The stunning transformation of Leighton Meester

Leighton Meester rose to fame on The CW's Gossip Girl, quickly becoming a household name thanks to her iconic portrayal of quick-witted New York socialite Blair Waldorf. And since completing the hit show's six season run, Meester has been busy flexing her talents and tackling a variety of wide-ranging projects — including starring in indie films, securing a role in a Broadway production, and even debuting a country album. 

However, perhaps the most significant (and challenging) roles Meester has taken on has been the role of being a mom. Fortunately, the star been able to use her adventures in motherhood to inspire her work. Specifically, Meester's real-life experience as a mom proved helpful when taking on the role of Angie D'Amato in the ABC sitcom Single Parents. "I hope I'm doing [parenthood] justice," Meester told V Magazine, speaking about the role. She continued, saying, "It's the ride, you know? I think that a lot of people feel as though they're not doing this parenting thing well."

From Gossip Girl to Country Strong to continuing to have a thriving career as a working mother, there's seemingly nothing this gal can't do. Here's a look a the stunning transformation of Leighton Meester. 

Leighton Meester was born in prison

Considering Leighton Meester has been in front of the camera since her late teens, it's safe to say the Gossip Girl star's adult years have been far from what the average person might consider normal. However, according to Meester herself, normalcy has never exactly been her thing. 

In a 2008 interview with Us Weekly, Meester revealed she was born in a Texas federal prison where her mother was serving time for drug charges. "[My history] makes me very nonjudgmental and open-minded," Meester told the publication (via The Hollywood Reporter). She continued, saying, "I think it just makes me appreciate the things that I have now."

Speaking with Marie Claire in 2012, Meester opened up even more about her unique upbringing and family. "[My family's history is] probably the craziest I've heard of," Meester told the magazine. Still, according to the star, she harbors no negative feelings about her childhood. "It wasn't uncomplicated. But I played outside. I went to the beach," Meester, who spent much of her childhood in Florida, revealed to Marie Claire. Added the Single Parents star, "There were happy, fun times."

Leighton Meester started modeling at a young age

Some celebrities have had the so-called "it" factor since they were kids, prompting talent managers and acting agents to latch on and start molding their careers from a very early age. Leighton Meester was one of those kids simply destined to be in the spotlight, with an agent immediately seeing ten-year-old Meester's star potential during a chance encounter at a modeling convention in Atlanta. 

"I had gone to Georgia and met what you could call a 'mother agent,'" Meester explained to V Magazine in a September 2018 interview. She continued, "I started working with this woman named Sylvia and she would help cast young girls in local fashion shows and modeling shoots." According to Meester, it was Sylvia who took her to the fateful modeling convention that changed the course of her life. 

Speaking with Marie Claire in 2012, Meester recalled how a modeling agent attending the convention noticed her immediately and had her come to New York City to begin her career as a model. "I ended up staying," Meester told the outlet. She continued, revealing, "I never went back to Florida. That was that."

As a child, Leighton Meester couldn't relate to "kid stuff"

For people who didn't spend their earliest years as a model, childhood was likely about learning, playing, and discovering the world with friends who were also experiencing the ups and downs of being a kid. However, while other kids her age were more concerned with their toys or playing freeze tag, Leighton Meester was busy learning the value of hard work.

"I worked a lot, even though I was just a kid," Meester told Marie Claire, recalling her early years as a model. She continued, saying, "It seemed normal to me."

Speaking with the magazine, Meester revealed she moved to Los Angeles from New York City when she was 14 years old, supporting herself and her mother on modeling gig payments and with some financial help from her grandfather. Meester said she took acting classes when she could afford them. However, she wasn't interested in taking classes with kids her own age. The Gossip Girl star told Marie Claire, "I couldn't relate to kid stuff, [like], 'Jimmy doesn't like me!' Who cares?" Added Meester, "I was worried we didn't have gas money or food. Those were my concerns."

This is how Leighton Meester learned what she was "made of"

In a 2012 interview with Marie Claire, Leighton Meester revealed she was so laser focused on achieving her career goals that she made the decision to skip out on her own prom. "It was a lot of money for a ticket. And I just didn't care that much," Meester explained. Fortunately, the small setbacks in Meester's personal life didn't affect the can-do attitude with which she approached her career. "When you see how you react when you suffer, that's when you know what you are made of," Meester divulged.

