Jennifer Coolidge is perhaps best known for her role as über-cougar Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie franchise, along with similarly outrageous roles including a ditzy manicurist with a heart of gold in Legally Blonde, offbeat parts in Christopher Guest films and, most recently, a recurring role on TV’s 2 Broke Girls. The Boston-born actress takes on a different kind of woman in the Nora Theatre Company’s Saving Kitty, in which she stars as an ultra-liberal atheist New Yorker who’s thrown for a loop when her daughter brings home an evangelical Christian educator. We caught up with Coolidge before the play’s premiere at Central Square Theater on July 9.
How does theater compare to acting in film or TV? Well, you can’t go back and do it over again! I think that’s the coolest thing, that it’s live and you’re in the moment, and anything can go wrong. It’s very exciting. And each performance is really different, I always find. Especially if you’re working with really good actors, it sort of becomes beyond what you could have imagined the show to be. The people you’re onstage with come up with this amazing stuff, and then you can’t help but react to it.
So it’s more organic? Well, I don’t know. I love to make movies. The thing about movies is that you don’t know, a lot of the time, what movie you’re making. It’s all up to the director at the end. You have no idea what you’re going to see when you go to the premiere.
Really? I mean, you read the script, and you sort of know what’s going on, but so much of the director’s point of view, and how he edits it and everything for the final cut, it’s sort of a surprise when you go to see the movie. So with theater, you have more control—I’m talking about your own performance. We have this amazing director for Saving Kitty. Not only is she a brilliant director and won a lot of awards and everything, but she’s won acting awards, she’s known for being a brilliant actress too. So she can probably really educate me. I’ve done a few Broadway shows, but I’m really interested to see her interpretation. It’s very exciting because we get like four weeks to rehearse this thing… Like, I’m doing this TV show right now and there is no rehearsal. You get the script on a Wednesday, you run it for Thursday or Friday, and then you’re performing it Monday or Tuesday. So it happens pretty fast. Theater is this incredible medium where you get to explore.
Do you feel a lot more pressure, knowing that there are no second takes? I don’t know if I feel like it’s more pressure, because I feel like all of the jobs are pressure! [Laughs.] When I’m on a movie I feel a lot of pressure, when I’m on the TV show I feel a lot of pressure—there’s a lot of money at stake. When you shoot a TV show you know how much it costs per minute to make that show, and you feel it. I would have to say that theater is probably the most fun, though.
God, that’s a really good question. Well, maybe I could go live in a small town and do plays in the tiny town I live in. And then, if a movie wanted me I could fly to wherever that was. But I could own a little theater in that town. That would be a dream come true—to own a theater in a small town. That would be really fun.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for this role? Research is such a funny word because this character was really someone I could relate to, for some reason. She’s a woman who has a lot going on. I think she’s very sad about a lot of things, and she’s a busybody; she’s in everyone’s business. And she really just can’t keep her mouth shut about anything—she says a lot of really inappropriate stuff. But I found her to be really likable. You have to fall in love with who you’re playing, and then you have to just be that person through and through.
Yeah, I think you have to really like the character, and you can’t judge them. It’s impossible to do a good job [otherwise]. The cool thing is, we did a reading of the play last year and a couple people came up to her [the playwright] and said “Did you write that for Jennifer?” Even a friend of mine who was there asked that. So there’s something about it, something about the role and me that seems like she had me in mind somehow—at least that’s how other people see it. But when the script was sent to me, I read it and said “I want to do this.” It wasn’t one of those things where you sit for weeks and it’s sitting on your coffee table. I read it in like an hour and said “I want to do this.”
You don’t have children, but if you did, and you were faced with a similar situation, what would you do? Well, I have an assistant. She’s a young girl, 26 years old, and I’m very opinionated about who she should be with. It’s just like she’s my daughter. I’m kind of controlling about it. She recently started dating this guy who is kind of amazing, and I’m all excited about it. But if she wanted to leave this great guy for some creepy guy, believe me, I’d get my hands in it. I would be very involved, and that’s probably not cool when you’re a boss. But it’s hard when you really like somebody! You want to save their ass before it’s too late.
Yeah, a lot of the time if you witness something that isn’t cool, you see your friend’s boyfriend do something awful, you can’t really tell them. Because if you’re the informant of anything witnessed, they don’t think of you as helping them. It’s a shoot the messenger thing. It’s very hard to stay out of stuff, and if you do get involved you usually get killed.
Who’s one actor you’d love to work with? I’ll tell you who it is, because it just happened to me. I just saw Far from the Madding Crowd, and the lead actor, Matthias Schoenaerts, I want to do a movie where I have love scenes with that dude. He must be in his early 30s, and boy, is he my type. When I was watching that movie I was like, this is a real movie star. You can’t take your eyes off of him. I was like, ‘Wow, how do I get a job with that dude?’