Entertainment & Arts

On My Screen: ‘White Lotus’ Star Jennifer Coolidge On Her Most-Quoted Role, The Part She Didn’t Get To Play & Why “Character Is Fate”

Jennifer Coolidge is fresh from shooting Season 2 of The White Lotus and she’s on a high. Having made such an indelible mark in Season 1 of Mike White’s limited series set in a luxury Hawaiian resort, she’s the only main character returning for a second shot. For now, she’s having to keep plot details under wraps, but she’s positive that it will be another hit: “It would be impossible to not like it,” she says. All we know is that Season 2 will see Coolidge, Emmy-nominated for her role, back as the tortured and grieving Tanya McQuoid alongside her terminally ill boyfriend Greg (Jon Gries). This time the setting is a Sicilian White Lotus resort, where they’ll be joined by such new cast members as Aubrey Plaza, F. Murray Abraham, Adam DiMarco and Tom Hollander. Here, she reminisces on a career that’s seen her stealing scenes in classic modern comedies such as American Pie and Legally Blonde.

Jennifer Coolidge with Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.
MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

My First Film Lesson

The first most depressing lesson I ever learned on a set was when I went to do Legally Blonde, and there was an actor — a television actor that I’d seen on TV, a funny guy­ — and he was the parking attendant [for the studio]. And I remember thinking, we have to be grateful. I was thinking, I could do this movie here, and then it could be back to waitressing. Nothing is written in stone. So, I remember thinking what a privilege it was to get this job. I was thinking, God, you really have to have gratitude in this business. It’s quite a rollercoaster ride being an actor and we have to be thrilled about getting these jobs, because sometimes they don’t come around again for a long time. Or ever.

The Best Advice I Ever Received

My father used to always say to me — and he used to say it more than any other little phrase — “Jennifer, you have to remember that character is fate.” And I think he’s right. Who you are forms your ending, and you have the power to be good or rotten.

The Part I Always Wanted

There was a very cool thing that Mike White wrote for HBO, which didn’t get made, but it was called The Tears of St. Patsy. That was really cool. But I have to say, it’s not like Tanya McQuoid was a disappointment. So, either one is good for me.

American Pie
Coolidge, as Stifler’s mom, with Eddie Kaye Thomas in American Pie.
University Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

My Toughest Role

I don’t know if there’s any film footage of it, but I did this movie with Adam Sandler. It was called Click and his character was married to Kate Beckinsale’s. My love interest was the lead in Baywatch, David Hasselhoff. I remember they were going to do these reunions where we aged. And I was in the old-age makeup for a very long time, but somehow when I showed up on set to film, everyone else had less old-age makeup. Kate looked like she could have been my daughter. I mean, it was very funny. She had very little of it on, but I remember with my face that’s sort of chubby, with the old-age prosthetics, I just looked like a space monster. I was thinking, How is this possible that everybody else looks like the same age and yet somehow it just looked like I was Godzilla or something. I remember going home thinking, Wow, I don’t know, maybe it’s about time I should quit the movie business.

The TV Shows and Films That Make Me Cry

I can’t handle any movie with something sad that happens to an animal. And then there are some movies that are just so overwhelmingly devastating, you can’t recover from them. Cinema Paradiso, I remember crying so hard at the end of that movie. I do like sad music, but sad movies are really hard to handle sometimes.

The Most Fun I’ve Had On Set

Jennifer Coolidge
With Michael Angarano in Gentlemen Broncos.
Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection.

I did a movie called Gentlemen Broncos with Jared Hess, and I had an incredible time. That was when I met Mike White. We actually hung out because he played my boyfriend in the movie. Then I really hit it off with [Jared’s] wife. I really liked his wife, Jerusha Hess, and then I got to go do Austenland with her. That was another incredible time on a set, where it was the English countryside. I have to say those two experiences were maybe a pinnacle.

The Character That’s Most Like Me

There are a lot of things about Tanya McQuoid that are similar. Mike stole a lot of those things because he witnessed me on a trip to Africa and I know he collected a lot of my eccentric ways and put them into the show. I’m like, “Oh my God, am I really that bad?” But as far as who am I most like? I don’t know, but I would’ve liked to have been as confident as Stifler’s mom [from American Pie] in real life. I would like to have channeled her in my real life because I think I could have had a much more successful love life. She had it going on and she really didn’t give a shit. What a great thing where you’re not really worried about what people think.

My Most Quoted Role

With Bob Newhart in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.
MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

You know, it’s so weird because there’s something about the Fourth of July line from Legally Blonde 2. I get so many DMs and texts and people leaving things in my mailbox. And if I’m out on that day, people just go nuts. I don’t know, it’s probably that line Paulette said, where she goes, “You look like the Forth of July. That makes me want a hot dog real bad.” I hear that the most.

[The ‘bend and snap’, also from from Legally Blonde] is a moment in moviemaking I would just totally disagree with. I’ve never had bending over work for me like it did in that movie. I think that the bend and snap is misleading. But I’d have to say when I did do the bend and snap, I was wearing my underwear and I feel like in real life you have to leave it off.

My Guilty Pleasure

I like to buy a big bag of bubble gum and chew it for two seconds and then put it on my nightstand. I can go through the whole bag. I don’t know, it’s like it’s something really decadent. Double Bubble or whatever it is.

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Nominees magazine here.

Who’d Play Me In My Biopic

There are two different things, who would play you and who would you choose? If I could choose someone to play me, I think I’d have Jennifer Lawrence. I mean, I don’t know if she’d like it — she’d probably refuse it — but I really like her.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever done?

When I was in Florida, I got a job as an undercover pregnant woman, looking for shoplifters at a maternity store. The irony of the story is that I caught the cashier stealing, not one of the shoppers.

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