Jennifer Coolidge seemed to have built a career playing one of two things: a lustful sidekick or someone’s mother. In one particularly career-defining case—American Pie—she even played both at the same time. It seemed that Coolidge was going to go through her life as a character actor in search of a real role. That is, until a spontaneous trip to Africa literally changed everything. Let’s follow these fascinating facts and see where things started to go oh-so-right for Jennifer Coolidge.
1. She Grew Up Around Plastic
Jennifer Coolidge was born on August 28, 1961, in Norwell, Massachusetts. Her parents were Gretchen Knauf and Paul Constant Coolidge, who worked in plastics. Likely, Coolidge was uninterested in dad’s career in plastic. Much later in her life—as she altered her appearance with cosmetic surgery—she may have wished she’d paid more attention at the time.
Thoughts of plastic surgery, however, were still a long way off for young Coolidge. She had big dreams, after all.
2. She Had A Dream
Jennifer Coolidge attended local Norwell High School, and her life likely would have gone on quite unremarkably, except for one thing: Coolidge had a dream. While she was attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she decided what she wanted in life: She wanted to be a dramatic actor, much like Meryl Streep.
While Coolidge did become an actor, her career took a very different turn than Streep’s.
3. She Was Funny
When Jennifer Coolidge appeared in a summer stock production of Grease, she accidentally stumbled onto her future path in life. Coolidge was horsing around with the baton, just trying to make people laugh. While she was playing around, an older more established actor told Coolidge that what she was doing was really funny.
She later said that it was the first compliment she’d ever received. Maybe it was this early praise that set Coolidge on a path to stardom.
4. She Multi-Tasked
With dreams of being the next Meryl Streep, Coolidge moved to New York and became part of an improv group called Gotham City. While in New York she joined the party circuit and became a regular at the infamous night club the Palladium. To make ends meet—and to pay for all that partying—she got a job as a waitress and worked alongside future Speed star Sandra Bullock. Coolidge didn’t waste her time just waiting tables: she honed her skills at the same time.
5. She Practiced Her Zingers
While waiting tables, Coolidge was already honing her comic wit. She once called in sick and while she could have just used the age-old excuse of a head cold or migraine, she tried something unique. Instead, she told her boss that someone had put a cigarette out in her eye. True or not, like Coolidge herself, it certainly was memorable.
What we do know is that Coolidge and New York City were not a good mix.
6. She Went West
It was at this time that Jennifer Coolidge suddenly realized she had a better chance at being Streep if she was in Los Angeles. She made the move and joined another improv group there, the Groundlings. Coolidge’s entire life so far seemed a little like an improv act—she was that spontaneous.
What she needed, however, was a real role to get her career started. The opportunity arose—and it was seriously huge.
7. She Rubbed Him The Wrong Way
While waiting around for her dramatic career to begin, Coolidge hit it big with a guest spot on TV’s most popular sitcom at the time: Seinfeld. And she ended up in an unforgettable role. Coolidge played one of Jerry’s girlfriends, a masseuse. The gag is that even though she’s a masseuse, Coolidge’s character refuses to give Jerry a free massage.
Appearing on Seinfeld was a great boost to her career. What would Coolidge do with it?
8. She Tanked
Appearing on Seinfeld certainly had a cachet connected to it. It led Coolidge to gigs on She TV, an ABC sketch series, and a similar show called Saturday Night Special on Fox. Sadly, neither of these shows took off. Coolidge’s TV career was kind of tanking—and wasn’t TV the wrong route toward emulating her hero Streep anyway?
Well, the silver screen did come calling, but what it offered was hardly worthy of Meryl Streep.
9. She Was Lost
Next up for Coolidge was A Bucket of Blood. This film was a remake of an old horror film and its only claim to fame was that it was the film debut of future superstar comedic actor Will Farrell. It seemed that Coolidge had lost sight of her dream of being the next Meryl Streep.
Her next film, 1997’s Plump Fiction, a spoof of Quentin Tarantino-type films, brought her no closer to a film that Streep might do.
Coolidge maybe wasn’t getting the dramatic roles she wanted, but she was getting a reputation as a very funny comedic actor.
