Jennifer Coolidge is one of America’s best-loved comedy powerhouses. With iconic roles in the Legally Blonde and American Pie films to her current Emmy-Award-winning turn on HBO's The White Lotus, Coolidge always delivers on her trademark brand. Campy, glamorous, yet somehow deeply relatable, the over-the-top Coolidgness of her performances is rooted in a tenderness that steals hearts everywhere. But she might not have risen to national treasure status if not for a characteristically bold move she made early on in her career to get noticed. What was it? To score her big break into the industry, Coolidge told a big fat lie and landed on an episode of Seinfeld. Now, years later, she is spilling the truth.
Coolidge showed her scene-stealing power in many early 2000s films. She stood toe-to-toe with Christopher Guest's troupe of comedy titans in the mockumentaries Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Then, of course, was her spin as Paulette, the nail tech in the box office smash Legally Blonde. But she probably wouldn't have booked any of them if not for a well-crafted lie...
No, if Coolidge hadn't taken the risk and bent the truth, she may never have earned the success to land guest roles on pretty much every successful sitcom from the past 20 years. Friends fans will remember her as Joey Tribbiani’s agent, Bobby Morganstern, in the short-lived spin-off. But she also left her mark on 2 Broke Girls, Nip/Tuck, Party Down, According to Jim, and many more. Lately, though, Coolidge has been on a career hot streak.
Recently, Coolidge has been lighting up prestige TV. She played realtor Karen Calhoun in Ryan Murphy’s true-crime adaptation The Watcher. Though, it was her recurring role as Tanya McQuoid-Hunt in the social satire The White Lotus that finally garnered her some long overdue awards attention. Coolidge won her first Emmy Award in 2022 for her portrayal of the scatterbrained hotel guest but later admitted she nearly turned it down.
She didn't want to do The White Lotus
Coolidge took the call from The White Lotus writer/director, Mike White, in the thick of the pandemic, and was immediately terrified. Telling The Guardian, "I’d been gorging and self-destructing at home for months, eating pizza all day. There was no way I wanted to be on film unless they shot me from the neck up. I’m sort of vain, so there was no ******* way."
Scared of failure
But thankfully, White and one of Coolidge's friends called her out on her fear and convinced her to jump into the unknown. The comedian is now so glad she saw sense, as she explained in her interview with The Guardian, "'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."
Studying her craft
And Coolidge has worked far too hard to shy away from great opportunities. Before making it big, she studied her craft in her hometown of Boston at Emerson College, then progressed to Hollywood's Academy of Dramatic Arts. Like so many other comedy greats, she honed her comic chops doing improv at the prestigious troupes Gotham City and The Groundlings. But even with her experience Coolidge still felt she had to embellish her resume to win her first role, a one-off guest appearance on the sitcom phenomenon Seinfeld.
Every star who has forged their path has a story about how they landed their breakout role, but Coolidge certainly had to pull some strings. In a 2015 GQ magazine piece about the fictional version of Jerry Seinfeld’s girlfriends, the Boston native came clean about how she managed to book the memorable role as his masseuse love interest. But in true Coolidge spirit, her strategy left fans surprised and amused.
Booked and blessed
Referring to her audition for the one-off role of Jodi, Coolidge remarked, “It was a weird day. I booked Seinfeld the same day that I booked this very short-lived series called She TV, which was an all-women sketch show on ABC. I didn't really have any jobs before that.”
Packed with falsehoods
Coolidge then freely admitted that her resume at the time was packed with falsehoods. The Emmy winner explained, “I’d gone to a school called American Academy of Dramatic Arts up in Pasadena. And I’d just named all these shows and all these different theaters at the school as if they played there.” But was she afraid of getting caught?
Justifying the lie
Well, Coolidge tried to justify the fact that she had been a little creative with the truth. The Legally Blonde star added, “You have to do that if you have a blank resume until you start getting jobs. Then you can slowly erase the lies. I’d love to get my hands on that resume now.” Fans would too, and are just as eager to glimpse her audition tape, even if to see how the young actress decided to style herself.
Looking the part
Coolidge believes looking the part was just as instrumental in winning the casting team over. And the American Pie star has a couple of retail workers to thank for that. Coolidge explained, “I didn’t have any flattering outfits. So I went to this store, and there was a mother and daughter who worked in the store. I said, ‘I’m auditioning for Seinfeld tomorrow.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, honey, you’ve got to wear better clothes than what you’re wearing.’”
