Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester worked long, hard hours for six straight seasons from 2007 to 2012 — and she was just a kid thrown into the limelight. Today, the 32-year-old actress says that the show perhaps wasn't the best environment for her, despite how much she cherishes the experience.
Upper East Side socialite Blair Waldorf was actually a very young Meester who'd just left the calm of Florida behind for a pulsating new life in New York and California. Unlike most teenagers who take their time going through school and figuring out what they want to do, Meester told PorterEdit that she went to school in Manhattan with students who, at a young age, felt like they knew what they wanted to do and were already pursuing it. At just14 years old, she herself relocated to Los Angeles and picked up small jobs (piloting, modeling, acting in some commercials, etc.) until she got her diploma by the age of 16.
"Then I started working more because, if you're a kid and you can work as an adult, it's good for your resume," she said in the interview. Her work experience as a kid landed her small roles in episodes of 24, 7th Heaven, 8 Simple Rules, Crossing Jordan, Entourage, North Shore, Veronica Mars and more. Eventually, she earned her coveted role on the CW series.
"It is such an emotionally taxing job because people who are hiring you or not hiring you are judging you based on things that are, in most cases, kind of out of your control," she said. "And hearing as an 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-old that a great attribute is that you are 'really professional' is not a really kid-like compliment. It messes with your mind if you don't take it the right way. It's been important for me as an adult to pursue other things that I feel build up my identity in a separate way, and maybe more so than other people that started [working] later."
Once she got hired for Gossip Girl alongside Chance Crawford, Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick, she was thrilled that the show went on for six years — calling it "the best-case scenario" and admitting that "it doesn't happen often."
But for six years, she worked hard. The cast would typically film for 16 hours a day, five days a week. Meester said she'd arrive to set around 5 a.m. and wouldn't leave until 8 p.m., sometimes never getting to see the sun. And she wasn't necessarily ready to be an overnight sensation, either.
"I was young when I started Gossip Girl — a lot more people were suddenly around and I was being looked at," she told the magazine. "If you don't have the right perspective, you could definitely be confused by people being that nice to you or judging you for behavior that's typical of a 20-, 21-year-old, making mistakes but having to make them very publicly. I'm not haunted by that time, but it's been interesting and helpful for me to look at it and examine it as an adult and go, 'I don't know if it was the healthiest environment.'"
While Meester described her years on the set of Gossip Girl as a "very special time" in her life and that she "wouldn't trade it for anything," when asked if she wants to go back to that time in her life, her answer is consistently no.
"It is like saying, 'High school was an amazing time for you. Do you wish you could go back?'" she explains. "The truth is: It was so special and such a unique, amazing experience, but no, I wouldn't wanna go back to it. I was a kid!"
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.