In today’s Hollywood, many of the finest young actors and actresses have graduated from television sitcoms – logging a Gladwellian amount of acting time – to become “serious” actors. Ryan Gosling (“Young Hercules”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Third Rock From the Sun”), Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show”), Michelle Williams (“Dawson’s Creek”), the list goes on.
However, members of casts of the TV series’ “Gossip Girl” and “Friday Night Lights” have, despite the palpable talent exhibited on their respective shows, had a difficult time cracking Hollywood. “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley’s first lead role was in the critically-mauled remake, “The Stepfather”; his well-coiffed accomplice, Chace Crawford, starred in the critical and box office bomb, “Twelve”; and trailers for “The Green Lantern,” Karl Lagerfeld’s new muse Blake Lively’s first juicy film role, look awful.
On the “Friday Night Lights” side, Zach Gilford led the cast of one of the worst films of 2009, “Post Grad”; Adrianne Palicki appeared in the disappointing, machine-gun-wielding angels flick, “Legion”; and Taylor Kitsch’s performance, replete with mangled Cajun accent, was downright embarrassing in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Will “Gossip Girl” starlet Leighton Meester and “Friday Night Lights” knockout Minka Kelly – better known as “Derek Jeter’s fiancée” – follow down the same dreary path?
THE ROOMMATE isn’t likely to win any critic’s hearts, but will provide some undeniable fun when you stumble across it at 2 a.m. on HBO. A reimagining of “Single White Female,” the film centers on Sara (Kelly), a college freshman who gets assigned to be the dorm roommate of Rebecca (Meester). The two initially become friends, until her Rebecca turns out to be a jealous schizo.
MMM sat down with Leighton Meester and Esquire’s ‘sexiest woman alive,’ Minka Kelly, to chat about The Roommate, their own psychotic tendencies, whether they compete for the same roles, and breaking Hollywood.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Are there seeds of insanity within you?
LEIGHTON MEESTER: Yeah. No, I mean I like to joke at least and say it’s a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B, but no. I think everyone is a little bit, like they could at least fantasize about “Well what if I took that extra step and did something a little crazy?” But I have a pretty firm grip on sanity for the most part, but during this time I got to totally let it go, which was a little scary.
MMM: I think I read that the writer said that you have the ability to turn the creepiness on and off. Is that just an easy switch for you? Can I ask you to turn on the creepy right now?
MEESTER: No, and I think that’s a really funny compliment.
MINKA KELLY: She can be really creepy.
MMM: Minka, you had a tough job here in that you’re kind of the straight character. What was the challenge of playing the less cuckoo one?
KELLY: Sure, there are challenges throughout the entire thing in making sure that I’m not creeped out by her in the beginning, and make sure that I don’t start out knowing that she has a problem or a chemical imbalance, and giving her the benefit of the doubt for the most part of the movie until I’m actually proven wrong. For everyone else, for people watching the movie, for everyone else around me in the scenario in the movie, it’s easier to see her crazy. And also, in real life, when you’re in a situation with someone it’s harder for you to see them doing anything odd or wrong or acting in a certain way. Just like if you had a best friend or a boyfriend or a girlfriend doing something wrong or treating you in a bad way, you make excuses for them, you justify their actions because you want to believe in the best in them. And so I had to make sure that I kept that, just make it believable so that there weren’t any moments where it’s like how could she not see that she’s crazy and really make it true to where if you were in that situation, it would be harder for you to see than it is for everyone else.
MMM: Would you say you’re a naturally trusting person in your life?
KELLY: In my real life? No, I’m pretty guarded.
MMM: Did that develop over time or was that always the case?
KELLY: I mean you don’t come out of the womb guarded, but it’s hard for me to let people in unfortunately.
MEESTER: No, I think you’re a real sweetheart.
KELLY: You know what, I do my best.
MEESTER: She’s complex.
KELLY: I think I have a good instinct so certain people I let in easier than others.
MEESTER: But your character does toughen up though.
KELLY: Oh yeah, as soon as she knows it’s time to fight back she fights back.
MMM: For your character Leighton, it’s kind of a slow burn for a little while. All the cards aren’t out on the table early on in the film. Is it more fun for you to play those scenes without giving anything away? Or is the more extreme part more fun?
MEESTER: Honestly, it was more uncomfortable, especially watching afterwards, the scenes where she’s trying to be normal and just playing it straight. I think that it’s just really honestly a very thin façade and she always has wheels turning and you can tell that she might be a little bit off. It slowly progresses but I think that’s what happens, if you want to know kind of chemically what it is, is that she is taking an antipsychotic medication and when you take the medication you don’t feel like you’re crazy so then you stop taking it. And when you stop taking antipsychotics you become psychotic again, so that’s basically what happens.
