To say Leighton Meester is excited for her new show, Single Parents, is an understatement. Not only is the cast and crew "super funny and super nice," but she gets to wear jeans and sneakers on set—a big departure from the regular two-hour fittings she did on Gossip Girl years ago.
But most important, the ABC comedy is about a subject matter she knows well these days: the challenges of parenthood. The show is about single parents specifically, yes, but Meester—who has a three-year-old daughter, Arlo Day, with husband Adam Brody—still finds ways to relate. "Angie is a paralegal and a mom and has very little time to do anything," Meester says. "We use comedy on the show to explore co-parenting and being single parents. I can only imagine it is the hardest job in the world, because being a parent is the hardest job in the world."
That said, she knows every parent's experience is different. "Nobody can tell you what parenthood is going to be like," she says. "You think you know, and then it's just so hard. I feel so, so lucky that I have help and a husband. I feel stable, but there are so many people who don't have that. In a really tender way, Single Parents explores how parenting is an emotional roller coaster."
Here, Meester opens up her own experience, how she's seen Hollywood change since her time on Gossip Girl, and more.
On Single Parents, Taran Killam's character is the type of dad who makes play dough from scratch. What kind of parent are you in real life?
Leighton Meester: I have so much respect for people who do that, but no. People don't get paid to raise their children; if they did, they'd be making a lot of money doing all the secretarial work, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking…even just listening. For me, being home is amazing and being at work is amazing. But I don’t think there’s a balance. I'm lucky I can breathe between each project and appreciate both.
You bring up an interesting point—the trope of how women balance it all. Men rarely get asked that.
LM: I've never heard a man get asked that question. I've been in interviews with male coworkers who are fathers, and I get asked that question and they don't. I was doing the pilot of a show and, harmlessly, once a day someone would say, "Who's taking care of your kid?" I asked my husband, "Do people ever ask you that on set?" He said, "No. No one's ever asked me one time who's taking care of my kid." It's not offensive; I completely understand the instinct, because it is typical that moms do the majority of the child-raising and housework. Even though men are working the same amount, if not at times less. [Laughs.] And women are making less! Parenting is more than a full-time job. You don't get a day off. But my paid work is getting hair and makeup done, being creative, talking to adults, sitting down to drink coffee instead of chasing somebody…it's like a vacation.
So what do you say then when people ask how you balance it all?
LM: I don't think there is a balance. That term is not real. We still aren't forgiving enough of mothers, of working mothers, which is the majority of the population. I think as a society, particularly in the United States, we need to realize that mothers need to work. We don't have an option most of the time, because one parent working isn't enough. Most people can't afford to stay home, but you have to pay a lot to put your kid in daycare. I consider myself so lucky in every way in life, and playing this role definitely enlightened me.
How "method" did you get for this role? Did you ever say to your husband, "Go take a vacation for three days so I can be alone with our daughter?" [Laughs.]
LM: I would never say that, are you crazy? [Laughs.] No, we both try to work when the other one isn't working as much as we can. Inevitably you end up with your kid alone, and it’s hard to do anything beside watch your kid. You can’t shower, you can’t eat, you can’t clean. You don’t go to the bathroom alone. You go to the bathroom with a person looking at you. Every time.
You've been in this business for a long time. How has Hollywood changed?
LM: The last couple years everything has boiled over. It took us the entire existence of humanity for people to sort of, kind of, say women demand respect and dignity and equality in every way. We're still not there, but we’re seeing more women who aren’t in their twenties just have scenes talking about other men. We see women who have flaws that aren't just superficial or quirky or cute. They have deep flaws, like any other male character that leads a show. I think [television today] reflects society a lot more. It’s important to use that to send a message. It starts with casting, with the writers' room, with the people working on a show, and what you put out there.
The Hollywood Reporter reported a few months ago that your cast is all getting paid the same. Is that correct?
LM: We’re all getting paid the same. It helps that a lot of us have the same agent, but of course it's a good thing. They were like, "It’s only fair." I don’t know if that would have been the case three years ago, five years ago. It isn’t unheard of now to talk about what you’re making with the other women you’re working with. And men! A couple years ago I was working with Adam Pally, who I love, on Making History on Fox. Right off the bat he was like, "How much are you making? I’m making this much." It’s the same thing with this cast. It's about being transparent.
Your first TV role was Law & Order. What do you remember about that?
LM: Law & Order is everyone’s first role! Every single person I’ve met from New York was on that show. That was a fun experience, because it was the first time I was ever on a set. I played a girl whose mother was battered, and I had a friend who died, and she was in an exorcism I think. [Laughs.] It’s been a while since I’ve watched it. The truth is, if I’m being totally honest, a set by and large—at least for dramatic situations—isn't really built for kids. But on Single Parents, we have a lot of kids, and I’m amazed with them. They’re more professional than I am! I’m making stupid jokes, and they’re like, "Get to work." [Laughs.] On top of that, they go to school between scenes while I, like, take a nap in my trailer. They work hard, but as long as you have the right environment it’s OK.
We can't end this interview without talking about Gossip Girl. Do you look forward to the day when your daughter can watch it?
LM: Oh, I don't know. I don’t know how to answer that. I meet young women now who are watching it for the first time, and I’m like, "Whoa." It still speaks to a lot of people, so I’m proud of it. It was, in many ways, my college and a first job. It was my twenties, from 20 to 26. It was so much of my growth. I was working five days a week, with 15-, 16-hour days, every day. Many days I didn't see the sun because we were in a studio from 5:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. or 9:00 P.M. But I was in New York, which is the best place to live when you're 20, 21. And the clothes obviously were amazing. I will say, because of that experience, I'm looking forward to wearing jeans and sneakers at work. It's definitely more Angie’s speed [on Single Parents]. It's way more comfortable. On Gossip Girl, we’d do two-hour fittings every week. We'd be wearing ball gowns, but there was a blizzard outside and we’d have to pretend there wasn’t and wear uncomfortable shoes. [Laughs.] But still, so beautiful.
If Gossip Girl came on TV, or you stumbled upon it on Netflix, would you stop and watch?
LM: To be honest, I didn't watch it to begin with because I was making it. I just didn't have the time. Now I'm just like, "I don’t have time to watch an hour show." It’s hard to keep up with a show that’s an hour. I'm better at bite-size pieces. Maybe when I get more free time some day. I don't know when it will come, but it will come someday.
Single Parents airs Wednesdays on ABC.
The quotes in this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.