It didn't take long for her hard work to start paying off. According to Meester's IMDb page, the star made her television debut in 1999 on an episode of Law and Order. "Law & Order is everyone's first role!" Meester joked during a 2018 interview with Glamour

After her Law & Order gig, Meester went on to score recurring parts on shows like Tarzan, 7th Heaven, 24, Veronica Mars, House, and Entourage, before eventually winning the Gossip Girl role that made her a household name. 

Leighton Meester welcomed her second decade by moving back to New York City

Leighton Meester's Hollywood story started when she was scouted by a modeling agent when she was only ten years old. So it seems incredibly fitting that her "big break" came exactly ten years later, when 20-year-old Meester was cast as Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl

In a September 2018 interview with V Magazine, Meester explained that she was living in North Carolina for a show she was filming when she scored an audition for Gossip Girl, which required her to fly back to Los Angeles. After scoring her big role, Meester made yet another move to New York City, living there for six years while filming the hit show. "It was the perfect time, I think," Meester told V Magazine.

She continued, saying, "I think the perfect time to live in NYC is during college or just after college because there's so much culture and so many different types of people, it's really easy to get around, and truly is such an amazing city." Added the star, "I love New York City, and getting to document my time there with Gossip Girl was a dream of an experience."

Leighton Meester had to dye her hair for Gossip Girl character

As fans of Gossip Girl know, Leighton Meester skyrocketed to fame thanks to her perfect portrayal of Blair Waldorf — the overachieving, dramatic, snobby-yet-sensitive New York socialite and best friend to Blake Lively's character, Serena van der Woodsen. According to Meester, she was immediately drawn to the iconic character from the moment she read the first script. However, to play Blair Waldorf, Meester had to change her appearance.

The actress told Elle, "I had been dying my own hair blonde out of a box over the last year before [Gossip Girl] and then went in and was told, 'Well, this character in the books has brown hair. Do you want to dye it?'" Meester continued, saying, "I wore a wig and they were like, 'You need to actually dye it.'"

Still, other than her hair, Meester wouldn't change a thing about her Gossip Girl journey. The star told V Magazine in a 2018 interview, "Gossip Girl was a life altering experience." She continued, "I can't even imagine what my life would be had I not had that, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world."

Leighton Meester found some success as a singer

In 2009, Leighton Meester signed a recording contract with Universal Republic, debuting another talent of hers: singing. 

Her first big musical break came when she was featured in the hit Cobra Starship song "Good Girls Go Bad," which peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Months later, in October 2009, Meester released her first official single, titled "Somebody to Love." Featuring the vocal talents of R&B singer Robin Thicke, "Somebody to Love" wasn't as popular as Meester's song with Cobra Starship, peaking at number 11 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. However, the sultry music video featuring Meester and Thicke made quite a splash online. And in 2010, the Gossip Girl star combined both her acting and musical talents for the romantic drama Country Strong, in which she debuted the solo breakup ballad "Words I Couldn't Say." 

Four years after impressing audiences with her Country Strong performance, Meester's debut studio album, Heartstrings, finally dropped. Released through the star's own label, Hotly Wanting, Heartstrings' nine tracks were all penned by Meester, and quickly drew comparisons to the music of Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell.

After Gossip Girl, Leighton Meester wanted to "explore different characters"

From 2007 to 2012, Leighton Meester starred as Blair Waldorf on The CW's Gossip Girl, appearing in every episode of the show's six-season run. And while Gossip Girl made both Meester and Blair Waldorf household names (and fashion icons), the star made it clear she didn't want to be typecast in roles similar to her Gossip Girl character for the rest of her career.

In a March 2017 interview with Wonderland, Meester said what she loves most about her job is getting to "explore different characters and different experiences, whether it be in TV, movies or theatre." Meester continued, saying, "I have been able to find characters that appeal to me because they're different from each other. I think [that's] what's important to me, because I think I would be bored and exhausted doing the same thing over and over."

Added Meester, "I think the nice thing about my job is that I play different characters each time I work and get to discover new things about each character and myself within them."

Leighton Meester made her Broadway debut in 2014

While Leighton Meester's foray into singing may not have been quite as successful as Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez's careers, the multitalented star achieved in 2014 what most people will only dream of doing when she made her Broadway debut.

In March 2014, Meester starred alongside James Franco and Chris O'Dowd for the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men. Meester portrayed the character known only as "Curley's Wife" in the Broadway revival, which was the first production to be filmed by National Theatre Live and played in cinemas. 

