For one, she was born to a woman who was serving time in federal prison for drug trafficking. Her dad was also an ex-con. Despite reports that Meester was actually born inside a jail, she explains in the April issue of Marie Claire that she came into the world, like so many of us, in a hospital. But unlike most, she spent the first three months of her life with her mom, Constance, in a halfway house, then went to live with a grandparent while her mother served out the rest of her sentence.
"My family has a crazy history," she says in the interview. "Probably the craziest I've heard of."
Not that her youth is full of bad memories — quite the opposite, actually. "I look back now and I see it in a nice light," Meester shares of her early years in Florida. "It wasn't uncomplicated. But I played outside. I went to the beach. There were happy, fun times."
In a move that would markedly change her future forever, Meester hit an Atlanta modeling convention at the age of 10, where she was discovered by an agent and promptly moved to New York City with her mother. She ended up in commercials for various department stores and retailers. When Leighton was 14, the Meester women moved to Los Angeles, where she continued modeling and began picking up TV parts … all while growing up fast, helping to support the household, and staying away from the teen dating scene: "I couldn't relate to kid stuff. 'Jimmy doesn't like me!' Who cares? I was worried we didn't have gas money or food," the 25-year-old explains. "Those were my concerns."
When it comes to the $3-million lawsuit her mother filed against her last year — Constance claimed she deserved the money for the sacrifices she made in order to help her daughter succeed in show business, but the suit was later dropped — Meester isn't interested in talking about it, choosing rather to focus on the positive.
"I think it is good to be in the moment," she says. "The universe is so vast and we are so tiny. Continuing to cultivate good energy is the only way to be of any use in life. Negative energy, being miserable — that is time-consuming and silly."
These days, as "Gossip Girl" wraps its fifth season and Meester's latest film, the Adam Sandler comedy "That's My Boy," is set to come out this summer, the actress sounds excited. "I feel more mature than most people my age. I'm having this weird growth spurt. I'm starting to see my future differently. I'm getting ready for it."
And, according to Meester — who dated "Captain America" actor Sebastian Stan for two years before the two broke up in 2011 — that future might not include a traditional family.
"I never had a boyfriend until I was 18. It's nice, I guess — when you like them. But it isn't the most important thing," she reveals. "I'm not sure I ever want to get married. The only time a relationship is good is when you really love them. I don't want to hang out with some guy I just like."
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