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Crude Awakening

Crude Awakening


Leighton Meester, foul-mouthed and playing gay — but not tart

Photography by Diggy Lloyd

Leighton Meester is proud of her contribution to the crass dialogue in the new movie Life Partners, shaped during just a month of rehearsal with its filmmakers and her cast mates. Especially when it involves her insisting she use the word "dick."

Early on in the sharp, heartfelt comedy, Sasha (Meester) shows up for her weekly Top Model drinking-and-snarking date with her BFF, Paige (Community's Gillian Jacobs), only to discover it's been crashed by Paige's new boyfriend, Tim. Sasha's a hot, gay, single mess who's not ready to turn 30 -- or worry whether she still fits in Paige's perfectly arranged life. But she's also mortified at being drastically underdressed for a first introduction, dragging Paige into a private sidebar: "Then I wouldn't have worn pajama pants with a hole in the dick!" Sasha says, chagrined.

"I have to be able to say 'dick,' " Meester says with a laugh. "So, sorry, everybody, but..."

That's one of about a hundred ways that Sasha is a stark, memorable contrast to Blair Waldorf, the uber-chic Upper East Side queen bee Meester spent six seasons portraying on Gossip Girl. But this, she confesses, is the role that best reflects her "gross" off-screen personality. "My friends who've seen the movie said, 'This is you. Not like you -- it's you.' When you're like, 'Oh shit, I shouldn't have said that.' " This is Meester at her most relaxed and unfiltered.

In a later scene, Sasha holds up a flannel shirt and asks, "Is this too Ellen Page?" -- another Meester improv. "We tried a bunch of different things. It was supposed to be somebody from My So-Called Life, but I didn't grow up watching that." When the scene was shot, Page hadn't yet come out publicly, and the two don't know each other. "I just like her style," Meester says, laughing again. "I wear flannel a lot, too."

As Paige gets more serious with Tim (played by Meester's husband, Adam Brody, though she says the casting was coincidental), Sasha scrambles her way through awful dates with older women (including one played by Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon) and flaky young waifs. She drinks heavily with her pals, does the bare minimum of ass-kissing at a shitty Office Space-ish receptionist job, and keeps promising her parents she's focused on making it big as a singer-songwriter, even as her guitar gathers dust.

Leighton-meester-diggy-lloyd2Life Partners (in select theaters December 5) is more I Love You, Man than The L Word, a project Meester thinks was made even stronger by a month of "geeking out 24 hours a day" at rehearsals with director Susanna Fogel and her real-life gay best friend, screenwriter Joni Lefkowitz. "I loved their friendship and their previous work," Meester says. "It's awesome to capture the dynamic of the relationship between these women. I felt very empowered and excited."

Unlike Sasha, Meester has written an album. Produced by Jeff Trott, Sheryl Crow's longtime collaborator, Heartstrings has more in common with the work of touchstones like Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush than the confections Meester dished out during her 2009 pop phase, which included the single "Somebody to Love," featuring a pre-"Blurred Lines" Robin Thicke. "It's utterly different from what I was doing before," she says. "It's got kind of a pop structure, but it's a little bit more dreamy and experimental." She and Trott recorded all of Heartstrings' tracks live in a studio over the course of one week. "And then I went to New York and did a play -- like, hold that thought."

While other young actresses fumble for vague answers about feminism, Meester's four months on Broadway this year opp-osite James Franco and Chris O'Dowd prompted her to pen an English thesis-level op-ed on The Huffington Post titled "I'm Not a Tart: The Feminist Subtext of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men." In it, she addressed the audience's laughter as she died each night on stage. "It was an unbelievably sad thing to do every day," she says. "I know this is a play -- but very slowly, [their reaction] started to hurt. Finally I was able to put it into words."

That tendency to dig deep -- and get a little vulgar -- can make it tough to do bite-size press for a quirky, nuanced film like Life Partners. "This is the gayest movie I've seen," Meester says. "I know it does have a really good message, but we don't talk about it to death."

Life Partners is now on iTunes/VOD and is in theaters Dec. 5. Watch the trailer below:

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