Frequent Christopher Guest collaborator Jennifer Coolidge returns to familiar improve territory in Guest’s For your Consideration. The comedienne is frequently cast as bimbos despite her academic background and beginnings as a cast member with The Groundlings.
Recently seen in the axed Joey, Coolidge stars as a not so bright producer in the film-with-a-film comedy. Looking stunning these days, the effervescent Coolidge sat down and talked exclusively to Paul Fischer:
Question: Now when Chris says we’re ready to do another movie you just say I’m available whenever you need me, right.? How different is the process now as against when you did Chris’s first one? How comfortable is it and how much more work is it now than it was originally?
Coolidge: I mean that’s a really good question. No one has ever asked me that question and I think it’s a really interesting question. My first film with Chris was Best in Show and I had no idea what I was in for. I had no idea sort of what the process was or anything. I kind of miss my naiveté when I did Best in Show because I was much more panicked on this one, even though I was very nervous, because I feel like you’re supposed to sort of get better as you go and sometimes I feel like some of the stuff I did ten or fifteen years ago, things I did onstage and things like that are much better than things I’ve done lately. But as far as the group goes I love this group of people and I feel so comfortable with them. You have to remember from A Mighty Wind we went around on a bus together, so we really go to know each other and so this is like a group of friends driving around. So, yes, I’m much more at ease like as far as the other people in the scene go, but as far as like the pressure I put on myself, sometimes I feel like if I put too much on myself I’m less funny, and I find as the jobs go on with Chris I feel like I should be getting better.
Question: I imagine Chris must feel the same way because everyone expects these movies to be of a certain standard, and I can imagine that you guys get together and want to try and better the last one.
Coolidge: You know it’s hard. Sometimes I’m like, oh, did that sound like someone I’ve already played. You know, as you go you’re like did I use up all the… you know, it’s like grandmother’s trunk where you have a couple of costumes and you’re like did I use up all of the outfits. Do you know what I mean? Do I have anything left?
Question: In terms of For your Consideration, how familiar do you think that world is outside of L.A? What is the danger of making a film that deals with Hollywood?
Coolidge: This does sort of nail Hollywood but it really sort of captures the actor’s life, even when you’re an actor just how hard it is and how the options are. I don’t know, it gets grimmer as you go sometimes.
Question: Do you find that yourself, because you seem to be working all the time?
Coolidge: You know what, I’m very, very lucky and I think being a comedian really helps. I think you have a much longer span as a comedian than you do as a dramatic actress because I think there’s more competition for a dramatic actress. I feel like sometimes when I go in for auditions it’s the same five or six people sitting in the room. You know what I mean, it’s a smaller world.
Question: Now this movie is a little bit different to the other ones in that it doesn’t use the documentary style that the other films adopted. Does that make the process any different to what you guys did beforehand or is it still the same process?
Coolidge: Not really. I was actually even more intrigued to do it this style. And, you know, I had a very good time on this one. But not that different though as far as like when you’re improvising you’re just praying… Like I’m one of those people where I’m like praying to the heavens above that someone will come out. I know a lot of people are much smarter improvisers and they sort of… know something great is going to come out. But I feel like whenever something great comes out it – you know, if it does come out – it’s a fluke and so I’m sort of praying to the improv gods like, you know, please…
Question: Is it still challenging to do an improv and make sure that that improv is, as you say, something you’ve not done in any other one of these movies? I mean how do you come across as being fresher on each movie?
Coolidge: Well I think the real key to being really fresh in one of Chris’ movies is just being incredibly specific about who you are when you go in, and I feel like if I’m clear enough on the character that I created then I can…
Question: So they give you that from the get-go.
Coolidge: Yeah, I mean he did tell me I was a diaper heiress and, you know, he did tell me that, you know, my name was Whitney Taylor Brown and he gave me all that. He gave me the background, but I have to come up with, you know, the rest of the back story and then… But that really helps for me – improvising, if I can have all the specific information it really helps me say things.
Question: What did you want when you were younger? Did you want to be a comedian, did you want to be a straightforward actress?
Coolidge: Yeah, I wanted to be a straightforward actress. I became obsessed with Meryl Streep in college and I wanted to be a dramatic actress my whole life. I was very serious about that and it went a different route.
Question: Are you surprised by that?
Coolidge: I am very surprised because mo one in my family thought I was funny. You know they thought I was weird. But, my brother was the funny one in the family so it’s so bizarre…
Question: How did that weirdness manifest itself in you?
Coolidge: I mean the only reason why I think I ended up in comedy was that I was really good at sort of imitating people. I wasn’t a very smart kid but when someone was condescending, whenever they would like they would like come over… I never said anything smart at the dinner table but when someone left, like a guest would come to our house and they would leave, I could do that person really well and I could say all the stupid things that they said and, you know… So I knew I had something.
Question: When did you discover that you could make people laugh, that you had the comedic gift? Because you either have that or you don’t.
Coolidge: You know, I didn’t know… I thank god for The Groundlings because a friend of mine made me go to an audition. He’s like you shouldn’t be in the serious acting class that we’re in. This guy, John Williams, drove me to the audition. He said this is where you should be. I needed some direction and he made me do this audition. I got in The Groundlings and The Groundlings sort of changed my life and then, you know, Mark Hirschfield that cast Seinfeld was in the audience one night, he cast me on Seinfeld and then all these cool things happened because of The Groundlings.
Question: Do you see yourself as a comic actress or a character actress who happens to do comedy?
Coolidge: I think I’m a character actress that happens to do comedy.
Question: Now a lot of comedians do look for things that are different; do look for dramas as they start to establish themselves comedically. Are you striving for that or do you…
Coolidge: Are you kidding? I call my agent everyday and say I would like to do a dramatic part in a film – or anything. I would love to do a drama. I would like to play anything else but not comedic and they go wow that’s very interesting, okay, we’re going to look for it.
Question: Would you do television again after the Joey experience?
Coolidge: Yes, I would… To be really honest I would love to do the format of like single camera. I think that’s a more interesting format and I think, you know, it feels more like making a movie and it’s more of what I’m interested in.
Question: Are you pursuing that?
Coolidge: Yeah, again, back to my agent.
Question: So what are you doing professionally next? What else has been going on?
Coolidge: You know I was doing this movie that was starting in December and now it’s been put on hold and it was called American Primitive and it was shooting down in Cape Cod. So I guess I’m supposed to be looking for the next…