Coolidge went on to add, “So they made me buy this little outfit, and I think it got me the job! I kind of looked clueless most of the time, and these girls put me together.” Of course, once all the resume lies and makeover tactics had worked Coolidge then had to deal with imposter syndrome.
Yes, Coolidge told GQ that she believed her initial table read had been something of a disaster. But she received reassurance from a familiar face. The star explained, “After we finished Julia Louis-Dreyfus came up to me and said, ‘You were amazing!’ I knew I sucked, but she was still really cool about it.”
The table read might not have been a huge success. But luckily for Coolidge, she appeared to have nailed it when the cameras actually started rolling. The actress revealed, “After my episode aired, all these people, all these casting directors that would never let me through the doorwell, it kind of changed a lot for me.”
Opening the doors
Coolidge added, “Years later, I was up for a pilot, and it was between me and another girl, and I think they were leaning toward the other girl. But then the producer told me a rerun of my Seinfeld episode had aired that night, and everyone had seen it, and it had gotten me the job. Thank you, Jerry!”
Losing her mother
Sadly, Coolidge’s mother passed away from pancreatic cancer shortly after the Seinfeld episode aired. But the actress remains thankful her first screen appearance came before such a loss. Coolidge told website Bustle, “Thank God she saw that one acting job before her life ended. She was so worried that I was never going to have even a tiny success — like anything. So it was cool for her to sort of maybe think that maybe I had a shot.”
Though Coolidge's first role came from a lie, she is proud that she has made a unique place for herself in Hollywood and broken many stereotypes in the process. The beloved star has come a long way from her time as Jerry's short-lived girlfriend, but Coolidge isn't the only star to have guested on Seinfeld before hitting the big time.
Will she do Legally Blonde 3?
But with her star only rising, fans are wondering when Coolidge will reprise her role as Paulette in the highly anticipated film Legally Blonde 3, that's supposedly been in development for several years. Coolidge addressed it herself in a 2022 interview with Insider, "I'm gonna have to insist to Reese that we make it this year because I'm not gonna make it," adding, "I need new material." So can fans look forward to a sunny dose of Elle and Paulette back in their manicure chairs?
Well, it's certainly in the cards. Writer Mindy Kaling is said to be penning the script, which will do doubt result in more iconic one-liners from Coolidge and Witherspoon. Though, the latter has also navigated some career twists and turns in the past few years, following Coolidge's path into prestige TV dramas, and picking up some awards along the way. However, Witherspoon has also hurdled over a few embarrassing moments in the spotlight.
No Hollywood connections
Like Coolidge, Witherspoon had to rely on her charm and wits to make connections in Hollywood. In 2002, she told USA Today, “My Southern upbringing has been real beneficial to me in this industry. [It’s about] being conscientious about people’s feelings, being polite, being responsible, and never taking for granted what you have in your life.”
Here, Witherspoon was speaking following her breakout success in Legally Blonde. Prior to that, the actor had starred in the coming-of-age movie The Man in the Moon and the teen flicks Election and Cruel Intentions. But as you may have guessed, it was Elle Woods that truly made her a star.
In the 2001 comedy, Witherspoon perfected her role as the Beverly Hills blonde who swaps her sorority for Harvard Law School to win back a former boyfriend. Along the way, though, the student discovers that she is something of a natural talent in the courtroom. It was clear from the box office numbers that Reese was a natural star.
Elle Woods fever
What’s more, Legally Blonde proved to be a hit with both critics and audiences alike, and Witherspoon’s performance attracted particular praise. The emerging star was consequently nominated for the Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy honor at the Golden Globes. In 2002 she was also recognized in the Best Female Performance category at the MTV Movie Awards.
In the same year, the success of Legally Blonde meant that Witherspoon found further fame with the global smash Sweet Home Alabama. Legally Blonde 2 came out shortly after this in 2003, and the star allegedly bagged $15 million for reprising the role that shot her to fame. It was through gigs like these, then, that Witherspoon established her image as one of America’s sweethearts.
The actor’s status as a sassy Southern belle made her a firm favorite among the film-going public to boot. In fact, it seemed that people couldn’t help but like and admire Witherspoon. So, as the star’s career progressed, she appeared to go from strength to strength. Then, in 2005, she won an Oscar for her role as June Carter Cash in the Johnny Cash biographical drama Walk the Line.
