PHOTOS BY MICHAEL SCHWARTZ WORDS BY Elizabeth Wallace
Diving Into Comedy With Single Parents, Writing New Music, and Parenting “Blindly And With Love,” Leighton Meester Is Trying to Keep All The Balls in the Air.
Leighton Meester isn’t a single parent. But she plays one on TV.
As mom Angie D’Amato on ABC’s Single Parents, Meester is funny. But she’s been seriously humbled by portraying a single parent. “This character obviously has a lot of challenges and experiences I’ve never faced,” Meester says of Angie, a paralegal whose partner left her when Angie was pregnant, “which is part of why I wanted to take it on.”
The beloved Gossip Girl alum has become a parent since the time she created teen pop culture and fashion icon Blair Waldorf, who reigned devious on the Upper East Side private school circuit from 2007 to 2012. After meeting another TV character from the aughts with a cult following, Adam Brody, aka Seth Cohen on “The O.C.,” on the set of their film The Oranges, Meester married him. The famously private pair had a daughter in 2015.
The actress was cast on Single Parents a couple years after she became a mother herself, the timing of which is just serendipity, she says. “The fact that I’m a parent now has informed my decisions and helped me every step of the way, both with the challenges of being a parent, and specifically of doing it on your own. Luckily I do it with a partner, but even being alone for short stints of time, I give so much more credit to those going it alone."
That partner, Brody, is not only also an actor, but currently her coworker, with a recurring role on the second season of Single Parents, as Angie’s unreliable ex, Derek.
"There is no priority necessarily—the only priority is our family. "
Asked how they prioritize their careers as two working actors, Meester says, “There is no priority necessarily—the only priority is our family. We just take it moment to moment until we figure out what decision will make us happiest and keep us together the most, and we sort of work it out.” Sure, that means sometimes one of them may be away for an extended period on a film set, but often it balances out when the pair are home together for months at a time with their now 4-year-old.
Still, the times they’re parenting alone can be difficult. “Because we are in the same industry, we spend larger times apart from one another. When either one of us spends more time alone with our child—while also spending a lot of time at work, where days can be 12, 13, 14 hours away from your kid—even those brief times, are so, so challenging.” But Meester’s grateful, fortunate to continue to work in a competitive and fickle industry, and to be able to have external help—“which I rely on greatly.”
Just because she has a child now, though, Meester says, doesn’t mean she’s suddenly a parenting expert. “I definitely don’t have any special knowledge, any tips or tricks. I just google everything I don’t know or ask friends. When I’m asked, ‘how do you parent?,’ I say just like everything else, 'blindly and with love. '”
"When I’m asked, ‘how do you parent,’ I say just like everything else, 'blindly and with love.'"
Since Gossip Girl permeated the zeitgeist, ending just seven years ago, the landscape of television has changed radically, a fact of which Meester is quite aware. As such, she’s all the more grateful for the opportunity to work in network TV. “From my point of view, it’s amazing creatively,” Meester says. The Single Parents team of producers, cast, and crew “have been doing this a long time, and have fresh ideas and are very collaborative. You don’t have to conform to the old formula of network TV."
Meester’s proud of the show’s portrayal of single-parent families, something she says many viewers haven’t been exposed to on television. She’s also proud that the show is women-helmed, created by Liz Meriwether (of Fox’s New Girl and ABC’s Bless This Mess) and executive producer JJ Philbin (famed for yep, small world, The O.C.). As for working under the leadership of women, “I wouldn’t say it’s the number one reason” for doing the show, Meester says, “but collaborating with other women in particular has been incredibly inspiring and wonderful for me—it’s such a comfortable space in which to work.” Meester’s also well-suited to the comic genre. “I’ve realized this is a world I like to live in: going to work and laughing with other funny, amazing people, doing a show that is all at once heartwarming and fun and absurd.” She credits her costars, comedy “veterans” Taran Killam (SNL, Mad TV) and Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond”, as encouraging her to “work things out and give my own voice to the character.”
"Collaborating with other women in particular has been incredibly inspiring and wonderful for me—it’s such a comfortable space in which to work."
In the little down time she has from shooting her series about nine months out of the year, Meester’s also carving out a space for another of her passions: her music. She’s written an album and is recording it—her first since her folksy 2014 release Heartstrings, of breathy, dreamy songs—with hopes of releasing new tracks in the next year. “It’s tough to categorize your own music,” Meester says, but she calls it vaguely “singer-songwriter.” Aptly, she’s cited Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and Joni Mitchell as the musical influences she grew up on. Meester would also love to do theater again — she costarred in Of Mice and Men on Broadway with James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in 2014. “I would really like to do a comedy. I did Of Mice and Men, which was not a comedy,” she says, laughing at the obvious. “I would love to do something that is lighter.”
"I would really like to do a comedy. I did Of Mice and Men, which was not a comedy."
Meester’s cautiously optimistic about revisiting Gossip Girl, scheduled for a reboot by HBO Max, with Kristen Bell returning as narrator. “A new generation of kids are coming in, and hopefully people will find their place, and their special favorite characters,” she says of the sequel, which takes place eight years after the original. When the show debuted, the first iPhone was just being released, and Twitter and Instagram weren’t the ubiquitous, all-engulfing modes of communication and sharing that they are today. “It wasn’t the same type of internet world, so that will probably have a huge impact on the show today. I am sure it’ll be really fun, and hopefully it’ll capture the magic and do it differently, in a new, more 2020 way.” The reboot is expected to be a timely commentary on the teens and social media of today.
"Hopefully it’ll capture the magic and do it differently, in a new, more 2020 way."
As to her own social media frequency, Meester says she tries to “remain detached as much as possible. I don’t necessarily get a thrill out of social media, the sort of slot machine effect of likes or followers. It doesn’t feel validating to me in a way that true real-life interaction does.” She does like promoting her charity work and sharing new work with genuine fans, but tries to limit her use “as a precautionary measure.”
"I don’t necessarily get a thrill out of social media, the sort of slot machine effect of likes or followers. It doesn’t feel validating to me in a way that true real-life interaction does."
Blair Waldorf once ruled in the fashion universe, but Meester, now, by comparison, is low-key. Her style, she says, is “more utilitarian needs, a little bit less is less.” She has dipped her toe into the design world, collaborating with Los Angeles designer Christy Dawn to create the Leighton Jumpsuit, proceeds of which benefited the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, where Meester has volunteered for years. “Becoming a mom and getting older, everything starts changing, including your sense of style,” Meester says. “You’re discovering what feels good on you, what you like, and what’s easy.”
NOVEMBER 2019 COVER
THE WALL GROUP
THE WALL GROUP
ASSISTANTS PHOTO: PHIL SANCHEZ, AMANDA YANEZ, DOMINIQUE POWERS. FASHION: EMILY DRAKE, NIKKI WEHBE