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They Called Young Jennifer Coolidge Not Good-Looking Enough to Cast How She Proved Them So Very, Very Wrong
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They Called Young Jennifer Coolidge Not Good-Looking Enough to Cast How She Proved Them So Very, Very Wrong

Hollywood's best-kept secret is finally enjoying her breakthrough — at age 61.

Jennifer Coolidge is a Golden Globe-winning actress, who finally got her due recognition for her portrayal as Tanya Mcquoid in HBO's White Lotus.


Looking back at the start of her career, she gained niche popularity as "Stifler's Mom" in the American Pie franchise and became the quintessential embodiment of the NSFW term, "MILF."

Early on in her career, she was told by casting agents she wasn't good-looking enough to become an actor.

And for a while, she believed it.

But a breakthrough role on Seinfeld (along with a little help from Ariana Grande three decades later) changed everything for the comedic blonde.

If only young Jennifer Coolidge could see herself now! Here's how the Boston native broke through to the other side...

Jenna Greene / WWD

She Moved To Los Angeles At 21 Years Old

When she was just starting out, Jennifer Coolidge went west, leaving her hometown in Boston to head to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

Coolidge had studied acting at Emerson College and had big dreams of being "the next Meryl Streep".

While those aspirations may not have panned out quite as Coolidge planned...I mean---she's definitely the Meryl Streep to gay men everywhere---the vivacious American Pie alum became a legend in her own right.

Young Jennifer Coolidge Was Told She Wasn't "Good-Looking" Enough

At 21 years old, Coolidge was able to scrape enough cash to rent a small room in a nursing home that she shared with a roommate who was also an aspiring actress.

Their parallel career paths, made for some not-so-healthy roommate rivalry. Coolidge's roommate decided to share her frankly b*tchy opinions with Jennifer one day.

In an interview, Jennifer Coolidge recalls how her roommate was Hollywood's idea of conventionally attractive. She was the kind of woman who won bikini contests...and the kind who bragged about winning said bikini contests---and Coolidge, wasn't.

Decades later, Coolidge can still remember her roommate not-so-subtly implying that Jennifer didn't have the right "look" it took, to be a star.

“She was showing [me] a photo of [herself], but then she said, ‘I just want to tell you something, Jennifer. I have a really good eye for talent. I don’t see you as someone in front of the camera.’ ”

- Jennifer Coolidge, recounting her early experiences

Some 40 years later, the words still sting.

While Jennifer Coolidge doesn't seem too hung up on the past---the White Lotus star hasn't forgotten it either.

A Big Casting Agent Rejected Her: "I Only Cast Good-Looking People"

Not long after her roommate's insult, a casting agent doubled down on the same idea that Jennifer wasn't attractive enough.

Young Jennifer Coolidge headshots
eBay

When a popular casting agent brought Coolidge in for an audition, she took no measures to hide her dislike for the Emmy-Award-winning actress, telling a young Jennifer Coolidge she would never cast her anything.

The casting agent went on to insult her headshots, saying they were an inaccurate portrayal of just how beautiful the young Jennifer Coolidge wasn't.

“[The casting agent told me] In your headshot, you look just like a young Candice Bergen. You look nothing like this. I only cast good-looking people on my soaps.

- Jennifer Coolidge, VULTURE

She Didn't Book Her First Role For 9 Years

Over the next 9 years, Coolidge wouldn't book a single role, making the actress question if she made a big mistake, even wasting her 20s.

With so many young actresses, there is a pressure to "make it" in your 20s before you become---what this famous comedy skit starring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Amy Schumer call--- "unf*ckable."

While the Comedy Central skit pokes fun at the impossible beauty standards in Hollywood---it's only really funny, because of how much it rings true.

At 30, it seemed Coolidge had missed the boat on landing a role of the leading lady

Young Jennifer Coolidge on Seinfeld
NBCUniversal via Getty Images 

It seems like an exaggeration, but a quick look at the history of Hollywood's leading ladies would show it's not:

At 22 years old, Jennifer Lawrence had already shot Hunger Games. Emma Stone filmed Crazy, Stupid, Love alongside Ryan Gosling when she was 20. By the time Florence Pugh turned 23, she had already been nominated for an Academy Award. By 24, Euphoria actress Zendaya had won two Golden Globes. Brooke Shields is another actress who—after being the literal face of the 80s— returned to Hollywood after finishing university and struck out on jobs in favor of younger talent.

After nine long years auditioning, Coolidge was about ready to call it quits---until she got the call.

She had booked a role on the hit sitcom Seinfeld. Coolidge would be playing the coveted role of Jerry's girlfriend: a masseuse who refuses to give Jerry a free massage.

The role changed everything for Coolidge and gave her the affirmation and visibility she needed to keep going.

The best was yet to come.

Stifler's Mom Has Got It Going On

After a handful of guest star roles, Jennifer Coolidge finally broke out in the 1999 classic high school flick, American Pie---and the role couldn't have been more perfect.

Young Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler's Mom
Getty / Everett Collection

Coolidge landed the iconic character of "Stifler's Mom": the millennium's last Mrs. Robinson.

In perfect poetic justice for the young Jennifer Coolidge who was told she wasn't beautiful enough to be a star and at 38 years old, she was playing the quintessential cougar.

She was the super hot mom, or as her son's friends nicknamed her, MILF.

I honestly don't know if there's a better situation for a hot-mom-divorcee than to be the object of desire of 18-year-old boys?

Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
 Legally Blonde / Everett Collection

"Stifler's Mom" gave Jennifer's career a second wind, and the actress went on to star in several more iconic supporting roles like Legally, Blonde and A Cinderella Story.

