A ‘Destructive’ Habit Destroyed Jennifer Coolidge – Her Comeback Is a Powerful Lesson￼
The beloved comedic actress is enjoying new challenges, an Emmy Award nomination, and a career renaissance with the encouragement of friends and colleagues.
Actress Jennifer Coolidge has been a delightful and effervescent presence on screens large and small for nearly a quarter of a century, carving out her successful niche as a supporting player just as the new millennium kicked off.
But it wasn’t until this past year in HBO’s six-episode limited series The White Lotus that Coolidge had an opportunity to fulfill the unrealized potential she’s wanted to tap into for the past 20 years.
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Now 60, Coolidge has a proud and prolific career in Hollywood. Following her dual breakthroughs as the sultry, young-man-chasing Jeanine Stifler, a.k.a. “Stifler’s mom,” in a trio of movies in the American Pie franchise and then as lovelorn manicurist Paulette Bonafonté in the first two entries of the Legally Blonde film series starring Reese Witherspoon (a third is on the way in 2023!), Coolidge found herself mostly locked into light-hearted and comedic films and TV series for the next two decades.
Jennifer Coolidge’s Rise Began With American Pie and Legally Blonde
Among them were featured parts in the sitcoms Joey and 2 Broke Girls, as well as regular appearances in writer/director Christopher Guest’s highly-improvisational mockumentary comedy films, including the beloved Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration.
But following all that work in the comedy and rom-com genres for which she is best known, Coolidge received her chance to shine in The White Lotus, the kind of project that was usually considered outside of her purview. It follows the privileged guests and addled employees of a luxury Hawaiian resort, it is a social satire of the highest order created by Mike White, a veteran film and television writer whose previous credits include The Good Girl, School of Rock, Pitch Perfect 3, and the TV series Freaks and Geeks and Enlightened.
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In The White Lotus, Coolidge plays Tanya McQuoid, a troubled woman whose mother recently died and is seeking comfort and inner peace at the posh resort, Coolidge creates a complex character who’s alternately hopeful, sad, narcissistic, sexy, and triumphant. She’s a standout in a sterling ensemble cast that includes Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Lacey, Molly Shannon, and Sydney Sweeney.
An undeniably radical departure from the usual kind of fare to which Coolidge is attached, The White Lotus earned her outstanding reviews, a plethora of online fan support, and a nomination for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.
That the role is mostly a dramatic one makes the kudos and nomination even sweeter. An instant fan favorite, Coolidge is the only member of the first season’s cast to return in the show’s upcoming second season, which was filmed in Sicily and is currently in post-production. It’s due to premiere on the premium cable channel and streamer HBO Max in October.
Jennifer Wanted to Move Beyond Solely Comedic Roles
It’s Coolidge’s friendship with White Lotus creator White, who became close with her after they met on the set of the 2009 comedy Gentlemen Broncos, that proved to be the catalyst behind taking her talents beyond the boundaries of her long-established comedy stylings.
“I know that sometimes she gets frustrated that she’s always having hump-the-furniture parts,” White said in a piece on Vulture. “She can nail that kind of broad comedy, so of course that’s what people want her to do. People love her, but she’s put in a box.
“I was like, ‘I would love to be able to write something that allows her to show the person that I know, not the character,’” he said.
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Yet even when White contacted Coolidge in the early days of the pandemic to tell her that his proposal for The White Lotus had been picked up by HBO and he had written a role with her in mind, her response to the opportunity to stretch herself as an actress was far from an immediate yes.
She told The Guardian, “I was really affected by the pandemic. It was an incredibly sad time. I was reading tragic news stories on a daily basis, had a fatalistic approach and assumed the virus was going to win. I knew people who lost their lives and was convinced we wouldn’t make it through,” she remembered. “I wasn’t thinking about work, because I didn’t think we’d be alive. But then Mike White called.”
Her initial reaction to White’s telling her that the show had been green-lit and that she had to “get on a plane to Hawaii” was, in Coolidge’s mind, “an impossibility.”
The White Lotus Represents a New Direction for Jennifer
“I’d been gorging and self-destructing at home for months, eating pizza all day,” she recalled. “There was no way I wanted to be on film unless they shot me from the neck up. I’m sort of vain, so there was no f*cking way.”
Coolidge credits one of her close friends for her decision to take the Hawaiian plunge, to “own my mess and just do it.”
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One Emmy Award nomination and an island worth of plaudits later, Coolidge is thrilled that she didn’t find herself in the position of looking back with regret.
“I can’t tell you how close I came to ruining this whole thing for myself. It’s such a great lesson in life. I’d never have forgiven myself,” she said, in retrospect. “I would’ve sat down to watch The White Lotus and said: ‘What the hell was I thinking? I’m an insane person.’ A lot of us actors are so insecure and scared of failure, we blow our own chances.”
Jennifer Credits Good Friends in Helping to Guide Her
How Coolidge pulled herself out of a sadder period brought on by the Covid pandemic and a dash of professional malaise (not uncommon for those invested in a long-term career) can be considered a lesson to us all.
Dedication to one’s mental and physical health, alongside a clear focus on our professional ambitions can be greatly beneficial when we surround ourselves with close friends.
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When we surround ourselves with people whom we care about and trust, those friendships help to shape our personal and professional lives. Positive feelings and candid advice from trusted confidantes can be counted on to fuel how ambitious and motivated we are. Those simple acts drive us to succeed, no matter what our ultimate life and career goals may be, whether you’re an actor, an author, an airline pilot, or an accountant.
And surrounding yourself with enthusiastic people who encourage what you’re working toward —just as you would hopefully encourage them — puts you one step closer to what you want to do and who you want to be.