Yet as soon as Witherspoon’s movie career hit an all-time high, things unfortunately started to go awry for the actor. You see, a number of her films following Walk The Line failed to attract similar success. And in 2006 she and her husband at the time, Ryan Phillippe, announced their intention to split.
Witherspoon had met fellow actor Phillippe in 1997 – on her 21st birthday, in fact. They had become engaged the following year and then married in 1999 at South Carolina’s Old Wide Awake Plantation. And before the year was out, the couple welcomed their first child: a daughter named Ava. In 2003 their family grew once more when they had their son, Deacon.
Not so perfect
From the outside, then, it seemed as though Witherspoon and Phillippe had begun their relationship as the perfect couple. However, their union was reportedly later dogged by jealousy and rivalry between the pair. And according to Lauren Brown, a biographer to the stars, the Legally Blonde star’s runaway success drove a damaging wedge between the couple.
Nail in the coffin
In Reese Witherspoon: The Price of Fame, Brown also claimed that the actor’s success with Walk The Line had been the final nail in the coffin for her marriage to Phillippe. She said, “Right after Reese has this huge career-changing moment and is now an Oscar-winning actress... Things in her marriage were just getting progressively worse and going downhill.”
So, while Witherspoon and Phillippe ultimately divorced in 2007, the split certainly didn’t mark the end of the Oscar winner’s woes. That’s what Witherspoon herself suggested in a 2014 tell-all interview with 60 Minutes, during which she opened up about this difficult period in her life. And at one point, the actor even admitted that her divorce had had a negative impact on her career.
Floundering in her career
Witherspoon explained, “You can’t really be creative when you feel like your brain is scrambled eggs.” She added, “I was just kind of floundering career-wise because I wasn’t making things I was passionate about. I was just kind of working. And it was really clear that audiences weren’t responding to anything I was putting out there.”
Finding love again
But Witherspoon did go on to once again find happiness in her personal life, as in 2011 the actor married talent agent Jim Toth. Then, a year later, the couple welcomed their son, Tennessee. But just as it seemed that the star was piecing her life back together, she was rocked by her second scandal to date.
That’s because in 2013 Witherspoon and Toth were both arrested after being pulled over by police in Atlanta, Georgia. They’d attracted a cop’s attention when Toth swerved out of his lane in the Ford Fusion that he had been driving. And after the talent agent had been stopped by a police officer, his eyes were reportedly bloodshot and droopy – and it’s been claimed that there was also a strong smell of alcohol on his breath.
Under the influence
The cop – Trooper J. Pyland – subsequently ordered Toth to step out of the vehicle and conduct a breathalyzer test. The result came in at 0.139, which is much higher than the legal limit of 0.08. As a consequence, then, the officer attempted to arrest the seemingly drunk driver on a DUI charge. And that’s when Witherspoon tried to intervene.
Pyland subsequently documented what happened next in his arrest report. The officer wrote, “Mrs. Witherspoon began to hang out the window and say that she did not believe that I was a real police officer.” Describing his own reaction to the actor’s interference, he added, “I told Mrs. Witherspoon to sit on her butt and be quiet.”
Making matters worse
But Witherspoon didn’t heed Pyland’s advice to stay out of matters. Instead, she removed herself from the vehicle and continued with her attempts to prevent her husband’s arrest. Needless to say, though, her efforts were not well received by the officer, who subsequently decided to arrest the star on account of her disorderly conduct.
And to make matters worse, the incidents that led to Witherspoon and Toth’s arrests were caught on dashcam. In the footage, which later became public, Pyland can be heard warning the Legally Blonde star to return to the car. The actor refuses, however, and instead she tells the officer, “I’m a U.S. citizen. I am allowed to stand on American ground.”
Then Pyland can then be seen grabbing Witherspoon by her arms. Describing this moment in his arrest report, the cop wrote, “I put my hands on Mrs. Witherspoon’s arms to arrest her… Mrs. Witherspoon was resistant, but I was able to put handcuffs on her without incident due to Mr. Toth calming her.”
“You better not arrest me”
The resistance to which Pyland was referring was Witherspoon’s words of warning. “You better not arrest me,” she said. And in the video she continues to protest. The officer, on the other hand, responds calmly, telling her, “I told you to get in the car and stay in there, didn’t I?” Yet the Oscar winner continues to rage, and she exclaims, “This is beyond! This is harassment. You are harassing me.”
