Photography by Michael Dallatorre
Leighton Meester came to fame playing Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, but in the two years since that hit CW series went off the air, she’s become so much more than even industry watchers expected. This year alone spent months as a lead in Broadway’s Of Mice and Men (alongside James Franco and Chris O’Dowd), starred in three films (including her wonderful lesbian lead role in the upcoming Life Partners), and married The OC’s Adam Brody (a.k.a. geeky boy Seth). With the release of her solo debut album, the cynics will be on the attack, but the wonderful Heartstrings (available Oct. 28)—which will surely draw comparisons to Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell—means Meester should also be lauded gorgeous lyricism and throaty, haunting vocals you can’t easily tune out. We caught up with her to find out why the actress decided she needed to add singer-songwriter to her long list of accomplishments.
I think a lot of critics will be surprised when they hear Heartstrings. It’s a really intriguing and atmospheric album. Tell me a little bit about “Blue Afternoon.” It’s one of my favorite tracks.
Oh, thanks! I actually wrote it before I even had the melody or the music. I wrote it as a kind of a long poem. And I wrote it when I was visiting — this sounds so silly — I was visiting Barcelona for a friend’s wedding and I missed my flight and so I basically just went back to the hotel and had to spend the night. Luckily, I had my guitar with me, and I had the words to this poem and basically just rearranged it and put it to music. I think it was sort of just an amalgamation of experiences in love. It’s definitely the most romantic or at least wholeheartedly romantic song on the record. I think that even the songs that sort — they’re not necessarily sad, but they have a touch of irony, even the ones that are about being in love. It’s mostly me questioning love, even at its best. So that’s kind of what it’s about, and it’s just about the corny idea of being lost in someone and not being able to get yourself out and being OK with that.
A lot of the songs are about questioning love, which is funny and ironic since you and Adam got married this year. Are the songs autobiographical?
Absolutely. Totally. Yeah, I think it’s good — this is not necessarily an answer to that topic, but it’s just drawing from years of experience. I’m finally putting it out now but you know, I’ve been working on it quite a while.
Tell me a little bit about “Runaway.”
That I wrote when I was visiting Budapest, doing a movie there. I think it was…it sort of just has a pace and a feeling of traveling, just being on the road and away from home and away from the person that you are at home and away from the person that you’re with at home. Also at the time I think I just wanted to convey an idea or capture an idea of when it’s all wrong and it’s over with someone how desperate you feel to keep it going, even if it’s not right. Maybe if you can start fresh again, or if you can get away together, or you can just say: “Let’s hit the reset button and go back to where we started. ” That’s not possible, but the idea is nice.
This was an amazing year for you: You made your Broadway debut, you dropped a new album, plus you have several films coming out, and you got married. With so much happening, how are you balancing all of this?
It’s weird, I think it sounds like a lot, but everything doesn’t come at once. You can sort of space it out. If you’re lucky, there are waves of good times when you’re working a lot and then a month here or there where you have nothing. Then you don’t have to do anything and you can spend time at home or go on vacation or whatever. That’s sort of the nature of this business. I’m just happy to be working, and it doesn’t seem like it’s a lot. Now, I don’t necessarily want to do more than one thing at a time. I used to say I could; I was trying to sort of keep it going. So I would be doing a show and then I’d be doing a movie on the weekend, and then I’d be making music at night. Now, when I was doing the play [Of Mice and Men] in New York, that’s all I did. I wanted to focus on that. I think it’s really helpful because then you really do have your free time when you have it so you can decompress instead of just running somewhere else and doing other work. I don’t know that I’ll always have that luxury. My writing is very therapeutic—which is pretty chill, pretty nice. I spend a lot of time at home and luckily in the last couple of years, the projects that I’ve been doing and the things that I’ve been working on, I’m super happy with and proud of. So it doesn’t necessarily feel like work. And then doing something like this, like an interview, I don’t know if you could tell, but I could talk for hours about these things because I’m so proud of them and really excited about it.
What attracted you to Life Partners?
First, the script: It had me like just laughing and in tears. It really captured kind of a real friendship between two girls. I also really like the message about friendship and I love seeing too the dynamic between women in the film, especially when it’s not all centered around a guy and every conversation isn’t about a man. Just to see the genuine friendship and bond that two women can have.
Also, I was just really thrilled and excited that I would be able to play a character like this. It’s something that I’d ever done. But truthfully, the people that I know or the people that know me, my friends, who’ve seen it, they are like, “It’s so funny, this is the most like you of any character I’ve ever seen.” So it’s good to be able to play something that’s a little bit closer to myself as far as the character’s personality. And then I couldn’t be more blessed with the crew and other cast because just being onset was the best time I’ve ever had doing a movie or anything. I’m so proud of the film and the love that it’s getting and the support. It was just the best time ever with these women — exciting and fun and basically we just got to play and make our own words and just geek out and it was awesome.
Heartstrings, is available Oct. 28. Life Partners will be in theaters Dec. 5.