Actress Leighton Meester vaulted into the pop culture vanguard in the fall of 2007 as the anti-heroine Blair Waldorf on the teen soap, "Gossip Girl" (The CW, 2007-13). Prior to her star-making turn on the popular show, the young Meester established her credentials with a voluminous list of television credits that included episodes of "7th Heaven" (WB/The CW, 1996-2007), "Veronica Mars" (UPN/The CW, 2004-07) and "24" (Fox, 2001-10). She graduated to a regular series role on the short-lived action drama, "Surface" (NBC, 2005-06), and had a recurring role on the equally fleeting "Shark" (CBS, 2006-08). Throughout her small screen career, Meester cleverly juxtaposed cattiness with doe eyes and a fresh-scrubbed, angelic face, all of which served her well as the shallow, intelligent, but ultimately good-natured fashionista on "Gossip Girl." Meester veered slightly from that formula when launching her film career, appearing mostly in low budget, direct-to-DVD offerings, where she took on a slightly broader range of razor-witted, high school alpha females - all of which promised greater things to come.
Born Leighton Marissa Claire Meester on April 9, 1986, she spent her earliest years on Marco Island, FL, and at age 11 moved with her mother to New York City. In just three years in the Big Apple, she signed on with Wilhelmina Models, was shot by famed photographer Bruce Webber for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign, and, at just age 13, earned a guest role on NBC's hit New York-set crime drama "Law & Order" (1990-2010). With her career burgeoning, the family moved to Beverly Hills, CA, where Meester attended Beverly High School as so many stars-in-training had before her. In October 2002, the Meesters found themselves unexpectedly mired in scandal when Leighton's brother Douglas was accused of raping an 18-year-old cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. The case - stemming from a dorm tequila party in which her brother admitted he had consumed 17 shots - became the first in the broader sex scandal that engulfed the military school, with more a than a hundred female cadets past and present coming forward to say they had been victims of sexual assault in the decade previous. The dark cloud hung over the family until a court martial in June 2003, when a military judge ruled that the alleged victim had consented to sex, dismissed the felony charges, bringing in a lighter sentence of a reprimand and $2,000 fine, without jail time or dismissal. Leighton attended the trial with her family, and, relieved at its conclusion, she returned from Colorado to LA with her own future brightening.
That fall would see her first regular television and feature film roles, the former in The WB's curiously contemporized - and Batmanesque version - of "Tarzan" (2003), the latter, more curiously, in the DVD release of a wholesome Christian "horror" film, "Hangman's Curse." Though cancelled after only eight episodes, "Tarzan" put her in the mix for TV guest-shots calling for bright, comely teen females. She opened more eyes in 2004 with a two-episode stint on HBO's "Entourage" (2004-11), playing the sultry-yet-virginal-yet-horny pop singer based on a pre-meltdown Britney Spears. The next few years would see her pop in and out of a variety of shows, including "7th Heaven" (WB/CW, 1996-2007), "24" (Fox, 2001-10), "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" (ABC, 2002-05), "Veronica Mars" (UPN, 2004-07) and "House M.D." (Fox, 2004-12). In 2005, she returned to regular-cast billing in NBC's sci-fi drama "Surface," another short-lived effort. Meester peppered her TV work with a handful of sub-stratum feature films, including a sly comedy-horror flick with cult potential, "Drive Thru" (2007), in which she received top billing and delivered, according to one critic, a "flawless performance" in attempting to thwart a fast-food spokesclown run amuck. She also appeared in the broadly panned 2008 high school ensemble comedy "Remember the Daze."
With her background in New York's model scene as well as Beverly High, she was particularly equipped to render from experience when "Gossip Girl" called. Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, creators of TV's last buzz-worthy teen soap, "The O.C." (Fox, 2003-07), had optioned the "Gossip Girl" series of books by Cecily von Ziegesar, which followed the libertine meanderings and sometimes vicious social machinations of a clique of upper crust high school kids through the filter of its namesake gossipeuse, who "blogs" to fellow teens via text message. Reuniting Meester with her beloved New York, the show centered on Blair and her once and (maybe) future BFF Serena Van Der Woodsen (Blake Lively), who has returned to their exclusive Upper East Side prep school after a mysterious exile to boarding school. It also detailed the twosome's past (ongoing?) love triangle with Blair's ex-boyfriend, Nate (Chace Crawford). "Gossip Girl," whose true identity is part of the ongoing intrigue, narrates the ensemble's crisscrossing plotlines as the kids tread fine lines between friendship and nervy competitive tension.
Proceeded by the novels' popularity among its key young, female demographic, the show hit the ground running in September 2007, even if not so measured by traditional Nielsen ratings, where it did not register in the Top 100. But, apropos to the show's trend-echoing new media hook, it fared much better with young fans via digital, on-demand metrics, such as online streaming, DVR playbacks and iTunes downloads. In fact, the latter by November 2007 registered two "GG" episodes in its top five of all TV shows purchased. The CW ordered up eight more episodes to complete the first season - upon the settlement of the 2007-08 writer's union strike - then in March 2008, renewed the show for a second season.
Meester, for her part, drew raves as the show's calculating, self-aware Queen Bee, whose perfect fashionista façade masked welling insecurities. Variety called her "a predatory junior Joan Collins who practically breathes fire out of her pinched, perfectly WASP-ish nostrils." As big a measure of her new "It" status, it manifested in a regular feed of tabloid buzz on Meester, from rumored off-set antipathy between her and Lively to whispers of romances with co-stars Crawford and Sebastian Stan, from the People beauty accolade to a selection by Us Magazine for its April 2008 "Hot Hollywood" feature compendium. However Meester's new television star status did not immediately translate to big screen success, with low budget, direct-to-video thrillers including, "Inside" (2008) and "Killer Movie" (2009), released with little attention. Meanwhile, Meester proved to be an aspiring musician, signing a recording contract with Universal Republic with plans to release her first album in the fall of 2009.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Landed first professional acting role on an episode of "Law & Order" (NBC) as a dead teen's classmate
Made feature film debut in "Hangman's Curse"
Played Chandler's new girlfriend in season eight of The WB drama "7th Heaven"
Guest starred as pop singer Justine Chapin on the first season of "Entourage" (HBO)
Cast on the short-lived series "Surface" (NBC)
Co-starred in the independent comic-thriller "Flourish" with Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer
Landed breakthrough role as snobbish socialite Blair Waldorf on The CW drama series "Gossip Girl"
Played the female lead in the comedy-horror film "Drive-Thru"; appeared with "Gossip Girl" co-star Penn Badgley
Reprised her role of Justine Chapin on season five of "Entourage" (HBO)
Appeared opposite Steve Carell and Tina Fey in the comedy "Date Night"
Portrayed beauty queen-turned-singer opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in "Country Strong"
Played the obsessive and violent title character opposite Minka Kelly in "The Roommate"
Co-starred with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg in "That's My Boy"