10. She Hooked Up
After a forgettable role in a family film called Slappy and the Stinkers, Coolidge landed a part in the Saturday Night Live-inspired A Night at the Roxbury. While this film was even more of a stinker than Slappy, it did lead Coolidge into a steamy—and scandalous—situation.
Allegedly, Roxbury’s lead actor and co-writer Chris Kattan hooked up with Coolidge during the filming. The two never confessed to a relationship, but there is some veracity to the story…
11. She Was Messy
Years after moviegoers had forgotten A Night at the Roxbury, Kattan wrote in his memoir Baby Don’t Hurt Me that he fell hard for Coolidge. He described her as: “tall, messy, sexy, tough, charmingly crass Boston native.” According to Kattan, they broke up after what he called a “rough patch”.
Coolidge herself has never acknowledged a relationship with Kattan—she was too busy getting her career started.
12. She Nailed It
In 1999, Adam Hertz was casting for his film—and it had an unusually long title: Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million Which Studio Readers Will Likely Hate But I Think You Will Love. The part called for a sultry mom who liked her men like she liked her Scotch: 18 years old.
Coolidge nailed the audition—and became an instant legend. Just before they released the film, they changed the name: it was American Pie.
13. She Gave An Estimate
Even though she wasn’t much older than her onscreen son in American Pie, Jennifer Coolidge soon became famous as the voluptuous mom that young men wanted to get with. Years later, Coolidge made a shocking confession about the aftermath of playing Stifler’s mom. She admitted that appearing in American Pie brought the attention of a lot of young men—but that’s not the most scandalous part.
She gave a ballpark figure as to how many young men found their way to her bed after American Pie. It was 200.
14. She Had To Explain
The news about Coolidge’s affairs with 200 different young men went wild in the media, and Coolidge was eager to do some damage control. While she wanted to have the reputation for being cool about sleeping around, she didn’t want to be seen as completely immoral. When Ariana Grande talked to her for an Entertainment Weekly story, Coolidge got a chance to explain what she actually meant.
It didn’t go quite as planned.
15. He Was Old Enough
The interview with Ariana Grande seemed like a complete setup to let Jennifer Coolidge clear the air about that ballpark figure. Coolidge did tell Grande that the number 200 had been an exaggeration, but then she went on to tell a little story. It turned out that one very young man that she took to her bed, actually called his mother for advice—while still in bed with Coolidge. The American Pie star went on to insist that the young man was old enough, in case anyone got the wrong idea.
Suddenly the line between Stifler’s mom and Coolidge was blurring. Coolidge had some more explaining to do.
16. She Has Her Reasons
Coolidge later confessed that she always dates younger men. It could be because of her MILF role as Stifler’s mom in American Pie—or there could be some deeper explanation. Coolidge herself stated the reason in quite simple terms. She said that she dates younger men because it’s younger men who ask her out and she says yes.
Coolidge might like them young, but her next role would be a woman with the opposite problem.
17. She Had To Ad Lib
All the improv that Coolidge did at the beginning of her career was about to pay off. Christopher Guest was already famous for his hilarious, mostly unscripted films. Guest’s next film was going to be a mockumentary set in the world of dog shows—and he wanted Coolidge for a very special part. In Best In Show, Coolidge plays Sherri Amber Cabot: the trophy wife of a very rich and very old man.
18. She Loved Soup
Coolidge has a habit of taking small parts—and even single lines of dialogue—and making them unforgettable. This may have started in Best In Show. When the interviewer asks Cabot what she and her husband—who’s 44 years older than her—have in common, she hilariously replies that they both love soup. Coolidge’s secret love interest in Best In Show is her dog’s trainer Christy Cummings, played by Jayne Lynch—and the two would later meet again on TV’s Glee.
19. She Raked It In
Speaking of meeting again…when American Pie 2 was in the works, producers knew that there was no way they could stage a sequel without the iconic character of Stifler’s mom. But weirdly, her role in the not-so-well-received sequel was kept to a minimum: she doesn’t even receive a credit for it. But for Coolidge, that was the least of her concerns. She once said that sequels are where actors really get paid: “they can’t fake you or hire another actor to play you”.
