All of the rumors you may have heard about Leighton Meester are true.
The co-star of TV’s primetime soap opera “Gossip Girl” is a serious-minded young woman determined to keep her Louboutin-loving, lighter-than-air TV character from defining her.
Exhibit A: Her turn in the sensitive, sometimes uncomfortably satirical comedy “The Oranges,” opening Friday.
“It’s a complete 180-degree turn from anything I’ve ever done,” says Meester, 26, of her new role. “This fulfills something within myself that I could never find in my series.”
In “The Oranges,” Meester portrays Nina, a self-involved Jersey girl who comes home to her parents (Oliver Platt, Allison Janney) for the holidays after five years away. While there, Nina drops a bomb by beginning an affair with her family’s fiftyish neighbor David (Hugh Laurie). He and his wife, Paige (Catherine Keener), are best friends with Nina’s folks.
“The love that Hugh and I portray is not some sort of physical infatuation,” Meester says. “It really comes across as a relationship that has respect and a real rapport.
“And that was easy with Hugh. He’s someone I’ve known and I genuinely could fall in love with.”
Six years ago, Meester worked with Laurie on two episodes of his series, “House.” That led to a friendship and a level of comfort that clearly helped when time came to film “The Oranges.”
“It’s not like we’re doing ‘Lolita’ here,” says the 53-year-old Laurie. “The consequences of these characters’ actions are taken very seriously and respectfully. Having said that, having known Leighton from her experience on ‘House’ was an enormous help.”
Born in Fort Worth, Tex., Meester lived for awhile in Florida before moving to New York as a preteen. She had a famously tough upbringing. Both of her parents had dealt marijuana when they were younger, and Leighton was born in a halfway house while her mother served time in a federal prison for trafficking.
“From that, I’ve learned that you can never judge people, because they grow and evolve,” Meester says.
She attended the professional Children’s School in New York, turning her modeling experiences into a career. She moved to L.A. at age 14 and began acting. She did guest spots on more than a dozen series, then nabbed recurring roles on a “Tarzan” re-do and the fourth season of “24” before landing “Gossip Girl” in 2007.
She’s now spent six seasons as the show’s icy, privileged Blair Waldorf — and the final season starts on Monday. But Meester says playing in “The Oranges” gave her a chance to explore where a character “came from and where she might go.”
“That is so satisfying,” Meester says. “I don’t get that with ‘Gossip Girl.’ It’s just episode after episode, for six years. Frankly, you grow out of it. Having said that, I am so grateful to have the show. It’s given me the opportunity to do this film and many others.”
The others include “Going the Distance” with Drew Barrymore, “Country Strong” with Gwyneth Paltrow and this past summer’s “That’s My Boy” with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg.
“Country Strong” allowed Meester to showcase her passion for music. Since doing that 2010 film, she’s launched her own music career.
“The Oranges,” meanwhile, allowed Meester renew her passion for New York.
“The movie’s given me the chance to live in the city and be a part of this wonderful creative community,” she says. “It’s been great for me.”
Meester reveals that while filming the movie in Westchester, she lived with Laurie, Janney, Platt and co-star Adam Brody — all in one house.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Meester says. “We actually did become like a family. Hugh would be playing piano in the den downstairs, while I played my guitar. Oliver brought his kids in and really acted like my dad. We all had dinner together every night.
“I love being in New York. It’s where I’m at my most creative. There’s an energy here that I don’t find either back home in Florida or even in L.A. I use my time here to pursue music and movies. When ‘Gossip Girl’ ends, I’ll be willing to struggle to pursue my music career.
“When I’m not working, I’m walking my dog along the Hudson or watching a sunset on the Highline.”
Or, she admits, there is one more place she can be found: “Back at my one-room apartment to get some sleep.”