I have a new best girlfriend, OK? She’s Jennifer Coolidge, the supporting kook of comic movies like Best in Show and Legally Blonde, and she has wry humor, a nice faux-leopard coat, and the part of Edith in the Broadway revival of that classic bitchathon, The Women. Over brunch at Blue Water Grill, the glamorously Eloise-via-Auntie-Mame-looking Coolidge told me, “I kept saying to my agent, ‘Are you sure they didn’t want Jennifer Tilly?’ He said, ‘No, she’s already playing Crystal.’ My audition was so awful I don’t know how I got the part. I wore a ’70s dress, with my buttons popping, and I looked more like Susan Blakely than anyone in 1938.”
Still, she nabbed the role (played by Phyllis Povah in the hallowed movie) and quickly heeded director Scott Elliott‘s advice: “These girls are nasty. Don’t hold back!” “It’s a very dark version,” said Coolidge, ominously. “There’ll be plenty of nudity.” Female nudity? Gee, most gay men will hope it’s dark. But apparently Cynthia Nixon, playing the Norma Shearer one, anchors all the meowing with some heart; Coolidge reports that “Cynthia’s extraordinary. She reeks of decency and makes everyone else look like an asshole. That’s just sheer talent.”
Coolidge herself has that kind of spunky appeal, with an acid twist. She was a regular riot as Best in Show‘s gold digger with big lips and a near dead husband, a role she knew from life. “I was a failed waitress,” she explained, “so I used to babysit for these Beverly Hills women. You’d go to their disgusting houses with statues made out of Formica, and these atrocious girls with fake lips would say, ‘Could you come around the back?’ I always wanted to play one of those women.” Alas, her monologue about how she didn’t mind her hubby’s diarrhea was unceremoniously cut!
She’s the older half of a love combo with that Finch kid in the American Pie flicks, and said of her screen son, Seann William Scott, “I’d sleep with him in a second!” (Get in line, honey.) And in Legally Blonde—the woman never rests—she atypically enough was the schlumpy manicurist who needs to get nailed. “I basically played the loser I was at 15,” Coolidge revealed. “At my hideous boarding school, I broke into the dining hall, stole all the pastries, and put them under my bed. I was really depressed!” I slammed down my danish mid-bite.
Where isn’t she these days? In Zoolander, because Ben Stiller found her performance (spoofing Donna Karan) deeply unfunny and made her lines as invisible as that diarrhea monologue. “By the time I finished,” she said, “Ben couldn’t stand me. I don’t even think he said goodbye, he was so pissed. He’s kind of aloof to begin with, and then if you’re not pleasing him, he’s beyond aloof.”
Jennifer’s anything but. She got her in-your-face training at the Groundlings Theatre, along with Chris Kattan, who ended up being her live-in love. Did she become allergic to Mango? “I got tired of being someone’s beard,” she blurted, then grinningly took it back. So they had a healthy sex life? “Eew. I don’t want to think about it. But he really does like women. It wasn’t a put-on like some of my other boyfriends. He was a young squirt and was kicking ass on Saturday Night Live, and I was fat and gross and my mother had just died. I was the fishwife, saying, ‘Before SNL, you took the garbage out!’ I must say he was much nicer before he got the show. People always said it must be a big laughfest to live with someone so funny, and I wanted to say, ‘A lot of it just sucks and it’s not funny, and if I have to see that monkey one more time . . . ‘ ”
Fortunately, Coolidge has her own nutty résumé now, and her success must irk all those who wanted her to be more Eloise and less Auntie Mame. In ’99, Allure even put her through the paces for a feature on slimming down. “It was like, ‘We’re gonna take a kind of overweight actress and fix her up,’ ” she told me. “I hid from the magazine’s people for weeks in a wig and glasses because I hadn’t lost weight. Finally, the editor was like, ‘This girl hasn’t lost one pound!’ For the final weigh-in, I had my hand on the wall so I’d weigh less. They had to put me in a black dress and turn me sideways. Friends say I actually look better in the ‘before’ shot!” As I snapped that funny face with an imaginary Polaroid, I knew she looked best of all right now.
Bring your mental cameras to Puppetry of the Penis; it may not be Dance of Death—that zippy toe-tapper about “bottom feeders,” heart disease, and annihilation—but it’s definitely the most unusual show about an organ since The Phantom of the Opera. The plot? Well, the two Aussie stars—who are used to having fun Down Under—make shapes out of their twin towers, which might actually provide some zany relief in these darkest of times. The results are projected onto a big screen—yes, the camera does add 15 pounds—and as they vividly simulate pelicans, mollusks, and Gonzo (suddenly it’s Muppetry of the Penis), you ooh and ah while grabbing your own crotch in second-hand pain.
The guys are quick on their feet, too; when an audience member’s cell went off on opening night, one of them snarled, “Give me that phone. I’ll tell them where you are.” How can this show be topped? Well, one of the guys just told me that a friend of his does “bum tricks.” Get ready for Puppetry of the Anus.
By the way, Jennifer Coolidge saw the show and told me, “They can do a windsurfer? Well, my boyfriends can put together a music stand!” Even camp legend Charles Nelson Reilly mentions the gonadal drama in his one-man show, Save It for the Stage, in the context of describing how George Maharis‘s dick was “the biggest thing Off-Broadway” (they worked together). And Reilly mesmerizingly traverses the length of his own life, describing how he triumphed over much unsolicited advice. (“They don’t allow queers on television,” a producer once told him—but the guy was later killed by a male hustler.) Reilly proved them all wrong by becoming so omnipresent he admits to once thinking, “Who do I have to fuck to get off TV?”
That cute Brooke Shields has taken off from the tube to do Cabaret, and someone I know who saw the show calls it Suddenly Sally Bowles. (I saw it starring Gina Gershon, but had to move upstairs when the tourists at my table started cheerily singing along to “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”) Meanwhile, I hear that the fabulous Brittany Murphy (“I’ll never tell . . . “) is negotiating to play Sally, though right now she’s making that Eminem movie, which I guess is also about the rise of Nazism, tee-hee.
A wartime escape happens Tuesdays at Marion’s, where “human parrot” Lee Byar pops out in drag as a different diva every time you finish a course. Last week, it went like this: soda, Carol, salad, Judy, entrée, Marilyn, dessert, Bette. And suddenly I was Shelley Winters.
Finally, that ditsy diva, Sir V.S. Naipaul, just won a Nobel Prize, but his homophobic views won’t cop any awards. In a recent interview, Naipaul said that E.M. Forster had “his own purposes in India. He is a homosexual and he has his time in India, exploiting poor people.” As for Forster’s pal, economist John Maynard Keynes, “he sodomized [people] and they were too frightened to do anything about it.” Gee, I feel sort of raped.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2001