Madison Drew | 29/12/2023
Leighton Meester is now a part of your annual Christmas film viewings. After being every teenager’s ‘It girl’ as Blair Waldorf, the actress is taking on a Christmas Rom-Com. Leighton plays Ali, in your next fave film of the season, EXmas (Amazon Freevee) where her character is in a festive heated face-off with her ex-fiancée, Graham (played by Robbie Amell) when he finds her celebrating Christmas with his family.
“It's nice. I feel like I can share it with at least my older kid and people and I include around the holidays, it's just so nice to have a holiday movie to watch with your family. It's just such a great feeling about it that I really enjoy both watching and being part of” the actress says on her enjoyment of the project.
Speaking on the process of shooting a Christmas movie, EXmas was filmed in June, information that’ll shock audiences but will be normal for those involved in making films. “We shot the majority of the movie in a house that was decorated to the nines. Like Christmas everywhere you looked”.
Leighton found her Christmas film debut to be “one of the nicest, warmest environments and experiences and, living in that world is just so fun, going to work every day and everyone laughing and, you know, making each other laugh” she recalls.
“I feel like that comes off in the movie. I'm very proud of it. And I think that that's just how you want to feel with a holiday movie. I think that's what holiday movies do. And on top of it, it's, you know, kind of a kooky family. And then, the romantic element is really nice” she adds.
Leighton joins HATC to unwrap all that 2023 has brought her, delving into the important role therapy has in her life and how she juggles mum life, self-care, and work. Plus, there may just be an adorable four-legged animal that’s arrived just in time to join her family’s Christmas.
Family is of high priority to her. Leighton has two children with her husband, also actor, Adam Brody. During the filming of EXmas in Canada the mother-of-two was grateful to have her family around her during the long shoot days.
“It was a wonderful environment for them. And there was a lake, and they were going out on boats every day. It was just such a lovely summer with my family there.” she says “But it was five days a week, every moment I was at work, so I only got to be with them on the weekend, but it was ok as they were with their dad, and they were having a great time.”
She expresses the complex nature of juggling family and filming “It's like these really intensive work schedules and then nothing for months. I'd rather that than like five days a week, every single day of the year.but honestly it is like there'll be five nights of the week that I'm not there to put them to bed and so I guess it’s exchanging those intensive times for like really peaceful times with nothing going on.”
“Being a parent, it's hard on both sides. Because when I'm at work, I miss my kids so much. And when I'm at home, it's hard because I want to be creative and do my job.” She says.
From teen drama Gossip Girl to gritty drama Netflix’s The Weekend Away, Leighton has done it all since her TV debut at a young age. The 37-year-old talks about her love for Rom-Coms. “It’s what I like to watch, I feel like it's such a nice world to live in. And comedy, in general, I think is just so stimulating, and enjoyable to take on. I'm always really lucky. And I'm working with people who I admire and think the world of. I really can learn a lot so each time I do a comedy, I learn by observing, and of course, having a lot of laughs. It's a very enriching experience.”
The nature of shoots can impact an actor’s personal life. Speaking about her time filming hitting psychological thriller, The Weekend Away (2022), “I really loved the actors and the crew, and the location (in Croatia) was amazing.” she reminisces.
“There was so much to enjoy about the experience, but once we were on set, it was heavy, dramatic scenes and you know that no matter what you sort of have to enter that similar mindset. And it brings you down”.
“I don't necessarily take that stuff home with me, as people say.” She states.
“But at the same time, I think I can get caught off guard sometimes, because I'm like, oh, that does affect you even if you're not necessarily going to stay in this mindset for the rest of my, you know, the rest of my filming. You can't help it, it seeps in.”
“I have been in therapy for over a decade” Meester says “and I don't think it's something that you just do and then you stop, and then everything's all good. I think that much like relationships, and I mean, having a home, your body and physical health, the mind is the same, you have to work on it.”
“And things can come up that feel like they set you back. And then you have to work on that again and new stuff happens and, so it's an ever-evolving thing that there's a goal of feeling at peace, but life is filled with all kinds of drama, tragedy and mystery and things that we can't control” she says “So having the ability to examine and unpack why I am the way I am or sort of excavate things that are uncomfortable and analyse them is how I can sort of see the real me.
“How I can get through hard things. I know that this probably isn't just unique to me but going through a challenge, like a lot of the time, I don't…I sort of want to avoid it. I think that that’s normal.”
“But also, just anything that worked for me during more fraught times or times when I wasn't looking within? it's better, the things that sort of served me and got me through those times. Those things, those coping mechanisms that I would use myself, which they're not necessary in the same way anymore. So, finding new healthier ways can be a challenge, but it's something that I am setting out to do. And I think that's better in my life, and hopefully, for the rest of my life to be able to do that and you know, I'm okay and I can feel safe and emotional.” Leighton continues.