MMM: It’s obviously a popcorn kind movie but I would think you don’t treat your work any less seriously on a film like that. Does research go hand in hand with something like this?
KELLY: I just am such a champion of hers in the work that she did and the research that she did do. I would hate the idea of this movie being a popcorn movie taking away from the work that both of us – but especially that she – did on this movie.
MEESTER: I know what he means though, I do. I think that this movie, as scary and thrilling and really honestly creepy as it is, it is fun and sexy and filled with action. It’s entertainment too, so it’s both. For me, when I was watching it, it was really uncomfortable because I think I had amnesia about doing the movie to be honest. I was just a total terror on set to everybody I’m sure.
MMM: Obviously another part of the novelty of the film is in the vein of “Single White Female” there are similarities between you two physically and you kind of accentuate that throughout the film as it goes. Have you guys found yourself in the course of your career interacting a lot, competing for the same roles? Do you feel like you’ve been traveling on similar paths and had you interacted much before this?
MEESTER: No. I met her, I was 16 I think and we traveled to South Africa together. We were doing this pair of commercials and by the end we went out on this little pier and we were like, “Can we be friends forever?” And I didn’t even really think like “oh we kind of look like each other,” and I saw her mom and she kind of looked like my mom and it was very sort of strange. And then over the years people have been like “Minka! Oh wait,” and so I think it’s just really interesting that this is the movie that we ended up being in together.
MMM: Do you always correct the person or are there fake autographs?
MEESTER: Probably somewhere. I think it’s a lovely compliment.
KELLY: I agree. I think it’s flattering that anyone would even know my name in front of you because I feel like so many people are like “Blair!” and I’m like “No, Minka! Minka, dammit!”
MMM: I alluded to earlier the physical aspect of this film and how it kind of increases as it goes along. Is that something you look forward to, the stunts and physical action that come especially towards the end of this film?
MEESTER: Yeah, it was like the last week of work and it was pretty intense. Well she’s really tough. The entire time I’m kind of like trying to be physical with her and then just apologizing the whole time and it’s really, really messed up because I still think that I can salvage the friendship. But it’s still pretty heavy duty. And I have a gun, which was terrifying because I don’t like them, but I actually kind of started to get good at it.
MMM: You guys both have very interesting points in your career. Minka, you’ve done “Friday Night Lights,” which most people know you from, one of the most critical acclaimed and beloved shows on the air the last few years, and you haven’t done a lot of film yet.
KELLY: This is my first.
MMM: So I’m curious about your thought process. Was it trepidation, was it waiting for the right material?
KELLY: Really it was, “Oh my god; I got a job.” You get offered things but not really the things you really want to do, so for me I just felt really lucky that I got offered to do a job with a friend of mine for my first experience. I just felt like it was a really safe thing to do and it would be a really fun thing to do. And also I thought what a great idea to bring back the story of “Single White Female” again. There’s a whole generation of kids who haven’t seen that or even know about it. In no way at all are we trying to recreate it because it’s genius on it own, it’s just sort of bringing that idea back and setting it in college.
MMM: Leighton, especially in the last year or so you’ve been very active in film and a lot of different kinds of films. How calculated do you feel you have to be in terms of approaching the film work, in terms of picking and choosing different kinds of movies?
MEESTER: It’s weird. I do my show for like nine or 10 months out of the year and then there are a couple months there to do a film, and if there is one that’s shooting just at the right time that’s the right thing, that’s cool. I mean we shot this two years ago. This was actually a couple of hiatuses ago for me, so I’ve been really lucky that there have been movies that I’ve wanted to do and that are right for me during that time. And then there are other movies, like I did that movie “Country Strong” during production and I was like, “Well, I need to do this movie so we’re just going to have to work it out.” But I think it’s very much a compulsive thing when you read a script or you hear about a project. It’s like you have to play the character, and weirdly enough, a lot of the time when you feel that way it actually works out.
MMM: How did you both feel when you read the script? I’m sure it’s different from anything you’ve ever done.
MEESTER: I read the script at a really early stage and the character was really fleshed out and written in a way that spoke to me because I always think if I’m not an actor I would love to be a psychiatrist because I like helping people with their problems. I don’t know how to deal with my own, but other people’s are good.
MMM: For those of us who don’t go to movies that much anymore and have kind of lost faith in a good horror movie, why should I go to see the movie in theaters?
MEESTER: I saw it in a theater and I brought a few of my friends and none of them sat next to me. They sat one seat away so I didn’t even get to grab on to anybody. At one point I fully get punched in the face and everyone cheered. That says something. It’s very much an experience and it’s scary but it’s not like jump out and scare you. It really does make you think.
