Actress Jennifer Coolidge chats with ‘The News Of The Worlds’ Jessica McCullough about taking her one-woman show to Edinburgh.
YOU’LL know her best as Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie movies, but Jennifer, 48, is one of Hollywood’s most versatile character actresses with appearances in Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier and Sex In The City under her belt. Now she’s heading to Scotland with her confessional one-woman show Yours For The Night..
You’re busy getting ready for this summer’s Edinburgh Festival. What can we expect from your first solo show?
It’s full of weird stories about how strange Hollywood has gotten. It’s raunchy and I talk about dating, drugs, and characters. The big struggle I’ve had is that some tales aren’t very flattering to Hollywood and you think, ‘Should I really tell that?’
Not many people can bill their show, ‘Who needs the excitement of 3D, I have Double Ds’! Ha ha, It’s huge fun, but as it’s a bit blue it’s been interesting to see how different the response has been in the USA. I got a bigger reaction in coastal cities where I’ve literally been made to feel like a rock star, but then you go to the more conservative mid-west and you figure, ‘Oh well, I guess that’s not their taste’. I have no idea if anyone in Europe will like it or not!
Are you looking forward to visiting Scotland?
Oh yeah. I’ve never even been to the Edinburgh Festival, I’ve actually never performed anywhere in the UK so it’ll be a very exciting summer.
You’ve had an incredible career, appearing in everything from cult comedy films like Best In Show to blockbusters such as Legally Blonde and TV favourites like Nip/Tuck and Frasier. But most fans love your role as Stifler’s Mom in American Pie best…
For once, I played someone who was normal. A lot of my characters are gold diggers, girls with plastic surgery or losers, like Paulette in Legally Blonde. But Stifler’s Mom was a pretty normal woman. This young kid has a crush on her and she literally, in a second, thinks she is going to sleep with him. She’s uncomplicated. And attractive. It’s nice to play someone attractive once in a while. If you are a character actress and you play the fat, ugly girl in a movie that’s EXACTLY how you get treated on set. When I am Stifler’s Mom all the people making the movie are all very flirty.
So after American Pie did you start getting hit on by young men?
It’s helped my dating life by about a MILLION per cent. I’m not kidding. Men my own age have no confidence but younger guys will come right up to me on an aeroplane and ask me out.
What made you choose comedy acting?
I was 24 or 25, trying to make it as a dramatic actress in New York, but I went to Los Angeles on holiday and saw a show by a group of really strong women, including Saturday Night Live’s Julia Sweeney. I just thought she was so talented. It changed my life and I moved out there shortly after.
Did you ever have to take extra jobs to support yourself in those days?
Yes, especially in New York… waitress, babysitter, clothing and make-up stores, you name it, I did it.
So did you ever worry you wouldn’t make it?
For me there was a degree of naivete about how much competition there is and how hard it is. But I think my ignorance surrounding the odds of it all really helped me. I was lucky.
In LA, you joined the legendary Groundlings Comedy Troupe. You had some pretty famous classmates didn’t you?
If I hadn’t gone there I don’t know what my life would be like. I’d probably still be waitressing. There were some really talented people there – Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Griffin, Will Forte, Sherri Stoner to name but a few.
Did you watch Will Ferrell and think, ‘Yep, he’s going to go far’?
Not only was he brilliantly funny, but he was also incredibly well liked. And he made it look like he was funny by accident. I was incredibly impressed with that.
You got your big break in 1990 when you appeared in Seinfeld as a voluptuous masseuse. How was that experience?
The show was huge and I was so nervous as I had to kiss Jerry Seinfeld. My big fear was that I’d get fired if I wasn’t any good.
Well, it was touch and go…
Yes! Lisa Edelstein, who’s now Dr Lisa Cuddy in the TV series House, was in my episode and she’d been invited by a writer to go to Jerry’s Deli after the show. So she invited me along but when we got there it was just Jerry and Larry David having some soup and an intimate little pow-wow. And we crashed it. We realised we shouldn’t have been sitting there at all because we weren’t really invited by the cast. We thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ll be cut out of the episode’. It was the longest 45 minutes of my life. I was literally frozen to my seat. It was so painful.
Six years later, you were a cast member and writer on Fox’s Saturday Night Special, produced by Roseanne Barr. Was it an inspiration to work alongside such a successful comedienne?
That was another great experience, although the show was more of an experiment and didn’t get picked up. My parents were huge fans of Roseanne so they were beyond excited for me to be involved in something with her. She was intimidating to work for, but very nice to the actors. I still think she is an incredible legend.
You’ve appeared in TV hits like Friends, Frasier, Sex & The City, Joey, Kath & Kim and many more. What’s been your favourite?
I did an episode of Friends – The One With Ross’s Tan – and every time I spoke one of my lines Lisa Kudrow got the giggles. She just couldn’t get it together. Because she was a cast member on the show she was allowed to mess up. I had fun and thought everyone on the show was hilarious. I know Lisa from our Groundlings days and she’s always encouraged me to move forward.
In turn you’re also a favourite of director Christopher Guest so you’ve been in his classic mockumentaries Best In Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. How did that start?
He saw a show I was in at the Groundlings and then wanted to meet with me. I really hadn’t done much up to then but he was convinced that I could come up with something for Best In Show. It must have been an instinctual thing. It’s the ultimate compliment when someone says, ‘I think you can do this’.
You famously snogged Jane Lynch in Best In Show. Do you fancy appearing with her in Glee?
People ask me that all the time. It’s very strange. It’s the same creators of Nip/Tuck, which I did two or three episodes of, so if they want me they know how to get hold of me.
You’ve worked with Eugene Levy on several occasions now. What’s he like on the film set?
I’ve done three American Pies, three Christopher Guest films and a Chris Rock movie called Down To Earth with him. Eugene is the Will Ferrell of this group. He is SO well liked by everybody. There are certain people I’ve met who really just don’t act like they’re a famous person, and he’s one of them.
Did you enjoy working on the thriller Bad Lieutenant with Nicolas Cage?
The reason I got in there is because the director, Werner Herzog, hadn’t seen my movies, so he didn’t have any prejudice. I have a house in New Orleans and we got to shoot the movie near it. It was a really cool experience.
Do people expect you to be a laugh-a-minute?
Yeah. They don’t think that you can have a serious moment. Or they can’t get a word out. It’s hilarious. You watch someone self-destruct in front of you in 20 seconds.
As a young girl growing up in Boston, did you always dream of becoming an actress?
For a while I thought I would be a spy.
Isn’t flower arranging a favourite pastime?
I love it but I’m not very good at it. I think the gods did me a favour, they said, ‘Jennifer, you’d have been terrible at all these things. We are going to give you a break as an actress’.
JENNIFER is in Yours For The Night at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, August 5-29 (not 16 or 24). Tickets are on sale on 0131 623 3030 orassemblyfestival.com