Jennifer Thanks Ariana Grande For Her Comeback

Ariana Grande, Jennifer Coolidge, Thank U Next
Thank U, Next Official Music Video

During the mid-2000s, Jennifer Coolidge's career took another dip.

The American Pie star fell off the scene, getting wrapped up in pursuits outside acting--- but her fans never forgot her.

Including one fan in particular who she left quite an impression on.

While appearing on The Tonight Show, Ariana Grande told Jimmy Fallon that Jennifer Coolidge's Best in Show was one of her "favorite movies," and did a spot-on impression of Coolidge's iconic line in Legally Blonde that left fans screaming for more.

(We're sure everyone reading this has at least one friend who can do a good Coolidge impression...)

Grande and Coolidge would collaborate on the singer's music video for her hit song "Thank U, Next"---a video which Coolidge insists "changed her life."

In an interview, Coolidge told Grande she attributed her impression and role in Thank U, Next as the reason for her re-emerging success.

JENNIFER COOLIDGE: I mean, from there I got [the film] ‘Promising Young Woman,’ and this whole thing. You were sort of the instigator. I really believe that. I think if you hadn’t put me in ‘Thank U, Next,’ and done that imitation, I don’t think I would be here where I am.

ARIANA GRANDE: Absolutely the most untrue thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

JENNIFER COOLIDGE: No, I really think that! And I think it’s pretty cool,” the actress said. “I was kind of flatlining, and you got things going for me. I just want to thank you. I know you’re a very humble person, you wouldn’t admit to it, but I’m just going to thank you.

- Ariana Grande and Jennifer Coolidge, Entertainment Weekly

Whether or not the mystical powers of Ariana Grande precede her, Jennifer Coolidge did get her career renaissance in her late 50s.

Ariana Grande dressed up as Jennifer Coolidge
Ariana Grande's Best in Show Halloween Costume / @arianagrande / Alamy

A Late Bloomer: Shooting The White Lotus

Jennifer Coolidge nailed the Award-Winning role of rich, lonely, middle-aged Tanya McQuoid in White Lotus, which was made for her---literally.

White Lotus creator Mike White wrote the role of Tanya with Coolidge specifically in mind. White, who had been a fan and friend of Coolidge's for years, was tired of seeing her cast in "hump-the-furniture parts" and wanted to give her an opportunity to showcase her comedic chops.

Jennifer Coolidge in The White Lotus Season 2
Fabio Lovino/HBO

"She can nail that kind of broad comedy" White remarked of Jennifer Coolidge's typecasting, "So of course that’s what people want her to do. People love her, but she’s put in a box.”

- The Creator of The White Lotus on typecasting Jennifer Coolidge

Jennifer Coolidge agreed to take on the role, on one condition: they had to start filming at a later date, so she could look the way she wanted to.

White told Coolidge this wasn't an option. They were on a time crunch to shoot in Hawaii and film at The Four Seasons Hotel, and shooting had to take place as soon as possible.

Coolidge's Insecurities Almost Caused Her To Turn Down The Role

"I stupidly almost gave it up and my girlfriend talked me out of it — thank God," Coolidge told TODAY.

Jennifer Coolidge for Variety Magazine
Peggy Sirota/Variety

After a long stint in quarantine, "self-destructing at home for months and eating [vegan] pizzas all day", Jennifer Coolidge admits she didn't feel bikini-weather or camera-ready when Mike White offered her the part on White Lotus.

In fact, Coolidge felt so unprepared to be back on set, that she almost turned the part down.

"Mike texted me at 2 a.m. one night and it just said: 'Are you afraid?' It was like he could read my mind and sensed that I was trying to get out of it. Then a great friend of mine told me to own my mess and just do it. I can’t tell you how close I came to ruining this whole thing for myself."

- Jennifer Coolidge, The Guardian

Looking back, Jennifer Coolidge Sees The Life Lessons

"I’d never have forgiven myself. 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 Coolidge, The Guardian

It's difficult to find your confidence no matter how old you are.

At 21 years old, young Jennifer Coolidge had to believe in herself and her own talent, more than she believed the casting director telling her she wasn't pretty enough to be a star.

At 61, she still has to remind herself sometimes that she's worthy of the success that's coming her way.

The industry has changed ---albeit, at a glacial pace---but Coolidge is one of the Hollywood actresses who's part of that change and it's really, truly, beautiful.

Jennifer's Beauty Standards Are More Realistic: "Being really 'good looking' is overrated"

In a hilarious interview with PEOPLE, Jennifer Coolidge shares how she doesn't subscribe to the industry's beauty standards, reflecting that "being really good-looking is overrated."

"A lot of people I know that are good looking are boring---and they don't know they're boring"

- Jennifer Coolidge

@people

#JenniferCoolidge says being good looking doesn’t help people, UNLESS … 😂 #TheBeautifulIssue #PEOPLEBeauties

Say what you want, but Jennifer Coolidge is anything but boring.

Over her 40-year career, she's amassed a cult fanbase that would follow her anywhere---and Ariana Grande's leading the charge!

Jennifer Coolidge teaches a masterclass in never giving up.

And while the young Jennifer Coolidge would grow up to face a lifetime slow starts, failed launches, and bold-faced rejections to the tune of "you're not good looking enough"---they told Meryl Streep the same thing.

And even though Jessica Lange booked King Kong, 21 Academy Award nominations later, they couldn't have been more wrong about Meryl Streep.

So maybe, in a way, the young Jennifer Coolidge who stumbled into the shared room of a nursing home in Los Angeles, made her first big dream come true after all.

And you know? Coolidge is probably just getting started...

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