Leighton Meester is known to many of her teens and twentysomething fans as Blair Waldorf in the CW series Gossip Girl with a side career singing pop songs like "Somebody to Love" or contributing the female vocals on Cobra Starship's "Good Girls Go Bad". Her influence in fashion is undeniable. Besides the trendsetting clothes she wears on Gossip, the actress has numerous endorsements, including two new ones: being the face of fashion house Missoni and Vera Wang upcoming new fragrance.
On Friday, Meester takes her acting, singing and fashion to a whole other level when her new movie Country Strong goes in to wide release. The film stars Gwyneth Paltrow as country star Kelly Canter, who is trying to make a career comeback after a stint in rehab. She embarks on a tour that was planned by her husband manager James (Tim McGraw).
Meester plays Chiles Stanton, a beauty queen turned singer who is James' new protege and one of the opening acts on the tour -- which threatens Kelly.
Meester sat down for an exclusive interview:
Q: Your clothes, accessories and hair styles on Gossip Girl set trends. In Country Strong, Chiles' wardrobe was a bit more over the top due to her pageant queen past. How did you like the change?
Meester: "I was totally willing and I liked the pieces she was wearing. I thought a lot of them were really cute. But I will say it was a lot of maintenance from the hair and make-up and the nails. They would lacquer my hair so it was nice and shiny and big. But underneath it was all this hair spray and teasing. I would constantly be putting my hands in my hair saying, 'Can I wash it?' and they were like, 'No.' Keeping those nails on was incredibly annoying and taking off the make-up at the end of the day was a long process. On Gossip Girl, we don't put too much make-up on because we shoot in HD."
Q: You had a couple of cameos this year in Date Night and Going the Distance but Country Strong is a big role and must be a big deal for you professionally.
Meester: "Professionally, obviously because it's something I'd never done before - the music, the character, the setting and working with the people I got to work with. All of it has completely changed the way I feel and think. It made me better. It's inspired the way I write music. Chiles goes through a transformation from writing music that's for other people to writing for herself. Now I write music based on how my heart is. Gwyneth gave me a guitar - a Baby Taylor which I took to Europe and wrote a bunch of songs. Now I use it as a tool to write and it's been wonderful for me."
Q: How is that different than your previous writing experiences?
Meester: "I used a lot of Pro Tools, synthesizers and keyboards. A lot of it is you get a track from a producer and write to it. Now I do it all from scratch, from my heart, from chords I put together and then write entirely on my own."
Q: Are you giving up the other format?
Meester: "I'm by no means abandoning that, but I"m definitely much more in touch with a different side of myself and I feel fulfilled because of it."
Q: All that because of playing Chiles?
Meester: "Because of Chiles, I've become more of a happy person. I'm much brighter all the time. Chiles wears her heart on her sleeve and she's not ashamed of anything she's gone through. Personally, I think this is where I was going. There would be times when circumstances made me not happy I'd wonder: 'Why can't I be happy?' Now I'm much brighter all the time, see the lighter side of things a bit more."
Q: Your shooting schedule was tricky as you had to go back and forth between Gossip Girl and Country Strong.
Meester: "Prior to shooting, we did a lot of rehearsals so there was a lot of back forth from New York to Nashville. I was in Los Angeles and in Nashville recording. Once production began on Country Strong, I would usually start Gossip Girl on a Tuesday and work until Thursday night or Friday morning. Then I'd get on a plane and go to Nashville and shoot Country Strong."
Q: Was the show good about letting you go off and do this project?
Meester: "There were mostly no issues. (laughs) Basically I threatened everyone around me. I was like, 'If we can't work out this schedule, I am never acting again. I'm moving to Costa Rica and turning off my phone.' Luckily, the movie came around at time that everyone on Gossip Girl could be picking up the slack a little bit for me. We don't all do movies at the same time, so we switch off and pick up when some other person can't be there. I think in the fourth year of the show they can say, 'Okay, we know the schedule. We'll allow you to go - or move to Cost Rica!'"