Interview: Jennifer Coolidge, Actor and Comedian

She will always be best known as Stifler’s mom in teen comedy American Pie, but ahead of her stand-up Fringe first, Jennifer Coolidge tells ‘Scotland on Sundays Claire Prentice why part of her longs to get serious . . .

JENNIFER Coolidge is in a foul mood. She’s trying to have a quiet Sunday brunch in the trendy restaurant of the New York hotel where she’s staying but is being harassed by a fan.

“She’s like, ‘You’re Stifler’s mom,'” says Coolidge, referring to American Pie, the 1999 adolescent sex comedy in which she seduces her son’s classmate with the immortal line that she likes her Scotch and her men the same way: aged 18 years.

Like Mrs Robinson on Viagra, Coolidge instantly became every teenage boy’s fantasy.

Dipping her toast into a soft boiled egg, Coolidge shakes her head and continues: “She started taking pictures of me with her iPhone. They’ll end up on Facebook.”

Coolidge has just flown in from Los Angeles and is exhausted, hot (it’s 37°C outside) and clearly not in the mood to be bothered by her fans.

“There’s no private time. It gets tiring,” admits the comedy actor who is bringing her stand-up show to the Fringe, her first time performing outside America.

She puts on her oversized Gucci sunglasses, pulls her blonde hair out of its loose knot to hide her face and turns her back on the offending fan. Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, she says: “Some people are really nice about it. I get Saudi princes and famous people stopping me in LA and saying, ‘You’re Stifler’s mom, can I take a picture with you?’ But then you get people like her putting their camera in your face without asking. They think they can do whatever they like.” The invasion of her privacy clearly rankles, but you get the impression that, had she been feeling more groomed and “camera ready”, she might not have been so upset.

From American Pie, Best In Show and Legally Blonde, to Seinfeld, the short-lived Friends spin-off Joey, and scene-stealing cameos in Frasier and Sex And The City, Coolidge has become the go-to character actor for comedy roles requiring a ballsy, busty blonde. But Coolidge never set out to be funny. “I was trying to be a dramatic actress forever. I was living in New York, working in Canastel’s restaurant on 19th and Park. I was the cocktail waitress and Sandra Bullock was the host and this guy came in and persuaded me to try improv with Gotham City Improv. I was terrible, the worst improviser that ever lived. But then doors opened for me in the comedy world. The Seinfeld casting director was in the audience one night. Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap and Best In Show) was in the audience.

All these things started happening for me that didn’t happen in the serious acting world.”

Before arriving in Edinburgh on a cruise ship journeying from Helsinki (performing on board), Coolidge has been returning to her roots, trying out her stand-up material in New York.

“I figured New York was the closest I’d get here in America to Scotland,” she says, referring to the famously demanding audiences. She’s heard that Scottish men are handsome and wants to know if this is true.

“I’m going to Scotland to improve my social life. I’m single and I’m looking for an adventure. I always get asked out by younger guys. I guess they’re the ones who’ve seen my films. Guys in their 20s and 30s. But maybe I need someone more mature.”

It was the end of her last disastrous relationship which prompted her to do stand-up, “as a kind of therapy”. Between acting jobs, she wrote some material about relationships and her life as a character actor and tried it out on an audience in Cape Cod.

To her surprise, they loved it. She got more bookings and, at a gig in Atlanta, she was spotted by an agent who was scouting for talent to take to the Fringe. “It sounded like a good idea at the time but now I’m not so sure. If I bomb on the first night, I’ve still got another 20-odd nights to do. And in this game there’s no calling in sick.

“The things that bother me end up in the show. People have this view, ‘Oh, you’re in movies, your life is so glamorous’ but it can really suck.”

As an example of her less than perfect life, she cites an experience when a famous actor she was working with insisted they practise a kissing scene.

“If I was an A-lister like Katie Holmes he wouldn’t be doing that but because I’m a character actress he thinks he can get away with it.”

Another famous male star farted loudly in her face on the first day on set.

“It was his way of saying, ‘I’m the star and you’re lucky you got the part. Oh, and by the way I don’t find you attractive.'”

Born and raised in Massachusetts, after her stint in New York, Coolidge moved to LA and joined the famous Groundlings improv group. The experience has given her a certain fearlessness about performing live though she says she has never figured out how to deal with hecklers. Her tendency is to rip them to shreds and, she says, “that can scare the audience”.

“When it’s going well, stand-up is the best thing in the world, but when it’s not, it feels like all your toes are being pulled off one by one.”

Beneath her prickly, larger-than-life persona, Coolidge is likeable, down-to-earth and surprisingly candid. Surveying her pretentious surroundings, the star announces that she hates phonies and is tired of life in LA, “of living on the hill and never meeting anyone but showbiz people. It’s impossible to have a fascinating life there.” Stand-up offered a release, a chance to get away for a while and try something new. In the autumn she’s taking the show to Australia and she is filming a movie in London in September. She’d like to take her acting career in a more serious direction, but couldn’t resist signing up to do another American Pie movie, which is currently in the offing. “That is definitely a priority. They are a great group of people, it’s a fun job.”

Another of her favourite collaborators is Christopher Guest, the king of mockumentaries who cast her in the dog show comedy Best In Show. Of working with Guest, she says, “When those jobs come along I don’t want to be subtle. They are the chance of a lifetime to be ridiculous. I want to milk that. But then you get punished for that, you get typecast.”

Her look – tall, double D-cup, blonde hair extensions, and feline features – presumably also contributes to the type of roles she is offered. Would she ever consider changing her appearance to get the more serious roles she hankers after?

“I’ve tried the whole dark wig, dowdy clothes thing and still people are like, ‘Jennifer’. I’m just one of those people that stands out no matter how much I try to blend in.”

Just as she says this, a few feet behind her, another fan takes out their camera phone and begins snapping away. Thankfully, Coolidge, dressed in a short black lace dress and skyscraper heels, doesn’t notice.

One of the projects she is considering is a serious acting role on Broadway, with a director she admires.

“I’d love to do it if I can pull it off. But I’m not sure if I’m tough enough for this city any more – people don’t spare your feelings,” she says, citing an incident the previous day when she went into a shop to buy a wig for her show and was insulted by the assistant. Coolidge doesn’t seem the sort of person to take this treatment lying down but it turns out she did.

“It’s weird. People have this idea they can say anything they like to you.”

At a party recently she was snubbed by a short-lived reality TV star. The experience clearly hurt.

“LA is going through a really bad phase, it’s all reality TV shows. It’s really hard if you’re an actress, particularly a character actress. The parts just aren’t out there.”

Presumably age comes into it too. According to various online sources, Coolidge will celebrate her 49th birthday in August; she concedes the age may be about right, but says she made the date up.

“I put out this fake birthday because I don’t want anyone stealing my identity,” she confesses.

She seems tickled by the idea of having two birthdays, like the Queen.

“Maybe I will celebrate both birthdays. Maybe a really hot guy in Edinburgh could take me out for my fake birthday. I’m going to go for it in Edinburgh and sleep with everyone.”

She pauses for a moment before adding, “No, don’t say that, I want people to take me seriously.” She clearly does, but if there’s a laugh to be had, Jennifer Coolidge can’t resist playing to type.

• Yours For The Night, Assembly @ George Street, 8.15pm, until 29 August

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