tennessee accent which is different but it was fun. I fell into it and I still drop back into it sometimes. A lot of people in my family are from the South so I sort of drew on certain things that they say. It’s a different, slower way of talking.
Kidzworld: Chiles really wants to learn new things. She is using flash cards while on tour in the film. Any further education in your future or any subject you would like to take classes in some day?
- Leighton Meester: A couple of years ago I was thinking about that because that was about the time I would have been graduating from college and I didn’t go but I’ve had a lot of other life experiences. I’ve always read a lot and that’s part of my life that I enjoy. It’s how I decompress. I love to live in a little fantasy world sometimes which can be good and bad. Then I decided I want to be really smart so I started reading books that you would read in college and started educating myself that way. I read all these classic books.
Kidzworld: Wasn’t joining the Gossip Girl cast sort of like going away to school?
- Leighton Meester: Yeah. When I moved to New York it was like that. Everybody in the show had moved at the same time and we all hung out and shared life experiences.
Kidzworld: What do you wish the show runners of Gossip Girl would let Blair do or have?
- Leighton Meester: I want a cute guy to be honest. She’s not gonna be with Chuck for a minute so she needs someone else. I really liked it when she was dating the Prince for a while.