Jennifer Coolidge is one of the most recognizable people in modern Hollywood. The 61-year-old has been a low-key comedy staple since she made her debut in 1995’s comedy horror, A Bucket of Blood. While it wasn’t her first film, it perfectly showcased the actress’s comedic prowess. But her success story isn’t one centered on the grind and perfectly orchestrated moments. Instead, as she told Jeremy Allen White in an exclusive Variety interview, she never really had a strategy for achieving success, a stark difference from the usual self-starters in Tinsel Town.
“…I’m old enough to really look back at my life and certainly my mistakes. I see a lot of those.”
Her lack of planning can certainly be seen in her early performances; Coolidge bounced around the board, from horror and drama to comedy and parodies, adding little bit of everything under her professional belt. While many of her friends from acting school had plans for their future successes, Coolidge says she “didn’t have any of that” and just went “job to job.”
The variety doesn’t seem to have hindered her in any way, though, as Coolidge is fresh off a Golden Globe win for her dramatic portrayal of Tanya McQuoid, a desperately lonely heiress, in season two of White Lotus. But Coolidge still can’t help but kick herself for her lack of direction, and seems to think her incredible success isn’t due to her own talents, but rather that this resurgence is some sort of “fluky moment,” one that she is “enjoying…for whatever it’s worth.”
She sees a specific moment from the late ‘90s and the early aughts as a missed opportunity, one that her lack of strategy lost her. “There was this moment… where looking back at [it] was this wave that I really could have ridden.” She’s referencing a golden period for her career, a string of comedy classics like Legally Blond, American Pie, Best In Show, Cinderella Story, and the slew of parody films like Date Movie and Epic Movie, films that defined Coolidge for many fans. There’s a sense of frustration as she continues, “I could have gotten on the wave and really… I don’t know. I was sort of like; you know I got very distracted.”
Coolidge, who was close to 40 as she began her stint in American Pie, was as focused on her personal life as much as her career. “I started pursuing guys. What’s that saying? You’ve got to seize the iron while it’s hot. That never occurred to me, that I should have gotten on that wave and ridden it.” It wasn’t just Coolidge who failed to seize the opportunity; though she isn’t blaming her management, even her representatives didn’t urge her to extend her success. “You see how some people go because they seize the moment,” she continues, “I didn’t realize I was behind the wheel, and that I could have manipulated it better to [get] a better outcome.” It’s a tale as old as time; folly is easy to see in the rear-view mirror.
Coolidge never did the theatre scene, so she says she never had to deal with the repetition of performance, or to constantly strive to move up in the world, pushing harder and harder to reach the next level of performance. The acting process itself is so different for film actors, who go all out for maybe five minutes, whereupon it either works or it doesn’t — this makes for a much more laissez- faire style of employment, and it’s easy to see why Coolidge wouldn’t put more pressure on herself than necessary. When your livelihood is decided in mere minutes with no chance of appeal, it’s almost an act of self-preservation to resist investment.
Despite her casual approach to stardom, Coolidge is a success story. Over the years she has become a beloved figure, easily withstanding the test of time through her irreplaceable presence. Despite her cult following, Coolidge still feels the pressure of performing. She talks about the moment that directors review a performance with no small amount of dread.
Actors perform their scene, the directors huddle to review the work, and while they may intone approval —“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” she mimics, drawing out the words like a mad scientist — it’s not necessarily genuine. “Why don’t we try that again,” she continues, playful frustration creeping into her voice as she talks about not giving a director what they want in a performance. “You’re like, Oh my god… I’m not giving them… their vision. But they don’t even have the guts to tell me how bad this is!”
She has such a contagious humor, laughing at her need for approval, even after all these years and more than 15 awards lining her mantle. “I think that shows how lame I am. That I need someone to go like, ‘that’s good,’” she says, mimicking patting someone on the head, “Yeah, good job.”
Despite her lingering insecurities, the actor has proven herself to be a name well worth attaching to a project. The idiom may be, “better late than never”, but where Coolidge is concerned, it doesn’t even seem all that late. She may have missed her early aughts moment, but as Coolidge herself says, “It’s going well now.”