“You know my name, sir?”
As Witherspoon maintains her innocence, though, Toth can be seen trying to calm her down. Then she plays the fame card, asking the officer, “You know my name, sir?” The actor goes on to warn him, “You’re about to find out who I am.” And later on in the dashcam footage, she tells Pyland that her arrest will make the “national news.”
Making headlines for the wrong reasons
At least in that regard, Witherspoon was right: her arrest did in fact make national headlines. It was subsequently reported, too, that the actor had to complete an intervention program before trial in order to prevent a conviction. And thanks to the publicity surrounding the star’s outbursts, she felt it necessary to apologize for the far from exemplary behavior that she had displayed in the dashcam footage.
Releasing a statement
In a statement released shortly after the 2013 arrest, Witherspoon said, “I do want to say, I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said.” She added, “It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that is no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. I have nothing but respect for the police and I’m very sorry for my behavior.”
Addressing the truth
Then, a month after Witherspoon’s arrest, she again opened up about the incident in an interview with ABC News. The actor explained, “It was just one of those nights. We went out to dinner and had one too many glasses of wine. [And] we thought we were okay to drive, but we definitely were not. We are just so sorry this happened.”
Witherspoon continued, “We know better than that. It’s something that will absolutely never happen again, [and] I had no idea what I was thinking that night. I saw [Officer Pyland] arrest my husband, and I just panicked.” She added, “I said all kinds of crazy things to the officer. I even told him I was pregnant, [but] I am not pregnant!”
In fact, during Witherspoon’s interview with ABC News, she apologized for her behavior at the time of her arrest over and over again. She said, “I had no idea what I was talking about, and I am so sorry. I was so disrespectful to [Officer Pyland]. I have police officers in my family [and] work with police officers every day, [so] I know better.”
The worst part
And in the aftermath of the incident, Witherspoon admitted, “The worst part was having to speak to the kids.” At the time, the star’s oldest two children were 13 and nine, while her youngest was just eight months old. Explaining how she dealt with this, Witherspoon said, “We are so embarrassed by it, but we just had to tell them that when you make a mistake, you have to take responsibility. We were honest with them.”
What she learned
During Witherspoon’s chat with ABC News, host George Stephanopoulos also asked the star whether she’d learned anything from her arrest. Responding to his question, the actor joked, “When a police officer tells you to stay in the car, you stay in the car.” Reflecting further on the incident, she added, “I’ve played a lawyer so many times in movies, I think I am a lawyer sometimes. Clearly I am not!”
Surviving the scandal
But while such a scandal may have been enough to end some stars’ careers, for Witherspoon it seemed to have had the opposite effect. Yes, although some critics believed that the sweet image that the actor had cultivated was forever tarnished by the arrest, others enjoyed seeing a more human side to the Oscar winner.
New lease on life
So, fresh off the heels of her arrest, Witherspoon’s career actually enjoyed a new lease of life. She received critical acclaim for her roles in Mud and The Good Lie, for example. And the star was nominated for a second Oscar for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in the biopic Wild – a film that she also produced with her company, Pacific Standard.
Wild was Witherspoon’s second venture as a producer following her involvement with the 2012 thriller Gone Girl. In 2016 the star also began working on the hit TV miniseries Big Little Lies. And in order to produce the show, she teamed up with fellow actor and co-star Nicole Kidman.
So, it seems that Witherspoon’s arrest marked a turning point in her career – a fact that seemingly hasn’t gone unnoticed by the actor herself. In fact, during an appearance at the London Film Festival in 2014, she said that her run-in with the law had shown people a different side to her. And perhaps this new layer of her personality opened up even more opportunities for the actor-turned-producer.
Bursting the bubble
Witherspoon was attending the London Film Festival in order to promote Wild when at a press conference, she acknowledged the incident and how it had affected her image. According to The Hollywood Reporter, she explained, “I think it was a moment where people realized that I wasn’t exactly what they thought I was.”
Revealing what that comment meant, Witherspoon continued, “I guess maybe we all like to define people the way the media presents them. And I think that I showed I have a complexity that people didn’t know about. It’s part of human nature. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. The best you can do is say sorry, learn from it and move on.”