Speaking with Vanity Fair in an April 2014 interview, Meester gushed over her Broadway experience, telling the publication, "It was everything I wanted it to be." The star continued, saying, "I'm so lucky that I got to do [Of Mice and Men] with amazing people who are supportive, and warm, and kind, and friendly, and sensitive." Added Meester, "I'm humbled and thrilled to be part of it."

Leighton Meester has never been "completely content" in her career

There's no doubt that Leighton Meester is a seriously successful and skilled actress. However, despite her many professional successes, Meester revealed in a March 2017 interview with Wonderland that she'd never been 100 percent satisfied with her career.

Of course, that isn't to say Meester doesn't feel happy about her career choices, but Meester is far too focused on the future to feel complacent in the present. "I've never been completely content in the moment I'm in," the star told Wonderland. She continued, saying, "I'm always excited about whatever's coming next and the challenges that lie ahead with each character and each project."

Added Meester, "Even though I'd like a variety of experiences with my career, I think more of the same would also be great." However, considering Meester has proven her talents as an actress, singer, and Broadway performer, it's safe to say this gal has range. 

Leighton Meester met her "soulmate" while filming The Oranges

In 2011, Leighton Meester starred in the romantic drama The Oranges, in which she played a young woman tangled in an affair with her dad's much-older friend, portrayed by Hugh Laurie. However, the real love connection for Meester seemingly happened offscreen with another castmate, former O.C. star Adam Brody

According to People, Meester and Brody "became close" while filming The Oranges, though they didn't make their relationship official until 2013. One year later, in February 2014, E! News reported the pair had gotten married in a super intimate and secret ceremony. And in 2015, the newlyweds welcomed their first child together. 

Speaking with Net-a-Porter for a September 2018 interview, Meester revealed how grateful she was that her career caused her to cross paths with Brody. "I wouldn't change anything [in the past] because I'm happy where I am now," Meester told the publication. She continued, saying, "I think that that's one of the many wonderful parts of not only having a child and meeting your soulmate, but also I feel really lucky career-wise — really in a place that I want to be."

Leighton Meester refused to let motherhood slow her career

Leighton Meester may have become a first-time mom just three years after Gossip Girl's series finale, but the star made it clear she wasn't going to let motherhood hold her back from exploring new roles and furthering her Hollywood career. Speaking with Refinery29, Meester revealed she preferred not to talk about her daughter, Arlo, while promoting her career. "I don't talk about Arlo very much," Meester explained. The star continued, "I am very proud of that area of my life. But I'm also really proud [...] of the work I do."

The star continued, telling the publication, "I think the perception is: You're an ingénue, or you're an icon, or you're a mom. There's no in between." Of course, that's merely a notion. Meester knows she can be both a wonderful mother and a talented, dynamic actress — and that's exactly what she plans to continue doing. 

Leighton Meester took up physical training and surfing after becoming a mom

Considering Leighton Meester has been a model, television actress, movie star, singer-songwriter, and Broadway performer in her career thus far, it's clear the star is unafraid to branch out and try something new. So, it should come as no surprise that Meester brings the same sort of fearless, try-anything philosophy to her life offscreen as well.

Speaking with Shape magazine for the publication's April 2019 issue, Meester revealed she'd taken up personal training in 2018, three years after becoming a mom. And while Meester will be the first to admit she's "not a diet and exercise person," just sticking with her New Year's resolution is quite the impressive feat.

Showing her more adventurous side, Meester revealed to Shape the new skill she'd recently learned that just so happened to double as another form of exercise. "My husband also taught me how to surf, and in the last year, I got really into it," Meester told the publication. She continued, saying, "Being in the ocean is such a spiritual experience that you forget you're getting a real workout."

Leighton Meester doesn't recognize who she was before becoming a mother

Leighton Meester has proven herself to be a talented performer throughout her career, capable of breaking out from a years-long run on Gossip Girl and successfully tackling challenging, wide-ranging roles. However, her toughest role came from a rather unexpected place. 

In an interview for Shape's April 2019 issue, Meester talked about the challenges of motherhood, saying, "I feel that I am really lucky, and yet, still, I stepped into the hardest job in the world: being a mom."

Speaking with Refinery29 in October 2019, the star — who was reported to be pregnant with her second child in April 2020 — opened up about how much her life had changed since becoming a mom, saying she often feels like a "shadow" of her former self. Meester continued, revealing, "I think of myself before I had my daughter and I don't know her anymore, but I don't know that I'd want to be her anymore either." Added the Single Parents star, "So, I don't see it as totally negative."