A guest star who makes the most of her screen time; Jennifer Coolidge tells Stylist why she’s so much more than ‘Stifler’s Mom’.
Words: Debbie McQuoid
There are very few actors or actresses who can turn up for a cameo and steal the show in pretty much every appearance they make. Jennifer Coolidge is one of them.
The actress had approximately five minutes of screen time as Stifler’s Mom in the original American Pie film in 1999 and, love it or hate it, it was one of the two scenes that stood out more than the rest; the other being Jim’s liaison with that pie.
Whether it was riding the wave of gross-out zeitgeist or an inspired performance as the mother everyone wanted to sleep with, Coolidge fast became a household face, if not name.
Her guest roles in Sex And The City (2003) and Friends, as Amanda Buffamonteezi, the same year (“Smell me. It’s my natural scent. Isn’t it divine?”), as well as spin-off Joey (2004-6) cemented her place as cameo gold. A substantial role in both Legally Blonde films, as the downtrodden beautician Paulette, put her on the mainstream map; and knockout performances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries Best In Show(2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006) added cult cool to her CV.
So I’m rather excited to meet her. We’re sat in a suite in London’s Corinthia Hotel to talk about American Pie: Reunion, the first film after several (not so good) incarnations of the franchise to reunite the original cast. Having seen the first film on a disastrous cinema date during a time where I was taking everything particularly seriously, I wasn’t much looking forward to seeing this latest instalment. However, even though the general rule still seems to be if you are female and on screen for more than three minutes you will get naked, there are some genuinely funny touches and, of course, the shocking moments where you really can’t believe they’ve ‘gone there’.
As Jennifer breezes into the room, my first impression is that she’s pretty much Stifler’s Mom. The hair is big, the nails are French, and she’s practically pouring out of her short-hemmed, plunge-necked black Dolce & Gabbana dress. But, she looks fantastic. There’s something very unapologetic in the way she presents herself. “I should’ve tipped him, right?” she asks as the waiter brings her tea, confused by the city-hopping she’s been doing in Europe with the rest of the film’s cast.
ABOVE: Jennifer in the original American Pie film.
Pre-Stifler’s Mom, Coolidge had been a jobbing actress, working on some great projects – her first TV appearance was in Seinfeld in 1993 – and some not so great: anyone seen 1997’s Plump Fiction? So when the call came to be in American Pie she must have thought, “This is it”…
“Are you kidding?” she says. “Eugene [Levy, Jim’s dad] was the only known person in the movie. It was really low budget. I think my take-home pay was something like $700. When I first read the script I was thinking, ‘This is kind of dirty; this isn’t going to go well.’ Who could have predicted that it was going to be a $100million movie? None of us did.”
All of a sudden, Coolidge was being shouted at in the street by pubescent teenage boys: “MILF, MILF, MILF.” Didn’t she mind?
“You have to realise, I don’t get to play attractive people much,” she says. “I always play someone who’s a loser or very damaged or insane. The only drawback of being Stifler’s Mom is that, when you’re not done up, it’s just a big disappointment for people. When I’m hiking with my dogs and my hair is slicked back, sometimes I’ll hear someone say, ‘That can’t be her’.”
On the subject of looks, there has been debate about whether Coolidge, with her high cheekbones and pneumatic lips, has had surgery. Her age (not confirmed) is documented as 50. In front of me now, her looks seem genetic, not cosmetic, and if she has had work done, it’s incredibly subtle. But isn’t that Hollywood? This obsession with who has had what done? And what age they are?
“Hollywood is all about being young and hot,” she tells me. “I mean, they respect great actors and Meryl Streep is beloved and all that, but... the bombshell wins in Hollywood. I think it would be really hard to be simply a great beauty. At least as a comedian, people will like you even when you look bloated. You still have some sort of existence.”
It seems comedy chose Jennifer when, trying to break into ‘serious acting’, it was suggested by a fellow drama student she should try out for legendary LA improv group The Groundlings. Getting in changed her life completely (the producer of Seinfeld was at her audition) and she tells me, she owes it all to Friends actress, Lisa Kudrow. “Lisa was part of the voting committee. I really owe her,” she says. “She’s one of those girls in Hollywood who helps other girls. I will never forget that.”
ABOVE: Jennifer in Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon
So it must have been fun reuniting with her for a cameo in Friends? “Oh, yeah. But it’s really weird. There’s a huge difference between being a guest star and being a part of something,” she says. “You think you’re having this unique experience, but they have this experience every week, so it’s not quite what you think.”
How does it feel to be the one who breezes in, does a couple of days work and then gets to leave with everyone’s laughter ringing in her ears? “No matter how much you dream of being a lead in a movie or a TV show, I don’t think anyone really realises what you sign up for if you get it,” she tells me. “When I think of Legally Blonde, I think of Reese [Witherspoon]. She had just had her baby [Ava, in 2001] and she had to work so hard. I was her crazy fat friend and got to show up and do the ‘bend and snap’, then leave. I’m not getting Reese Witherspoon paychecks but my life is easier.”
When she’s not working, LA feels like a pain – “Everywhere you go people want to talk about ‘future projects’” – so she heads to her home in “magical” New Orleans. Throughout our chat, Coolidge is open and self-effacing; not insecure, more down-to-earth, but she won’t be drawn on her personal life. If the downsides of not being a lead is the lack of the Witherspoon-sized bank balance, the benefits are we don’t know who she’s dating.
“When I first did stand-up [two years ago], I stupidly thought people would want to hear about my Hollywood stories,” she tells me. “But I realised it needed to be more personal. I made it all about my relationship with my assistant. Every time I hire an assistant, within a day they feel superior to me. Whatever vibe I give off it’s some sort of loser vibe.” She laughs. “It was probably one of the most successful nights I’ve ever had doing stand-up. But then what crossed my mind was, ‘Wow, do I want people to know this pathetic side of me?’ How do you have boundaries with that? How do you not crush the person you’re not going out with anymore? It all seems like everything is out therenowadays, doesn’t it?”
As we walk out together, we discuss cocktails. Last night, she went to the Experimental Cocktail Club and drank out of jam jars, finishing the night with a cigarsmoke- infused tequila that “tasted like a leather boot” in the hotel bar. Her UK publicist comments that “cocktails with Coolidge” are always fun. “It’s not the best thing to be known for perhaps,” she says, now towering beside me in her five-inch heels. “Having a good time…” I don’t know. Uncomplicated, thoughtful and fun; there are worse things to be known for.
Picture credit: Rex Features