Coolidge was wise enough to know that sequels were where the money was, and another sequel-worthy movie was just around the corner.
20. She Caught Us Off Guard
Following her hilarious portrayal in Best In Show, came another co-starring role that almost stole the show. Coolidge’s Paulette in Legally Blonde was neither a mom nor a floozy, but had one or two moments that went down in pop culture history. One such moment was when she said that Reese Witherspoon’s Elle looked like the fourth of July. Her next line—which most assumed would be about fireworks or something more predictable—caught audiences off guard. She said it made her want to eat a hot dog: “real bad”.
It was Coolidge’s hilarious delivery that made the line memorable—but she lived to regret it.
21. She Rued The Day
Jennifer Coolidge’s hot dog line was instantly iconic—but she paid the price for it. Years later, Coolidge admits that if she walks around on the Fourth of July, fans still go nuts. She went on to say that that line in particular is one of the lines most often quoted by fans. Coolidge says she’s excited about a third Legally Blonde film—penned by Mindy Kaling—only so she can lay this line to rest.
Her other claim to fame from Legally Blonde isn’t a line—but a movement.
22. She Snapped
Coolidge’s other memorable scene is when Reese Witherspoon’s character teaches her how to get men’s attention by using the “bend and snap” method. When Coolidge eventually tries it, there are injuries involved—much to the audience’s delight. Years later, Coolidge put her own spin on the move. She said that she thought the advice was not good…unless the bender and snapper wore no underwear.
It was off-the-cuff comments like this that were winning Coolidge more and more fans.
23. She Had A Wake-Up Call
Jennifer Coolidge was very grateful for her role in Legally Blonde, and learned a valuable lesson while filming it. One day on set, she met up with a man who she knew to be a very funny comedic actor. There was, however, something shocking about his role in the film. He actually had no role: he was the parking attendant. For Coolidge, it was a reminder that you can never predict what’s going to happen next in your career.
She knew she needed to be more than just a character actor: and the best opportunity was just around the corner.
24. She Wasn’t Desperate Enough
In 2004, a new show aimed at female audiences was receiving buzz—even before it was cast. Desperate Housewives was going to be a hit, and the show needed some strong female characters. Coolidge was up for the role of Lynette Scavo, and it seemed like a sure thing: and also a surefire way of cementing her career on the small screen. Sadly, she was in for a major disappointment.
The producers went with Felicity Huffman instead. Once again, Coolidge had failed to be the star. Sadly, it was back to the guest spots for Coolidge.
25. She Made Friends
With all her guest spots on TV, Coolidge managed to get one on a very important season of an iconic show. Friends was in its tenth and final season and Coolidge got the call to be in an episode. Again, Coolidge created a character that stands out. She’s the completely obnoxious friend of Monica and Phoebe’s who fakes a British accent to be posh. She’s totally obnoxious—and totally unforgettable.
If the cash she earned from this guest spot on Friends wasn’t enough, Coolidge needn’t have worried—it was about to pay off in another way.
26. She Was Lascivious
With the decade-long sitcom Friends winding up, fans were waiting with bated breath to see which one of the cast would have a spin-off. The only one up for the task was Matt LeBlanc’s character Joey. Coolidge got the call to play Joey’s lascivious manager Bobbie Morganstern. In the usual Coolidge style, she quickly took the character from “recurring” to a prominent role. Sadly, the network canceled the show in 2006.
Coolidge could hardly take the blame for the end of Joey. In fact, her next performance was what saved a film.
27. She Was A Highlight
Jennifer Coolidge was a bright light in the otherwise dismal 2006 “comedy” Date Movie. The film is a spoof of romantic comedies, but failed to amuse either critics or moviegoers. Variety magazine, however, pointed out one scene that delivered laughs. This was when Coolidge did her pitch-perfect impression of Barbra Streisand in a scene-spoofing Meet the Fockers.
She could be Streisand, but somehow becoming the next Meryl Streep was still out of reach. Her next role, however, would be a step closer to reaching her dream.