“I think just therapy is so all around the thing that I feel like is long-term helpful to me. And it can make sense of a lot of things that are otherwise very confusing. “
It’s the simple things that make Leighton happy. Getting her nails done, spa days, surfing at the beach, spending time with her kids and dinner with her girlfriends are her ultimate self-care. “Those are enjoyable. And I think therapy is not enjoyable all the time. I think that's sort of the point.” Leighton believes in the importance of finding the time to care for yourself. “It's the same as, I think your relationship with yourself or therapy, I mean, a marriage or a friendship, or, you know, any kind of relationship. “
Leighton makes the comparison of her health to the upkeeping of a house- essential “It’s having an apartment or a home where you move in and you go, my God, I feel so settled, I feel so good. And then you go, well, that wall, I could put a picture up,, then the faucet (sink), is dripping. And so, you have to call a plumber and deal with that. And then there's a leak. “Leighton explains.
“Nothing stays the same, things influence it and change it. And so you have to always be maintaining it. And the same with relationships, you have to be able to roll with a different person and their personality and what they're going through…” she pauses.
Leighton is interrupted by someone wanting to come into her room- a four-legged someone.
“Sorry, she wants to be in the room!” Leighton apologises as her new dog enters the chat.
Her dog has been in her family for just a month and the actress is already in love with her new companion. Her family waited four years for a new dog, the reason for waiting was for wanting her youngest child to be a little older and in school, “Then we found her and she’s the right one.”
After a moment to adore Meester’s new dog (rightly so) she shuffles back into her relationship with her wellbeing.
“You need maintenance because stuff happens. And for friendships too or a relationship. Stuff comes up, and you got to talk about it, things are ever moving, breathing, that I have to nurture and, and I feel like I lose track of that for myself.”
“A lot of the time something will hit me later, that I didn't sort of know, in the moment was bothering me, or even something from 30 years ago. I'm like, why am I upset about that now? And it's because you didn't fix it at the time or look at it at the time. So now you are and it's a privilege to be able to feel your feelings,” she says.
“That's not something that I think I did for a very, very long time. But now I'm doing it and it's work but it's I think it's worth it.”
As we head into 2024 in just a mere few weeks when we speak, after all her years in this industry, Leighton is still excited for work. Having a baby during COVID and the recent actors strike are just a few things that she’s experienced recently that have made her more raring to go. “I feel so excited and ready. And I've been really lucky in being able to pick what I'm working on next and make that work with my family”.
She speaks candidly about her life being super normal even after being a TV icon on Gossip Girl “I mean, I don't feel like I'm in the public eye. That just might be my small world that I'm in and I don't feel like I have to answer to that sort of, preconception or that I have to sort of change anything about myself or my life. To fit that.
“I don't change anything; I walk out my front door every day. I don't hide. So that's nice.” She expresses.
The valuable time with her two children that her profession gives her she is appreciative of “I can pretty much drop them off and pick them up from school every day. And we have dinner together and breakfast together every day, and our weekends are spent together. And most of the year, it's like that. “
In terms of goals for 2024 and onwards, Leighton has Costa Rica and Indonesia on her travel bucket list. “I think about travelling a lot. I love travelling. I'm sure that work will do that for me too.”
Looking at her favourite travel memories from this year, “I just did a mom and daughter trip to New York, and we had so much fun. We might be making that an annual thing.” She tells. Describing a typical cheesy Christmas NY getaway “We saw some shows. And you know, went ice skating. and saw Radio City, Christmas Spectacular, that show with the Rockettes. “
“Every year, I end up going to Europe, which is so nice. I went to Italy in September. And I loved it so much. I know that I'm not alone in that. And now I'm like, I need to go to Italy every single year. This is so nice. “
Travelling and work are on her horizon. “My husband’s starting a show in January. So, we usually kind of toggle and trade off a little bit.”
“Yeah, who knows? That's this life. I don't know what I'm doing next. And what I'll be working on. I used to go think I might never work again! And now I just got home so I should just enjoy the downtime” she says.
After spending her morning in LA and us being in a dark December UK evening, HATC wishes Leighton a lovely Christmas- just a short eleven days away from the big day.
“Is it snowing?” Meester asks if there’s been snowfall across the pond. Alas, London has not witnessed any snowfall this winter- just a huge amount of rain and cold weather. Very different to what winter in LA is like with high temperatures of 25 degrees or more. “I agree but it’s so nice!” Leighton exclaims. Whatever the setting is like, it’s sure to be a cosy Christmas to end the 2023 chapter.
Amazon Freevee’s EXmas starring Leighton Meester is streaming now!
Words Madison Drew
Creative Alice Gee
Photography Paris Mumpower
Stylist Tabitha Sanchez
Hair Eduardo Mendez
Makeup Cedric Jolivet