Leighton Meester’s new role as a sharply-opinionated single mother in the ABC fall comedy “Single Parents” may seem like a departure for the one-time “Gossip Girl” star, but the actress said it’s a role that better reflects her current life and interests.
“I hadn’t been actively seeking [to play a mom], but I think it makes sense to me,” Meester, herself the mother of a young child, said in an interview with TheWrap. “Those roles, by their nature, are given the room to have a little bit more depth. … After having a kid, watching roles come in, I connect to those types of roles more now.”
Much like “New Girl,” co-creator Elizabeth Meriwether and J.J. Philbin’s last project, “Single Parents” revolves around a group of oddballs — in this case, solo parents of elementary school-aged kids (widowed, divorced, never married — the show, at least for the time being, is less interested in their backstories than their current realities). The pack of misfits develop a borderline co-dependent friendship out of proximity and necessity.
Meester stars as Angie, the de facto leader of the group — part-carpool network, part-support system — who has little patience for Will (Taran Killam), an eager new class parent whose whole life has been consumed by attending to the needs of his daughter. Brad Garrett, Kimrie Lewis and Jake Choi also star.
“She’s just figuring it out as she goes along, having to navigate life as an autonomous grownup,” Meester said. “Still having the part of her that is her and her own personal identity, but it shifts so much when you have a kid. You kind of lose sight of that a bit.”
Previously known for her dramatic work, Meester gets the chance to flex her considerable comedic chops in the role, which she described as “at once very fun and light-hearted and kind of silly, while still tackling a little bit more of a serious side of the difficulty of single-parenting.”
“It seemed like — and has turned out to be — a very fun kind of project to work on in itself, aside from the material,” she said. “Being on set and having it be this really fun and collaborative experience is really rewarding.”
Read TheWrap’s full interview with Meester below.
TheWrap: What first drew you to this role?
Meester: [It was] the people putting it all together. The executive producers, the writers, the showrunner, all of their previous work. Jason Winer, Elizabeth Meriwether, JJ Philbin, and Taran Killam was attached as well. Which all was very enticing. I just really loved all of their work. And the script, it was so fun to read. Every character was so well-defined, and the group dynamic was so fun. It really worked for me. Aside from that, the fact that I was able to take on a role that was all at once very fun and light-hearted and kind of silly, while still kind of tackling a little bit more of a serious side of the difficulty of single-parenting. I wanted to take on that challenge. It’s been fun.
I know you are a mother in real life, too. Is it a role you’ve sought to play on screen as well?
I hadn’t been actively seeking that out, but I think it makes sense to me. Those roles, by their nature, are given the room to have a little bit more depth. But I think also just turning 30 and actually having a child, people are sometimes like, “Well you can’t play a young woman anymore. You have to play a mom.” But the lucky thing for me is that this mom is such a well-rounded character with so many other aspects to her character that are very grounded. I wasn’t actively searching for it, but now after having a kid, watching roles come in, I connect to those types of roles more now.
You’re not a single parent, but is that struggle to keep your kids from taking over your whole life something you found yourself relating to?
Yeah, doing it for an hour, or a week, or a month, or however long you do it solo, it’s so hard, even for an afternoon. Major respect to single moms who do it 24/7 and also work and have to juggle a lot. But I completely relate to the character in that she’s just figuring it out as she goes along, having to navigate life as an autonomous grownup. Still having the part of her that is her and her own personal identity, but it shifts so much when you have a kid. You kind of lose sight of that a bit.
This and “Making History” from a couple seasons ago are more overtly comedic than the roles you’ve taken in the past. What has drawn you to doing these kind of comedies?
I think it’s kind of just everything. This show in particular — I think the family dynamic all sort of makes sense to me. It seemed like — and has turned out to be — a very fun kind of project to work on in itself, aside from the material. Being on set and having it be this really fun and collaborative experience is really rewarding. And being on “Making History” was no different. Being part of an experience with people I find so funny and going to work everyday and not feeling like it’s work.
You, Brad Garrett and Taran Killam are all TV veterans, but you all have very different backgrounds. Have you found yourselves learning from each other at all?
Yeah definitely. I’d always leave it to Taran and Brad to tell us great stories about all of their experiences. [Taran] is from “SNL” and [Brad] is from a long, long run on a sitcom, and then he’s also a crazy amazing stand-up comic. He’s amazing, in every way. He’s also on “I’m Dying Up Here,” so he’s got a lot of projects going. But yeah, I feel like I have a lot to learn. And they’re so open to helping and supporting. The nice thing is that, yeah, everyone is coming from different worlds, but at the same time we can come together. Between me and Taran and Brad being parents, that’s something we can all find in common. That kind of shared history is really fun.
Having started acting at a young age, what is it like to be on the other side of that now, working with these young kids?
I think everyone has a different experience, obviously. And as a kid, my experience was colored by my home life more than by what I’d consider my set life. I would say, for me, had I been in their position, maybe it would be different. But those kids are so smart. They’re very mature, very professional. And they’re on a show that’s fun and funny — there’s a playground as part of our set. It’s not a drama where they’re having to cry every scene, it’s not a real hardcore dramatic show. So I guess the pressure isn’t as high, at least I hope it’s not. I hope that they’re having fun. They all love each other, and they’re all super funny.
“Single Parents” premieres Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.