28. She Went Dramatic
In 2009, Coolidge got a part in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. This is a film by acclaimed director Werner Herzog and has almost nothing to do with the original Bad Lieutenant from 1922. While the title may sound like a cheap spin-off, critics loved the film. Coolidge, like she did in American Pie, was playing a mother—but there was nothing funny about her role here.
She took on the role of a troubled mom with a major addiction problem. With this change to more dramatic work, would the award shows soon be calling her name? Well…
29. She Did Double Duty
In 2004, Coolidge got the chance to play a “lady of the evening” character in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Once again, it seemed that once someone worked with Coolidge, they wanted her back. In the same show, she returned to play a totally different character: This time, the fiancée of one of the major characters.
When she became the stepmother of the character she had done something only Coolidge could do: go from hooker to mom in one show. Coolidge was making a career of playing moms—but would this ever lead to something more than a supporting role?
30. She Made An Important Friend
In 2009, Coolidge got a job in the comedy Gentlemen Broncos, playing yet another mom. It looked like this poorly received film would do absolutely nothing to move the needle on her career, except for one thing. While filming it, she made a very important friend. The producer of Gentlemen Broncos was Mike White, who had already wowed audiences with his various involvements—acting, writing, and producing—with successful films like Chuck & Buck and School of Rock.
It would take a while, but her friendship with Mike White would eventually lead her to something more than character acting.
31. She Took It On The Road
In 2011, Coolidge got an offer to host a Women in Film event held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Because she was the host, Coolidge got a chance to tell a few jokes. As it turned out she had a talent for stand-up comedy. Always the spontaneous one, Coolidge decided to take her show on the road.
Her comedy act toured for two years and had dates all over the US and even Scotland. Coolidge certainly could have made a career doing stand-up comedy, but there was still more to keep her busy.
32. She Was The Lecherous Neighbor
Coolidge had appeared in Michael Patrick King’s Sex in the City for just one episode, so when he was starting his new sitcom—2 Broke Girls—he turned to Coolidge for support. Coolidge entered season one as recurring character Sophia Kachinsky, complete with a fake Polish accent.
She wasn’t a mom this time. Instead, she was her other go-to character: the lecherous neighbor. But Coolidge being Coolidge, she got a chance to bump her character up.
33. She Stuck Around
By season two of 2 Broke Girls, Jennifer Coolidge was a regular. Not only that, she was dating one of the main male leads. Eventually, she had gotten engaged and then married to Oleg—the other lecherous character on the show. And there was an even more scandalous side to her role.
The actor playing her love interest—Jonathan Kite—was 18 years younger than Coolidge. By the end of the run, Coolidge’s Sophie was pregnant with Oleg’s baby: turning this libidinous character into yet another mom. Next up was another mom—but this time it was high on drama.
34. She Flexed
After making the critically-panned comedy Like A Boss with Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne, Coolidge turned to a thriller. Promising Young Woman was a critical success and was also a risky film about a woman seeking vengeance from abusive men. Coolidge plays Carey Mulligan’s mother, and it is a far cry from Stifler’s mom. Coolidge was flexing her dramatic muscles once again—and showing that she could do more than comedy.
35. She Jumped At The Chance
Now, remember Coolidge’s friendship with the multi-talented Mike White? Well, White’s plans for an African safari were in jeopardy of being canceled because his partner couldn’t make it. White reached out to Coolidge for a traveling companion—one who he thought would be a hoot to be with on an African adventure. Coolidge jumped at the chance but had no idea what this spontaneous trip would lead to.
36. She Was Eccentric
Jennifer Coolidge thought she was simply going on an innocent vacation with a sweet—and talented—guy. Well, there was something she couldn’t have predicted. When White saw how Coolidge acted on vacation, he began putting together a show in his mind. He thought Coolidge’s behavior was eccentric and funny.
Wouldn’t it be a great idea to do a show about the ultra-rich on vacation? It was from this experience that White created the hit HBO series White Lotus.
