Leighton Meester has mixed feelings about her time on Gossip Girl.
For six seasons, from 2007 to 2012, the 32-year-old actress played Upper East Side socialite Blair Waldorf on the popular CW series (adapted from Cecily von Ziegesar's novels). Meester had been working for years, after leaving her native Florida behind for New York and California.
As Meester says in the new issue of PorterEdit, in Manhattan, "I went to school with people who at a really young age felt like they knew what they wanted to do and they were pursuing it." At 14, she relocated to L.A. and picked up small jobs—"a pilot most years, some modeling, commercials, stuff like that"—and then got her diploma early at age 16. "And then I started working more, because if you're a kid and you can work as an adult, it's good for your résumé."
Meester found success, booking small roles in episodes of 24, 7th Heaven, 8 Simple Rules, Crossing Jordan, Entourage, North Shore, Veronica Mars and other hit programs. But auditioning took its toll on the actress, who had few major connections in the early days of her career. "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. 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," she says. "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."
The actress was a relative unknown when she was cast alongside Chace Crawford, Penn Badgley, Blake Lively, Taylor Momsen and Ed Westwick in Gossip Girl. "It's the best-case scenario that a show could ever go for six years," Meester explains. "It doesn't happen often."
The cast of Gossip Girl would typically film for 16 hours a day, five days a week. "I would get there at 5 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m.," she tells the magazine. "A lot of days I didn't see the sun."
The series also turned its stars into overnight sensations. Looking back, the actress realizes she wasn't ready for the sudden fame that came her way. "I was young when I started Gossip Girl. A lot more people were suddenly around and I was being looked at. 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," she says. "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.'"
"Everyone has their own journey, especially in their early twenties when they're just figuring out who they are. Because of the success of [Gossip Girl], I was put in a place where that journey was sped up. I had to figure it out quickly and with not a completely developed mind to discern between what's real and what's not, who I can trust and who I can't," the actress says. "I got really lucky and was able to very early on find and stay friends with people who are true."
Meester describes Gossip Girl as a "very special time" in her life, but as many of her former co-stars have said in past interviews, it's not necessarily something she wants to revisit. That being said, the Single Parents star admits, "I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's sort of a time capsule. A lot of the questions that come from it are: 'Do you miss it?' 'Did you love what you wore?' And I understand that, but—and I say this with nothing but love—it is like saying, 'High school was an amazing time for you. Do you wish you could go back?' And 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!"