KELLY: It doesn’t make you want to close your eyes and not look. It’s not grotesque in any way. It’s like, what’s going to happen next? What is she capable of? What is she doing? How could she do that? What is she going to do next? It’s suspenseful and you really leave talking about it.
MMM: For the research for your character you had to actually meet with people that had the same mentality as your character?
MEESTER: I was lucky enough to be able to have a lot of time beforehand. I was fully involved throughout the whole thing, which was great, and I’ve also been lucky enough to know a lot of crazy people, so that’s great. But also I did meet with a psychiatrist who has even gone to court to defend people who are mentally unfit to go to prison for their crimes, and they were some pretty intense, scary crimes. But it really gave me a lot of insight into why this person does what she does and why she would be the way that she is. I think it’s maybe a lack of love and attention and it’s definitely a chemical imbalance, but it also spelled out the path of why I would be doing those things, because in my life I would never do those things. I would never be jealous of a friend’s boyfriend or other friends, or be nosy to the point of snooping or that type of thing. But one of the doctors really spelled it out for me and said Sarah’s love for Rebecca means life to her. That’s how she feels she can live, so when anybody or anything gets in the way she feels indirectly somehow that that person or thing is threatening her life. Which sounds crazy, and it is, but it somehow made me understand why she was doing what she was doing.
MMM: Leighton, I know the characters in “Gossip Girl” are now in college. How would Blaire react if this character was her roommate?
MEESTER: Oh wow. That’s a good question. She’d probably bitch slap her.
MMM: As young actors how are you going to go about improving your craft? Do you take classes, do you have a mentor, are there actors that inspire you? How are you going to go forward from here?
MEESTER: From my point of view I think time, experience, goals, maybe being not content is what drives me at least. And I think always trying to be smarter and I think never doing the same thing twice. I think it just takes time and you grow much more comfortable with who you are as a person and then eventually with your work too, hopefully.
MMM: Can I ask what some of the goals are?
MEESTER: I really don’t know. I know that what’s important to me in my life is my work and my family and my friends, and that being my complete identity. I don’t want any of the exterior things that might cushion it or make it seem any different from anyone else’s life. All I want for myself is to grow as a person and as an actor, and whether that means making a movie like this or whatever comes next, just as long as I’m content and I maintain my own identity and I can understand my inner workings, I think that’s important. But there are goals. This is a really great job. We’re big kids playing make believe and you get to change and work with the most amazing people and travel.
KELLY: Get out of your own boring reality and be someone else.
MMM: The “Friday Night Lights” experience has been so good to you and not something that happens every day. Would you say that that sets a really high bar for you? Does it make it more difficult for you when you’re looking at future jobs?
KELLY: I’ll always aim to do things that I’m afraid of, that don’t seem easy, like as you might assume that maybe this role would have been easy but there were certainly challenges in it. With “Friday Night Lights” I just got really, really lucky. At that stage when you’re just auditioning for hundreds of pilots and you land one you’re just like, “Yes! I can say I’m an actor. I’m getting paid as an actor, this is amazing.” We did that pilot and we never thought it would go anywhere. The guy broke his neck, where are we going to go from here? I just got so lucky, I got so, so lucky. I would have taken anything and to have gotten something so special and so unique and to have been surrounded by such talented people I could never compare it to anything else. And I would never look at another job and say “Well it’s not as special as ‘Friday Night Lights,’” because I never knew “Friday Night Lights” was so special. Neither did anyone else really until as of late. So yes of course I would love to keep that integrity and do things that I think are as special.
MMM: I would like to know as an actress what’s the biggest difference between working on a movie and a TV show?
KELLY: I think with TV your character is ever evolving and you’re growing with your character and you’re always learning with your character, about your character. And with a movie you know the entire arc, where it begins and where it ends.
MEESTER: You can sort of create a back story and what happens after for yourself and everything between. But with a show you really can’t do that because you might say oh, this is the character’s middle name, and then two years later they’re like “It’s Theodora.” So you can’t make it up; they sort of decide for you. And also the schedule, that’s a big difference. A movie goes for a few months usually and a show goes for years.
MMM: As actors, what would be your ideal role?
MEESTER: I don’t know. I think every role is ideal because it’s different from the last one and it challenges you in a different way, and I think variety is really important. It’s what keeps us from being bored or stagnant. I would say a role like this that I got to play in this movie is ideal because I got to completely explore myself, a character, the mind. It was really thrilling. Would I do it again? Probably not.
KELLY: I second that.
THE ROOMMATE is now playing in theaters nationwide.