37. It Was Going To Be A Challenge
White went ahead with White Lotus and, since she had personally inspired her character, he hired Coolidge to appear. While there is no lead actor in the anthology series, this was not going to be one of the usual character actor roles for her. The viewing public considered White Lotus to be quite high-brow, with as much drama as it did comedy. Coolidge was heading into a different acting territory, and she was likely happy and nervous to see how it turned out for her.
38. She Competed
As it turned out, audiences loved Coolidge in White Lotus—and so did those people who give out the statues. First up was the Emmys. Her category was Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. Coolidge was likely over the moon. At least, until she saw the other nominees. Five of them were from White Lotus.
This was bad news for two reasons. First off she’d be competing against her buddies from the show and second—the competition was going to be tough.
39. There Was A Battle
When it came time for the opening of the envelope, no one seemed more surprised at the result than Jennifer Coolidge herself. The trophy was hers, and she made her way to the stage. Besides the competition between the nominees, that night had a second competition: between speech makers and the band that plays to get the winner off the stage.
Other winners had already lost that battle, but the conductor had not yet gone head-to-head with Coolidge. It was going to be a battle royale.
40. She Had To Shout
It seemed that Coolidge had just begun her thank yous when the band struck up the “get off the stage” music. Well, in all honesty, Coolidge had gone on a bit about a lavender bath she’d taken that was making her dress look very tight. At least that was something entertaining in an otherwise drab night at the Emmys. As the music swelled, Coolidge just kept right on shouting her thank yous. The band, however, wasn’t about to give up yet.
41. She Won More Than An Emmy
The band leader really wanted her off the stage—but don’t count Jennifer Coolidge out from a fight. They played even louder—and Coolidge matched them. The band leader then took on a different strategy: he played both louder and faster. Coolidge wasn’t one to quit, and she forgot about her thank yous and started to dance. The crowd went wild: she’d beaten the band.
There was one problem though. Coolidge had forgotten a very important thank you: to producer and friend Mike White. The one who’d made it all happen.
42. She Wanted Season Two
After the incredibly successful season one of White Lotus, the question on everyone’s lips was: who would be in season two? Coolidge had forgotten to mention White in her Emmy Award acceptance speech—would he now forget her when it came to season two? The only thing anyone seemed to know about season two was that it was moving to Italy. Who was going there was anyone’s guess.
43. She Got A Call
White Lotus isn’t like a normal series with recurring characters. It wouldn’t make sense if a lot of the same characters returned: I mean, why would these unrelated characters go on vacation together again? That’s when Coolidge’s phone rang: it was White Lotus creator Mike White. It was only her character—and her new beau Greg—who was returning for season two. It was official: she was the White Lotus muse!
44. She Went Viral
Season two of White Lotus turned out to be just as successful as the first season. Coolidge did something in season two that was just so Coolidge. She took one of her lines of dialogue and once again, like the hot dog line, made it into something more. Near the end of the season Coolidge’s Tanya uttered this immortal line: “These gays, they’re trying to murder me.” You can now see Coolidge’s image and the line on mugs, pins, and t-shirts. Oh, and also in every nook and cranny of the internet.
45. She Had To Win
In addition to that great line of dialogue, Coolidge’s performance once again stood out in the series and she received a Golden Globe nomination. This would be a chance to correct the wrong she committed at the Emmys: forgetting to thank her friend and producer White. All she had to do was beat her White Lotus co-star Aubrey Plaza and other nominees like Claire Danes. What were the chances?
46. She Got Her Chance
To her utter joy, Coolidge won the Golden Globe. This time, however, she didn’t forget White. In fact, she went over the top in her praise and love for him. She said nothing less than that he made her want to live. But there was an even more heartbreaking part of her speech. Coolidge said that her dreams had sort of fizzled. Again she thanked White—and others—for giving her a second chance.
47. She Can’t Return
Even though Coolidge is the heart and soul of White Lotus, her participation in season three is nearly impossible. Stop reading if you haven’t finished season two, but for the rest of us, we know the truth. Unless season three is a prequel, involves a major flashback, or a ghost, Coolidge can’t be in the third season. But this is show business, and I guess anything can happen—especially when Coolidge is involved.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21